Exploring careers

Doing something you love every day and getting paid for it is the ideal. But the perfect career isn’t going to just fall into your lap. Working out what you’re right for takes a bit of courage and a lot of persistence.

It might take time to find something that feels right. Whether you have too many choices or too little good ones, you can find your way taking the time to think, research and reflect.

Job vs career – what’s the difference?

It was fairly common for our parents to have just one job or two in their lifetimes. Today the average person stays in a job for just three years and four months, and career-change is more common, too.

Fact: If Australia's current job turnover rate continues, Gen Y will have 17 different employers and five separate careers in their lifetimes.

— McCrindle Research, 2013

So what’s the difference between a job and a career?

A job is something you do for money for one employer. A career is the combination of all your job experience in a related area over time.

Rather than thinking about choosing a job for life, think in terms of trying things out and building up your own individual career. Study is a big part of this and means that you are not locked into just one path.

Five steps to finding a career

1. Find your strengths

One of the best ways to weigh up the pros and cons of specific jobs or careers  is to go through each of the key experiences you’ve had in your life, and describe what you did and what you learned about yourself. The experiences might have been at school, in a previous job, in a family situation or in your community.

2. Examine your interests

Make a list of all the things you enjoy. It could be old movies, fashion magazines, bushwalking, meeting new people, looking after kids, cooking for your family, even the crossword or solving maths problems.  If you can see some common themes, this could inform what you’d like to do for a job. Having your favourite things in the front of your mind will help you zone in on careers that work with your personality.

Think about how that might translate into tasks at work. Most jobs fit into one of seven categories and some careers can incorporate more than one. If you are into research and problem-solving, then ‘analytic or scientific’ might be for you. If you are a good listener and love helping other people, then maybe you are best suited to something in the ‘helping or advising’ category. Put these into your order of preference and keep them in mind when you weigh up your career options later.

  • Analytic or scientific: observing, researching, analysing, theorising, problem-solving.
  • Creative or artistic: expressing, performing, designing, styling, creating, writing.
  • Helping or advising: listening, treating, informing, teaching, instructing, caring.
  • Practical or mechanical: fixing, installing, making, repairing, testing, fitting, building.
  • Nature or recreation: conserving, handling, coaching, growing, monitoring.
  • Organising or clerical: updating, logging, developing procedures, planning, budgeting, filing.
  • Persuading or service: influencing, negotiating, bargaining, selling, presenting.

3. Consider everything

Step out of your current circumstances for a while. Read through any career description that catches your eye, speak to your teachers, careers counsellors and other people you admire. At this point it’s all about exposing yourself to what is out there.

Thinking about your ATAR and the entry requirements for courses may impact your motivation in concentrating on finding a rewarding career.   

This research might take hours, weeks or even months. But the chances are that you will be committing yourself to a career for at least the next few years, so it is worth the effort to be informed.

4. Narrow it down

Compact your research down to a handful of preferences. Here are some more questions to see how your options shape up:

  • Lifestyle: Will this career deliver the type of lifestyle you’re after? Stability? Wealth? Freedom?
  • Prospects: What are the prospects for the industry? Will you be able to progress in your career? Are there good employers about?
  • Job type: Does this career incorporate the top job types you listed?
  • Strengths: Does it allow you to use your strengths?
  • Conditions: Will it offer acceptable work conditions?
  • Location: Where are you likely to be able to work?
  • Values: Does the job fit your values? Would you be proud of what you do?
  • Study: What are the study pathways? Can you commit to what’s required?

If you need more information, speak to someone currently in these roles, ask a careers counsellor, return to the sources above or find out some specifics at these pages below.

5. Test it out

If you have gone through this process with enough time to test out your ideas, you can be confident that you will end up on the right track.

Try to get some work experience, possibly in the form of a holiday job or voluntary work, or even a part-time job. Or you could ask to shadow someone for a day – or at the least buy her or him a coffee and ask what the work is like. Most people are happy to share their experiences and pass on a few home truths.

Search the online job advertisements that relate to your ideal career. Simply seeing what comes up and reading the selection criteria and responsibilities will give you an idea what it takes and what you need to work towards.

Whatever step you take next, if you stay open-minded and be prepared to commit to some further learning, your dream job will know where to find you.