Finding one’s ideal career in life is rarely an easy pursuit. Whilst you may get lucky early in life as the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs did finding out they were natural and gifted entrepreneurs, for the rest of us the path of career discovery is long, winding and sometimes, never ending!
However like so many things, it’s often the journey, rather than the destination, that matters the most. Here are our top ten tips to make it easier to navigate.
1. Too much choice
In a world full of possibilities, making career decisions is the perfectionist’s nightmare. Choice is good, but only if you’re a decisive person, and far too many bright graduates drift through life unable to ‘decide what their calling’ is. Interestingly those who seem most satisfied in their careers seem to accept that few jobs are ‘perfect’ and that the key is to start making choices (about internships, work experience etc.) to gain a better insight into different roles.
If you’re not sure what the ‘best’ choice to make is, the only way to find out is to make the best choice you can at that time – whatever happens, you’ll learn from it.
If you're really stuck, have a look at our No Idea What to Do section.
2. Value your values
Values are personal and highly subjective – don’t ignore them. It’s important for your overall satisfaction that your chosen job is consistent with your personal values – no-one is happy when they’re doing things they don't believe in.
If ‘charitable’ is a key value to you, working for a company that is solely focused on making profit will probably not cut the mustard for you. Write down what your values are – to get started ask yourself which three of these ten values are most important you?
‘Achievement’, ‘compassion’, ‘helping others’, ‘adventure’, ‘structure’, ‘routine’, ‘success’, ‘service’, ‘risk’ or ‘excitement’.
A career at a high growth business may be great if you want ‘risk’ and ‘success’, but not so great if you value ‘structure’ and ‘routine’ – two things that are rarely associated with startups! Know your values and why they’re important you, then assess potential roles and organisations against them.
It’s often the journey, rather than the destination, that matters the most.
3. Think about your skills
We are all naturally good at some things but not strong at others. A great salesman is rarely good at analytics and a great software developer is rarely a great marketer. Clearly exceptions do happen, however if you’re going to be doing what you’re great at it’s important that you understand what you do really well and better than the competition, as your career will probably progress quicker that way, and you’ll be more fulfilled.
Most skills normally fit into a business function for example if you love processes and order then roles in ‘Operations’ may suit you, or if your friends are always staying how great you are at meeting new people then ‘Business Development’ may be an area to think about.
Need some help on Recognising and Developing Your Skills?
As legendary management guru Ken Blanchard said ‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions’. Get feedback from the people around you about what they think you do really well and always seek to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Friends, family, team mates, society members and even part-time work managers can all give you valuable insights into where you do great work.
Discovering what you're good is a factor to consider when finding a role you'll enjoy. Find out what you're really good at and how to rcognise and develop those skills.
5. Don’t confuse ‘role’ and ‘sector’
A lot of people become fixated on sector they want to work e.g. ‘finance’ or ‘marketing’ rather than the job they will do e.g ‘operations’ or ‘analyst’. By thinking about your skills (see above), you’ll see you can actually apply them to many different sectors.
There are great marketing roles in finance businesses and great analytical roles in marketing businesses. This will get you’re a far broader choice of roles that may be a great fit and thus make it more likely to find a job you’ll love, and thus excel at.
6. Organisational culture matters
In 2007 Erickson & Gratton wrote a ground breaking Harvard Business Review article called ‘What it takes to work here?’. The article identified six different types of organisational culture from ‘Expressive Legacy’ to ‘Flexible Support’. The article is worth a read as it maps different types of organisations and who excels in them.
For example if you strive for ‘stability’ than a firm in the ‘Secure Progress’ classification where you rise ‘up the ranks’ (like a large professional services or commercial law firm) may be right for you. However if you’re all about ‘flexibility’ then a ‘Risk & Reward’ culture may be a better fit for you.
7. Be creative
As the world becomes more and more digital, new career options are cropping up all the time. E-commerce, unheard of a few years ago, now has thousands of roles on offer – many of them in very exciting businesses. Be creative in looking at how your skills can be applied to new areas you may not have thought of before.
Have a look at our career path guides to get an overview of each sector you might want to get involved in.
There is a plethora of career options out there, full of people who have a great understanding of what the job involves. Talk to these people, ask them questions e.g. ‘what’s the favourite thing about the job’, ‘what’s the worst thing’, ‘what does this job lead to’, ‘what skills do you need to excel’?
They’ll be happy to answer your questions about what a job is really like. Use all the contacts you have (and find new ones one Linked-In) to find the people who are doing the roles you want to find out more about.
Have a look at our Bright Advice for Networking.
9. Think about how you spend your spare time
You may find yourself in ‘non-work’ time pursuing hobbies or volunteering for charity work. These activities can all be great indicators about what you really enjoy doing, so see if there is a way to turn your hobby into a job.
10. And finally…be patient
It can take a long time to find the right job and even Steve Jobs spent 10 years ‘in the wilderness’. It’s a question of experimentation as you test your values and skills against different roles and learn from those experiences about what you like, and often far more importantly, what you don’t. A career can’t be rushed, so don’t get too frustrated if takes longer than planned – you’ll get there in the end.
Take our Career Path quiz to find a sector that might suit your skills and personality and learn how to get started.