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Figuring out your ideal career

John Ross

Sr. Career Development Consultant at Massey University
Whether you have too many interests or none at all, no one said choosing a career would be easy. John Ross, Senior Career Development Consultant from Massey University advises where to start.

What made you want to become a career advisor?

Fundamentally, a desire to make a difference to the lives of others, and a belief in the value of education and of a broader student experience. I was also keen to find a role that would use and develop the skills that I felt I had, that was people-oriented and that meant I would continue to learn.  The role has given me all of this, and more.  

How did you get to your current position and how long have you occupied it?

I have been with Massey for almost fourteen years, having done a similar role in a university career service in England for the preceding thirteen. 

What does your work involve day-to-day?

  • Careers guidance to Massey students and recent graduates, face-to-face and on-line. Increasingly, this is delivered one-to-many, as opposed to one-to-one, through workshops, seminars and technology.
  • Development & maintenance of the Massey Career Centre web pages and student portal, career and labour market research and development/editing of on-line career resources.
  • Design and facilitation of career workshops and seminars, and development of associated materials, often in tandem with academic and other colleagues and with student clubs.
  • Participation in a range of outreach activities and facilitation of employer and alumni-led events. 

Advice for students and graduates

Where do I start when it comes to deciding upon an ideal career?

Without a doubt, realise that you are more than your qualifications.  Before deciding upon a career, and absolutely before applying for work, know yourself, what you want, what you can offer, what’s required and the difference that you want to make.

To find a role in which you’re happy and successful you should first assess factors such as your skills, interests, values, strengths and personality. Career services such as Massey’s can help you with this.  Indeed, we run a highly valued ‘Strengths@Massey’ programme for our students.

You can use this ‘self-appraisal’ to generate career ideas and can then look at options for which your qualifications might be required or expected.  Then, research what’s required to enter careers that appeal, typical employers of people in these roles and how they recruit and select. Consider any barriers that might get in the way of entering this role, how you might overcome these and people who may be able to help you.  

Crucially, realise that no career, or decision that you make now, is for life!

Should I focus on one career option, or come up with a whole list?

Probably neither. Certainly not one option but, equally, not too long a list.  It’s impossible to know everything that there is to know about every job and choosing and securing a role is often a job in itself.  It takes time, effort and resilience and starting to work your way through too long a list can lead to procrastination or even career paralysis!

What are some good ways to get a feel for a career without committing to it right away?

Certainly, by trying to secure an internship or other form of work experience or voluntary work in the field.  Also, by finding people working in roles that appeal and asking to interview them for information. If you choose the latter approach, don’t take one person’s word for it.  Try to interview a number of people, who’ve been in the career for a range of periods of time, and from a number of related roles, organisations and levels of seniority.

What are some of the most important criteria for evaluating a career pathway?

I’d say that you’d need to look at the qualifications, skills and experience typically sought for that career.  Also, the numbers employed and whether numbers are likely to grow or contract. Also, where people typically work, who employs people into these roles and how they recruit and select

It’s also important to look at what the day-to-day work is like in reality, and at how this compares with what you know about yourself – your likes and dislikes, interests, values strengths and skills etc.  Then, think of the likely impact of technology in this career and explore how your career might develop. You also need to look at what you want from a career – e.g. earning potential, job security, opportunities for professional development, flexible working etc. and at any limitations you have in following a particular pathway – e.g. commitments, location, skill gaps and so on.

Is there a good way to rule out a career pathway, even if I haven’t had the chance to work in it yet?

No single good way, but a number. It’s important to consider a career’s ‘fit’ with you, and for this you’ll first need to know yourself – your skills, interests and values etc.

After all, you’re aiming for a career choice that gives you impact, job satisfaction and career capital. Then, you’ll need to research and assess what’s out there. In this, be realistic. What’s your level of potential in careers you’re researching, and what difficulties might you face in achieving success? However, don’t forget to ask yourself ‘what could I become good at?’  

I’d also say talk with people who are actually doing the job.  Better still, see if you can arrange to ‘shadow’ them at work for a day or so. 

    Massey Career Centre Team - namely, Trish Fleetwood, Dr. Tariq Habibyar and John Ross (left to right).

    As a student, what do I do if I’m studying in a different field to the one I want a career in?

    It might surprise you to realise that a broad range of careers in NZ is open to graduates from any discipline.  Others are careers where applications are open to students and graduates from a range of (usually related) disciplines.  Depending upon the entry requirements for the careers that interest you, your personal circumstances and motivations, you may choose, or need, to change your programme of study or embark on further qualifications.  

    As a graduate, what do I do if the field I studied in doesn’t match my choice of career?

    Here, my advice is very much the same as that given for the previous question. I’d add though, that should ensure that you research all possible routes into the careers that appeal, including through experience in related roles. After all, you’ll be offering your qualifications and more. Can you bring relevant skills and experience into your chosen role? Can you show a passion for this type of work?  

    How do I tell if the career I’m in really is the best one for me?

    Are you asking yourself ‘How did I get here’? Are you feeling happy and fulfilled? Do you see a future in, and from, your role? How consciously did you choose your career? Who, if anyone, influenced your choice?  Can it give you what you really want?  

    I’d say that most people don’t really know what they truly want. With time and effort though, you can identify and apply your strengths and can find a career that plays to these. With a dose of reality of course.  After all, you have bills to pay, commitments to meet and goals from life. Consider too, the extent to which your career allows you to do things that you enjoy (and are good at) enough of the time. Then, does it gel with your values? Do you feel good about doing it? Are you, and is it, making a positive difference to the lives of others? 

    Could your briefly summarise the most important steps I can take to make the best possible choice of career?

    • For students

    Firstly, get to know yourself and explore your options 

    Develop relevant skills and strengths

    Secure work experience/volunteering

    Reflect on your learning, work and life

    Keep a written record of your skills, experiences and reflection

    Get actively involved with on and off-campus activities

    Get to know your Lecturers

    Look after your physical & mental health

    Engage with people from other cultures & backgrounds

    Challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone

    Build, and engage with, a network of contacts

    Take part in Career Centre activities

    • For graduates

    Continue to learn and develop

    Assess yourself, and what’s out there

    Keep an eye on labour market trends

    Reflect on your experiences in and out of work

    Be humble and seek help and support

    Be realistic, resilient and positive

    Seek out, share and offer useful information and advice

    Develop and engage with useful contacts

    Join relevant professional bodies and participate in professional development

    Regularly evaluate what you want from work and life

    Consider the difference you want to make/your legacy

    • Both generally

    Build and promote your personal, professional brand

    Carefully assess what you want from a career, and what you can bring to it 

    Remember that do decision is for life

    See ‘career’ in broad terms

    Consider how you can add value, and the problems you could solve for an employer

    Keep your skills and knowledge fresh and updated

    Look after all aspects of your health

    Make your career choice yours alone – own it!

    Consider the extent to which your career can make a difference to others


    A word to the wise...

    1. Take responsibility. In reality, no-one can (or should) choose your career for you, and most people won’t be able to find a job for you.  Spend time realistically assessing yourself and your wants, your options and why someone with work should choose to offer it to you.  What makes you distinctive and how can you help others through your work?
    2. Remember that you’re likely to be out there, online. No matter how active (or not) that you are online, many prospective employers will look for you there.  Make sure that they can find only what you want them to find. Tighten up your privacy settings and build, enhance and promote a personal brand that’s professional and consistent.  
    3. See ‘career’ in its broadest sense. Stay alert to, and seize, opportunities to build marketable experience and skills and be open to short-term and casual, voluntary and contract, learning and networking experiences.