How do I decide?

With the wide range of possible careers open to you, it can be daunting to think about what you want to do after graduating. The advice below will help you make a start and remember you can always book an appointment to see a Careers Adviser at any point throughout your time at Heriot Watt.

Career choice – a planned approach

Whatever your approach to decision making has been previously, when it comes to career choice it's important that you take control rather than leaving it all to chance.

The idea at the core of career planning is that we often find greatest career satisfaction when work reflects our values and motivations and allows us to use our skills and strengths in a field we are interested in.

You therefore need to look inwards as well as outwards, to integrate self-awareness with an understanding of the industries and types of careers available.

Knowing yourself - What makes you tick?

What am I interested in?

Nearly all jobs involve a wide variety of situations and activities, and finding a role aligned with your personal ‘career interests' and ‘motivations' is one of the keys to long term career satisfaction. Your interests and hobbies can tell you something about what is important to you.

  • What do I like/dislike about my degree subject? (E.g. solving problems, being creative, collaborating with others, working with technology, pressure of deadlines etc.)
  • What do I enjoy/not enjoy about my p/t job? (team work, influencing customers, explaining how things work, the camaraderie, helping others etc.)
  • How do I spend my time outside work/studies? Obvious examples include: sport, leisure activities, hobbies and socialising but remember you can also include things like: voluntary work, care or other work within the family, political activity, membership of clubs and societies.

It is not until you think further about how and why you do things that you will begin to have some real evidence about yourself.

What am I good at?

All jobs require a broad range of skills and it is important to be aware of the skills that you have to offer, this can help you both to make better career choices and ensure you can explain and showcase your skills in the applications that you make. Consider:

  • What makes/made me successful in my studies or job?
  • What am I less confident/skilled in doing?
  • How would I evidence my skills to potential employers?

Be as honest as you can be when reflecting on your skills and abilities, through your studies, extra-curricular activities and your work experience you will have already developed and applied many different skills, understanding where your strengths lie could help you choose a career.

What motivates me?

Your motivations and values have a strong impact on whether you might find a particular job or career fulfilling. Some employers even look for particular values in potential employees, so it's helpful to become more aware of what drives you and gets you out of bed in the morning.

Common motivations include: Autonomy, challenge/Intellectual challenge, making a profit, benefiting society, creating product, improving services, status, security, variety etc.

Remember to consider your work environment, where do you want to be? What would your ideal look like?

You could create two lists - what you "Do want" and "Don't want" in your career.

This won't suddenly reveal the name of your perfect job, but now when you see a job ad or read about a career, you can review your list and see how it matches. You can also judge whether you're prepared to compromise on the rest.

Exploring options - What can I do?

Do your research

Familiarise yourself with the different jobs, occupations and sectors to see what they involve and whether they interest you. You might also take inspiration from what other graduates from your degree go on to do. Remember to research employers to ensure you have the most up to date information on what different companies offer.

Over 60% of graduate jobs are open to graduates of any degree subject, so you don't have to be limited by what you studied. Employers are aware that graduates who studied different subjects bring slightly different skills and approaches. As long as you can show the right skills and a clear motivation for working in a particular job, there's no reason you can't apply.

Use the Careers Service

Our Careers Advisers are independent and impartial. We can often help by asking you some of the questions you should be considering, and help you think through your options. Just be aware - we're unlikely to be able to guess which job you should do!

Talk to employers and recent graduates

Find out more about different careers by attending careers events such as careers talks, careers fairs and skills workshops on campus, delivered by employers, alumni and professionals. These usually take place in autumn and spring and are a great way to discover more than you would just from searching the internet.

Other sources of information

The Prospects website has over 500 career profiles with information on what these jobs involve, case studies of other graduates, what skills you need and how to get in.

Use your network, ask friends, family and people you know about their own jobs and the jobs of their colleagues.

Using social media such as LinkedIn can offer a wealth of useful source of information and contacts from former students of Heriot-Watt and other professionals across a variety of career areas

Making decisions

Good decision making

Good career decisions are not made overnight. Take time to consider what you might enjoy, how you could use your skills and abilities, and practical issues like whether there are jobs in career X or where you want to live.

Having looked at what drives you, and what options are out there, you will hopefully be close to determining what would suit you best.

You can help narrow down your choices by considering the positive and negative aspects of the options you have been exploring. This can help you evaluate your options more fully.

Get some experience

Whether it's a day of work shadowing, volunteering, an internship or placement, work experience is a great way to test drive your ideas. It can also help you make contacts that could help you get a foot in the door. Find more information on networking.

Get some advice

Remember that no decision is for ever: most graduates switch careers three or four times. Until you work in a job for a year or so, you are never going to have all the information you would like about an occupation.

To some degree any decision requires a leap of faith based on what seems to be the right choice at the time.

Talk to a Careers Adviser to feel more secure that you have done all you can to make a good choice.

Taking action!

What should I do now?

Having an idea of your career direction is valuable, but it's also vital to take active steps forward. Even if you aren't sure about what you want, doing something is always better than doing nothing while you wait for inspiration. Research shows that most successful graduates do some fundamental things in terms of doing research, volunteering, getting experience etc. which help build their CV, their skills, their knowledge and contacts.

Even if you have difficulty deciding on a clear plan – you can still take action now to make yourself more employable. You can develop many skills while at university through work experience and extra-curricular activities. They look great on your CV and they may help you think about what you would like in a future career.

Find a starting point and go from there. If you need a job this year and don't have time to research your options in detail, then a good alternative to waiting for a revelation is:

  1. Find a job which is a reasonable starting point - matches some of your "Do want" list.
  2. Learn from that experience - what do you enjoy, what do you dislike?
  3. Pick up some skills and achievements along the way - get some good material to add to your CV.
  4. Then, find another job which is closer to what you now know you want.

If you're in your final year, this is a better strategy than hoping inspiration will suddenly strike, by which time you'll have missed out on lots of jobs which might have been a great first step on your career.

Many "graduate schemes" are now so competitive that you can improve your chances by starting another job, putting some good achievements on your CV, and then applying to top schemes in a year or so.

Tools to help you

Prospects Planner - Asks about what motivates you and that might be important to you in a job, then matches you with profiles where people in those jobs gave very similar responses.

What do graduates do? - This site presents national data about the destinations of graduates six months after leaving university. It covers 28 subjects, and shows how many graduates are in employment, the types of jobs they go into, and how many go into further study.

Prospects - what can I do with my degree? - Useful careers information tailored to students and graduates subject-by-subject. The pages include the broad employability advantages that your degree gives you, the skills that you may have developed, alongside ideas and suggestions for further study, and career and employment options that may prove promising.

Skills Health Check - National Careers Service - This site allows you to work through the personal skills assessments to help you understand your skills, interests and motivations in the workplace. Explore what you're good at, your preferred working style and what you want to get from work.