Making the Right Choices

I know what job I want to do

Some people come to university because they are very clear about their career goals. Many others find it very difficult to decide what they want to do for their future. There are always chances in life to return to education and to take further programmes. Training is also offered through some jobs. Not everyone wants to spend more time and money on re-training if they could have planned their route better the first time around.

It can save a lot of time and expense to give thought to your future earlier rather than later even if it seems hard to know where to begin.

Whether or not you are clear what job you want, you can move forward by thinking about the wider questions that should influence your choice.


  • What kind of life do you want to live? Will that be possible in the kinds of jobs you are thinking of doing longer term?
  • What kind of person do you want to be? What kinds of job would help you be that person?
  • What kind of people do you want to be with when you are at work?
  • What kind of income you want? How important is money to you?
  • What sort of activities do you enjoy? Will you be able to do any of these in your job?

Focus on the Careers Advisory Service

Visit the Careers Advisory Service early in your time at university. Don’t wait until they invite you for interview. They are usually very pleased to see students early - before they make the wrong choices for the careers they want.

Careers Services have specialist staff, a wide range of materials about different careers and jobs, labour market information to help you identify gaps in the market and much, much more.

If you need a job while you are a student, there may even be a job-shop run by your service. They usually have access to a wide range of job services on line and through local contacts with employers. There may be special projects or courses run at the university or in the local community that the Careers Service can tell you about.

In some universities, Careers Services offer training in useful skills – or can refer you to someone who can. Some invite local employers or those in professional occupations to give talks about different jobs or what employers are looking for in graduates.

Careers Advisory Services are usually interested in helping you to plan towards your future life rather than directing you to a particular job. They will have many resources for helping you to narrow down the kinds of work that might suit you.

In addition, Careers services can give you advice on aspects of applying for jobs, such as writing CVs, interview practice, and going to assessment centres.

Taking the right courses

Bear in mind that there will be many graduates going for some jobs. Give some thought to how you will stand out.

  • A combination of options may make you a better fit for some jobs. For example, if you are studying accountancy or law, which options would help you to become an accountant or a lawyer in the sports industry? For media companies? For medical or pharmaceutical companies? For construction industries? For manufacturing industries?
  • An unusual option may encourage some employers to interview you out of interest.
  • Check carefully the requirements of professional bodies – you may need to take certain accredited units to progress to further qualifications or into the occupation of your choice. The Careers Service can help you to check the programmes you need.

If you are on a course that offers subsidiary subjects or optional modules or units, you may wish to choose your options from a career perspective. Alternatively, you may want to choose options that broaden your personal interests as a welcome change from your main subject. Remember: too much variety can be difficult to manage as you need to learn the conventions and background knowledge for the different subjects you take. A little variety can be really useful. It opens up new opportunities and gives you new perspectives on your main subject or on life in general.

Download our table and jot down options that are available at your university that you could take to help you to achieve your goals.

Extra-curricular activities

Graduates generally have more employment opportunities and earn more than non-graduates. However, to get the job you want at an early stage in your career, a degree may not be enough. When you go for interview employers may be looking for a wide range of skills and experience. In particular, employers tend to prefer applicants who:

  • Have taken on responsible roles.
  • Have led projects.
  • Have had work experience.
  • Speak languages apart from English.
  • Have taken on challenges and can describe how they learnt from them.
  • Have the problem-solving skills to get on with a new job without too much direction.
  • Get on well with other people.
  • Are confident in communicating with a wide range of people.
  • Are creative thinkers.
  • Are good at finding solutions rather than focusing on the problem.

Some programmes now build opportunities for developing such skills into the main curriculum. If so, it is worth keeping good records of the skills you develop. It is also useful to consider the opportunities for developing these skills outside the curriculum.

Download and use this form to record your own extra-curricular activities.

Clear life goals

Although it is important to spend time thinking about your academic subjects and your career objectives, sometimes the bigger questions that will really affect you can get left out. For example:

  • What do you want to achieve over your lifetime? Is there any one thing you would like to fit into the next 10 or 20 or 30 years?
  • Where in the country or in the world do you want to live?
  • What values are important to you?
  • Who are the important people in your life? How do they fit into your life plans?
  • What does success mean for you?
  • What are you prepared to sacrifice to get what you want?

Download this table and write out your long term goals to focus yourself.