Identifying your ideal path may sound daunting, but breaking down your job hunt into manageable chunks will improve your chances of successful career planning

Discover which jobs suit you

Choosing a suitable career ensures that you'll enjoy work, stay motivated and fulfil your potential. If you're lost as to what career to choose, consider these questions:

  • What are you good at?
  • What are your interests, motivations and values?
  • What have you most enjoyed studying at university?
  • What kind of lifestyle do you want?
  • Which jobs fascinate you?
  • What do you want from your career?

Ultimately, any potential jobs must be compatible with your transferable skills and qualities. Undertaking an audit will help you to identify your strongest attributes and develop the knowledge required for your chosen career. Create a table that describes each required skill, evidences when you've demonstrated each skill, and tracks your progress in honing each skill.

If you're struggling to identify your strengths, weaknesses and character traits, consider taking psychometric tests.

Explore your options

Once you've assessed which areas of work suit your skills, values and interests, research what careers other graduates in your discipline enter by visiting what can I do with my degree? Consider also your less obvious options by browsing job profiles.

Compile a shortlist of around five to ten jobs, before considering the advantages and disadvantages of each in terms of:

  • career development;
  • employment outlook;
  • entry requirements;
  • job description;
  • related jobs;
  • salary and conditions;
  • training.

Investigate two or three preferred careers further, considering in depth whether you'll require more experience, new skills, or even a professional qualification or conversion course. This will focus your career plan and, ultimately, help you to choose a job.

Get to know the job market

You should also consider your ideal job sector, and identify key trends by researching the local, national and global jobs market. This will help you to discover more potential career paths, and understand which jobs are expanding or declining.

There are three overarching job sectors.

  • Private - Encompasses all for-profit businesses that are not run or retained by the government. Examples include sole traders, partnerships and limited companies.
  • Public - Consist of local and national governments, plus their agencies and chartered bodies. This area has historically been recognised as offering extensive training, strong equal opportunities policies and superb pensions.
  • Not-for-profit - Often referred to as the third sector, or the charity and voluntary work sector, its priority is using funds raised to deliver its aims. Paid and voluntary roles are available.

You must also consider which size of employer best suits your personality and work ethic.

  • Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - These have fewer than 250 employees, and offer great graduate opportunities. However, SMEs are sometimes overlooked by job hunters as they don’t typically have the influence of larger corporations with bigger budgets. Although starting salaries may be slightly lower, you'll carry out tasks beyond your remit. This varied involvement appeals to many graduates.
  • Large companies - Those employing more than 250 employees include many well-known graduate recruiters, plus national and global organisations. They usually offer higher salaries and support for professional qualifications, but longer hours and reduced flexibility.
  • Self-employment - This covers freelance work, setting up your own business and buying into an existing business. You'll need to be good at networking, decision-making and focusing on your business goals. Find out more about self-employment.

You can decide where your future lies with more confidence by undertaking part-time work or work experience and internships. You could also list the graduate employers that you're interested in working for and check for job vacancies. Directly contact companies that take your fancy, even if they're not currently advertising any positions. Applying speculatively shows initiative.

Choosing a career direction

Now that you're beginning to understand yourself and the job market, the next step is to match the two. However, bear in mind that you're almost certainly suited to more than one career and that your professional direction will probably change at least once during your lifetime. When assessing your options, consider these questions:

  • Do you have the right skills?
  • Does the company fit with your values?
  • Is the job realistic in terms of salary?
  • Will you enjoy doing the job every day?
  • Would you consider doing the job for free?

There's plenty of support available to help you learn more about your options and make a decision, including:

  • company websites;
  • family and friends;
  • newspaper articles;
  • professional bodies and industry conferences;
  • tutors;
  • university careers and employability services.

Create an action plan

Identify your current situation, in terms of employment, qualifications, strengths and weaknesses. Decide your long-term objectives, set yourself realistic and measureable short-term targets, and figure how you'll meet them. Constantly review your progress, especially after each short-term goal is reached.

You must also establish a backup career development plan, in case your situation changes. Map several alternative paths to your long-term goal, considering how you'll overcome the types of problems that you might encounter - training requirements, for example - at each individual step.

Your first short-term goal, for example, may be improving your CV and cover letter. Your university careers and employability service can help you with this.

Identify job opportunities

There are several resources that can kick-start your job hunt:

Always seek to access the vast hidden job market by making speculative applications and browsing social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The essential guide to your career


Student Career Guide

Discover how to make yourself more attractive to employers while at university and ease the pressure after graduation with our job hunting advice.