male student on laptop on couch planning his career

Career planning

It’s never too early to start planning your career

Just like planning a major holiday, career planning requires time, research and reflection.

The perfect time to start planning your career is now. You don’t have to figure out exactly what you want to do or where you want to work straight away – the first step may be as simple as thinking about your interests or doing some research on different career paths. If you’re wondering where to start, use our road map below.

What does career planning involve?

Career planning is not just about finding a job when you finish university. It is a cyclical process that you can utilise at any time throughout your degree and professional life.

Steps to planning your career

Self-awareness is about knowing who you are and what you want. Understanding your interests, values and personal attributes guides your career choices and identifies the kind of work you will find engaging and rewarding. A solid understanding of your skills and attributes will also help you to confidently convey your value to the right employer.

Consider the following factors:

Interests: Think about your recent endeavours (for example, subjects you have studied, work experience, volunteering, travel, sports, arts, hobbies) and the aspects you found most enjoyable. Understanding what holds your interest will steer you towards career options that keep you motivated and engaged.

Values: Your values will often have a significant influence on the kind of work you will find fulfilling. What is important and meaningful to you in life and how might that relate to your career choices? Values that influence people’s career decisions can include helping others, prestige or status, autonomy, intellectual challenge, money, work-life balance, and work environment.

Skills: What are your strengths? Identify and clearly articulate the skills you have developed or utilised during your studies, work, extracurricular activities, volunteering and life experiences. Eg, communication skills from university presentations and resolving customer complaints at your casual retail job.

Personal attributes: Your personality will often inform your role preferences and the kind of working environment that will suit you. Eg, analytical minds may enjoy a role that involves identifying and solving problems, and creative minds may thrive in environments where they can explore new ideas or try different things.

Many graduate employers will consider graduates from any degree subject. Effective research can introduce you to occupations you didn’t even know existed. Consider careers which:

  • directly use the specialist knowledge and skills developed through your degree and major(s).
  • are related to your degree discipline where some of your specialist knowledge and skills might be useful.
  • are unrelated to your degree but use the generic transferable skills you have gained from your studies.

Even if you have decided on your career, find out what else is available as there may be options that you have not yet considered. 

Research career options and occupations: Check out our Further Resources to the right to find out more about different industries and career paths.

Use job search websites as a research tool: Type keywords relating to your industry or interests into a job search portal and see what kind of job titles and employers come up. Aim to simply gain an understanding of the roles in your field and the type of recruiting employers.

Research your industry: Read industry journals or magazines, check news sites for information or new developments in your industry and follow organisations and people of interest on social media. Talk to employers at careers fairs or on-campus information sessions. Check the career resources of any professional associations in your industry and find if they offer any assistance to students.

Talk to people: Draw on the expertise of your networks and discuss your career ideas with friends, peers, colleagues or academics. Consider arranging an information interview with someone who does the kind of work you think you would enjoy. You can also book an appointment with the Careers Centre to discuss your career plans or learn more about your options.  

Try it for yourself: Once you have some career ideas, look for opportunities to gain experience within the workplace through internships, volunteering, industry mentors, work shadowing (observational work experience), or extracurricular activities, eg, managing a budget for a student society (finance/accounting), working on a student consulting project (management consulting) or organising an event (event management).

Once you have figured out your career interests and researched possible career paths, you will start making some decisions about your direction. Some common career decisions include:

  • Which industries will I invest time and effort in exploring further?
  • What activities will I undertake to develop the right skills?
  • Do I want to change my original direction (and should I change my course or major)?
  • Do I need to commit to further study?
  • Which jobs and organisations should I apply to?
  • Which job offer should I accept?
  • What is my ‘plan B’ if I don’t get the job I want?

Go about making these decisions through the following steps:

Evaluate your options:  It's common to still feel unsure about your direction. Narrow down your options by:

  • asking yourself if a career path reflects your interests, skills and values.
  • writing a ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list.
  • talking to your friends and family or a career advisor about your ideas.

Keep in mind that you don't have to have your entire future mapped out by your final year. Many people change their career direction more than once. 

Set some goals: Your next steps will depend on where you are in the career planning process. Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound (i.e. set yourself a deadline). Eg, a student with a strong interest in investment banking may set a goal to expand their networks in the finance field, whereas someone who is still exploring their options may set a goal to talk to professionals in four different industries within the next month.

You’ve set your goals and now it’s time to work towards them! The action you take will depend on what stage you’re at in your career planning: positive actions could be writing a polished application for a graduate job or identifying skills developed during your casual work and adding them to your resume. Even joining a student society or researching career options on the internet can help move your career planning in the right direction.

To get you started, we have designed a road map below to help you use your time at university to the fullest.

Your road map for career development at university

This is a time to explore yourself, your career options and the opportunities university life has to offer.

  • Build your self-awareness by reflecting on your skills, interests and values. See the Further Resources section above on the right side for helpful links.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities to make friends, gain confidence, develop employability skills, build your network and, of course, have fun! Here is a short list of examples:
  • Get some work experience – casualpart-time, or voluntary work. This doesn’t have to be related to your degree/discipline at this stage – you will still gain valuable transferable employability skills. Review your resume so you’re ready to apply.
  • Come along to Careers Centre events or careers fairs to meet people from different industries.
  • Start a careers portfolio – keep a record of your activities and the skills gained. This way you won’t forget what you have done and it'll make preparing job applications easier.

Your middle years at university are a time to build your employability skills, your network and your experience.

Here, you should prepare to apply for your next step.