Generating Career Ideas | The Careers Service Generating Career Ideas – Oxford University Careers Service
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The simple idea at the heart of career planning is that people often find greatest career satisfaction when their work reflects their core values and work preferences, allows them to use their skills and strengths, and is in a field of interest. When generating ideas it helps, therefore, to look inwards as well as outwards.

• Creating a grounded understanding of who you are and what you core career drivers look like is one piece of the puzzle.
• Researching roles and opportunities that could be a good ‘fit’ for your knowledge, skills and personal preferences helps link this to the job market.

A degree opens up a wide variety of potential career directions and it can be hard to decide what you want to do after graduating. This briefing will help you make a start in exploring your personal preferences and researching the roles and sectors that you might enjoy working in. It should be useful whether you are:

• taking your first steps on thinking about possible future roles;
• wanting to assess ideas or choices about which directions to pursue; or
• revisiting ideas you have, or even considering a change in your current direction whether this is related to work or further study.

In addition to this briefing, DPhils and research staff should also read our web page What’s Next for You? which examines future scenarios for people with research backgrounds, whether or not they intend to stay close to their academic roots.

Building self-awareness
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It can be empowering to understand:

  • what you enjoy doing most;
  • what helps you to succeed and to feel successful; and
  • why you not choose to do something and also what keeps you on track and motivated to see it through to the end.

The Careers Service has created Career Weaver, a novel web-based app to help stimulate reflection on these keys for your career success and happiness. The exercises provide a language and a varied range of approaches to help you explore and articulate your career drivers, skills, strengths and motivations.The themes you uncover are likely to have underpinned your choices and enjoyment of the things you have done in the past and will probably continue to be important for your satisfaction and successes in future. More information, including how students and staff can access the tool using their SSO is provided in our briefing on Career Weaver.

We aim to extend access to Career Weaver to out alumni in the summer of 2020, and until then, alumni can continue to use our Careers Compass tool (accessed via the Our Resources section, below), which includes many of the exercises incorporated into Career Weaver.

It can also help to seek an independent or external perspective to build your self-awareness and develop a fuller understanding of your pattern of personal preferences. We recommend:

  • Seeing a Careers Adviser. We offer impartial and confidential advice and are happy to discuss your emerging thoughts and review your freshest thinking about your career drivers and next steps for career planning. Book an advice appointment via CareerConnect.
  • Talking with people who know you well. Family and friends, and perhaps tutors, can help you to understand the things that make you stand out in other people’s minds and may give you some interesting insights.

In addition to the Career Weaver exercise, you can use other resources, including tools on the web and in the literature, to explore your internal drivers.  from different perspectives include:

  • Personality questionnaires, which can quickly provide you with insights into your work preferences. Many also make suggestions about which careers might be a good fit with your personality profile: see information on the DISC profile and Myers Briggs Type Indicator assessments in the section Our Resources, and Career Planning Tests in the section Understanding the Job Market.
  • Creative Games, Tools and Questions that can be found both in the exercises in Career Weaver, and in self-directed career-planning books and website, including some in our library (see Our Resources: e.g., Build you own Rainbow and What Color is your Parachute?).
Recognising and developing your skills
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It is important to be aware of your strengths and skills. This can help you both to make better career choices and to showcase your skills effectively in your applications.

You will have already developed and applied many different skills through your studies, volunteering, extra-curricular activities and any work experience. At The Careers Service we focus on a framework of eight transferable employability skills Business Awareness; Communication; Creativity; Initiative; Leadership; Planning; Self-management and Teamwork. You can use this framework to evaluate the skills you have and find ideas for how enhance these and develop new skills through our employability programmes and extra-curricular activities. See:

In addition, employers understand that graduates may have limited experience at the time they apply. For this reason, they will also evaluate candidates’ ‘potential’ and their ‘ability to learn quickly’ and it is important to demonstrate your drive, aptitude and willingness to learn and develop skills the needed for your chosen career alongside presenting evidence of the skills you already have.

