What to do when you don't know what to do

Posted in: Career Choice, Tips & Hints

'I don't know what I want to do' is possibly one of the most frequent things careers advisers hear, and it's been in my mind for a while to write a blog post addressing this.

The first step towards moving beyond 'I don't know what I want to do' is working out what you actually mean by this. In my experience people can mean a variety of different things.

1. I don't know what's important to me in my career.

You wouldn't normally choose a new house without having some idea about the factors that were important to you - such as where do you want to live, how many rooms do you need, do you need a garage. Yet many people try to make decisions about their career ('shall I apply for this job or that one?') without thinking about some of the factors that are important.

Factors that might be important in working out which is the right career direction for you can include: what you would be doing day-to-day, are you making a difference, does the job or organisation align with your values, where would you be based, how much money would you earn, what kind of environment would you be in, how much would you be using your strengths?

How about taking this list and picking out the top three factors that are important to you? You can also use some of the resources within our Career Options Get Started Guide, in particular the Team Focus questionnaires which can help you identify your work-related personality and values, and our in-house Find your Future tool.

Another way to work out what your key career drivers are is to start with where you are now. What do you like and dislike about your current course? What motivated you (or didn't) about your past work experience? What skills do you enjoy using as part of your hobbies or volunteering? Have a go at doing a 30-day 'love-it, loathe-it' audit of what you're doing now - this can give some great insights into which bits of 'now' you want to take into the future. Finally, have a go at visualising your ideal day at work. What environment are you in? Who are you with? What are you doing and what's motivating you to be there?

2. I don't know what options are out there in the labour market.

Knowing which career option is right for you is fundamentally tricky if your idea of what options are out there is distinctly hazy. Again, have a look at our Career Options Getting Started Guide, which has some great links and advice on how to research career options, including our in-house career helpsheets covering a range of topics. You could also check out the role profiles on the Prospects website and the sector overviews on TargetJobs.

3. I have so many different ideas that I can't decide between them.

A few things to say here. First of all, do you necessarily have to decide between them? For most of us, I suspect there's more than one thing we could do and be satisfied. Rather than trying to decide between a, b and c, it can be helpful to map out the options you're considering and see if you can spot any common themes and patterns. Do all your options involve making a difference? Or certain types of activities? Identifying common themes and patterns can really help to clarify your thinking.

Do also try and spot any differences between the roles you're considering; this lovely careers tool by David Winter helps you identify what's similar and what's different about the different options you're considering. Another tip here is to look back at your key career priorities and weigh the topics you're considering against these. Getting a sense of which career priorities are most important to you and where you're willing to compromise will really help here.

4. I do know what I want to do, but what if I don't like it?

It's hard to be completely certain about whether something is right for us, and really easy to think you have to get your career choice right first time. Please hear me clearly on this one: YOU DON'T. It's completely normal (and indeed common these days) for people to change jobs and career paths, so try and let go of the fear of not getting it right first time. Our needs and circumstances change over time, and it's entirely possible that what seems right now won't in a few years' time.

Having said that though, I sometimes meet people who aren't confident in their career choice because they don't have enough information about what the job actually involves. Why not contact some of the Bath alumni in Bath Connection and ask what they do on a day-to-day basis, and what are the highlights and challenges of their jobs? These questions can help you get a fuller picture of what a job would actually be like.

Final thought

One of the most important things to be remember is that working out what you want to do is usually a process that happens over time; break things down into small steps, explore the options and talk to people. And never feel you have to wait until you do know what you want to do before you talk to a careers adviser - helping you work it out is part of our job.

Posted in: Career Choice, Tips & Hints


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