Employability and career planning

Making decisions about your future options after university requires planning, preparation and initiative. To be in the best position when you graduate, start planning while you study and take advantage of opportunities to build your experience.

The following four steps will help you to think about your graduate pathways and to make decisions for life after university.

We all have our own unique circumstances, so there are many directions you might consider. Always remember that you are in charge of planning for your future, and it is up to you to lead the way.

  • Step 1: Careers and employability self-assessment

    Making decisions for your future can be a challenging experience. It is not uncommon to have questions and you may feel that you need guidance with making relevant decisions. Some common concerns include:

    • I don’t know what to do when I leave university
    • I don’t know what my skills are
    • I have to get a good job immediately

    Before you make any final decisions, it may be useful to participate in self-reflection and conduct a skills audit and self-assessment through the following activities. Take time to create a list for each exercise to assist you with clarifying your interests, strengths and values.

    Influences and role models

    • Write a list of key members of your family and their occupations
    • Write a list of any role models in your life, such as teachers, employers or well-known professionals
    • Identify how these people have influenced your choices and values
    • Make note of any patterns, inconsistencies or similarities between influential people, occupations and your own values

    Map your past, present and future

    • Reflect upon the key events in your past that have helped to shape your present self (eg achievements at school, favourite subjects, personal milestones, hobbies or personal interests). Ask yourself why these events stand out for you.
    • Outline your current situation and your activities, such as your field of study, personal interests, current occupation or hobbies. Rate your list on a scale of importance (from least to most important).
    • Think about where you see yourself in five years time and write a future scenario for yourself. Describe what you see – the city that you live in, your workplace, the tasks that you are doing and the people around you. Think about the steps that you might have taken to get there.

    Self-evaluation

    • List your five greatest strengths. Next to each one, record how it relates to you (eg you consider yourself generous because people always comment on how much you help others).
    • List five things that you would like to improve upon and provide a reason for each selection
    • List five things that are most important to you when considering your future options after university, and provide a reason
    • List five things that interest you the most as a university student, and provide a reason

    Skills and abilities audit

    • Write a list of your skills and abilities. Include as many things as possible
    • Next to each skill, give an example of where you currently apply those skills and abilities
    • Provide a score out of ten for how confident you are at performing each skill

    Define your interests

    • Write down any words that you associate with success when thinking about your future options after university
    • Identify any similarities between the words you have chosen
    • Ask yourself why you have made your selection

    Ask for feedback

    • Sometimes it can be worthwhile to ask those closest to us for feedback, advice or suggestions
    • Next time that you are with your friends, family or partner, ask them for feedback about your strengths and areas for improvement
    • The feedback you receive should be viewed as a constructive way to learn more about yourself
    • Be positive about this experience.

    The activities provided are just a few ways that you can assess your future options following university. It is important to remember that your interests, values and strengths may change, but the more you know about yourself the more informed your decisions will be.

  • Step 2: Planning

    To make sure that you are ready for your next steps, start planning as soon as possible and take advantage of opportunities to build your employability skills while you are still a student.

    Building experiences

    Building experience while you study will you give you a head start on life after graduation. As you progress through university, gain experience by taking advantage of opportunities and continue to develop yourself professionally. By viewing the beginning of your studies as the 'starting point' of your career and your work experience and extra-curricular activities as 'stepping stones', you can start to build a professional profile in the lead up to graduation.

    We encourage you to find out more about your skills development and work experience options and to take advantage of the many opportunities available to you while you are studying.

    Exploring your options

    Think about your own priorities, interests and values from Step 1 and start considering your options by writing down answers to the following questions:

    • What options have I considered so far?
    • How do I like to make plans?
    • If all jobs were paid the same, what would I choose to do?
    • Do I enjoy working with people or autonomously?
    • How do I interact with others?
    • What do I find meaningful in my work?
    • What options have I considered so far?
    • What strategies have I tried in the past?
    • How did I decide on my current degree?
    • Which strategies have I seen other people use successfully?
    • How could I generate some more ideas?
    • What advice have other people given me?
    • What do my role models say about me?
    • What job would I choose if knew I would be successful?

    Mind mapping

    Mind maps work by encouraging you to brainstorm your options and consolidate your ideas into a visual map. This visual map allows you to see how your options are related. Below are some tips for building your mind map. Learning Fundamentals offer some great examples to help you get started.

    On a piece of paper, start with writing a central word (such as 'graduate program' or 'graduate study').

