Even if you have ideas for your future career, it’s not always easy to know what to do with them. How can you make sure you fully understand your options? What about finding out if a particular route might be right for you? Or discovering what your ideas might be like in reality? In this article we’ll look at some ways to get you started on exploring your future by researching your career ideas.
People can be too quick to decide their career path without really taking the time to explore different ideas first. If you jump straight into a decision, you run the risk of missing out on awesome opportunities you might never have heard of otherwise! Exploring your ideas through research encourages you to take your time with your choices, meaning you are more likely to pick things that really work for you.
How to make a start
You won’t be surprised to hear that reading up on your career ideas is a useful way to start your research. Your school or college may subscribe to careers software that contains information such as job profiles and routes, so this is a great place to begin your search. Alternatively, you could have a look at the website for your relevant careers service (the National Careers Service in England, Careers Wales, Skills Development Scotland or the Careers Service for Northern Ireland).
Making sure you understand exactly what is involved with a particular job or career route is really important. When reading up on your ideas, be sure to reflect on what you’re finding out. What does it mean for you? For example, if you discover that a profession you’re interested in contains a lot more collaborative working than you expected, how do you feel about that? Or, if you find out that a particular pathway involves a fair amount of competition for places on a specific university course or apprenticeship, how would you find that? Remember that you are exploring your career ideas, so relate what you’re finding out back to your own circumstances, preferences and goals. Here are some questions to get you thinking:
- Do I really understand what this job involves?
- What are the entry requirements (e.g. qualifications)?
- How could I get into this area (e.g. are there multiple pathways)?
- What skills or experiences would I need?
- What other jobs are similar to this one? How do they compare?
- What elements do I like or dislike about this job?
- How do I feel about this job now I know more?
Remember, at this stage you are exploring – not deciding! You want to be curious about your ideas without putting pressure on yourself to make choices right away. If you’re still interested in the job once you’ve read up on it, then it’s time to go a step further with your research.
Real world information
Hopefully you should now have a better sense of what the job involves, but what is it actually like to work in that particular profession? Finding out about the experiences of people who are actually doing the job in the real world can help to bring your research to life.
Some people use social media to share their experiences of work, so this can be a great source of real-world information about professions you may be interested in. You could also look to your own personal network (everyone you know and everyone they know!) to see if there is anyone you can chat to about their job or career route. Remember that all jobs have their downsides as well as their upsides, so it’s important to get a realistic view of what it is really like to do.
If you’re researching different study routes (such as university), then open days can be a great way to talk to current students about what it’s really like to study there. Everyone’s experiences are unique, just as all our careers are unique, but seeking out the views of other people is a great way to gain some insight. Even if you disagree with someone else’s viewpoint, by finding out about their experiences you will still be learning more about different job roles and routes.
Test it out
If you’re still interested in the job at this point, it’s time to test it out. Do you have any options to get qualifications or training in this area? You could look at informal learning opportunities to improve your knowledge and skills, such as online training or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses, usually free and available from providers across the world). Alternatively, depending on what the next step on your career journey is, you may be able to choose a formal qualification related to this area. How about work experience, work shadowing or an internship? If you can get some time in the workplace, you will really deepen your understanding of a particular area, plus you’ll get the chance to quiz the people working there about their own career paths. Part-time work can also help you to test out your ideas and get some valuable experiences, along with earning money! You could also look for volunteering opportunities as a way to gain skills and experiences (check out websites like these for opportunities in the UK, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland).
If you can test out your ideas before you make a big career commitment, then you’ll be able to change your mind without any drama if you need to.
From here to there
Now you have thoroughly researched your idea, it’s a good opportunity to reflect. Are you still interested in the job role? If so, you’ll want to consider all your options to turn it from an idea into a reality. There is rarely just one path to any particular career destination. You will almost certainly have choices on how you get from here to there. Review what you’ve found out through your research so far. What qualifications or training do you need? How about skills and experiences? How could you go about gaining these things? Again, remember that this information needs to be applied to your own circumstances. If you can’t stand a particular method of learning, you won’t want to take a route where it’s the main part of what you’ll be doing!
Take your time considering what your options are and honestly reflecting on how you feel about each of these choices. Once you’ve got to this stage it’s also a really good idea to seek out some support to plan your next steps.
Whilst it’s great to take charge of your own research by doing some of the things mentioned in this article, there will come a point where you will want to seek support. Perhaps you’ve become stuck and can’t find out everything you need to know, or you are struggling to choose between options, or you have a plan in your mind and want to get a second opinion on it. Whatever it might be, talk to a careers professional in your school or college to get some support with your ideas, or contact your relevant careers service (the National Careers Service in England, Careers Wales, Skills Development Scotland or the Careers Service for Northern Ireland). We all need support from time to time in our careers, but with all the research you’ve done you’ll now be able to make the most of it!
As a fully-qualified freelance career consultant, Polly has supported young people with their career ideas in schools, colleges and beyond. As well as delivering career guidance, Polly produces resources to support people at all stages of their careers, helping them to make positive choices and successful transitions.