If you are struggling to make a well-considered decision it is possible that you do not have enough information about your options and more research is needed.
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, supports effective reflection about your work-related values and work preferences, your motivations, and your skills and strengths.
- Our Sector and Occupations briefings provide accessible information on some 50 different fields of work to kick-start your labour market research.
- For insights into specific functions or roles, use the 400+ individual job profiles on graduate careers websites like Prospects and TargetJobs.
Even if you have all the information you need, it can still be hard to decide because of the seeming importance of the choice, uncertainty around the future outcomes, and the risk(s) attached to making one choice (and shutting off other options). It can help to talk with someone you trust to share your thinking and seek additional in-put. Current students can book to see a Careers Adviser - and alumni within two of completion can also speak with an adviser during vacations.
Some of the barriers to decision making are considered below.
'I'm not 100% sure' and 'Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)'?
Choosing between options often means saying no an alternative, at least in the immediate future, and can be difficult. First, take time to acknowledge and be happy about your success in securing more than one attractive way forward. Then commit to making the best decisions that you can - that is the nature of decision-making. The tools outlined above can help you review the evidence that you have and feel more comfortable in managing any uncertainty.
To some degree every decision requires a leap of faith based on what seems to be the right choice at the time. No one can predict the future with certainty, even if they have already worked for the company, and realistically you can only expect to have all the information you would like after you have started and built some experience. Also, no decision is for ever, and it is possible to change direction if a particular choice stops working for you.
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 applying for / taking this job is a bit risky?
You can never eliminate all the risks. The tools outlined above provide ideas to help you examine options from different perspectives, identify and challenge your assumptions, set aside your fears and look more objectively at the issues to make the best decision you can at the time.
You may not have enough information, and need to do more research. This can help you make the decision or build 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 and networking pages for more advice.
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?
Many graduates change jobs early in their career, and people continue to get on to graduate schemes throughout their twenties. Research published on the Prospect careers website (Early Careers Survey 2022) shows that 30-40% of graduates seek to change jobs in the first year following graduation and, that of these, 60% are looking to switch industries and nearly 50% are looking to do this to further their career.
Sometimes things do not work out. If you find that you are in a job that you don't like it is OK to change direction, and even to stop! if your current work or workplace is unhealthy for you. You probably only have to give one month's notice to leave.
Whether staying or stopping while you look for the next thing, try to stay positive. Reframe how you think about your current situation to identify and value what is good enough for now a (the people; what you are learning; income; living close to family or friends). Moreover, few jobs are so entirely all-consuming that there is no time to pursue other interests such as hobbies, second-jobs or a side hustle, or through voluntary or community activities, so it may well be possible to take the first-choice option AND continue to explore other interests, but try not to over-extend yourself and risk burn-out.
And beware of hindsight bias, which happens when the outcome of an action or decision is judged using information only available after the decision was taken. It can be a distorting lens which leads us wrongly to conflate the quality of the outcome with the quality of the decision. It is very probably that you in fact made a good decision at the time, and consciously recalling "what I knew at the time” can help you both to learn from experience and stay positive about you ability to make good decisions now and in future.
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 very few organisations will expect new graduates to arrive fully job ready.
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.
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. Expect that you will be learning on the job, and good organisations will ensure there is a plan to support you as you start through a combination of training, on-the-job experiential learning, and support from managers and mentors. At companies with established graduate programmes, many others will have trodden the path you are on, survived and thrived.
If you have specific questions or issues where you need more information, it can be worth talking to again with the HR team or someone who is in the job at the moment (and the HR team may be wiling to introduce you too). Ask your contact 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. Firstly, you have a choice over whether to manage your career actively or to be a passenger. Secondly, as outlined above, changing career in your twenties is relatively easy and not uncommon.
Well led companies will provide support for employees, and senior staff and managers have a role in supporting you and your development in the role. For example, you can anticipate regular performance reviews and opportunities to discuss your personal and professional development, and you can approach these as an opportunity to steer the ship. If you think that an internal move might work, seek advice and support internally through your managers or directly with the HR teams - the content of these conversations should be treated as personal and confidential.
If you are in a job and you feel it is not right for you, it will be best to act quickly. Ask for support and advice from your line manager if you can, or speak confidentially with someone in the HR team. Remember that you do always have the choice to stop doing something that feels wrong, or if you find the people and environment are too challenging (or even toxic), even if the decision to stop and walk away feels difficult or scary at the time.
Lastly, it continues to be possible later in life to change direction and 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.
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 information on the job or target organisation. This will require more and better research.
Use desk-based research as the foundation for your research rather than the endpoint. Start with the recruitment and admissions pages, but it is essential to look beyond the curated marketing messages. Researching companies online, using reputable news sources, information from professional bodies and appropriate use of social media and third party opinions for a fuller perspective.
The best realistic work preview comes from gaining relevant work experience, or work shadowing, where this is possible. Plan ahead and apply for relevant micro-internships and summer internships, or create your own projects and opportunities through networking and speculative applications. As part of this, talking with people currently working in the jobs (or courses) and organisations you are interested in will help you uncover answers to some of your most important questions. It will be most helpful to reach out to people with recent experience (0-3 years, say) as most will remember how they felt as they approached their career search, and be able to offer advice and tips about what helped them with their plans and decision, and applications! For example:
- at the start of a new academic year, seek out finalist who have undertaken summer internships
- visit our career fairs to speak with recent graduates who have just started (what are their first impressions?) or who have a year or two with their company
- considering further study? Talk to post-graduate students in college on a course of DPhil close to your planned field of study to understand how they made their decisions and what options they hope the programme opens for them in the year(s) ahead.
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.
As action takes over from inertia, you should find that your fear or confusion shifts to curiosity, discovery and we hope excitement as you begin to uncover ideas, questions and people that help you to become more focused and productive in your thinking.
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.