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5 simple steps to figuring out your ideal career

Erin Delaney

Careers Commentator

When people ask you what you want to do when you haven’t yet entered the workforce, it’s a bit like them expecting you to be able to order from a restaurant without having seen the menu. Sure, you can take a stab, but chances are it’s probably going to change when you have more information available and a bit of experience under your belt (and you’ve had a look at the cake display).

Kids grow up being asked this question from a young age, thinking they should know how to become a space dinosaur (five years old) or dentist (17 years old), but with no real roadmap as to how to arrive at a decision. Is being a dinosaur fulfilling? Would I like being a dentist more?

Don’t worry, though... that’s where GradAustralia comes in. We’ve got a five-step plan to figuring out what your ideal career.

Let’s get started:

1. Think about what gets you going

While the question used to carry a bit more weight before today’s real estate got so pricey, if someone gave you a million dollars what would you do? Would you stay on the same path, or would you take a big risk knowing you couldn’t really fail? Think about what energises and excites you, perhaps even something you’d consider doing for free, and you’re one step closer to your dream career.

2. Consider what you’re good at    

Another good way to start zeroing in on your options is to think about what your skills are. Your friend might have always had a head for numbers, and you’re someone who’s always excelled in humanities. It’s going to be a little more difficult for you to go into accounting than your friend, and your friend might not win a Pulitzer any time soon. Not impossible, mind you — but you’d be fighting more of an uphill battle.

3. Tests, tests, tests

Ahh, the internet. So helpful and so very not by turns. While BuzzFeed’s “What kind of dog are you?” test is brilliant for procrastination and annoying your Facebook friends with (I got ‘regular dog’, if you were wondering), there are some really useful tests online that can help you figure out what kind of career might be right for you. There are personality tests, such as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, that figure out what kind of personality traits you have and what kind of career they might make you suitable for. Or there’s the likes and interests kind that assesses what your hobbies and aptitudes are, and gives you an answer based on those.

4. Tackle a side project

Have you ever wanted to build an app, or sell jewellery on Etsy? Then hop to it, because it may just help you figure out what you’d like to do long term. Running a side business while you’re at university is a great way to glean an understanding of what it is you excel at in a practical sense. There won’t be an enormous amount of Shakespeare interpretation on a daily basis once you’re in the workforce, so it’s great if you can find out some of the practical things — such as inventory, logistics, marketing or website design — you like to do while keeping an eye on what you excel at academically. You’ll be a lot closer to understanding yourself and tracing out a potential career path, and you never know — that computer you cook up in the garage might just be the next Apple Macintosh.

5. Do an internship

If you’ve managed to narrow down an occupation, company or industry you’d like to have a go at, then now’s the time to do an internship. Getting practical, on-the-job experience is the only way you’re going to be sure of your decision, and it’s best to do it in a low-fidelity way while you’re still at university so you have time to change tack if you find that it wasn’t quite what you expected.

While you can think and plan until you have written out War and Peace three times over, the only way you’re really going to know is by giving it all a go in either large or small doses. Volunteer, intern, play and tinker. Have fun! You’ll find your way. And if you try and try and still aren’t sure, just remember that careers today are more fluid than when your parents were working. Steve Jobs gave a famous Ted talk about ‘connecting the dots’ of your life, and you might just need to keep marking your dots until you can connect them.