Help! What Do I Do With My Degree? Part 2--Finding a Real Job


Dear CareerDoctorI read your first column, in which you suggested ways to start working out what I want to do after my degree. I've followed your ideas and have defined my 'personal profile', but now I'm stuck again. How can I match my likes and values with some real jobs?Thanks,Sally

Dear Sally,

The volume of careers information out there is a little overwhelming, so your "personal profile" will prove to be the most useful tool you have--it will help you to find a job that suits you, rather than being seduced by employer recruitment talk. You could spend a lot of time trying out different jobs until you find one that fits, and although you may learn a lot from this there is a quicker way. Here are the resources I use when talking people through the process.

If you are willing to consider any suggestions (and I mean any), then a computer job-matching programme can be a good starting point. Just bear in mind that these draw information from a limited database and may suggest jobs that are of no interest. My profile always seems to match that of a chiropodist--a great occupation, but which wouldn't really suit a trained chemist and careers adviser like me. Although I suggested to the programme developers that they should add 'Do you like feet?' as an extra question to stop this happening, they were surprisingly unwilling. Equally, these systems may not find seemingly obvious matches, as your perceptions of an occupation may not match those of the person who wrote the profile.

OK, health warning over--I still think these are an interesting resource which can take your career search into new directions.

Several of these job-matching programmes are available on the Web, and they range from quite useful to downright bizarre. The best I've found is the Prospects Planner which is aimed at students (bachelor and doctorate--but don't be put off if you are out of education). A slightly more sophisticated version is also available at university careers services--this makes closer matches and suggests a wider range of jobs. Another generic site you could check out is the American Career Interests Game, but this one is fairly elementary so don't expect a perfect match or necessarily jobs at graduate level. The final one I will suggest is the Royal Society of Chemistry's Chemsoc Skill Centre. It will give you a feel for the diversity of roles available to scientists, even if the chemical sciences are not your area.

These programmes will present you with a very diverse list of occupations--up to a few dozen depending on your profile. You'll be able to reject some of them immediately, while others will instantly appeal and the rest will look unfamiliar or a little bland. Start by trying to find out more about the ones that connect with you the best, and keep the others in reserve. If you violently disagree with the majority of them then revisit the profile you entered. It may not reflect your true skills and career requirements, or the words you have used may carry a different meaning in the programme to what you meant, especially if it is a generic one. So try to use a more specific vocabulary and be aware that words such as "creativity" may be understood differently by a scientist and a nonscientist.

Not everyone likes these systems, largely due to bad experiences with unsophisticated programmes. If you aren't comfortable with them, then the strategies below will still lead to many interesting possibilities.

Although you shouldn't rush into making applications, a brilliant resource is job adverts. Get hold of publications that carry these and cut out any that interest you. If you've decided to stick with science, have a look in your professional body's magazine and the large scientific publications, such as Science, Nature, and New Scientist, which cover many areas and advertise jobs at all levels. If you are looking outside of the more research-based jobs, then I'd suggest the national newspapers as these are easier to peruse than general job Web sites which tend to sort jobs into many small categories (and are difficult to attack with the scissors).

Don't restrict yourself to jobs you may actually apply for: At this stage, you are only trying to formulate ideas. One of the first jobs that I clipped was as Head of Science Promotion at the Royal Society--they were looking for professors and research directors rather than upstart PhD students, but it helped me realise where my interests lay. Another big advantage of looking at jobs that are slightly out of your reach is that they can help you identify a career goal to which you can work towards.

Once you've clipped out a few jobs, take stock. Are there any consistent occupational areas or themes running through your choices (for example, you may find out they all involve writing or promotional work)? If so, you can start to investigate these areas in more detail. If the link between all the adverts is less obvious, then try to identify what it is that appealed to you in each job and see if there is a common thread. If not, then it may be time to prioritise your interests. Doing so will make your search for a matching job more manageable!

Once you have some suitable job titles in mind, you should go to the next level and check them out in more depth. Ask for the job description of any job that you particularly liked the sound of (the advert will include contact details). Virtually all employers produce these and some are extremely comprehensive, giving not only an overview of the post, but insight into the company or institution and employment sector. These can also give you a checklist of skills, experience, and qualifications to have if you plan to apply for a similar job in the future. You should bear in mind that employer needs do vary, so use your discretion and talk to other people before starting a personal development programme based on just one job description.

If you are based in a university, the careers service will have a library loaded with occupational information, and the staff will be able to suggest further resources. If you are not at university, try the Prospects site I mentioned earlier, as well as careers information from professional bodies, trade associations, and local authority careers services. The University of London Careers Service Web site is home to a Virtual Careers Library which links to hundreds of other sites categorised into occupational and subject areas. And of course, you'll find many profiles and articles on a huge range of careers on Next Wave--particularly in the Career Transitions section.

As you research your ideas and talk through them with an adviser, someone who works in the field, or your friends and family, it is important to keep an open mind--you will keep learning about your preferences and potential matches on the way. Also, make sure you keep information such as vacancy adverts, occupational outlines, and your personal profile in a folder that you can always add to, or come back to when you actually apply for jobs.

All the best in your career

The CareerDoctor

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