One of the most important things you can do before you go off to university is to decide on a career. Of course, real life is complicated, and our career trajectories don’t always work out precisely as we had hoped, but the skills you build and the training you receive at university will very much define what you can do for a living once you graduate. You should put some thought into your ideal job before you choose a course or a school.
When thinking about your future, you should keep 5 things in mind:
- You’ll be much happier about your career if it is something you feel passionate about.
For most of us, there is more to life than a high salary, a nice house and an expensive car. In a perfect world you can have all that and a personally meaningful career. Many of us have to choose between pay and fulfilment, though, and you should think about what kind of work will make you happier as a person.
What do you love doing? What can you spend hours doing, putting in real effort, and not have it feel like ‘work’? You’d be surprised how many hobbies and passion projects can become the beginnings of successful careers.
If you’re still drawing a blank, try this thought experiment. If you had all the money in the world, everything you could want, what would you do all day? Where would you go? Now, you might have to be creative to find things that can be viable careers, but it will get you thinking.
- Don’t limit your choices unnecessarily.
Many people suffer from a kind of ‘career prejudice’. Don’t rule out possible careers based on your first impression of them, and your assumptions about what ‘kind of people’ do certain jobs. Lots of lawyers never see a courtroom. Many IT professionals spend more time working out how to apply technology to people’s lives and businesses than they do coding. There are more trained engineers who wear a suit and tie every day than you might think.
Really look at all of your options here, and try to be open minded.
- Don’t automatically make ‘safe’ careers your first choice.
Many people will tell you to choose a career based on demand, or because it will be a ‘safe choice’. Don’t assume any career is truly safe, and do your research before you decide on anything. Not all trained IT graduates find it easy to get a job, for example, and many others discover that there are plenty of low-paying jobs in that industry, just like any other.
In other words, you won’t automatically get paid for sacrificing your dreams. Consider other options.
- Once you’ve got a shortlist, research your options extensively.
You’ve identified a few possibilities, and that’s a great start. However, the job isn’t finished. You need to do a great deal of research into each career. Start with online research, but don’t stop there. This is your future, after all. Spend some time and effort on it! Ask family and friends if they know anyone on these industries or professions, and try to speak to them personally.
Go to job fairs and university open days. Ask to intern or volunteer at organisations near you to get a feel for what these jobs are really like. You can’t beat first-hand experience!
- Remember, you CAN change your mind later!
Still not certain you’ve chosen the perfect career? That’s normal. Remember that you’re ever ‘locked in’ to a career, and even if you spend 6 years in school learning how to do one thing, you can still go off and do something else entirely.
Sometimes the only way to find out that a career isn’t for you is to start down that road. Even if you’ve been doing something for 15 years, you can always change careers.
Now, let’s take a very broad look at two of the biggest factors that people consider when choosing a career: salary and work/life balance.
If you know without a doubt that you want a well-paying career, you still have quite a few choices. We’ve got a page dedicated to that kind of research here, but we’ll look at three of the best paying fields now.
- Investment Banking Starting Salary: Up to £50,000 per year
Investment banking is a fast paced, very well paid field. It offers the highest entry level salaries (on average) in the UK, and typically includes a wide range of perks and benefits as well.
Note that this is an extremely competitive field, and the most successful investment bankers will quickly distinguish themselves.
- Law Starting Salary: £23,000 to £70,000 per year
Becoming a lawyer is really making a choice between 2 different careers, that of Solicitor and that of Barrister.
Barristers tend to be better paid, but becoming one is challenging, and competitive. On paper this has nothing to do with the social class of the applicant, but the reality doesn’t quite live up to that ideal. Barristers offer high level legal advice and services, and very much serve as specialists.
Solicitors work much more directly with their clients, and provide smaller scale legal services for the most part. They typically refer clients to barristers when the client needs specialist services or support that the solicitor cannot provide.
The law is a stimulating career on an intellectual level, and will let you interact with clients (and opponents) from nearly every industry, social class and background the UK has to offer. Lawyers in large cities like London, Edinburgh, Leeds and the like are typically well paid.
It is possible to take on work that can be very meaningful, defending the downtrodden or making sure that large companies meet their social, financial and ethical responsibilities.
- Management Consulting Starting Salary: £26,000 to £40,000 per year
Management consultants work with client organisations across all industries and sectors in order to change the way they manage themselves and their people for the better. Depending on that organisation’s goals and challenges that might mean making it more profitable, more efficient, more compliant with standards, or nearly anything else. It does usually come down to money, though.
Management consultants tend to take up responsible roles early in their careers. Their work is varied even if they become highly specialised, because every client and situation is different. Good salaries are common, as are various benefits and perks. Note, though, that a management consultant’s workload will be highly variable.
If you know for a fact that you aren’t a workaholic and just couldn’t imagine putting in a 70 hour week, you can still take up a very rewarding and well-paid career. Again, you are encouraged to do your own research, but we have listed three good potions here.
- IT and Telecoms Starting Salary: £18,000 to £35,000
Hiring in the IT field is expanding rapidly, and offers you the chance to work with the very latest technology. If you are a technophile at heart, this will be a great choice. You can expect regular, reasonable hours.
- Engineering Starting Salary: £18,000 to £40,000
If you like building things which will last, engineering will be very fulfilling to you. It can also be a very well paying career, especially if you work in the oil and gas industry. You can also be expected to do a lot of travelling. Note that many engineers rather enjoy this aspect of their job.
- Banking, Financial Services & Actuarial Starting Salary: £26,500 to £35,000
These tend to be reliable, stable and well paid positions with quite reasonable hours. There aren’t a lot of real downsides, unless you have an aversion to suit-and-tie environments.
Remember, let your interests and passions be your guide, as a fulfilling career you can love for your whole life is likely to make you happier than a well-paid job you hate.
Want to learn more about your career options? Don’t forget to research the possibilities here.