Understanding the job market
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The UK graduate employment market is very flexible and a substantial majority of advertised jobs are open to applicants from any discipline. This means the breadth of opportunity for most graduates is huge and an unfocused approach can be both time consuming and ineffective. Time spent thinking about and researching your options is likely to be time well spent, particularly if you  feel that you have ‘no idea’ of what kind of job(s) you are interested in.

The approaches outlined here offer a variety of starting points to generate ideas and assemble a meaningful list of options that might match your interests, strengths and personal preferences.

Using your degree

Many graduates want to use the knowledge and skills developed through their degree in their work. A good degree in a relevant discipline will help ensure that you have appropriate knowledge and perhaps skills needed in many careers, and certainly the capacity to learn what is most needed. The following resources can help you follow-up this line of research.

Starting from your work experience

In the same way that you can explore ideas based on your degree, you can start from your work experience. First hand work experience allows you to try out both the content and type of the work.  A summer internship lasting a month or longer can provide you with rich insights in the work itself and the working culture of your host organisation, and the opportunity to meet a wider range of people  you can turn to for advice and support. However, even short-term work-shadowing and micro-internship experiences can help you experience different work environments and to test out whether or not the industry, company and style of work might offer you interesting and challenging projects.

Assuming you enjoy your work experience, you can generate ideas both directly linked to the sectors, organisations and roles that you have tried, and by looking at similar or adjacent fields. Once you have identified possibilities, you can:

  • use job descriptions to explore the skills and knowledge required and begin to consider how best to prepare and position yourself for applications;
  • examine job profiles, such as those listed on both Prospects and TargetJobs to deepen your understanding; and
  • use the suggestions in these profile on ‘adjacent careers’ to identify a range of alternative jobs or roles to consider which require similar skills and knowledge, or offer similar challenges and opportunities.

Remember to dream

You can also gain insights by blocking out real-world constraints and fears and allowing yourself to dream about the possibilities if there are no barriers in your way.

  • Interview your younger self: When you were much younger was there something you wanted to do? Even ideas that seem wildly out of reach now can still offer insights into what remains attractive to you and what you hope to achieve.
  • Dreams for your future:  Take time to look ahead and dream.  Try to paint a rich picture for yourself of the work you would do, including what you do in the role(s); the people around you; where you are; how you feel about yourself; and the results or impact you are able to achieve. Use the following prompts to create two or three future scenarios.
    • If your first choice career field simply did not exist, what else might you do?
    • If there were no constraints, and anything and everything was possible, what would you choose to do?
    • If you had only 5 more years ahead of you, what would you like to achieve?

Career planning tests

In the section above on building self-awareness we mentioned the use of personality questionnaires. These tools can be excellent and many will quickly deliver a list of possible career ideas based on your pattern of answers, such as the free Prospects Planner. A number of these test and personality tools are listed under External Resources (below).

You may have already used some of these, for example, by taking a Morrisby Test or similar whilst at school, and a few companies include personality questionnaires on their career pages which suggestions about which of their roles seem to be the best match for your work style preferences.

The range of career ideas suggested by these tools will still be very varied. Follow your instincts and start by researching the options that most appeal to you to create a fuller understanding both of what the roles involve and why each particular option might be a good fit for you.

Browsing and scanning the horizons

Browsing industry sector briefings, our career fair booklets and job boards/vacancy listings needs a degree of focus before it is likely to be a productive process. However, once you start to clarify and define for yourself what might be ‘right for you’, your sub-conscious mind can become a powerful ally if you pay attention to your instincts and become aware of what ‘catches your attention’.  Potential starting points include:

  • The Oxford Guide to Careers, published each year with over 50 alumni profiles, short introductions to more than 20 sectors and supported by recruitment advertisements;
  • Employer directories and rankings such as The Times Top 100 and the UK 300 listing of graduate employers – free copies are available from The Careers Service.

