Not knowing what you want to do is okay

By: Jake Jones

Don’t know what to do after you leave university?  Can’t decide what you want to do with life?  Well don’t stress!  Not knowing your next career move is completely normal and few people have a prepared a grand career strategy ready for when they graduate.

now what

Not knowing your next career move is completely normal

Not many graduates step out of university and straight into their dream job.  For most of us, it takes time and trialling to find a job that suits us. It’s also common for people to change careers, travel, have a change of scenery or pursue greater work benefits.   Instead of thinking about your big career plan, it’s often more beneficial to consider what the next best step is and work towards it.

This might not be obvious, but there are many things to think about which could help you make a move in the right direction:

Learn more about you                                      

A useful first move is to understand more about yourself.  What do you like?  What are you good at?  Think about what makes you excited and how you enjoy spending your time – can you think of any job which might involve these?  Sometimes, answering these simple questions can be difficult (‘I don’t know!’ ‘All my options sound boring!’ ‘I like seeing my friends, reading and eating hummus – how can I tie these into a career?!’), but there are many ways to learn more about yourself.

During your studies or after you graduate, you’ll have many opportunities to discover more about yourself.  Perhaps try an internship, volunteer, or get a further qualification, work experience or job in a field you’re curious about.  Remember, job hopping is perfectly common. Give a job a go for a while and then change if you’d like to try something new – you’ll never know if you don’t try!


Some graduates work in industry for a while then come back to do a PhD.  Some get an office job or casual work in Manchester to give their brains a break, save up some cash, and have time to meditate on their next career move.  Others find a job that they really enjoy and keep at it.  There are hundreds of options and you might have no idea about which is best for you, but this is completely normal and it’s fine to change!

Work out what you enjoy and identify your strengths whilst you study

There are also lots of things you can do during your studies to help you discover what you enjoy and identify your strengths.  Maybe try a part-time job, volunteer with a local charity, get involved in some student societies and projects, or get a summer work placement.  By trying new things and stepping outside your comfort zone, you’ll learn about your likes and dislikes, how you feel in different environments, meet new people, and also boost your confidence along the way.

Perhaps you’re considering teaching?  Participate in some outreach events at local schools, or maybe try Teaching English as a Foreign Language in another country.  Or what about research?  Talk to some academics and PhD students and ask if you can shadow them for a day.  Interested in writing?  Try blogging or getting involved with student media.  There are hundreds of things you can try to learn about different careers!

Think about your priorities

It’s also worth thinking about what’s important to you.  What kind of lifestyle do you want?  Would you sacrifice a chunky salary for lots of free-time and the flexibility to travel?  Or do you place more value on a stable salary and a good pay cheque?  Remember, it’ll probably be easier to travel and try new jobs as a graduate fresh out of uni than later in life when you might be limited by greater work commitments, mortgages and families to support.

Ask for advice

atrium careers service

The Careers Service offer a wealth of knowledge on your options, tips on what you can do with your degree, advice on applications and interviews, and guidance sessions with a careers consultant to help discuss your ideas.  Make the most of them whilst you’re here in Manchester, but rest assured that their full range of services are still available to alumni two years after they graduate.  Learn more about the Careers Service here.

Also, consider talking to your lecturers and academic advisors – they might be able to offer advice or connect you with some industry contacts.

Check out graduate websites, they’re aimed at giving career advice, advertising job vacancies, and providing news on various job sectors.  The most popular sites are Target Jobs, Prospects, and Milkround. These resources are a goldmine of information and job vacancy postings – but don’t feel overwhelmed.  Researching these can give you a good idea of what jobs are on the market and what graduates with your degree typically do.

Don’t panic

Sometimes not knowing what to do next can make you feel lost and anxious about your future, but rest assured this is the norm!  Most people don’t fall into their dream career immediately after graduating and it’s natural to spend a few years experimenting with different jobs, contemplating your options and trying new things.  The first steps on any new journey are often small, so start now by trying new things, exploring your options, and learning about what suits you!

Time to plan big!

A new year brings about a sense of a fresh start, an opportunity to improve upon the accomplishments of the year gone by. And through university especially opportunities to make use of free time during summer and winter breaks are abundant and should be taken advantage off by students looking to stand out from the crowd.


“Don’t be afraid to set targets and goals both in your chosen degree and general university life. “



Photo credit: Chetham's library

Photo credit: Chetham’s library

I’ve spent a big chunk of this month knee-deep in data and maps, preparing a paper entitled: “An Overview of Historical GIS and its Potential Uses in Book Trade History” for a conference of Book Trade Historians held at Chetham’s Library in Manchester. GIS, by the way, is Geographic Information Systems – basically, using computers to map stuff, á la Google Maps and the like.

Although I’m not a specialist in Book Trade History, I do have some experience, having worked on cataloguing and special collections projects at the University Library, but the main reason I was invited was to give a wide-ranging and creative introduction to GIS technology to the gathered historians, many of whom are interested in the new digital potentials for their research.


Post-results relief and the downside of having a social life

First of all, my results came in last week aaannnddd…I GOT A FIRST IN ALL OF MY SUBJECTS!

*cue happy dancing*

I was so stressed out in the days coming up to it because I hadn’t managed to get any revision done over the vacation and spending every day in classes with some legit geniuses doesn’t do great things for your self-esteem, but apparently I did better than I thought I had so yay! (more…)

Revisiting an exciting summer – Part 2

The first half of my summer internship in Slovenia had offered so much. It was a great learning experience, I had made many new friends and overall, I felt that I had grown as an individual in such a short period of time. The second half was no different. From day one, my adventures at work and outside continued.

Girish - waters of Croatia

Beautiful waters of Croatia


Stress, stress, stress!

We’re now starting week 3 of lectures, and not only have I been working hard at keeping up, but I’ve also managed to land myself a part time job at Sainsbury’s! Unfortunately, this has meant that I had to take Monday, Tuesday and Friday off uni last week, so I’ve got lots of catch-up work to do on top of other work. (more…)

Work, Work, Beer, Work

old hall

As my title might suggest, I’ve been busy getting stuck into 4th year work and also rather a lot of beer. Not in the way you might be expecting though! Last week was the annual summer beer festival at the pub where I work, The Old Hall Inn in Chinley, near to where I live. It was a packed weekend, full of locals as well as ale drinkers from up and down the country (there was even a train put on especially from Manchester to Chinley) it was mad! We had over 200 real ales and ciders on offer (and from reading Matt’s blog posts it sounds like it’d be right up his street) and as usual, it was a massive success! I’ve literally never been so busy in my life, but we got lots of comments about how hard working and friendly all the staff were which was wonderful! Having a part time job whilst at uni can be a useful source of extra income, it’s just about balancing time between work and studying. The University has a really good careers service which can help not just with graduate jobs but part time jobs and volunteering opportunities for current students too.