Working out what you want to do with your life will be one of the most overwhelming decisions of your life. There are so many options, so many careers you’ve not even heard of, and so much riding on your decision.
To make the choice just that slight bit easier, we’re going to look at five aspects which can help you discover what career(s) might be an ideal match for you.
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One way of thinking about a future career is to recognise the main reasons why you want to work. Most attributes that people find important fall under seven categories, and what’s most important to you will depend on your circumstances and personality:
- the enjoyment of day-to-day work
- the impact on others and society
- life outside work, for example being able to live in the place you choose
- having a short commute and family life
- gaining security and earning money
- using your current skills, abilities and talents
- developing your skills, abilities and talents
You can also be more specific in thinking about what you’d like in a career. Some examples might include:
- The ability to leave work at the end of the day without it bleeding into home life so you can spend quality time with your family.
- The way you are pushed out of your comfort zone to learn new things.
- Having you think on your feet when things go wrong.
- Being part of a company that values your need to progress and develop new skills formally.
- Being able to put your talents to good use and being seen by others as having a unique expertise.
- Seeing new talent that you are mentoring grow into something you never expected.
- Seeing a project through from beginning to end, and the satisfaction it gives you on completion.
- Being able to bring people’s ideas into something tangible.
- Seeing people getting better and recovering.
- Encountering people from all walks of life.
- Working for a company with an ultimate goal which underlies any work they do.
- The ability to work on your own, organising your own time, with trust from your line manager.
- Working in a team with lots of different skillsets, where there’s value in what everyone has to offer.
- A flexible working day.
- The ability to travel and see the world.
- A varied, fast-paced environment.
- The challenge of encountering problems and working to solve these.
Having an idea of your work values can help you assess whether a career and job role are right for you. For example, does your chosen position give you the ability to manage your time and workload flexibly around your hobbies which have set times? Does it offer you the chance to work towards certain qualifications?
You can also consider what you really don’t value in your career to make sure you eliminate any choices which offer these.
Another aspect you can consider is your ‘vocational personality’. In the 1950s, an American psychologist called Dr Holland, came up with a way of describing what people’s work preferences are. He realised that people are multi-faceted and believed that as well as classifying individuals by personality types, occupations could be classified in the same way, and that if he could classify people and occupations, he could then make matches between the two.
These preferences are organised into six categories, and it’s likely that you are dominant in either two or three. Here’s our version of the quiz to help you identify yours, while iShine also gives you your vocational personality.
Realistic people enjoy activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of these occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.
Investigative people enjoy involve working with ideas, and jobs that require an extensive amount of thinking. Investigative occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.
Artistic people enjoy working with forms, designs and patterns. They often require self-expression and the work can be done without following a clear set of rules.
Social people enjoy working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others.
Enterprising people enjoy starting up and carrying out projects. Enterprising occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.
Conventional people enjoy following set procedures and routines. Conventional occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.
Each career is made up of two or three vocational personalities. So for example, a physiotherapist will be both social and investigative. She will have to get people to open up to her and get to know them, and use different methods to help them improve their health. This might mean trying one treatment to see whether it works and then moving on to another when it doesn’t. As a more hands-on career, she might also find that she possesses the realistic interest as well as the conventional when using prescribed medical methods.
Now that you know what your vocational personalities are, you can use our career guides to get a better understanding of which careers are an ideal choice for you. We’ve also put together a list of common careers and their vocational personality types to help you narrow down your choices.
Flow is a theory proposed by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi when he asked people where in everyday life do we feel really happy? He interviewed creative people asking what made their work lives which made their life meaningful and worth doing when they were essentially spending their life doing things for which many of them didn’t expect either fame or fortune.
Several people interviewed described their experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along, and the term “flow” was born.
How does it feel to be in flow?
- Completely involved in what you are doing
- A sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday realityGreat inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done and how well we are doing
- Knowing that the activity is doable - that your skills are adequate to the task
- A sense of serenity - no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego
- Timelessness - thoroughly focussed on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes
- Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces flow then becomes its own reward.
In essence, it’s the ability to focus completely on a single task, and find a sense of calm and happiness in your work.
Ideally it’s a state that you’d like in your working life. You’ll not be able to have to be in flow all the time, but working on things that you can lose yourself in is a great way to feel happiness in the workplace.
When do you experience flow?
For two weeks keep a diary of activities that you’ve undertaken, from writing an essay to making dinner, from organising your next chess competition to handing out parcels at your local food bank. Remember that nothing is too small or too trivial.
Consider activities such as:
- Your free time, whether you enjoy going to the gym or a Netflix binge.
- Education, if you are currently studying.
- Any voluntary work you do.
- Any clubs and societies you belong to, and any hobbies you have.
- Work experience, both current and in the past.
- Day-to-day life, e.g. making meals, running errands, looking after children.
When did you feel the most flow? Was it while working or otherwise? Was it for lots of brief periods over the course of the week or did one activity give you the most flow? Did it involve working with others or independently?
Once you know what gives you more flow, you can create a checklist of the tasks you’d like your career to involve, and make sure that your chosen position(s) offers them when you start applying for jobs.
Education offers you the chance to learn specific skills and knowledge that might be necessary for some careers and useful for many others. Watch this space for our career guides to help you better understand what you gain from degrees and what careers are best suited to your favourite subjects.
Your time in education as a whole has also given you the opportunity to learn lots and this can also translate into employability skills highly valued in the workplace. Here’s our guide to help you understand what skills you’ve gained at university.