Career Advice UK

How many of us have dreamed about what we might do for a living 'when we grow up'? How many of us daydream about changing career paths, even though we are well into our careers?

It's normal to think about others' career choices, and wonder what it must be like to save lives as a doctor, or earn lots of money in banking, or perhaps taking your hobby that step further and actually earning money for doing it - becoming a professional gardener or photographer, for example.

Lots of people find themselves in jobs and careers accidentally. Sometimes it's a fortuitous accident and they find themselves in a great job, with good career prospects, or one that simply makes them happy. However, sometimes people find themselves stuck in a job they only intended to be in for a short time, with no idea how to make that change.

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Other people have followed a clear path to their chosen job or profession, which can be traced back to when they made GCSE and A-Level choices, based on the career they knew they wanted to follow.

Whether you are just starting your career, or are thinking about moving into a new sector, there are a number of things that should be carefully considered. It's important to take time to ask yourself some important questions and work out what your career goals are.

Education and Training

Probably the most important question to ask yourself is which job or sector are you interested in?  You need to fully research and understand the requirements for a career in your chosen sector.

Many sectors have minimum entry requirements, so do you have the necessary education and training to be considered?  If not, are you able (and willing) to gain the qualifications required?  You must be realistic at this point, and consider the cost of further training, both in terms of time and money.

Required Skills and Personality Traits

You must also consider your skills set and your personality - are you the right sort of person for the job?  Does the job require you to be a team player but actually, you much prefer to work on your own?  Whilst we can, of course, all adapt ourselves to a certain extent, only you know how much out of your comfort zone you are willing to be, to land your dream job.  Don't assume 'it will be okay' or that you can learn to be part of a team - be honest with yourself.

Some skills, however, are those that you can proactively work on - for example, if excellent computer skills are required, you can enhance your skills package by going on any relevant courses and honing your abilities to suit the job.

Soft Skills

A category all on its own as so called 'soft skills' are so important, in whatever career you choose to go into, or move into if it's a career-change you're considering. 'Soft skills' refer to the general skills that most employers look for in a candidate - things like leadership skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, flexibility, how you behave with others - the list of 'soft skills' goes on and on and will vary, depending on the type of industry you are looking at.

Therefore, understanding how you can match your skills to your chosen career is important, as is working on any areas that you are slightly weaker in. For example, if you aren't great in a team situation but your desired job is very much team-based, could you join a sports' team at the weekends to help you work on your team skills, outside of the office situation?

Salary Package

This is another example of needing to be honest with yourself.  If you are changing careers, and will be taking a salary cut in order to do so, is that something you can actually afford to do?  Will having less money each month be worth it?  Work out your monthly expenditure and carefully consider any future financial burdens you may incur. 

You should also consider any other elements to the salary package.  For example, will you get healthcare in your new career, and if not, is that going to be an issue?  Is there a car allowance?  Can you cope without one?  These are all points that need to be considered, on top of the basic salary.

If this is your first job, you should expect your starting salary to reflect your lack of experience in the workplace, but you need to understand how the pay structure in your chosen career, or within your chosen company, works.  When can you expect to have your salary reviewed, and what is it dependent upon?  Knowing how your salary might change as you gain experience, and possibly further training, will allow you to plan for the future.

Hours and Travel

A change in career may well mean a change in the hours you have to work, and indeed, where you have to work.  Ensure you understand what hours you will be expected to work and on what days.  If you have commitments at weekends which you aren't prepared to change, a career in retail probably won't be for you as weekend working is normally a prerequisite of retail work. 

You should also consider the impact the days and hours you will be working might have upon your family and friends, and any other commitments you might have. You need to think about the long-term too, not just about the short-term.

If travel is part of the job, how far will you be expected to travel and how often?  Will it involve long periods of time away from home?  What are the accommodation arrangements when you're away from home overnight?  Do you like travelling or does the thought if staying in hotels fill you with dread?  If you're someone who relishes sleeping in their own bed every night, a job which involves lots of travel might not be the best choice for you.

Know the Industry

Whether you are just starting out, or are contemplating a career change, having a thorough understanding of the industry you are going into, is essential.  Do as much research as you possibly can.  Ask yourself what you like about the industry, what you are less keen on, what career opportunities exist within that industry, what different types of jobs exist in the industry and how pressurised the industry is.  Does your chosen industry face an uncertain future, or is it at the start of an exciting trajectory?  How will the industry change over the coming years? 

Most of this information can be found with some basic internet research, and many companies carry a fair amount of information about where they see the future of the company, on their website.  These are all questions you can consider asking at the interview stage too.

Career Opportunities

It's important to have a good understanding of what career opportunities exist within your chosen industry, or company. Some employers, such as the Civil Service, have clearly defined career opportunities, with clearly defined salary bands, so you know what your prospects are, with a fair amount of certainty.

Likewise, if you want to become a teacher, there are defined salary bands for newly qualified teachers, specialist teacher, heads of departments etc.  However, if you end up working as a teacher in the private sector, you're earning potential will most likely be higher.

Knowing what your career could look like in the future can be very reassuring for some, giving you clearly defined goals to work towards and a good idea what your salary will look like in 5, 10, 15 years' time, assuming you progress at a steady rate.

However, others prefer not to have their future mapped out so clearly, and are happy to follow a career path which is much less certain, meaning that whilst their earning potential might not be set in stone, there is no ceiling on their future earnings.

Understanding what sort of personality you have is important here - are you the sort of person who has all their life goals clearly set out and needs a steady salary and career trajectory to attain those goals, or are you more of a risk-taker, someone who is happy to take the rough with the smooth?

If you are looking at a career change, then perhaps you have discovered that the industry you are currently in is too restrictive, or that your earnings are too variable to maintain your lifestyle.  Be clear with yourself about what you need from both your career, and your salary.

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