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.
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
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.
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!