Whether you're choosing a degree course or looking for a career change, it's vital that ask yourself what you enjoy doing and what makes you tick, advises Caroline Tolond

Whether you’re choosing a degree course or looking for a career change, it’s vital that ask yourself what you enjoy doing and what makes you tick, advises Caroline Tolond

Q I’m a chemistry graduate but when I graduated I moved into a totally different career path. Ten years on it feels like this path has come to a natural end and I’d like a career change, preferably into something that draws on my chemistry background. At the same time my daughter is in the middle of her A-levels and is starting to think about university options. It seems like we’re both making major career changing decisions! Where do we start?

A Reading through your question it looks as if you and your daughter are in quite similar situations, even though you are at different life stages, as at the heart of each dilemma is the question: ’What should my next step be and where will it take me?’


Where next? Caroline Tolond advises a mother and daughter, p78

At these careers crossroads it is easy to focus only on the future, but it’s useful to also take into consideration what you enjoy doing at the moment and what makes you tick, either at work or at school. 

I often spend the first part of a careers consultation with a client exploring these factors, along with aspects such as personal factors and the right work environment for them, through which it is sometimes possible to draw out suitable career ideas. 

In your daughter’s situation, unless she has a specific vocation in mind (i.e. medicine, dentistry, veterinary etc), focus discussions about university options on what subject areas she enjoys studying at the moment. Doing something she enjoys in the short term should ultimately lead to a better overall degree classification and openings in careers that appeal. It will also help her keep her options open as many graduate jobs do not specify a particular degree, but often specify the class of degree required for applications. 

As a parent the best advice I can give you for supporting your daughter’s career planning is to encourage either formal work experience or involvement in sports or union activities. Any experiences she gains during her degree will help her think about what type of role she would like to move into while also providing examples of transferable skills, such as team working, when completing application forms and attending interviews. 

Going back to your career change: again, start at the beginning. What do you get satisfaction from at work? Are there elements of your ’old’ career path you could draw on in your ’new’ career? As I highlighted with your daughter’s situation, following the things you enjoy should lead you to explore career options that you find satisfying in the long term. 

Broadening your awareness of jobs that are available may also be useful. Often people are focused on their job and their immediate surroundings so that they only see a fraction of the opportunities in the job market. It can be valuable when planning for a total career change to look at a wide range of jobs, going beyond the normal places you look, as something may spark your interest. Be realistic though. 

Without recent scientific experience you are going to have to draw on skills from your past few roles, so look for things with a scientific element to them. For example, try looking at places that advertise for roles which may be based in a scientific environment, rather than looking at scientific recruitment sites that may only list laboratory-facing scientific roles. 

Save any jobs of interest and once you have a shortlist, go back to your list of things you enjoy doing. Compare your shortlist and the list of what you’d like in a job to narrow down the possibilities. Start thinking practically about what you’ll need to do to make the change happen. 

Time, effort and being persistent are often the keys needed to make a career change, but money can also be an important factor. If your ideal role isn’t on the cards then identify where you can compromise and consider similar roles that can sometimes act as stepping stones to other options. 

Remember: this is likely to be only the first step along your career change path.