In fact, it’s been five years since I graduated and I still don’t have one of those magical things called a “career plan”. Coming from someone who works for The Careers Service, that might surprise you. Back when I graduated, my lack of masterplan was something that filled me with panic. I nearly started down several different routes, from trying desperately to get some work experience in a prison so that I could set off on the long and difficult path to becoming a Forensic Psychologist, to nearly accepting a position as a carer in a dementia centre. But it didn’t work out that way, and now I’m much more comfortable with the fact that I don’t have a specific career plan or end goal that I’m working towards.
Having a career plan is not the same as having a career – I have led an interesting and successful career so far. In my five year career, I’ve worked in three different roles at the BBC and two roles for The University of Manchester, from audience research to marketing and communications. Each role has built on the last, so while I’ve not followed a ‘conventional’ career path so far, I’ve definitely developed as I’ve gone along. So as I’m sure many of you are leaving university worried about what your future holds, feeling like your friends and classmates have everything mapped out and you’re being left behind, I thought I’d share my experience and let you know why I’m perfectly happy to do things this way.
- I’ve been able to take different opportunities that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. In one job, I wrote lines for the people that announce the beginning of programmes on TV. Did you know that job existed? I didn’t, and it’s a great one to drop in to interviews for my ‘written and verbal communication skills’.
- I’m slowly building up a picture of who I am and what I really, really enjoy doing. Like many students, I was easily influenced by those around me and felt that I should have the same interests and goals as them. Through my different jobs I’ve learnt that I don’t have to like / be good at everything, which helps to narrow things down in the job search process.
- My network is ever-expanding, which can only open the doors to further opportunities. I now know people that work for loads of different companies across the UK and beyond. And if I ever want to go back a step, or apply for a job elsewhere, I have contacts that could help me to get there.
While I’m sure this all sounds lovely, it’s important to stress that my unplanned career lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I’ve been lucky so far, but there have been stressful times when the end of one contract is in sight and I’ve not got my next move lined up. Sometimes you can make a move and regret it… If you are the sort of person who doesn’t like risks, or you can’t cope with the feeling of making the wrong decision on occasion, this approach probably isn’t for you. Instead, I look at “bad moves” as almost as important as the good ones – they’ve all helped to determine what I want, built up my skills and developed my resilience. Additionally, if you have a clear vocation in mind and a career goal that you want to achieve, and you’re happy with that, my approach probably isn’t for you either. This will require more planning, with milestones or targets to achieve.
So what are my tips if you are graduating now and don’t have a career plan?
- Find your starting point. While you don’t need to have an end goal in mind, you have to start somewhere. Start by looking at your skills and what you’ve enjoyed doing at uni, and explore the options that might fit your interests.
- Always be on the lookout for opportunities. Whether it’s in work or in your personal time, you never know where something will lead or where an experience will come in handy.
- Leave each role on good terms. When moving on from one job to the next, don’t leave a bad taste behind. You enjoyed the job, but you’re ready for a new challenge. That way, you won’t burn any bridges and may be able to return if you decide that’s the place for you.
- Be selective. This is hard when you’re panicking about your next step, but I have fallen victim to applying for too many jobs in the past – it doesn’t work. If you have a suspicion that the job isn’t for you but you need the money so apply anyway, it will come through in your application or interview and you probably won’t get the job. Save time and energy by focusing on the jobs that you really want.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. When you change roles, you are not expected to be perfect straight away. Remember that everyone takes a bit of time to learn the ropes; don’t let it affect your confidence. Instead, focus on what you’re learning and how you’re getting better.
- Don’t get freaked out by other people’s opinions of what you should be doing. Just because your granddad worked for the same company for 40 years, doesn’t mean you have to.
Overall, my recommendation if you’re in this position is to relax a bit and enjoy the opportunities that come your way. Don’t get stressed about finding your dream job straight away – how are you supposed to know what your “dream job” is, anyway?
And talk to people, whether it’s friends, family, or The Careers Service. We are always available to give you some ideas, some pointers to get started, or even just listen to you talk about what you do / do not want to do in the future. It can really help!
Best of luck!