Stumped for a career direction?
Try asking yourself these ten questions. If you run into difficulties ask friends and family for an honest view of the answers.
There’s no magic formula, the answers won’t reveal your working future, but they will help you clarify matters and give you the insights you’ll need to choose a degree programme that plays to your strengths.
What are my favourite subjects?
It sounds like an obvious starting point, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who sign up for courses that don’t interest them.
Don’t spend the rest of your life, or at least the next few years, slaving over something that you find boring.
You’ll get more out of higher education and your subsequent career if you work in an area you enjoy. If you think medicine sounds interesting then go for it, if it sends you to sleep, avoid it.
What are my academic achievements?
Take a look at your high school career. What subjects were you best at? To some extent your exam results will answer this question, but results might not accurately reflect your long-term performance.
Where did you consistently get good marks? You may have won a prize, come top or near the top of the class. You may have used your skills to tutor younger or weaker students in a subject area. Was there a subject where your friends asked you for homework help or recognised you as an expert?
What else turns me on?
What excites you? What do you choose to do when you don’t have to do anything? Is there something that you love to do, perhaps it is a hobby or other leisure activity that you look forward to? In many cases these activities can form the basis of a career.
For example, if you love animals, think of veterinary science; if you enjoy spending time with computers then consider a career in information technology. Some connections are less obvious, if you enjoy tinkering with a car you may be suited to work as a computer engineer.
Am I creative?
You may like to express yourself through words, art, music or other artistic form. But there’s more to creativity than creative arts: businesses need creative thinking and the best scientists, engineers and mathematicians generally have a strong creative streak. It’s important to answer this question honestly.
It’s hard to accept a lack of creativity, but this is not necessarily a weakness; in some disciplines creativity is regarded with suspicion, think what the term creative accountant means.
Do I have good communications skills?
How good are you at expressing all those brilliant thoughts that pass through your head? Can you put them down on paper or speak about them in a way that makes things easy to understand or do you struggle? Could you stand in front of a group of people and explain a complex idea? How about a hall filled with hundreds of people?
Communications isn’t a one-way street, it’s just as important to listen to others and to use feedback.
How do I rate my people skills?
Although people skills are closely related to communication skills, there are differences. If you’re a good communicator you can relay or receive ideas, if you have good people skills you can pick up on feelings or mood. You also need to understand what motivates people and why they act in certain ways. Dealing with conflict is important. Knowing when to ask a subordinate to do a task is as important as knowing how to explain the mechanics of the task.
Is money important to me?
The best things in life are free, but cash can buy an awful lot of second-best things.
Ask yourself if material rewards motivate you or if other things are more important. For example, you may want a career where you can help to make the world better, brighter or safer. Of course, with student loan debts and sky-high housing costs, you may feel you don’t have much choice but to take the money and run. If you’re not motivated by money, you’ll have a lot more interesting career option.
Do I need structure?
School life is highly structured, with timetabled lessons, strict hierarchies and so on, but university and the adult world of work isn’t always like that. Many people thrive in an unstructured environment and do their best work where there are fewer restrictions. Others are lost without a rule book. This is an area where you may change over time, but ask yourself if you feel safer on a highly structured course or if you’re ready to cut loose.
Am I internally or externally driven?
Some people are self-motivated. They can get up and work hard for long hours without anyone saying anything to them. They will make their own decisions about what to do and how to complete tasks. Other people need external motivating. This can take the form of a highly disciplined workplace in say the armed forces or it can come from colleagues operating in a team.
You’ll need self-motivation to get through university, but the quality is essential if you plan to work for yourself at a later date.
Can I put off my career decision?
There’s a lot of pressure on young people to make hard and fast decisions about their careers before they embark on a university degree. Some people feel comfortable with this; others are not ready to choose at this stage.
The good news is that you don’t have to make a firm commitment yet. Many university departments offer generalised degree programmes within a certain discipline. In most cases you can wait until the end of your first year before selecting a major subject. Other universities offer liberal studies degrees and BA programmes that will keep your employment options open.