For avid readers, natural networkers and thorough researchers, the ideas outlined in the next section can also all be enlisted as ways to scan the horizon to add to your emergent careers thinking, but it pays to be purposeful and directed with these approaches.

Deepening your research
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To properly bring together your growing understanding of your career drivers and possible career options, it will be necessary to do some focused research into industry sectors, specific roles and individual companies. Doing this well will ensure you are ready to make strong, properly targeted, applications.

Once you have created some focus, read widely and seek out the information and roles that speak to you loudest. Start by reviewing relevant content within:

Deepen you research by using the dedicated career pages on company websites. In addition to information about the application process you will find advice and profiles of recent graduate hires to help you understand the firm, the work and the reasons their employees enjoy and value their roles. You can also follow firms on social media and register to receive email alerts to stay up to date.

Talking to people with relevant knowledge and experience will help you go beyond the carefully manicured ‘marketing’ content of the careers pages. Seek out opportunities to talk with current employees, both through on-campus events and by following our advice on Networking.

The Careers Service provides access to hundreds of companies through our Career Fairs, company presentations, workshops and employer led events listed on the calendar on CareerConnect. Many of the company representatives will be recent graduates with clear memories of being in your position only recently. Ask them to share what worked for them when they were applying  as well as what they like most about their current role and organisation.

If you are uncertain about where to start, consider starting with people who you can reach relatively easily:

  • Family and close friends – people you know well, but do you know who else they know and what those people do?
  • People around you at University, from lecturers to classmates.
    • For business careers, there may be final year students on your course, in College or involved in a student society who have recently interned in the sector or perhaps with firms you are most keen to research.
    • If you are considering an academic post-graduate route, approach tutors, current students on the Masters courses you are considering, and DPhils in your Department for advice.
Looking beyond the obvious
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The destinations for our students on graduation are many and varied, and we encourage all our students to explore and to think beyond the obvious when consider their next steps.

Whilst it is true that some industry sectors are very visible on campus, this reflects the companies’ interests and their need to market themselves and their opportunities to drive applications. That visibility does not mean that everyone goes into those sectors, as shown by a quick look at Oxford’s Destination Statistics. The most recent data (2017) on the destinations of more than 10,000 graduates show:

  • three graduates continued in ‘further education’ for every graduate entering the ‘consulting’ and ‘banking & Investment’ sectors combined;
  • more graduates entered the ‘charity and not-for profit’ sector than entered ‘law’ ;
  • more than twice the number of graduates entered the ‘health and social care’ sector as those entering ‘financial services’ (accountancy; actuarial; insurance).

There is no need to limit your thinking to the sectors on our website or the individual roles that carry the title ‘graduate jobs’. Every year a substantial number of our graduates take roles in other sectors, such as ‘logistics & transport’religion’, ‘sports & tourism’ or choose to work freelance or start their own ventures. In addition, the team of Careers Advisers are asked about a wide variety of quite different roles and fields, which have included the climbing instructor; conference production; design; fashion; fine art conservation; property development; stand-up comedian, unformed forces and – occasionally – even about working as a careers adviser!

Luck favours the prepared mind

Lastly, whilst this briefing recommends a process based on reflection and research with a view to creating a more focused approach for career planning, many successful careers include unexpected events, newly discovered interests and chance meetings that can be important or even pivotal.

This idea is reflected in ‘Planned Happenstance Theory’ which suggests that students’ can prepare themselves for and even construct ‘unexpected career opportunities’ by their own actions. Trying out different activities, getting involved in societies and volunteering, or actively exploring ideas and talking with a wider variety of people will bring you into contact with the people, ideas, opportunities and knowledge that can help you move forward purposefully. It also increases your visibility and the chances that one day it will be your time to be ‘in the right place at the right time’.

You can book an advice appointment with a Careers Adviser to talk through your ideas,  questions and concerns, wherever you are in your career thinking.

