There are a range of potential barriers that may prevent you from reaching a career decision.
First and foremost, your capacity to make a good decision will be directly affected by the quality of information that you are working with. If you are struggling to make a well-balanced or well-consider decisions using any of the methods outlined it is possible that you do not yet have enough information about your options and more research may be desirable.
The overarching model promoted by the Careers Service is that you need to bring together both self-awareness about who you are and good research into the job-market.
- Our guidance on Generating Career Ideas can help you work through these stages.
- Career Weaver, our web-based app, was created to provide a language and variety of short exercises to support and direct effective reflection about you work-related skills and strengths, values, work preferences, and motivations. Access this with your SSO or (for alumni) ask for an account through CareerConnect.
- Our Sector and Occupations briefings provide accessible information on some 50 different fields of work and are a rich source of information to help kick-start your job-market research.
- For insights into more specific functions or roles, use the 400+ individual job profiles you can find on graduate careers websites like Prospects and TargetJobs.
Remember that the Oxford Careers Service offers alumni access throughout their working lives from the day of matriculation, so we are available to you whenever you choose to reach out or want to book an advice appointment.
Below are some of the more common questions we are asked - see if any of them seem familiar to you at this point.
What if I'm not 100% sure?
To some degree any decision requires a leap of faith based on what seems to be the right choice at the time. It is difficult to be 'certain' unless you have already worked for the company, and you can only expect to have all the information you would like to be '100% sure' once you have started a job, and perhaps only after you have been there for a year or more.
Remember that no decision is for ever: most Oxford graduates switch careers a number of times, and a surprisingly high number of all graduates change jobs in the first two or three years after graduation.
Talk to a Careers Adviser for an impartial reaction to your thinking. This can help you feel more secure that you have done all you can to make a good choice or highlight additional points to consider.
What if I feel nervous about starting work?
Starting something new will often carry with it a mix of anxiety and excitement: think back to how you felt as you started at Oxford and you may recognise this feeling. Remind yourself that you made the best choice you could at the time, based on the information (and options) available to you. Try to move forward in a positive frame of mind to embrace the challenges and opportunities ahead of you.
What if I find that I don't like the work or the organisation I have joined after starting work?
Sometimes things do not work out, but if you find that you are in a job that you don't like it is OK to choose to stop, and to change direction: you probably only have to give one month's notice to leave.
Many graduates change jobs within two or three years of graduating. People continue to get on to graduate schemes throughout their twenties and there are many more alternative opportunities you can explore that do not carry a 'graduate' label.
Aim to stay positive. It may be helpful to understand that the quality of a decision is separate from the quality of the outcome, especially if you had to decide with only limited information.
What if I feel applying for / taking this job is a bit risky?
If you are unsure then you probably need to do more research, which can help you make the decision or create a stronger application. If you can, try to gain relevant work experience or work shadowing to experience the environment directly, or talk with more people who know the work or the company. If you are not sure how to do this, talk to a Careers Adviser and see our work experience pages for more advice.
I don't feel confident enough to apply for / take on the job
Academic study does not necessarily prepare you to do a particular job and in most sectors you will be learning on the job. If you have been offered the job, be reassured that the organisation believes that you have what it takes and that you will learn and grow into the role. It is likely that many others have trodden the path you are on, and have survived and thrived.
Spend some time listing your positive qualities and abilities. Reflect on your successes and strengths, and remember how you have built these up - including the trips and stumbles on the way that will have been part of the learning journey. Acknowledge any negative feelings you have and consciously put them to one side as you start.
There are few first jobs which expect you to hit the ground running but if you have serious doubts, then it is perhaps worth talking to someone in the job at the moment. Ask about their experiences when they started and the support offered by the organisation. Or speak to a Careers Adviser about how you feel; they can help you think it through and perhaps give you a well-deserved boost in confidence.
But if I take this job, will my whole career go wrong?
No. Nothing in life is so dramatic. You have a choice over whether to manage your career actively or to be a passenger - and if you know a job is not right for you once you have started, it is best to act quickly. Changing career in your twenties is relatively easy, and it continues to be possible later in life. Many people have a number of quite different careers in their lifetime - including every one of your Oxford University Careers Advisers.
Fiona Bruce graduated from Oxford with a degree in Modern Languages, she did a year in Management Consultancy that she did not like, then a couple of years in Advertising which she liked more. She then met the producer of current events TV programme, Panorama, at a wedding and convinced him to allow her to be a researcher on the programme at the BBC. A few years later she was the most famous newsreader in the country, and now she is one of the top presenters on art history TV programs. To our knowledge she has never studied media, journalism or art history academically, so her academic study and first job have had almost no influence on her impressive career.
Also, remember that the Oxford Careers Service offers you support throughout your working life. Whilst the vast majority of alumni never need to work with us, those that do can get the advice and support they need to make the changes they want.
Will I be letting my parents down if I apply for / take this job?
It is you that is taking the job, and it is you that must live with and experience that choice each and every day. Making a choice based on someone else's expectations, hopes or aspirations instead of your own can be hard work, and can become a heavy burden.
It is possible that the best choice or outcome for you may conflict with the wishes of your parents, or cause tension with your partner/significant other where it challenges or conflicts with their aspirations or goals. You will need to work through these challenges.
If you need to talk to someone independent about it, and want some advice about actions you can take to make those closest to you feel better about your choice, then book in for a careers discussion.
Do I know enough about the job and what I want?
Most people find it difficult to make a career choice, and it is made more difficult when they do not have:
- enough self-knowledge, so they need to gain a clearer understanding of their career goals and drivers; and/or
- enough information on the job or target organisation, which will require more and better research.
Use desk-based research as the foundation for your research rather than the endpoint. Researching companies and people using the internet and other media is now usually straightforward. However, it is essential to look for information and insights beyond the carefully curated marketing found on corporate webpages. The best source of information will come from gaining relevant work experience, or work shadowing. Talking with people working in the jobs and organisations that you are interested in can help you uncover details that answer your most important questions.
I feel generally confused - how can I work out what to do?
Start by reviewing our guidance on Developing Career Ideas. This will provide information, ideas and suggestions for how to move forwards.
For many people, just sitting down and talking things through with someone impartial is enough to bring some clarity and kick-start their thinking. Try friends and family, your tutor or a Careers Adviser.