Considering Graduate Career Options

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This article highlights some of the key points for those starting to consider the wide, and perhaps sometimes confusing, range of graduate career options on offer.

It could be that you’re nearing graduation and haven’t given too much thought up till now about what you’ll do once you’ve got your degree, being focused on gaining as good a classification as possible. Or you may be at the start of your university studies, or not even at university yet, but deciding which degree course to apply for and where. It’s never too early to begin thinking about your career options, which may have a bearing on your choice of studies.

Whatever stage you’re at, it’s useful to think about possible future options and investigate further the most attractive, and relevant, ones for you. 

The good thing is that graduate career options do include the whole range of work possibilities out there and not just what might have in the past been considered the ‘traditional’ ones, such as academia or the professions. The rapid development and use of digital technology and changes to the economy, as well as work patterns, have also meant options have changed and expanded.

This digital disruption and resulting shifts have led to different ways of working, including the increasing desirability of flexibility and mobility. These are exciting developments that give rise to more career possibilities for graduates but also pathways to negotiate and challenges to face.

No job or career is for life these days, if indeed it ever was for most people in the past, including graduates. There certainly may have been more stability in terms of employment in the previous century: some might have stayed on in their posts for 40 years or more, earning a pension and a gold watch. Such a prospect may now be viewed not only as unrealistic but probably unappealing to those soon to leave or enter higher education.

Graduate Careers/Job Market

Current and future trends in the graduate labour market offer insights into potential options and may help to shape your choices. It includes the numbers of graduates being recruited in different sectors, including key companies and organisations, what degrees they have and how these figures have changed over recent years.

Suggested activity: Take 15 minutes out of your schedule to research online to see the range of information about graduate careers that is there. You’ll see that there’s quite a lot!

It will include official reports and trends such as destinations of leavers in higher education, as well as advice and guidance from companies and government agencies. You’ll see information from universities there as well, probably including input from your own place of study.

Were you aware of all of this information out there and how it might help to inform your career choices?

Some of this information will stand out as being relevant, some not so much. You may want to read some of what is relevant to you in the near future. 

Key Sectors

It’s helpful to identify the main sectors that exist into which most careers, jobs and work roles fall. These include:

academia and other professions, the public sector, industry, creative and hospitality sectors, business, entrepreneurship, charity, NGO (non-governmental organisations), NFP (not-for-profit).

Some might be expanding in terms of numbers employed/ economically active, growth and how much they contribute to the national economy, as well as how much they receive. Others might be experiencing a reduction in both size and numbers employed.

Suggested activity:

Considering all the above, ask yourself what you know about these sectors and make some brief notes.

Remember that you will already know people who are classified as professionals- these will include your lecturers! You will have gained some insights from them, both directly and indirectly, about what it actually means to ‘have a profession’ though of course the nature of work varies, for example you can compare the teaching and medical professions.

Apart from key sectors there are different ways of working/work patterns: full-time employed, part time, self-employment of various forms including consultancy. This can make graduate career paths look even more complex and confusing but also more interesting. Working full-time as an employee of an organisation has many benefits such as a degree of security and monthly salary. These can be compared to the benefits of being self-employed such as  ‘being your own boss’, for example.


You can now ask yourself a number of questions:

  • What are your own preferences and what appears to be more attractive to you right now?
  • What are the possibilities for the future when your situation may change due to personal circumstances, such as getting married?
  • What have you considered so far in terms of career options?
  • Which career path(s) are you leaning towards or have already rejected? Why?
  • What are the key factors that will affect your choice? egs. your qualifications and location.
  • How prepared are you to undertake further study/education/ training to achieve your ‘ideal’ career path?

You will probably think of other questions to ask yourself before you make the next step into evaluating the pros and cons of each career sector.

In summary, it’s worth taking time to think about the range of possible options in terms of careers in general terms before researching selected ones more specifically. It’s also time well spent to look at some of the information available about trends in the career market and employment sectors. Take some time as well to do some self-evaluation of what you know already and where you are placed at the moment.

 And be prepared to be flexible in your thinking and approach!

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