What do I want from my life?
Self-knowledge enables you to articulate your goals, your professional identity and your personal brand. Start by thinking long-term and ask, “what would I ideally like to be and have in my life?”
To answer this, you need to consider your core values, interests, lifestyle, mobility, relationships, location, expectations for professional growth, and much more. It is natural that goals change over time as they are tested against reality and your preferences change, so relax in the knowledge that you are not making a life-time commitment. Revisiting and checking on your progress from time-to-time will help you keep motivated and moving in the right direction.
Direction and Motivation
The following three types of intelligence influence our direction and motivation in work and life:
- IQ – academic intelligence that helps us to think effectively
- EQ – emotional intelligence that helps us to recognise our own and others’ emotions and relate to people effectively
- SQ – spiritual intelligence that helps us make sense of life and find meaning, purpose and direction.
Traditional education tends to focus on the development of the first two intelligences, while real-world experiences, such as volunteering, work placements, student competitions, or study abroad can help develop the third. Knowing your personal compass helps you judge if your core values are aligned with a potential employer, which is referred to as cultural fit. Employers recognise that happy and committed employees are well-matched with the corporate culture of their organisation, which means that the personal and professional values and missions are aligned. For this reason, cultural fit is one of the top five recruitment criteria that employers continue to identify in the annual Australian Association of Graduate Employers Survey.
Our values affect our feelings and behaviours; they capture what is important to us, what is worth doing, and they guide our decisions. They are shaped by our personality type, upbringing, family, community, culture and media. For example, if honesty is important to you, then integrity in the workplace will be a critical organisational value for you to identify during job seeking.
Personal values that are aligned with work-related values, your chosen career, and organisation is likely to feel right and meaningful, while a poor alignment may result in feelings of alienation (“what am I doing here?”) and frustration (“I’m wasting my time”) that may lead to ‘job hopping’ or a sense of entrapment, which can affect your wellbeing.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 1.
Work values are important in achieving a sense of fulfilment. Assessing workplaces and positions against these values will help you find a sustainable match. Review the list of work values below to understand how occupational alignment can provide professional and personal satisfaction:
- Achievement allows employees to use their strongest abilities and gives them a feeling of accomplishment.
- Independence allows employees to work on their own and make autonomous decisions.
- Recognition offers advancement, potential for leadership, and are often considered prestigious positions.
- Relationships allows employees to provide service to others and work in a friendly non-competitive environment.
- Support offers supportive management of employees.
- Working Conditions offers job security and good working conditions.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 2.
Passion, purpose, mission – your ‘why’
Current careers, life and happiness discourses are dominated by the imperative to ‘find your passion’. This ideal remains elusive to many people, but it does not mean you will have an unfulfilling life and career. Passion is often developed over a long period of time with mastery of our work. The key to clarifying your passion, purpose, values, mission – your ‘why’ – is taking actions in the real world and taking the time to reflect on what you’ve experienced. Volunteering, study abroad, work placements and internships can offer great insights on what matters to you as an individual and future professional. Experiment with many ideas during your studies, and over time, with deliberate actions and reflection, you are more likely to find one or more agendas that will give you meaning and sense of fulfillment.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 3.
Life View vs Work View
Another approach to finding your ‘compass’ in life and career is to put your Life View and Work View in words and look at how these two overlap. Everyone has a life view, though it is not always clearly articulated. Your life view covers the bigger picture including what makes life worthwhile, your place in the world, your relationships with people, and your priorities in life. Your work view encapsulates what work means to you and what issues are critical to you in relation to work, such as money, fulfillment, autonomy, creativity, social good.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 4.
The media and popular culture abound in images and discourses about success, which is usually measured in terms of excessive wealth, property, influence, or even freedom from work. Is this how you would define success in your life? In contrast, Maya Angelou (US poet and civil rights activist) defined success in her life as follows: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it”. It is helpful to have some idea of what success would mean in your life, so you have a reference point to gauge if your actions are leading you towards it.
Careers That Fit Your Interests
Gaining a clear understanding of your interests is one of the first steps in making a career decision. Career success and satisfaction depends heavily on keeping cognitively/intellectually engaged, stimulated and challenged to grow and develop.
Careers that fit your interests
Most of us have a number of interests, and a growing number of people develop ‘portfolio careers’ and may work part-time in different professions (for example as a graphic designer, web developer, and in local tourism). Some choose one set of interests to pursue through paid employment while fulfilling others through hobbies or volunteering.
While your general interests play a strong role in career choices, there are also interests that are related to activities and work environments that are worth consideration when thinking about your career pathway. You can explore careers attached to these work interest areas by selecting links below – please change the Job Zone preference settings to ‘5’ to see university degree vocation options. John Holland (Career Counselling Psychologist) theorised that career pathways can be grouped based on six interests and preferences:
- Realistic occupations involve work activities that include hands-on problems and solutions. These occupations may require mechanical/practical skills or working with livestock and the environment.
