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What to do if you don’t know what career you want

Lots of people don't know where to start when it comes to finding a career. Find out how to take your first steps.

Work out what you do know

Even if you don't know what you want to do, you probably have some ideas about what you want from your job. For example, you might know that you want a career that includes lots of travel, or that you don't want to have to live in a big city. Write down as many things that you do or don't want as you can, highlighting things that you consider essential or that would rule a job out altogether.

If you're finding this difficult, imagine what your dream job would be if you didn't have to be realistic or worry about money. Think about what appeals to you about this idea: you can then look for these qualities in other jobs.

Once you have worked this out, you'll be in a better position to judge different opportunities, and in less danger of falling into an unsuitable job because you don't know what else to do.

Find out what's out there

A big barrier between many people and their ideal job is that they simply don't know that the job exists. Job adverts and careers websites like Prospects can help you to discover new jobs, but they can be hard to navigate when you don't know what you're looking for. Good ways to find out about jobs you've never heard of include:

  • Looking at vacancies on the websites of organizations you are interested in
  • Talking to friends and family about careers you might like
  • Researching your hobbies or interests in depth to find out about related jobs 

Talk to a careers service 

The most common problem university careers services deal with is people having no idea what they want to do -
which means they have lots of experience helping with it. Try to book in for a meeting with a careers advisor as early as you can: you'll need time to follow up afterwards to reach the right conclusion.

If you're not at university, the National Careers Service may be able to help you.

Find out how to get the most of a university careers service.

Get some experience

Experience doesn't just make you more employable - it helps you find out what kind of work you are interested in. If you're still studying, look for work experience placements in the usual way, but try to get some variety: two short placements will give you a better idea of what you want than one long one.

If you have finished studying, you'll need to find a job sooner rather than later, but if you're still not sure what you want to do you can approach your first job in a similar way to work experience. Compare different possibilities against the lists of things you do and don't want, and consider the skills and experience each one would give you that you would be able to use elsewhere.

When you first get a full-time, permanent job, it's easy to settle in and stop looking for the career you really want.  To avoid this:

  • Record the things that you like and dislike about your job.
  • Carry on looking at job adverts so you remain aware of what's out there. This is easy if you sign up for email alerts.
  • Find someone to talk to about what you want to do next. This might be a friend, a family member or anyone else you trust..

Of course, you might decide that the job you have is right for you after all. If so, that's a great result, and these steps will help to confirm that you're on the right path, not just the easiest one.

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