This article introduces you to the process of designing your own personal career plan. It gives you some hands-on tools and techniques to support you in your thinking and planning.
Choosing a career path does not have to be hard, but it does require effort and thinking. To make it as easy as possible, we have selected some intuitive tools and advice, and put them in one place to help you. There’s no absolute right or wrong way to making decisions. All have potential value so use a few and see what works for you.
You may come across a number of myths around making career decisions. The most common is that your degree determines your career. This is not true! If you look at your university’s page on LinkedIn, click on the “Alumni” tab and you will see details of past graduates, what their degree was and what role they are in now. You will notice there are a wide range of career choices and job roles for people with the same degree. (NB: not every university has an alumni tab on Linkedin – if yours does not have one, look at another university)
Another myth is that you have to know exactly what career you want before you can start looking for a job. As a result, students may hold off making a decision as they are not 100% sure of the career they want to go into. But it is actually quite normal to be unsure. Once you are in your first job and you see the path others have taken before you, your own career path will become clearer.
How may this affect me?
Career planning is often described as ‘an iterative process’. Simply put this means you are likely to go through a number of career ideas and steps. You will grow in confidence and experience as you gradually get closer and closer to the right area.
Deciding on a possible career involves researching different roles and opportunities to help inform your choices. Autistic students we spoke to told us that this can be daunting as there are many options to begin with. There are hundreds of graduate job choices and most people will only have direct knowledge of a few of these.
To help you identify possible future roles that suit your skills and interests, it is highly recommended that you speak with a careers advisor at your university (usually you can get advice even after you have graduated).
TIP: Take a copy of the IMAGE Good Practice Guide for Careers Advisors to your appointment, to help the advisor better understand what it means to be autistic and what support works best for you.
What can I do next?
Use the IMAGE Career Plan Designer to map out your future
Or - if you really do not know where to start, make an appointment with a careers advisor at your university now
1) Consider Pros and Cons of a job
This is a quick and simple tool to analyse a given job description and help you look at options for career choices.
Consider the description of a job you are interested in. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns and list all the positive features of that job role in the left column (the Pros) and all the negatives in the right column (the Cons). A few tips:
- Consider what skills or experiences are essential, and what is (only) desirable.
- How well does the job match your degree qualification and skills?
- What do you know about the working environment, e.g. the office space?
- Do you need to move, in order to start the job?
- What would the commute be like?
- Are you happy with the social interaction aspects of the role, e.g. for customer/client facing jobs?
The tool’s great strength is that it is a really simple way to see all the key issues laid out at the same time. You can download a template from here: PROs and CONs.docx
Source: Hastie, R., & Dawes, R. M. (2001). Rational Choice in an Uncertain World. Sage, Thousand Oaks.
2) Make an action plan
To identify a possible role for you, follow the following 6 steps:
- Firstly identify the problem – this is likely to be “I want to find a job because…”
- Establish your decision criteria – what is important in your new job for example location, salary, tasks.
- Weigh decision criteria – give each a score from 1 to 5 where 5 is the most important.
- Generate alternatives – what are the career options that meet your decision criteria
- Evaluate alternatives – compare the options and rank these against your needs
- Select best alternative – based on the criteria and ranking, pick your best option
3) Design your personal career path
Building on your action plan, you can now design your personal career plan. We have created a tool for this: The IMAGE Career Plan Designer. But before you head over there, consider the following steps and goals other students have told us about:
- Look at a number of job advertisements and identify the core technical and skills requirements employers have.
- Identify your own skills, strengths and preferences. The profile builder tools can help you achieve your goal.
- Draft your CV.
- If you are in a creative discipline, look at other people’s profiles on websites like https://www.behance.net/ or https://dribbble.com/. Create your own profile there.
- Make a list of friends and family members in your network, let them know what work you are looking for, ask them for feedback and how they can help you with your goal.
- Volunteer to work to gain experience with a company you would like to work with.
- Identify your skills gaps and work through relevant (free) online tutorials.
- If you prefer the relative anonymity of the internet, set up a LinkedIn account and look up people who have done the same type of course as you and are now in employment. What roles do they have? How do they describe themselves?
- Create a LinkedIn profile. You can then advertise yourself as job-seeking with LinkedIn, recruitment agencies or on social media.
- Identify the reasonable adjustments that will help you work to the best of your abilities (use this profile builder tool)
- Apply for a job or a promotion
- Prepare for an interview by practising with a friend or family member.
- Ask for reasonable adjustments during the interview (use this profile builder tool)
4) Get in the right mood and frame of mind
Making decisions about your career is similar to problem solving. There is a wealth of research that shows that people are significantly better at being creative when they are in the right frame of mind. Here are some practical tips below to help you reach career decisions whilst feeling well and positive:
- Start out with a positive mood. There are some ways you can improve your mood, for example, you might play some positive music, or recall some happy memories.
- Deciding on a suitable career can be daunting and overwhelming. Break your ideas down into manageable chunks. Think in steps, rather than just the end goal.
- Having said that, it is useful to think about where you want to end up. Make a pland for how the steps lead you there.
- Career plans are not formed in an instance or set in stone. Take your time, move away from the task and go for a walk. You can always come back later, change and adapt your approach.
- Making decisions can be tiring work. Lack of sleep has been shown to strongly affect mood and lead to a negative outlook. Approach big decisions when you are well rested.
5) Other tips
- Do things (either within or outside of university) which help you develop your strengths and interests and see where they lead you.
- Volunteer your time and skills where you can. Examples are extracurricular activities your tutors need volunteers for, a local charity, the Scouts association, etc.
- Be curious about the jobs that people do and what it is that they like about them. If you can research jobs or speak with people in these roles, that will help.
- Write down ideas and questions about jobs and return to those now and again, so your ideas gradually mature over time.
- Practical experience is a great advantage when looking for a job. If you get a chance to do some work-shadowing, volunteering or a developmental project in an area that interests you, take that opportunity.
Additional information and links
There is a useful career planner at https://www.prospects.ac.uk, guiding you through questions and ideas in a quiz format.
The Long Game at https://empoweringautistics.org/ provides life-changing support and training, as well as employment opportunities, to autistic graduates and students in higher education.