Career mapping: where to after school?

05 Jul 2023

Female high school student in school uniform lying on library floor looking at her laptop

Many students are uncertain about their next steps after Year 12.

But – as Phillip Williamson, one of the Head Teacher Careers for the NSW Government’s Educational Pathways Program, writes – it’s vital to go easy on yourself, self-reflect and do your research.

Here are Williamson's practical tips for starting your career journey. The most important thing, he advises, is to focus on your direction, not your destination.

Take your time

  • It’s OK not to know what you want to do. Don’t put pressure on yourself. With all the options available to you, sometimes decisions can be quite overwhelming. By removing the burden of expectation, you open yourself up to opportunities and possibilities that may present themselves.
  • Make sure you know who you are. Do an audit of your interests, skills, strengths, values and personality type. Websites such as myfuture are great at helping students (and adults) with the self-reflection process. Once you've done this, begin to look for careers and courses that are a good fit for you.
  • Be proactive. Research types of jobs and courses available, explore, attend tertiary open days and so on. While you do this, take note of how you feel. For example, if reading about a certain course excites you, you know that you are on the right track. By attending tertiary open days you can visit a site, check out the facilities and get a feel for what it would be like to study there.
  • Be open to possibilities. If you still don’t know exactly what you want to do at university, there is no shame in deferring courses, undertaking vocational training or employment, enrolling in tertiary preparation programs, or taking a gap year to give you time to explore your options instead of jumping straight in.

Take a career test

There is no such thing as a quick fix or silver bullet when it comes to career exploration. What is required is dedication, effort and genuine self-reflection.

One way of helping to ‘narrow the field’ when considering career options is undertaking vocational/career tests (there are many free tests available online). While they're useful tools, they do not tell you what job you will end up in, nor do they tell you what you're good at. Ultimately, the effectiveness of these tools comes down to one factor and one factor only – your individual input. Or to put it another way, what you put into it is what you will get out of it.

To get the most out of vocational/career tests:

  • Be in a positive mindset when completing the tests to ensure your choices are being made when you are at your most ‘open’ to new possibilities.
  • Ask for help if there is anything (eg instructions, terminology, questions) you don't understand.
  • Take your time working through the activities. It’s not a race; it’s about ensuring you are accurate and genuine in your responses.
  • Be honest with yourself. These activities are about you, not your parents or friends. Make sure you put what you want, not what you think others want you to.

What vocational/career tests do through rigorous questioning is assess your responses to specific categories such as interests, values, strengths, passions, skills, aptitudes, learning style and preferred work environments. Your responses to these fields are then matched to lists of suggested jobs to facilitate further exploration.

As it was explained to me many years ago, vocational/career tests are a lot like parachuting from a plane. The results won’t tell you the exact blade of grass you will land on, but it will at least tell you the field in which to aim for. In other words, the suggested jobs are exactly that – suggestions! They are the springboard from which to launch your exploration.

As you research each job, you will quickly decide what you like and what you don’t. You will also be led onto ‘related jobs’, where you could possibly find a job you had never heard of before that turns out to be the one you want to do.

Finally, no matter which path you choose to take, remember that your career is about the direction you take, not the destination.

Throughout your life, you will undertake many different jobs, follow many different pathways and undertake varied training at all levels of the education system. As we live life, we experience many different things that shape who we are. It is these experiences that will continue to change your direction and your future pathways. No singular test can predict all that!

Take action

These resources can help you start your reflection and planning.

  • Your school’s careers adviser – They are a wealth of knowledge and can help you work through career and course options.
  • Your Career – Access the School Leavers Information Kit and take a quiz to find study, training or job options that support your career goals.
  • Careers NSW – Explore industries and occupations and get support from a careers practitioner.
  • myfuture – Resources to explore career pathways and tools to develop self-knowledge to help with career decision-making.
  • Skillsroad – Take a career quiz, do a job-fit test, and browse hundreds of full-time, part-time, casual, and entry-level roles for positions Australia-wide.
  • VIA Institute on Character – Create a free character strength profile.
  • UAC Course Compass – Enter your Year 12 courses and your estimated ATAR, and Course Compass will display the top fields of study offered to past applicants with your academic profile. On UAC's website you can also search for uni courses, get details for upcoming uni open days, register for webinars and contact the team for advice.