The question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ has been asked of us all since we were around the age of five. It didn’t matter that the only jobs we knew about to choose between were doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen or teachers, we had to start thinking about it. For most of my childhood and time at secondary school I changed my mind every couple of weeks about what I wanted to do. One week I’d want to be a postwoman, next week running a soup kitchen (perhaps the most short-lived of my ideas), the week after that own a jelly shop in Brighton, and each time i’d think ‘this is it, I finally know what I want to be.’
Throughout this chopping and changing, which no doubt I was not alone in, I was assured by my parents and teachers that it was okay, I didn’t need to know yet, there was still plenty of time. That is, until the day you are told to decide what course to study at university. Then, almost overnight, you needed to know, and you needed to know fast.
If like me, you have never had a clear conviction of what career path to take, you can be left feeling overwhelmed by your options, and envious of those who have just known since the first time they thought about it. If you weren’t ready to commit to a specific career at the age of 17, you’re not alone. Throughout my first year at university, whenever I’ve asked other students what they want to do afterwards, unless they’re on a career specific course, very few of them have been able to give me a definitive answer.
I used to think that one day I would just find out; either I would discover a job I’d never heard of before, it would be perfect in every way for me, and that would be that, or a mystical careers adviser would do some Derren Brown shit on me and tell me exactly what I should be. Turns out though, it’s not that simple. So whether graduating still seems a long way away, or whether it’s feeling worryingly close, the best thing to do is be pro-active about choosing a career; the answer is unlikely to fall into your lap like a fortune cookie.
The first thing to do is narrow down your options. You can do this from the comfort of your own bed, by having a good brainstorm, and researching online about what’s out there. Chances are your degree will lend itself to certain jobs, but don’t think you have to be confined by an online list of ‘careers for history students’. The sites that I have found most helpful for this are Prospects, I Could and Guardian Careers.
Once you’ve got a few ideas, the next step is to give them a go. Work experience isn’t exclusively for bettering your chances at landing your dream job once you graduate, it can also be a kind of ‘try before you buy’ experience. If you do a job for a couple of weeks and realise it’s not what you want, that’s still time well spent and you can narrow your options even further. There is only so much you can learn about a job from reading about it online, most of the time the only way to know what it would like to do something is to er, do it.
Finally, make the most of the support your university offers. Your uni will have a specialist team to help you plan for the future, it would be daft not to make use of them. Go to careers fairs, meetings and workshops – soak up everything you can and sooner or later, you will start to get a clearer picture of what career path to take. As for me, if all else fails, I’m getting the sense that being a careers adviser could be right up my street…