Making career decisions

A compass


Career planning involves putting together manageable actions to achieve your goals. The tools on this page will help you get started.

Making career decisions

Follow four stages

Planning your longer-term career can be exciting, but for some it can feel daunting, as the importance of making the correct decision can seem difficult if you don't have a 'set' career in mind.

When making a decision about your career, there are a number of things to consider and having a plan will help guide you towards your goals. This decision may be one of the biggest you have to make, so ensure you dedicate time to it. It is never too early to start to think about your future.

How to find fulfilling work

To simplify the process of planning your career, breaking it down into steps can help things to feel more manageable. The DOTS Model (Law & Watts, 1977, 1996) is a four-stage cyclical process of career planning:

  1. Self awareness
  2. Opportunity awareness
  3. Decision making
  4. Transition
Making career decisions

1. Self awareness

Recognise your skills, interests, values and qualities by doing an assessment of yourself, you will be able to understand what is important to you and use this as a way of seeing if you would be a good match for a particular job. Consider the type of work environment you value, for example, would you want to work for yourself or would you like to work in a role that helps others.

There are a number of ways you can assess yourself, such as asking friends, family, colleagues or lecturers for an honest opinion of your strengths and weaknesses. Visit our What Employers Want section to take an online skills assessment to get an insight into your skills, here you can also identify the top graduate competencies employers are after and see how you compare.

Making careers decisions

2. Opportunity awareness

Understanding what opportunities are available will help you to navigate the careers landscape. There is a wealth of information available online, in particular, the Prospects site is a great place to start your research.

At this stage you could have conversations with people in your network, talk to people about their jobs and related careers. You can use Linked In, events or Careers Fairs to do this too.

Look into the training, qualifications and skills needed for the roles of interest, check out job vacancies and person specifications so that you can pinpoint any gaps you need to work on.

Be open to a range of options, you will undoubtedly have developed transferrable skills during your degree, be prepared to think outside of your specific subject area as this could open up more opportunities.

Making career decisions

3. Decision making

Making decisions can be difficult and it is a skill that takes time to develop. Often you will not have all of the information that you require to make a decision, so you will have to use you research and self assessment to make the best decision you can at that time. A good starting point is to collate all of your research, analyse what you have found and weigh up the pros and cons.

There are lots of decision-making tools that you can use to assess options, why not try one of these approaches:

Decision-Making Grid (Pugh's Decision Matrix)

Pugh's Matrix allows you to compare a number of options against a set of criteria. It can be applied to a range of decisions and is applicable to career choices. For each career, create a list of criteria that are important to yourself and work through scoring each one. The scoring system allows you to rank the options into a logical order. You can see an example of a matrix on JVS Toronto's: Career Matrix.


If you are a visual person, or someone that prefers to follow their gut / feelings, then visualisation could work for you. This involves you visualising yourself in a particular role or job, closing your eyes and imagining that you are in that work environment. Take note of your senses in this space and once you finish the process, you should consider how that career experience made you feel e.g. excited or nervous.

If you are still struggling and would like to talk about your decision in more detail you can book an appointment with a careers adviser.

Making career decisions

4. Transition

Next, it is time to think realistically about how you are going to move forward and set yourself some actions that you can measure. Maybe you need some work experience, to create a CV or a specific qualification. Write this down and give yourself a target date to work towards. Ensure that you have a backup plan in place too – it can be helpful to map out a couple of options, just in case things change or don't go as expected.

Managing the unexpected!

Having a plan in place will help you to feel more in control of your future, though it is important to recognise that not all career journeys are linear and in fact they are often the opposite. Careers have evolved and it is common now to have a number of careers during your working life. Being open to new opportunities and having flexibility in a rapidly changing labour market can help lead you to your goals or perhaps rethink them.

Read on to understand a careers theory that takes into account life's unpredictability.

Planned Happenstance

Planned Happenstance Theory was developed by Krumboltz, Mitchell and Levin in 1999, it encourages us to embrace unplanned events or chance occurrences. This could be an invite to an event, or volunteering with the student union or meeting an old friend – all of these could have an influence on our longer-term career.

Krumboltz et al suggest that many people's careers progress as a result of a chance happening, they encourage you to have a curious, flexible and optimistic mindset when it comes to opportunities that could help you progress. For example, you may attend an event which means you network with an employer, subsequently leading you to secure some work experience. Being persistent and able to take calculated risks when seeking out opportunities can enhance your employability.

Some examples of actions you could take are:

  • Joining in University-based activities e.g. Students' Union, Enactus
  • Checking Advantage to look at the 'Events' section
  • Sign up for any course-related conferences
  • Do an internship or placement
  • Use LinkedIn to network, connect with employers and research your industry
  • Look for opportunities to develop new skills

There are many more ways that you can apply planned happenstance on a day to day basis and this theory is relevant to all careers but particularly those which require self-promotion and networking, such as the creative industries.


Mitchell, K. Levin, A. and Krumboltz, J. (1999) Planned Happenstance: Constructing Unexpected Career Opportunities. Journal of Counseling and Development, Volume 77.

Making career decisions


Speak to a careers adviser

Our Careers Advisers are on hand to help. Book an appointment on Advantage or by calling 0161 295 0023 (option 5).

Appointments are available for current students and graduates of the University of Salford only.