- Investigative occupations involve working with ideas and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems.
- Artistic occupations require creativity and self-expression. These occupations may require independent thought and idea-generation.
- Social occupations involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping, or providing service to others.
- Enterprising occupations involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and decision-making. Sometimes they require risk-taking.
- Conventional occupations involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations include working with data and details. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 5.
Skills and Strengths
A skill is a learnable capacity to deliver action or task informed by knowledge and characterised by a varying degree of mastery. Skills can be improved with deliberate practice and/or additional knowledge or know-how. This is why employers are so curious about your experience – if you have no track record of delivering tasks the employer won’t know if you have the required skills.
Skills are versatile tools that can be applied in diverse settings and environments. This means a high level of transferability of many skills from one career to another. This is why, in the context of career planning and job hunting, it is so important to look through the lens of your skill set. The Foundation for Young Australians estimates that skills used or developed on one job can lead on average to 13 other jobs where you can use the same skills, but in a different context.
Your job seeking activities and success will depend on your self-awareness and your ability to articulate experiences that showcase skills you have developed in a specific job, project, placement, or volunteer activity. Seek out extra-curricular experiences that help you develop and demonstrate your course skills in the real world, and reflect on which of those skills are your strengths and which ones require more practice to master.
To develop your transferable skills, see our Boost Your Skills module.
Some organisations use strengths-based hiring processes to identify candidates’ strengths.
A strength is something you do often, do well, and something that energises you when you do it.
In other words, a strength is a personal attribute/character trait or skill in an area of interest or knowledge in which you have achieved a level of mastery. At work you have to find the right balance between the enjoyment of utilising your strengths and completing what needs to be done.
Conversely, you will need to identify your weaknesses and decide if they could impair your work performance and career progression. What you might need to do about your weaknesses? Many organisations seek ‘well-rounded candidates’ who have key strengths to work with, but have also addressed their biggest weaknesses.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 6.
Personality and Personal Attributes
Have you ever wondered why some people love adventure and change while others prefer familiar environments and routines? That some people seem easy to talk to while others seem distant and take more time to warm up? Or, that some people seem to overreact while others always keep their cool?
In many cases behaviours that you might find problematic may be a result of a personality type, not necessarily a deliberate action. Learning about your personality type will help explain some of your natural preferences and understand other people’s behaviours that may sometimes puzzle you. An awareness of the diversity of personality types will help you become a more tolerant person, develop your emotional intelligence, and work better with people.
Personality types are not fixed, and with time and effort many people become comfortable with behaviours that are not their natural fortes. For example, if you are an introvert you may find public speaking quite daunting, but you can train yourself to become comfortable and very effective at it. Your personality type may need to be considered in choosing professions and work environments. For example, if you score high on the neurosis scale in the Big Five Personality Traits (see below) and you tend to worry a lot, you may want to avoid work environments that could aggravate your anxiety. Try and observe different workplaces to help you reflect on your career pathway.
The Big Five Personality Traits (also called Five Factors, OCEAN or CANOE) are as follows:
- Openness – People who like to learn new things and enjoy new experiences usually score high in openness. Traits include being insightful and imaginative and having a wide variety of interests.
- Conscientiousness – People that have a high degree of conscientiousness are reliable and prompt. Traits include being organised, methodical, and thorough.
- Extraversion – Extraverts get their energy from interacting with others, while introverts get their energy from within themselves. Traits include being energetic, talkative, and assertive.
- Agreeableness – These individuals are friendly, cooperative, and compassionate. People with low agreeableness may be more distant. Traits include being kind, affectionate, and sympathetic.
- Neuroticism – This dimension relates to emotional stability and degree of negative emotions. Traits include being moody and tense.
These are the attitudes, character traits and physical characteristics of an individual. For example: can-do attitude, helpfulness, manual dexterity. Being aware of your key personal attributes can help you decide whether a work environment will be a good match; this will help you to convince an employer of your suitability. You should seek out volunteer experience, if you are unsure about your personal suitability for an occupation to see if it is the right fit for you, and to determine if you can develop the necessary attributes required.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 7.
Ideally, your career choices need to mirror your preferences and agendas, and this means you are likely to reinvent yourself a number of times in your career-lifetime, according to the principles outlined below. You will need to unlock the KODE to career success:
Knowing yourself – understanding which aspects of self we want to fulfill in our career
Opportunity scoping – research, and ‘try before you buy’ potential careers
Decision-making – assessing information and making an informed decision
Enacting – developing and implementing an action plan, and managing the transition effectively
In topics 1-5, you have identified a number of factors that will impact your future career decisions, such as your life direction, motivations, interests, skills, strengths and personal attributes.
