Supporting Taught Postgraduates

Making career decisions

An overview of the career planning process to help you understand how to make good career decisions.

Once you complete your postgraduate qualification, there will be a range of career options open to you. But when do you need to start thinking about this, and how do you decide which route to take?

You may already have established yourself in a specific career and be using your postgraduate study to progress, or you may be thinking about moving in a completely new direction. Either way, making good career decisions and implementing them may take some time, and it is a good idea to start thinking about them as early as possible in your postgraduate study, to make the most of opportunities that arise.

What does career planning involve?

The traditional model of career planning is based around a four-part approach; the individual elements are described below. This is an ongoing cyclical process involving continual learning about yourself and opportunities. You will probably go through this cycle more than once, reviewing what you have learned and repeating the process, as you develop your career thinking.

  • Self-awareness; knowing what it is you want from a career and what you have to offer an employer
  • Opportunity awareness; researching different occupations, employers, career paths within an organisation, the job market, and maybe further study or training opportunities
  • Decision-making; weighing up advantages and disadvantages of different options in the light of what you know about yourself, assessing how realistic your choices are, and making decisions
  • Taking action; developing a job search strategy, identifying vacancies or opportunities for progression, making well-targeted job applications, and preparing for interviews and other selection methods.
Diagram of the model of career planning described in the text
Model of career decision making

What else to consider

Chance favours only the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur

Although planning is important, it is likely that unpredictable events and chance will also play a part – and have already played a part – in your career direction. This does not mean you should leave your career to luck. A more productive approach would involve

  • adopting attitudes that lead you to generate and explore opportunities by following your curiosity
  • equiping yourself with the skills necessary to respond positively to circumstances as they arise

This approach to career planning is known as the Theory of Planned Happenstance (Krumboltz, J. and Levin, A., 2004. Luck Is No Accident. 3rd ed. San Luis Obispo, Calif.: Impact.).

To ensure you take advantage of this approach to career planning, adopting the following set of attitudes can be helpful:

  • Curiosity: explore new learning opportunities
  • Persistence: put in effort despite setbacks
  • Flexibility: change attitudes and circumstances as required
  • Optimism: view new opportunities as possible and attainable
  • Risk taking: take action in the face of uncertain outcomes

This approach is particularly suited to postgraduate students, who may already have considerable work experience and may be operating in a competitive and changing job market.

Think about the different elements of these models and what action you could be taking to gain information and experiences that will help you to make good career decisions.  You may wish to look at making the most of your postgraduate studies for ideas of opportunities you could be exploring.  If you would like to discuss your approach with someone consider making an appointment with a careers consultant.

Making the most of your postgraduate studies

Speak to a careers consultant