Our resources
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Tools for self-awareness

Career Weaver: A web-based tool to structure, support and stimulate reflection on personal Values and Work Style, Strengths and Skills, and Motivations. Currently accessible only for Oxford staff and students, accessed with your SSO via the Career Weaver homepage.

Careers Compass: A paper-based version of many of the exercises contained in the Career Weaver workbook.

Personality based assessments: We provide access to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the DISC behavioural assessment tools a greatly reduced costs to commercially delivered support. Full details are included in our briefing on Services for Alumni. Current matriculated students and research staff may also secure a free referral onto these programmes following discussion with a career adviser.

Book an appointment with a careers adviser!

Our website covers a very wide range of relevant ideas, advice and resources to help you research and evaluate potential career paths. Start with the following:


  • Build your own Rainbow: a workbook for career and life management (4th ed), Barrie Hopson, Mike Scally (2009)
  • How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric (2012)
  • How to get a job you’ll love, John Lees (2014)
  • No Idea about a Career? Chris Phillips, (2004)
  • So What Are You Going To Do With That? Finding Careers Outside Academia, Susan Basalla, Maggie Debelius (2007)
  • Strengthsfinder 2.0, Tom Rath (2007)
  • The Art of Building Windmills: career tactics for the 21st Century, Dr. Peter Hawkins (1999)
  • The Guardian Guide to Careers, Jimmy Leach (Ed.) (2005)
  • What Color is your Parachute?: a practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers (40th Anniversary Edition), Richard N. Bolles (2012)
External resources
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You might find the resources listed here useful, however, The Careers Service does not provide assurances on accuracy, validity and reliability of these tools and resources. Use your judgement on the quality of any tools you try and do make an appointment with a Careers Adviser if you want help in understanding the results or to discuss any questions that you may have once you have completed any of the tests.

Please note, in the following introductions, any text in italics has been copied from the sites themselves. 

Free resources on Graduate Career websites The AGCAS website offers a wide range of resources and advice on a national basis, including:

  • Prospects Planner: ‘Job matching’ tool based on a  personality questionnaire
  • What do graduates do? – National survey of over 250,000 graduates and their work destinations, including including subject-by-subject data, analysis and commentary.
  • Prospects: What can I do with my subject? – Useful careers information tailored to students and graduates subject-by-subject. The pages include the broad advantages that your degree gives you, the skills that you may have developed, alongside ideas and suggestions for further study, and career and employment options that may prove promising. A second comprehensive graduate website offering careers advice, including advice on knowing your options; exploring your skills and motivations; how to look for graduate opportunities, job descriptions and advice on what you can do with your degree.

Free Tools

  • 16 Personalities offers a free personality type questionnaire in more than 30 languages. The model is based on the Big 5 model of personality, and the website provides both explanations of their method, your profile and links to other resources.
  • Find My Why .com … helping people make positive change, find personal purpose and create a life they love, all for free.
  • CareerRadar is a free personality test for use by students and young people as “a smarter way of getting careers advice, and more generally to provide an intelligent toolset for personal development. It provides insights to your personality type and possible career directions.
  • Buzz Quiz from is a very quick personality test based on the MBTI model of personality type, which is linked to the UK’s UCAS service to support university applications.

Tools offering initial free access and additional fee-based resources

  • VIA stands for Values in Action and the VIA Institute is a not-for-profit that aims to help people change their lives by tapping into the power of their own greatest strengths. The VIA Institute offers a free 10 minute test, and additional fee based resources.
  • Kiersey Temperament Sorter offers a 70-question personality test linked to 16 categories that match-up with the MBTI test. The free test results provides only a limited amount of information and additional fee-based resources.

