The expectation that careers should follow a planned and logical path seems to be deeply ingrained for many people. It is really important to realise that most careers are not linear and that it is very much OK to not know what you are going to do after graduation. If you speak to many successful experienced professionals they will say that they didn’t know what to do when they finished university and that much of their careers were not planned and happened by chance.
One theory of career development is planned happenstance. This suggests that it is normal, inevitable, and desirable for unplanned events to influence careers and that unplanned events and career indecision are opportunities to try new activities, develop new interests, challenge old beliefs, and continue lifelong learning.
Trying to decide what career path to take can be a daunting and often confusing. In a world with so many options, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by choice. The process of identifying a suitable career path can induce a lot of anxiety, and it is often difficult to know how and where to begin. The following information and resources should help you begin the process of working out what you want to do.
The classic model used for career planning is a 4 step cyclical process:
- Know yourself
- Explore opportunities
- Make choices
- Take action
Research shows that what graduates look for is meaningful work. Meaningful, fulfilling work can be found when you are working in a role that aligns with your core values, your career interests and your personality, and which allows you to utilise your skills and strengths.
The starting point to discover a meaningful career is to spend time identifying your personality, skills and strengths, your core values and interests, and understanding what motivates you. This is often referred to as developing self-awareness.
Values and your career
Your values are your core beliefs that shape the decisions you make to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. In a career context, values might include job security, a regular income and a fixed pattern of work, or variety, risk, flexibility and independence.
Some of these values will change as your life circumstances change and you gain more experience. For example the weight you give to job security versus flexibility may change depending on your financial commitments or your family circumstances at a given time. However some values are much more fixed and are not likely to change over your career e.g. you might have an inherent preference for working independently that stays constant throughout your career.
Values are the key to understanding people’s energy and motivation. If you are working in a role and organisation that fits well with your own personal values you are much more likely to excel in the role and to find career satisfaction. By identifying your values you will have an insight into what you want for yourself and what you want to become, allowing you to make a much more informed choice on your career.
Career interests relate to your preferred ways of thinking, planning and working. Your career interests do not refer to a particular sector or job but relate more to the type of work you are interested in doing. You are much more likely to enjoy a role that affords you the opportunity to think and work in your preferred style for the majority of the time. Many different roles and sectors could possibly allow you to do the type of work that you prefer.
Examples of types of career interests would include:
- Managing and leadership
- Creative and artistic
- Enterprising and business
- Social and caring
- Analysing and researching
- Planning and organising
- Problem solving
Personality and your career
Your personality influences how you do things – how you interact with others, plan your work, use your leisure time and tackle problems. Because of its wide-ranging impact, understanding your personality is central to your self-awareness and development. Your personality is your characteristic pattern of behaviour, and working in a role and environment that fits with your personality type is really important. For example, an uncompetitive person who gets easily stressed is unlikely to do well in a competitive high-pressured and competitive environment. By being aware of your personality traits you will be able to assess whether a role, organisation or sector will suit you.
Skills, strengths and your career
You have developed a range of skills through your time at university and through any work experience or extra-curricular activities in which you have taken part. It is really important that you are able to recognize the skills you have developed and that you are able to clearly articulate these – to yourself and to employers. When you reflect on your experiences you will notice that you enjoyed engaging in and have a natural aptitude for certain activities more than others. Trinity’s Guided Reflection Tool to strengthen your application. is designed to help you to reflect on your experiences. You may remember times when you were totally engrossed in a task and didn’t notice time passing, this is called being in a state of flow. Activities that you have a natural aptitude for and enjoy are your strengths. By being aware of your strengths you will be able to choose a career that will allow you to utilise these strengths and you will be happier and more productive in your work.
How to develop your self-awareness
- Reflect on your experience to date to gain a sense of what you enjoy doing. Think about times when you were doing something that you really enjoyed, and ask yourself what it was about that task or experience that made it enjoyable. This can give you an insight into the things that really motivate you. Use Trinity’s Guided Reflection Tool to help you to gain these insights
- Psychometric tests are extremely useful in helping you develop a clearer sense of who you are and what you are good at doing. Profiling for Success is a series of psychometric tests that are available for free to Trinity students. See the “Profiling for Success” page for information
- Talk with people who know you well and ask them. People close to you can often give you a perspective on your strengths and qualities that you may not have considered.
- Try new things and activities. The more new things you experience the better your understanding of how you behave in certain situations and environments will be.
- Meet with your Career Consultant for a guidance meeting. They can support you to reflect on your experiences to identify your interest and motivations.
Your awareness of the options and opportunities that are available to you might well be limited if you haven’t spent time researching career options. It is important to spend time researching and investigating the different jobs and sectors in which you could work. Informing yourself of the different possibilities open to you will allow you to make a fully informed decision and increase your chances of finding a job that really suits you. Look at the rest of the “explore your options" section of this site to learn more about the opportunities available to you.
Once you have spent time learning more about your career preferences, and have explored the opportunities available, you will hopefully have narrowed the list of potential career options down to a manageable number. At this stage you will need to make a decision.
The following questions may be helpful to consider when making a decision:
- How do I tend to make important decisions? What is my decision making style- am I rational or intuitive? Has this approach worked for me in the past?
- Which career options are a priority for me? Why?
- Do I have a contingency plan?
- What are the practical considerations that apply to me? e.g. hours I will work, my salary, location, promotional opportunities, work environment
- Which of the options is likely to lead to the best outcome. Weigh up the positives from each option.
Working through these questions and towards a decision about what steps to take next can be a complex process. Your Careers Consultant has expertise in guiding students through this process, and is here to support you at any stage in your studies. If you would like to have a confidential and impartial discussion to help with making a decision about your career, go to MyCareer and book an appointment with your Careers Consultant.
Once you have made your decision you then need to begin the process of securing a job. Go to the “making applications” section of this website for information and advice on how to be successful in securing jobs or further study opportunities.
Graduate pathway videos
Find out more about how your career can develop in different sectors through informative graduate stories videos.
Profiling for Success
Profiling for Success is a series of online psychometric tests that can help you learn more about yourself and your strengths, which will help you to make informed career and personal choices. For more information please see the Profiling for Success page.
Career Planning tools
Career planning books
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2016)
Drive Dan Pink (2009)
Essential Skills for Early Career Researchers Joseph Roche (2022)
Flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2011)
Getting from college to career Lindsey Pollak (2012)
The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman (2013)
What Color Is Your Parachute? Richard Nelson Bolles (2018)