Career and study choices: What to do if you don’t know what to do

Career and study choices: What to do if you don’t know what to do

Career and study choices: What to do if you don’t know what to doby Jacquie Wise

You may have begun a degree course, only to lose interest in it.  Or you may not know in which course of study you need to invest your time and money.  You may not even know what career would suit you best.

If you don’t want to continue studying:

There could be a number of reasons you want to drop your course.  One reason could be that you’ve lost interest in the subject you were studying.  Or perhaps you were bored, because the course wasn’t challenging enough for you.

Another reason is the fear of wasting a lot of time studying something you end up never using.

It may be worth completing your first course, because it can give you credits for something else, or lead to an advanced level in a field that suits you better.

First decide what you want to do, THEN select the appropriate course of study.

The worst thing to do is to stay stuck in ‘I don’t know’.
There are many ways to find out.

The career planning process comprises four steps:

1    Self-assessment
2    Career exploration
3    Matching of skills, interests, needs and job demand
4    An action plan.

Step 1:  Self Assessment

If you know yourself well, you’ll find it much easier to make important decisions in life, not only for your career, but for relationships too. Here’s how to get to know yourself:

1    See a career counsellor who has the tools to guide you in identifying careers that suit your personality, skills and interests.

2     Take an online career quiz

3     Keep a record in a journal of activities you enjoy.  There may be a pattern you can identify over time, such as attention to detail or a love of the outdoors. Record, too, your natural aptitudes. You may be a natural at maths, gardening or singing. This process should narrow the choices down to a manageable handful.

The next step is to explore occupations that include the activities you find enjoyable.  Keep an open mind, because you may stumble on surprising careers you might never have considered.

Step 2:  Career Exploration

Check out this website.  It provides descriptions of occupations from A-Z and also provides comparisons within particular fields.

On Youtube, you can search for videos on ‘a typical day in the life of a …’ You will find videos not only on the career you have selected, but also on related careers.

Talk to people who might know someone working in the field.  Get an introduction.  It’s by talking to people in a role that you find out what a career or an industry is like, from different perspectives and at both junior and senior levels.

Step 3:  Match skills, interests, basic needs and employment opportunities

This step is like fitting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. Does your career choice meet your salary needs, values, family requirements?

Do you have the skills for careers you would enjoy, or is there a gap that needs to be filled before you become eligible?

Job titles don’t always reflect the skills you actually used in performing that role.  It’s important to dissect each job you’ve held in order to discover what skills you actually used to do that job.

You will identify a number of transferable skills, such as research, co-ordination of other people’s activities, or record-keeping.

Make a chart detailing each job you’ve had, the skills you used and to what level, and a rating, say from one to ten, indicating how much you enjoyed performing each task. You’ll find it much easier to get a clear picture to match who you are with what you do.

Two documents are often provided when jobs are advertised:
Position Descriptions detail the responsibilities and tasks of the job.
Key Selection Criteria require you to summarise your skills and experience under headings such as bookkeeping or customer service.

Finally, is there a demand for your career choice, or is there a glut? Find out on industry websites or on this Australian government link:

What if it’s the wrong choice? People are often afraid to choose a career for fear of being stuck in it for life. What if I regret it? What if I waste years in the wrong career?

The first choice of career doesn’t have to be the one path you will follow for life. Just pick one. The chances are, there are many careers to which you are suited.  As you grow or as your life changes, the best career choice today may not be the best one tomorrow.

I’ve changed my career several times, from a junior typing role in advertising to public relations to human resources to corporate Learning & Development consultant to career counselor to psychotherapist.  Along the way, I became an author and speaker.

Every step I took added to my skills, knowledge and confidence and each gave me extra bargaining power for the next career move. I have ended up running my own business, combining all the experience I’ve gained on my journey. You may also like to have a look at the career planning template I have created.

As a starting point, select a couple of the most appealing options

If that still doesn’t do it for you, then your first move should be to gain experience in administration and expand your office skills.

Wherever you go, you can’t function without good skills in computing, planning, time-management, written and verbal communication and in teamwork.

Every job will serve as a stepping-stone to a more interesting position. You’ll discover more about what you like and don’t like along the way.

Step 4:  Action Plan

All this research and matching will help you reduce your career options to no more than five.  There will naturally be similarities between them all.

Prospective employers need to see clearly that your experience matches their requirements. Do you lack credibility?

If you need to sharpen your skills, then your action plan needs to include volunteer opportunities in which you can gain both experience and confidence.

Volunteering is also a good way to test whether you really would enjoy this kind of work.

The next step is to prepare a CV that effectively highlights the skills and experience relevant to your targeted career.  If you’re transitioning to a completely different field, this might mean changing your CV from a reverse-chronological to a combination-functional format.

Keep going

All this is a big job!  Make it easier on yourself:

Keep these records on an ongoing basis.

Keep yourself well-informed as industries change and new careers emerge.

Keep your CV regularly updated too.  It’s amazing how quickly you forget tasks or achievements that should be included.

Imagine how you would feel if your CV reflected all that you can do. Interested? If so, contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.

I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here.

You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.

If you or someone you know would like a personal consultation, please call +61 3 9690 8159.

Take charge of your life with Jacquie Wise.

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Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

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