How to choose a career

Montage of people in different jobs - how to choose a career
Trying to decide what to do with your life? Here’s what to consider when investigating what type of job would suit you.

Some people know from an early age that they want to be a doctor or a journalist. But what if you’re not sure? It’s up to you whether you want to make a firm decision now or select a route that leaves a number of options open. However, if you’re struggling you might find the following suggestions helpful.

1. Lose your career prejudices

Take a quick look at as many career areas as possible, rather than instantly ruling any out on the basis of their image or your assumptions. Plenty of engineers wear suits and go to business meetings. Many IT professionals spend more time talking to clients about their needs than they do writing code. Lots of lawyers have jobs that don’t require them to defend people accused of unpleasant crimes.

You could start by having a glance at TARGETcareers’ overviews of 12 key career areas.

2. Beware ‘safe’ career choices

Likewise, challenge your assumptions before definitely deciding on a career. This is particularly important if you’re considering an option because you think it is a ‘safe choice’ or a ‘good job’, rather than out of intrinsic interest. IT and law, for example, have a ‘solid’ image but you might find it harder than you think to get your first job and not all roles will offer a high salary.

Take a look at the top five myths about university, degrees and employment prospects to bust a few assumptions about guaranteeing yourself a good job.

3. Think about your values, interests and strengths

Being motivated by your career choice is important, both in terms of working to get the grades you need and progressing your career once you start work.

What’s important to you in life? Money? Helping people? Being creative? Thinking about what you value might give you ideas about the type of career you’d like.

Your interests can be another useful starting point. If you’re a Formula 1 fan, would you enjoy designing cars as an automotive engineer? If you like to hit the shops at the weekend, how about a career managing a store – or even a whole chain?

Thinking about the subjects you are good at might also give you ideas, as might considering other skills you have. Perhaps you are good at speaking in front of large groups of people or working out and sticking to a budget. Keep these skills in mind when reading about different jobs.

You can find more information about the skills required for different careers in our career sector content.

4. Got a shortlist? Find out more

If you’ve managed to shortlist a few options, find out more with online research. Then try to meet people who can help you find out more. You can ask your family and friends if they have any good contacts, attend university open days and school leaver job fairs, and look for employers who will let you join them for work experience. (Don’t rely on your school for this – try to arrange something off your own back for a time when you don’t need to be in school.)

5. Narrow down your options

If you haven’t quite pinned down what you want to do it’s fine to apply for school leaver programmes in more than one career area, or to apply for both school leaver programmes and university courses. But don’t spread your time too thinly – it’s more effective to apply for a few things well than a lot of things badly.

See the job applications and interviews section and the university applications section for more help applying.

6. Can’t narrow it down?

If you’re an all-rounder, you might find a wide range of careers interesting and have the ability to do any of them – which doesn’t help much with narrowing it down. If you're thinking of going to university, use our list of degree subjects you need for different careers to help you assess your next move.

Some careers require you to take specific subjects in sixth form or at university, while others are open to those with any subject. Start off by working through the list of careers that require specific subjects. Then you can decide whether you’re happy to rule them out or want to keep these options open to you, in which case you need to choose the right combination of subjects.

7. You can change your mind

Still feeling worried about whether your decision is the best one? Keep in mind that you can always change direction later on. Ultimately, experience is the only way to find out what you like and dislike, so if you end up in a career you don’t enjoy you can use this new knowledge to guide you in a direction that will suit you more.

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