Fee-based resources

  • Clifton Strengths Assessment, developed by Gallup. The Gallup book ‘Strengths Finder 2.0’ also introduces the CSA and each book includes a free access code for the assessment in the purchase price.
  • The Morrisby Test is a personality based tool used quite often by schools for careers advice. It is marketed as an impartial decision making companion and offers insight into multiple aspects of personality and includes pathways and advice for further study and career options.
  • Profiling for Success provides an extensive suite of tests, including a Career Interests Inventory to help people explore their personality preferences and how these relate to the world of work.
  • Strengths Profile is an online assessment that gives you a unique profile revealing your realised and unrealised strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses, and available for individuals ‘to reveal and develop your passions further’.
This information was last updated on 17 June 2020.
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Recent blogs about Generating Career Ideas

Navigating Your Career Through Difficult Times – 15 July

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 13/07/2020.

As part of the St Hilda’s Community Week, St Hilda’s will be running a ‘Navigating your career through difficult times’ virtual event on Wed 15 July, 16:00-17:30. Listen to alumni share their career experiences and pick up advice on how to tackle the challenges amidst a tough job market and engage in a fulfilling career. Please also feel free to invite your friends to attend – the event is open to the public.

Register for free on the St Hilda’s website.

The speakers will be:

Emma Gange (Chemistry, 1994) Head of HR for Global Private Banking at HSBC. Emma will provide tips on standing out from the crowd when submitting job applications, interview faux pas and what recruiters are looking for.

Elaine Teo (Psychology & Philosophy, 1996) Founder and Managing Partner of Living Potential International. Elaine delivers leadership consultancy, coaching and thought leadership to the world’s most prestigious and influential organisations. Elaine will give advice for building emotional resilience and agility, as well as the life skills recruiters look for.

Sam Hussain (Engineering, 2008) Sam founded Log my Care in 2017, a software startup that aims to digitise and modernise the social care industry. He will talk about his experience of being an entrepreneur and how to go about starting your own company.

Undergraduate Research Support Grants for Social Scientists

Posted on behalf of The Oxford Q-Step Centre. Blogged by Rachel Ruscombe-King on 08/07/2020.

Call for applications: Oxford Q-Step Centre Undergraduate Research Support Grants

The Oxford Q-Step Centre invites Oxford undergraduates to apply for a grant to support social science research involving quantitative methods.

Research support grants are designed to allow recipients to run surveys, digitise source data, or undertake other tasks necessary to complete a dissertation or other research project. Students could design a questionnaire to be fielded by a survey company like YouGov or via a crowdsourcing platform like Mechanical Turk; they could specify a data collection task to be undertaken by a data collection company like Digital Divide Data or through a platform like Upwork; they could purchase data for use in their research; or they could purchase software or hardware that allows them to undertake specific research tasks.

Although we imagine most students will use grants to support dissertation research, we also encourage students to consider applying for grants to undertake other types of research. For example, a student may wish to undertake an independent research project about an industry or organisation, possibly with guidance or cooperation from a non-academic supervisor. In these cases, the grants provide an opportunity for a student to obtain funding for a self-designed internship. To the extent possible, such a project should have a well-defined output.

We are particularly interested in supporting students who would not be able to conduct the specified research without grant support.

We expect most grants to be under £500 each, but we would consider a larger grant in a compelling case.

Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis (i.e. with no fixed deadline), but funds are limited so applying earlier will give the best chance of success.

Application instructions

Applications should be sent to A complete application includes:

  • Contact information for the applicant
  • Contact information for the student’s supervisor on the research project or, if supervisor has not been determined, college tutor
  • A brief description of the research project (up to 500 words), including details on the use of quantitative methods
  • A budget and accompanying explanation (up to 250 words) justifying the funding requested

Criteria for success

Quality of proposed project, including prospect for success and nature of output

  • Clarity of what funds will be used for
  • Feasibility of project (including given circumstances surrounding COVID-19)
  • Support from the supervisor or college tutor
  • If the research is not for a dissertation, clear indication of what research output will be

After completion of the project, grant recipients will be asked to provide a report on their use of funds; they may also be invited to describe their project in an event including all grant recipients.

