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How to work out just what you DO want to do

How is it that some people seem to know exactly what they want to do, and have always known it? But for you, while there are quite a few things that you find interesting, none have really captured you enough to become your life’s ambition. You may be in a job now, a job that’s, well, OK, but honestly you think there must be something else out there that would give you that buzz of excitement.

Break it down

Whether you find the Career Question overwhelming, or you genuinely want to answer it but can’t think how to, I’d suggest there are ways you can think about it in smaller steps.

If you’re still studying, how can you decide on a career, or if you’re already working, how to think about the next step in your current career? Consider these three approaches and see which you’d prefer:

1) The Lucky Dip

Open a career directory at random and select the first job you come to – any good? Car manufacturer? Coal miner? Tax accountant? Deep-sea fisherman? Arbitrage trader? While these are great jobs for someone, they are probably not exactly what you are after. If you’re thinking, ‘All my friends are applying for or working in …’ then this is about the same as the Lucky Dip.

2) The Blinding Light

Here the idea is that you wait for inspiration to strike you – the thing is that success with this approach is really rare; perhaps the last recorded instance taking place around 2,000 years ago on the road to Damascus, and that required divine intervention.

3) The Map

So, we have a third approach and, as you might guess, it’s the one to use when the Lucky Dip and Blinding Light approaches have not delivered and you don’t want to wait any longer: a Map.

Think about you

Start from the age-old challenge, ‘Know Thyself’ – the ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about this and inscribed it at the Oracle at Delphi. Today, it challenges you to identify what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. These are probably based on your skills and experiences. Looking ahead to changing jobs and going for interviews, you’re going to be asked to give examples of your skills and there’s a reasonably standard set that includes team work, communication, problem solving and so on.

Armed with a list of what you are good at and what you enjoy doing, the next stage is to find the opportunities that will play to these strengths and interests – and, of course, opportunities that someone will pay you to do (otherwise it’s just a hobby). There are many ways to confirm your ideas and find the opportunities, the most powerful of which is through information interviews.

Information interviews

Information interviews are the best way to learn about jobs and organisations without committing, to meeting people and expanding your network without the stress of Networking, and to polishing up your own interview skills in a low-risk situation. It demonstrates to people that you are the sort of person to take control of your career – a very attractive attribute for any potential employee.

Since this process — from thinking about your skills to information interviews to applying for jobs — might take some time, you will benefit from some resilience, creativity and persistence – good skills for a job, as it happens. In fact, sometimes looking for a job is a job itself.

How to find your dream job

Jonathan Black has been Director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford for the last nine years. His long list of previous jobs includes: management consultant, professional publisher, co-founder of a start-up company, finance director, aerospace engineer, computer salesman, and strategy director. He is currently the Financial Times Careers Adviser. Where Am I Going and Can I Have a Map?: How to take control of your career plan – and make it happen is out now.


Where Am I Going and Can I Have a Map?: How to take control of your career plan – and make it happen by Jonathan Black