Choosing a career path is one of life’s biggest decisions, with many of us left scratching our heads wondering which direction to head in. Whether you’re still in education or you’re ready to take the leap and pursue your career, knowing what comes next can be difficult.
Fortunately, there’s plenty we can do to help figure out where we want to be and how to get there. Below we've put together tried and true career advice that can help you decide your next step.
As with any big decision, the first step is to take a look at where you are right now and take stock of your skills, education, and interests.
A good way to accomplish this is to rewrite your CV, no matter at what stage in your education or working life you are. Condensing your formal education, your experience, and your relevant interests into this format forces you to really think about what you've accomplished so far and how it could be used towards a career.
As you write down your qualifications and experience, ask yourself what technical skills it is you possess and how they can be applied to a career. Be sure to also factor in any work experience you have and if that has affected your outlook on the future.
It's important to take stock of both your soft skills too. If you're a born leader, a strong speaker, or your time management skills are on point, you'll want to take these into consideration. For many career paths, these sorts of skills are as essential as your formal qualifications and should not be overlooked in your self-assessment.
Explore fields and industries
After reminding yourself of your interests and what you've accomplished or are in the middle of achieving, it's time to look at the world of work. Looking through job and industry websites, see what is actually available for people with your skillset.
It can help to create a spreadsheet or grab a pen and paper to list roles that appear particularly appealing to you, making note of the qualifications, experience needed, and the salaries on offer. You can then fork off from these and explore what sort of career paths they can lead to.
Consider that not all career paths are linear too. While a degree in education may point towards a career as a teacher, then a deputy, and a head, this is not necessarily the case for everyone. A lot of qualifications and education can be applied in multiple, often creative ways. Someone passionate about improving the lives of young people may find themselves gravitating toward becoming a Youth Worker, for instance, or working with a thinktank.
Consider the following when exploring your options:
- Do I want to work for the private or public sector or a charity?
- What are the opportunities for career advancement and future growth?
- Am I comfortable with the salaries on offer?
- Are there any other similar or related jobs I may be suitable for?
Also, take special note of the kinds of hours and locations that your career path may involve. If pursuing your career involves moving away, this can be a fairly dramatic change that needs careful consideration.
Taking the first step
After you've reassessed and explored your options, it's time to take the plunge and begin applying to roles or training that you believe will advance your career.
Before reaching out to training resources, or companies and organisations, try and identify what sort of salary and rewards you can expect from existing roles. Some people prioritise financial stability above all else while some want to pursue a passion irrespective of the financial rewards. Most people want a combination of the two while also feeling like they are making a meaningful difference in some way. Evaluating the fields and industries you are interested in can help figure out whether such roles are right for you.
While the material rewards are important, it's also worth considering job satisfaction. Some career paths offer fewer material rewards than others but greater job satisfaction with more opportunities to make a difference in lives, communities, our understanding, and the planet.
Specifically, once you’ve identified a few job roles that might suit your career path, explore these in depth. Look at the day-to-day activities that these involve and ask yourself if these are things you’d enjoy doing. If you’re feeling bold, reach out to people in similar roles and ask for their advice, opinions, and thoughts.
Monitor your progress
While no career path follows a straight line, it’s important to keep your goals in mind. Your career goals should include both shorter and more long-term goals that encourage self-growth. Career stagnation is a problem that occurs when we lose sight of these goals.
Shorter-term goals include planning your next training and learning experiences, developing skills and hunting your ideal next job. Long-term objectives include lifetime goals that may take years or even decades to achieve such as company ownership or senior managerial roles. Your short and long-term goals should be working together, therefore.
Using the SMART device, developed in the 1980s by Robert Rubin can help here. Make sure your goals are:
- Specific (what do you want to accomplish?)
- Measurable (How will you know when this goal is accomplished?)
- Achievable (Is the goal realistic?)
- Relevant (Will achieving this goal help further your career?)
- Timely (When can you achieve this goal by?)
It’s important, then, to regularly monitor where you are, whether you’re on the right track, where you’re going next, and where you could improve.
All the while you should also be ensuring your mental health is kept in good check too. Pursuing a career can often be stressful and looking after ourselves is as important as achieving our professional goals.
If you’re looking for further advice, encouragement and open vacancies attend one of our Career Fairs, available throughout the UK, year round.