Graduating this summer? Your CareerConnect account is changing

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 08/07/2020.

The Careers Service will continue to provide you with support in finding a job and developing your career even after graduation.

To continue to access your CareerConnect account and the full content of information and services we offer, please update your CareerConnect profile with your preferred non-Oxford email address so that you continue to receive our emails and maintain access to all our services after you graduate.

If you have already graduated and haven’t received an email regarding your Alumni account, please contact and we will assist you to get your account set up.

Top tips for undertaking a remote internship

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 27/06/2020.

Make the most of your remote internship with the following tips from the Internship Office.

Tip 1. Dress up for work

Many people believe that working from home means being able to wear pyjamas all day. However, the slogan ‘dress for success’ is key, even if you are not working from an office building. Getting dressed up for work as you would if you were going into the office can help shift you into “work mode” and get you ready to start your workday; which will likely also involve video meetings.

Tip 2.  Find an adequate workspace

To prepare effectively for a remote internship, you need to make sure that your workspace is at least as good as, if not better than, an on-site work environment. Ideally, this would include a flat surface, a comfortable chair, proximity to the window or other natural light sources, and a door that closes. You also need to make sure that you have appropriate equipment, operational systems and good internet connection.

Tip 3.  Be punctual

Start on time and complete your tasks by their deadlines. All employers appreciate the punctuality of their staff, including interns. Being late tells others that you don’t value their time and that signals that you are not well-organised and cannot manage your own time.

Tip 4.  Identify your supervisor and ask questions

On the first day of your remote internship, identify who your supervisor is. This person will guide you through your internship, define your projects, give you feedback on your progress, and be a bridge to professional networks and learning opportunities. You can set up regular short meetings with your supervisor to catch up and ask questions about your role and the organisation.

Take any opportunity to learn more and don’t be afraid to ask questions – your supervisor expects you to. Asking for clarifications and finding out more about tasks will prevent you of making mistakes.

Tip 5.  Treat it as a real job

Despite being a short remote internship, you should treat this opportunity as a real job. This is a chance for you to put into practice your existing competences and to gain new skills. Work not only independently, but as part of the team as well. Be on time, work hard and be professional. This will go a long way towards getting a good reference for your future job applications.

Tip 6.  Make notes of your duties and responsibilities

To make the most of your remote experience, you will need to remember the detail of what you have done. So, make notes of your duties and responsibilities throughout your remote internship to then include on your CV and in future applications and interviews.

Tip 7.  Network as much as you can

The internship is also an opportunity for you to cultivate contacts with professionals in your sector of interest. They could provide valuable insights into the various roles or career paths that you are interested in pursuing. It is also a chance for you to ask questions, gather information, learn about job options and career paths, and ask them for help in identifying opportunities in their fields.

Tip 8. Stay in touch

It’s good practice to stay in touch after your remote internship. Therefore, as the internship ends, send personalised thank you emails to the people you have worked with and express your gratitude for any guidance they have provided, and give them your contact details. If an opportunity opens up, you could be at the top of their hiring list.


Tip 9. Enter the Internship Office Photo Competition 2020

We are inviting all University of Oxford students who take part in internships facilitated or funded through the Internship Office in the 2019-2020 academic year to submit original and interesting photos that best represent their internship experience, accompanied by a short description. Find out more about the Internship Office Photo Competition 2020.

What do you need to know about recruitment in 2020 and 2021?

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on 17/06/2020.

The Oxford careers team will meet more than 100 recruiters in the next two weeks and we want to hear your ideas about what more companies can do to help you.  Please take 3 minutes to complete our online student survey before it closes on Monday next week.

We will be sharing the survey results, including your questions and suggestions, with the recruiters to help them design and deliver the best support they can to support your work to connect, find opportunities and make great applications.

We want to hear from everyone, including this year’s graduating class, so please take this last chance to complete our survey. Thank you very much for your support and insights.

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Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.