    • Around your central word, start writing words and ideas that relate to this word or to your skills, experience and future interests. Use short and simple phrases for each idea - this will help to create a clearer mind map that is easy to follow and read.
    • Keep writing words and ideas until you have filled the page.
    • Differentiate between ideas by using different colours. This will help you to focus your thought processes.
    • Be creative - you might also like to use images, drawings or colourful decorations to make your map more interesting.
    • Link your ideas by drawing lines between thoughts and images that share something similar – this will help you to develop categories. Make sure that you link your ideas wherever possible. You might end up with a busy map, but this will help to bring your ideas together.

    If you need help or you are looking for ideas, websites such as Biggerplate, Bubbl.us and Learning Fundamentals offer free mind mapping examples and templates.

    Researching future options and employment directions

    You can seek assistance with your decisions about the future by researching your options.

    If you still need assistance you can also try searching for online self-assessment tools (such as Adult Directions) or have a look at some other tools and resources.

  • Step 3: Make a decision

    Once you have identified some of your options, the next step is to make a decision towards your future employment or graduate pathway.

    Your decision-making style

    The importance of understanding how you make decisions and ways of overcoming decision-making blocks are critical. Try to identify your decision-making style before considering your choices.

    • Rational. You take responsibility for your decisions and you are able to articulate what is within your control. You tend to prepare and plan early, and you are able to anticipate the consequences of your decisions. You logically consider different factors to aid your decision-making and you seek out information to help you to prepare for your future.
    • Intuitive. You accept responsibility for your decisions, but you rarely anticipate the future. You prefer to base your decisions more on what feels ‘right’. You usually commit to actions quickly, though you tend to struggle to articulate why you made a certain decision. You may also find that this approach might not always work for you.
    • Dependent. You base your decisions on the expectations of others and you do not necessarily show personal responsibility for making decisions. While this approach can be helpful in the short-term and may allow you to make decisions easily, it may also result in lower personal satisfaction in the long term.

    Past experience

    Begin by asking yourself how you have made decisions in the past. For example, think about how you chose your university course or made a significant personal decision. Think about your last major decision and asking yourself the following questions.

    • How did you make your choice?
    • What things did you consider in making the decision?
    • How effective was the outcome of that decision?

    Reflecting on a past decision will help you to understand how you approach decision-making, and to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

    Consider the outcomes

    The purpose of this activity is to identify the options that have the most positive benefits for you.

    • Draw up a sheet of paper describing each of your options.
    • List long-term and short-term outcomes or consequences for each option. Record the impact that a particular option might have on you and on your relationships with friends and family members.
    • Some of the items you consider might include the hours you will work or study, your income, your geographic location, promotional opportunities, personal enjoyment and the work or study environment.

    Decision-making blocks

    Sometimes when you make a decision, you might find that you become confused or doubt yourself by allowing pervasive, negative thoughts or ‘blocks’ to cloud your ideas. These thoughts may come from your past experiences and often cause limitations to your decision-making abilities.

    Recognising that blocks exist and identifying how they might be affecting your decisions is the first step to getting past them.

    Decision-making blockUnblocking that thought
    There is only one option. You may think that there is only one way to approach your decisions and that you have to reject other options. For example, you might hear yourself saying, “I must get a graduate role, it’s my only option”. In most instances there are many options available to you. You may think that there is only one option due to a lack of information or research, so conduct further investigation into your potential pathways. For more information, see researching future options and employment directions in Step 2 above.
    Self-blame. You may find that you blame yourself for an unintended consequence of a decision you made. For example, you may say, “it’s my fault I didn’t get shortlisted”. Assess the situation and identify what was and what wasn't within your control. Most of the time there are external factors that could not be anticipated.
    Making assumptions. You may believe that you already know certain information or that you can predict an outcome. For example, a recent graduate may overlook criteria in a job advertisement because they assume that communication skills won’t be important for that role. Research and carefully check all information that is available to you, and try to be as objective as possible. Ask questions to find out more information.
    Generalising. You may find that you label or stereotype yourself or your abilities, and assume that certain options or opportunities are not available to you. Ask yourself where the evidence is for making that assumption, and be open to the idea that your assumptions might not always be correct.
    Ignoring the positives. You may allow negative experiences to define your choices. For example, you may decide not to consider an opportunity because you previously applied for a similar role and didn't get an interview. Consider all of the reasons you were not successful last time, including the factors that were outside of your control. Remind yourself of your previous achievements, for example, that you successfully graduated university.
  • Step 4: Take action

    Once you have mapped your options and made decisions, it is time to take action and to start accumulating the skills and experience you will need to reach your goals.

    Goal setting

    Consider developing an action plan that includes key elements of your self-assessment, articulating your short-term objectives and the strategies you need to make this happen.

    The SMART goals framework is another useful model to help formulate your goals. The examples provided below relate to job-seeking strategies.