Consider a number of ideas and options in an objective manner. After extensive exploration of careers websites, and checking everything that seems interesting, you should narrow down your ideas (three to five ideas) to those that are most appealing, then follow the opportunity scoping process. This should consist of three steps to gather:
- Theoretical information – the results of your online research, career snapshots, talking to academics and careers counsellors, and checking organisation websites.
- Professional’s knowledge – the results of your conversations with people already working in the career and/or industry that you are considering.
- Practical insights – these are the results of your experience, however brief, of the work setting, the industry or a sample job; this could be a university placement, self-organised work experience, shadowing (observing a professional at work), or volunteering. You should keep an experience diary and reflect on your experience during and after.
Tip: A sustainable career decision should involve informed choice rather than solely a ‘gut feeling’ or picking an option by default. It should include a systematic, objective review of career and labour market information. To access detailed information (practical questions and actions) about the steps outlined above, download the JCU Opportunity Scoping Information Sheet.
Decisions may be made intuitively, rationally, or through a combination of an intuitive and logical thought process. The three-step opportunity scoping approach below caters to a variety of decision-making styles. You can list reasons for and against a particular decision to help identify the best course of action for you.
Example – Career Decision-Making Process: Should I seek work experience with X employer?
Step 1 – List as many pros and cons that you can think of:
- PROS – Advantages
- Close to home
- Know the boss, good chance of him/her giving me experience
- CONS – Disadvantages
- Work is not exactly aligned with my degree
- Definitely no future employment opportunities with this firm
Step 2 – If you are still not clear on the decision to make, weigh the value of the importance for each positive and negative to clarify the really important considerations affecting your decision. Assign a score of 1 (not that important) to 5 (very important) to each consideration. Add up the score for the pros and cons, and see which comes out stronger.
- PROS – Advantages
- 2 – Close to home
- 1 – Know the boss, good chance of him/her giving me experience
- CONS – Disadvantages
- 4 – Work is not exactly aligned with my degree
- 5 – Definitely no future employment opportunities with this firm
Self-reflection and thorough opportunity scoping will provide you with a wealth of information for career decision making, but it is important to remember that it is impossible to have complete knowledge of career realities. At some point, you will need to make a decision and take a leap of faith into a career option to test the ‘fit’ for yourself.
Enacting your decision means setting a specific set of goals and developing an action plan to achieve them. This might involve finding a mentor or obtaining work experience in the field. Students who start planning and preparing for their careers in their first year of university have a greater likelihood of capitalising on career opportunities that arise through their studies and an increased chance of achieving successful graduate outcomes.
Remember to be flexible with your career plans and goals and allow room for unplanned or unexpected events that happen along the way. Action planning works best when specific steps are identified. Each time you complete one of the steps, you have achieved a part of your goal and you should experience a sense of achievement, which motivates you to take further steps. A commonly used model for planning is the SMART model described below.
S = Specific
- Who? – is involved
- What? – do you want to accomplish
- Where? – identify a location
- When? – establish a timeframe
- Why? – specific reason, purpose, or benefits of achieving a goal
M = Measurable
Monitor your progress – this helps you stay on track, reach your target dates, and feel that you are achieving something.
A = Attainable
Measure the effort required to attain the goal by breaking it down into steps - each step should move you closer to that goal.
R = Realistic
Personal and situational factors may influence your ability to reach your goal. Make sure that your goal suits you and your lifestyle.
T = Time-bound
Time limits should be identified for each of the steps. Define start points and end points for steps along the way and maintain commitment to these deadlines. Celebrate each time you have achieved part of the process.
The next step in enactment is to write an effective goal statement
- Use clear, specific language
- Write it according to SMART goal criteria
- Have positive, action-focussed language
Example Goal Statement: I will land a job as a Data Analyst at a large financial institution by the end of the year. To accomplish this goal, I will improve my skills in Excel and PowerQuery and connect with other Data Analysts in my network to find out more about their skill sets and job search processes.
Monitoring, evaluating and re-evaluating
Once you have mapped your goals and planned the steps to achieve them, you now need to monitor your progress and make adjustments to your plans when necessary. It is also a good idea to remain flexible and adapt to any change in circumstances that may arise. If you are not making progress towards reaching your goals, you may need to consider:
- Are your goals still relevant?
- What is stopping you from taking the required steps?
- Are there barriers or obstacles in your way?
You may need assistance from friends, family or the JCU Careers and Employability team to overcome any difficulties you are experiencing. Careers are constantly evolving, so you need to monitor, review and adapt your plans on an ongoing basis. It is essential that you assume personal responsibility for your career. Recognise and welcome uncertainty, be open to opportunities that may arise, and be flexible with your career plans to accommodate change.
Action: Go to your downloaded workbook and complete Activity 8.
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