Graduate edition: What to do when you don’t know what to do

Written by Samantha Oates-Miller, Careers Insights and Graduate Support Assistant at the Careers Service

If it’s been a few months since you finished your degree and you’re still unsure of your next steps, don’t worry. To begin thinking about your career and developing a plan of action, follow our five ideas to help you get started.

  1. Explore alumni career journeys

Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration to help you get started. Ben, who graduated in 2019 with an MEng in Material Science and Engineering, says, “I found that communicating with alumni at events and building up my LinkedIn presence helped me become aware of the various opportunities available. Their career stories also provided me with reassurance. Most of the time, alumni are very happy to answer questions.

On our graduate careers pages, we have lots of stories from graduates about their graduate career journeys, their experiences of applying for and starting at graduate schemes, and what a day in their job is typically like. There are also lots of blogs by graduates about their careers.

You can also connect with alumni on LinkedIn or at events. Use the alumni search tool on LinkedIn to find alumni from your course and see what they are doing, or to look for alumni in roles that interest you. Got a question about their career progression? Why not connect with them and ask, and grow your network at the same time!

Another way to connect with alumni is by attending alumni events, such as the Meet the professionals events. Talk to alumni at our events; ask them about their transferable skills, how they find and apply for roles, and what they do day-to-day. Ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn too.

  1. Consider what you are good at and what you want

Think about the skills you currently have, and the ones you need to develop. The skills audit on our website can help you identify skills that you already have and skills you need to develop. Look at the list of transferable skills on the website and use the editable skills audit document to record examples that demonstrate each one. Thinking about which skills you are strongest can help you identify roles that interest you. You can also talk about your skills in applications and interviews, using the examples from your audit.

Consider what you enjoy: for example, do you like talking to others, doing practical work in a lab, or working as part of a team?

Then you could think about your values: do you want to travel in your job, attain high status or salary, or have lots of variety in the activities you do? Have a look at the I’m just starting page for more ideas. And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself to think about what you want out of our entire career. what you want from work will develop and change over time. If thinking long-term is too overwhelming, consider what you want out of the next 1-2 years.

Khushboo, a 2020 MSc Business Analytics graduate, gives some advice on how you can then match these skills to potential job options; “Think about the skills you have and do a simple search on LinkedIn for that skillset. I then looked at what other people with the same skillset did for a living. See what suits you and once you have a list of your top five, you can go back to LinkedIn again and look for job adverts related to those job titles. You will also better understand what soft/hard skills the industry demands.”

You could also take the Prospects Career Planner Quiz. This quiz looks at your skills and motivations and suggests possible careers that match. It can be a good starting point to get you thinking about how you can use your skillset and the kinds of roles you might be good at. Similarly, the Profiling for Success Career Interest Inventory identifies your level of interest in different career themes to suggest sectors that might suit you.

  1. Expand your horizons

For many job roles, you will not be tied to just one industry. For example, the majority of companies will need financial, marketing, HR, management, administrative or IT professionals. Look at the Which Career pages to investigate the variety of roles you could work in for each sector, and remember this when applying for opportunities. Don’t discount a company solely because their main focus is not the area you want to work in. For more guidance, have a look at Prospects: what can I do with my degree, for more information about the different careers and employers available.

Remember, you probably won’t stay in your first graduate role forever, and may not even stay within the same sector! Madeleine, a 2010 LLB Law graduate, reveals, “I fell into Human Resources (HR). I took a job that built on administrative work I had been doing over the summers to earn extra money, and then found that the work was something I really enjoyed. From there, I specialised further and worked my way into Learning & Development (L&D). I have worked in the NHS, retail sectors and the legal sector.

Another great way of exploring different sectors is by attending our employer events to hear directly from employers about their recruitment processes. Select ‘online employer events’ under the event type filter on CareerConnect. During events, ask panellists about opportunities and applications in the areas of the organisation that you are interested in. And keep an open mind. You might find out about a role that fits your skillset that you had not previously considered.

  1. Upskill and boost your CV

Gaining new skills can help you discover new career interests, as well as making your skillset more attractive to employers. Uyen, a 2020 BSc Management graduate, tells us about how useful online courses can be in developing skills, “there are plenty of online courses that will help you to develop valuable and transferable skills, and many are free. Studying an online course is a great way to show to future employers that you are a willing learner with a curious and independent mind-set. It is also a good point to talk about in interviews.

There are lots of online training resources you can use – search for courses in skills you want to develop or any that are relevant to the sectors you are interested in. Read our blogs on boosting your employability at home, future proofing your skills, and gaining skills from home for more ways you can develop your skills.

Work experience can also help you build your CV and is a good way to try out a career at the same time. You could gain experience by volunteering or doing a virtual work experience programme. While gaining valuable work place skills and adding experience to your CV, you will learn whether you enjoy the type of work, or working for a particular employer. You will also be able to grow your network, which can help you to access the hidden jobs market.

  1. Book an appointment with a Careers Consultant.

Perhaps you have questions or concerns you would like to talk through before you start your next steps. This is where a Careers Consultant can help.

Katie, a 2019 Politics and Sociology graduate, remembers her visit to Careers, “The careers team at UoM were super supportive. I think at the end of second year I had my first careers appointment as I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I was interested in doing with my degree. I met with a really nice lady who really got to know my strengths were and what jobs would suit me. I would say it’s so important to meet with the careers team as they are there to help!

By booking a careers guidance appointment with one of our Careers Consultants, you can discuss your personal career progression and goals and get advice on your career options. There are specific appointments for each Faculty and for graduates.

Whether you have a definite plan, or you are still unsure, a careers guidance appointment is an opportunity for you to talk through your career plans and ideas. The Consultant will also offer advice around any career concerns you may have and help you understand your next steps, such as searching for opportunities, or making applications. If you are still uncertain about what you want to do, they can also help you explore the different options available to you.

Don’t forget; as a graduate, you can continue to access your Careers Service for up to two years after you finished your course. This includes access to all of the resources on the graduate pages, career guidance appointments, and access to CareerConnect for events, appointments, pathways and job vacancies.

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