    GoalExample
    S = Smart. The goal should be clear and detailed. What are you going to achieve? 'I will apply for five entry-level engineering jobs each week' instead of 'I want a good job'.
    M = Measurable. Use numbers in your goal. How will you know when it is completed? 'I will make contact with five recruiters' instead of 'I will start looking for work'.
    A = Achievable. The goal should be within reach. How are you going to achieve it? 'I will spend one hour a day applying for jobs' instead of 'I want to get a job by the end of the week'.
    R = Realistic. Be honest about reaching your goal. Can you do this in the time planned? 'I will aim to apply for entry-level roles' instead of 'I want a high paying job'.
    T = Time-based. Take small steps to reach your goal. When are you going to do this? 'I will apply for five entry-level roles each week for the next month' instead of 'I will get a job by the end of the month'.

    Review and revise

    It is important to recognise that some things may not go exactly to plan as you embark on your future employment pathway. Part of a successful future-planning strategy is to be flexible and to adjust accordingly as you continue to refine your plan.

    The global job market today is competitive and dynamic, and it is important that you are highly adaptable to this changing environment. Recent global studies indicate that the average person will make five to seven career changes during their working life, either by choice or by necessity. Due to this need for flexibility, it is also important that you know how to transfer your skills across different work types and industries.

    Revising your plan might be as simple as reworking your CV or cover letter, or rethinking how you describe your experience, skills and objectives. In other instances, you may consider changing your industry or future plans entirely. Depending on your circumstances, you might need to focus on skills development or work experience, or you might need to revisit some self assessment or decision-making activities.

    Learn career resilience

    Career resilience is a lifelong skill for learning to overcome setbacks along your professional journey. Resilience is also about accepting that things may not always work out as planned along your professional journey.

    Many well-known professionals have experienced challenges. A prominent example is Apple founder Steve Jobs:

    Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
    Steve Jobs

    You can build your career resilience by using self-assessment and decision-making activities to clarify your interests, choices and options. Some further tips for developing resilience include:

    • Control. Learn to distinguish between what you can and cannot control. For example, you cannot control how others behave, but you can control how you behave toward others. Focusing on what you can do will help you to develop personal responsibility.
    • Networking. Networking will help you to stay informed about jobs and opportunities. Learn more about networking to find out how to get started.
    • Stay positive. Try writing down three positive things about your professional journey on a weekly basis. An example may be receiving a call back from a recruiter about your job application.
    • Practice self-care. Give yourself time for regular exercise, quality sleep, socialising and recreational activities. These activities are necessary to help you recharge.
    • Focus on the big picture. Consider writing a plan detailing where you see yourself in five years time. Accept that you will experience challenges along this journey, but this does not have to impact your ultimate goal or objective.

Tools and resources

The following sites may help you with exploring your options and making decisions about your future. Please note that there are a wealth of resources available to you online, and we encourage you to explore and research independently as part of your journey towards your future goals.

  • Resources

    The following sites may help you with exploring your options and making decisions about your future. Please note that there are a wealth of resources available to you online, and we encourage you to explore and research independently as part of your journey towards your future goals.

    • Adult Directions - an interactive tool that can help you make decisions about your career direction and includes a series of questionnaires about your work preferences, skills and interests. It takes about 30 minutes to complete. Registration and login details are available at Careers Online FAQs - your unimelb username and password is required.
    • Careers and Jobs Lib Guide - find books and databases related to your discipline, research employers and industries, job hunting and applications.
    • Careers Development Association of Australia – Australian association helping people to make decisions about work and maximise their contribution to our communities.
    • Community Career Hub – Australian resource assisting those interested in exploring their work and study options.
    • GoinGlobal - explore 40 country career guides including labour market and job search information, how to volunteer and job listings. Visit Careers Online FAQ for login information - unimelb username and password required.
    • Good Universities Guide - Advice and job descriptions matching qualifications with employment pathways and options.
    • Job Outlook - a careers and labour market research information site to help you with decisions regarding your future options.
    • LinkedIn for Students - careers and networking resource specifically aimed at students and graduates.
    • Making Decisions (Government of Western Australia Career Centre) – the WA Department of Training and Workforce Development offers an excellent online resource to help with decision-making in relation to pathways and employment.
    • MyFuture - a website that includes a career exploration tool that enables you to build a profile based on your interests, education and training. You can browse occupations and industries and access career insight content.
    • O*Net Interest Profiler – a website designed to help you to discover your interests and to decide what kinds of professional options you might want to explore.
    • Paddle Careers - international site for young people offering career assessment, future guidance, advice and job search options.

Next steps

Find out about opportunities to gain experience while studying and develop your skills. If you are looking to enter the job market, we encourage you to find out more information about applying for work, including cover letters, resumes, selection criteria and preparing for interviews.

Need some more help?

Attend a seminar or workshop on skills development. Check Stop 1 for scheduled sessions.