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Exploring ideas

You can generate career ideas in many different ways.  Whether you are

  • just starting out at university, or about to graduate
  • on campus, or an online learner
  • looking for your first work experience, or a career changer with some years of experience already

have a look at these suggestions for an approach that suits you.  And remember, it is the next step that is important - you don't have to have the next twenty years mapped out. Your career is likely to evolve as you gain experience and make a series of decisions about what is right for you.

How to get ideas


Thinking realistically about yourself - your strengths, the skills you have gained through learning and previous experience, your personality and preferences - will help you choose a career that is right for you.  Try out some of these resources, and ask those who know you best for their insights too.

  • Team Focus online questionnaires. There are three questionnaires that will help you to understand more about your personality preferences, learning styles and resilience. After completing the questions you will receive an emailed report which summarises your preferences; the insights gained may be useful as you consider the type of work that would suit you. You will need to register with your University email address to access these tests: Type dynamics indicator (personality), Learning styles indicator, Resilience scale questionnaire.
  • Additional personality questionnaires (freely available online) you could try:
    • 16SPQ questionnaire - measures personality in your work and personal life and looks at your behaviours, thoughts, and emotions.
    • Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment  (SAPA) After answering 100 questions on a 6 point scale (including verbal and diagrammatic reasoning questions), you will receive a summary report of your scores against 6 factors: Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Integrity, Emotional Stability and Conscientiousness, takes 15-20 minutes to complete.
    • IPIP Big 5 Factor Markers A quicker survey - answer 50 questions on a 5 point scale to receive a summary of your scores against 5 factors: Extraversion, Emotional Stability, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Intellect/Imagination.
  • Prospects Career Planner suggests jobs based on your skills, interests and motivations (you'll need to register with Prospects to access the quiz)
  • The York Strengths Programme (an award winning programme, unique to the University of York) will help you understand your strengths - those things you are good at and love to do. Understanding your strengths is important in supporting your personal and professional development, when considering your career options and applying for jobs. More and more employers use a 'strengths' based recruitment process. Find out more about what's available for undergraduates and postgraduates on our York Strengths pages
  • Think about the kind of working environment that will suit you best: Do you want something challenging and fast-paced, or do you prefer a structured routine? Are you happier working alone or independently, or working collaboratively with colleagues? Do you see yourself working outdoors or being office-based (and what kind of office environment would suit you)?  How important is salary, or work/life balance? Will you be happy moving around between different locations, or is being in one specific place important to you?
  • Suggested reading in Careers and Placements:
    • The Strengths Book, Alex Linley et al
    • Average to A+, Alex Linley
    • How to get a job you love, John Lees
    • Who am I at work? (Packtypes discovery), Will Murray

Explore the options with your subject

You may be on a vocational course and have a clear idea of where this will take you; or you may be working and studying as part of your professional development.  But if you're wondering what you can do at the end of your degree course, don't worry, you're not alone! Looking at the options with your subject, and what students from your department have gone on to do, can be a good starting point.  However, it is important to remember that many employers recruit from across all degree disciplines, and the skills you gain through your time at university will be useful across a whole range of careers.

  • Prospects What can I do with my degree?  suggests job options directly related to your degree subject, and jobs where your degree would be useful. But remember, this is just a start - many employers recruit graduates from any degree discipline, so you don't need to be limited by your subject
  • York Profiles and Mentors features case studies completed by York graduates - search by department to find out what graduates from your course have gone on to do; you might be surprised by the range of jobs and this can be a good way to generate career ideas
  • Department websites often have case studies and information about careers so you can find out what recent graduates have done after their degree
  • Use the LinkedIn alumni tool to explore destinations of York graduates  If you don't already have a LinkedIn profile, find out about creating a profile and how to use LinkedIn
  • What do graduates do? 2020/21 (PDF , 8,577kb) reports on the destinations of graduates, and gives an indication of the most popular jobs for different subject areas, together with information on the graduate labour market

Explore different jobs

Spend time finding out about different jobs - what jobs are available and what they entail. Any work experience will give you an insight into what you like and don't like, including specific tasks in a job role and aspects of workplace culture, and will help you gain transferable skills. If you are a mature student or career-changer, it is important to reflect on your previous experience, and how this will inform your future career decisions.

  • Prospects Job Match can help you work out which job groupings appeal most to you; from there you can look in more detail at specific job roles
  • Browse different job sectors on the Careers website, for information on different industries and advice on how to get into the sector, including what relevant things you can do at York
  • Listen to our podcast to hear from people who work in different industries talking about their jobs, the skills they use and their advice for students
  • Read about more job sectors and browse job profiles on Prospects website
  • Job vacancies - browse real job vacancies to see what employers are looking for. You can find current vacancies in Handshake, as well as other specialist and general jobs sites. The person specification with the job description gives details of the skills, attitudes and experience employers are looking for
  • Talk to professionals working in areas that interest you.  Come to events on campus where you will get the chance to chat to people about their jobs and organisations (eg Careers in... events, fairs and presentations or workshops). Presentations or lecture capture are available where possible for online learners and others not able to attend the events on our Presentations page (log-in required)
  • Look for graduates working in different job sectors in York Profiles and Mentors and ask them questions about what they've said if you want to know more
  • Use LinkedIn to follow organisations, find out about their jobs opportunities and look at the experience and skills of existing staff
  • Try things out - work experience or internships, insight events and work shadowing.  This will help you assess whether you would enjoy the work role, give you the chance to make useful contacts, and shows evidence of your commitment in any job applications. The Student Internship Bureau has paid internships exclusively for University of York students, full-time during summer vacation, and some part-time internships during the semester

Unplanned opportunities

'Planned happenstance' is the theory that you create opportunities by the ways you explore and respond to ‘chance’ events.  You may need to be open to unplanned opportunities - your first job after graduation may not be your ideal job, but could lead on to other things, and even take you in a new, and rewarding, direction you haven't thought of yet.

According to career theorist, John Krumboltz (2009), planned happenstance means that you can benefit from unplanned events by making the most of opportunities arising from life or work-related events. Planned happenstance involves being prepared for the unexpected, and developing skills and characteristics that will enable you to recognise potential benefits and make a good decision when a 'chance' opportunity arises.

Character traits that will help you respond positively to these opportunities include: curiosity and willingness to learn, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk-taking. In a changing labour market, being able to respond positively to different situations and maximise benefits from unplanned events are likely to become increasingly important in career management.

Further resources

Virtual careers sessions/recordings:

Please come to a drop-in or book an appointment if you would like to talk to one of the Careers and Placements team.