UNDERGRADUATES rarely have a clear idea of what career to pursue. Unless you are doing dentistry, medicine, law or some other professional course, chances are that you won’t quite know the answer when asked by well-meaning friends and parents about your plans.

Having said this, there are also graduates of the three disciplines I mentioned who chose a different career path after they graduated.

This is why many academic institutions have a career services division that takes care of students’ career-related issues. It provides much-needed career counselling support.

It is often said that, “if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there”. The refrain is essentially a paraphrase of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.

The challenge for most undergraduates is to find out what paths to explore, and try to narrow the options as they progress in their career.

“Interests” versus “competencies”

In the world of career management, it is important to separate “interests” and “competencies”. I may have an interest in flying a plane, but unless and until I have undergone the required training, I will not be able to do so (as I do not have the competencies).

So, before exploring your career path, you have first to know your areas of interest — put the “competencies” issue aside first.

Most people would logically fall back on the course they are doing. If you are reading Accountancy, for instance, then it would be: “I want to begin my career in the financial services function; become an auditor, accounts executive or even a trainee financial analyst.”

That’s logical. But many students embark on an undergraduate course based entirely on their academic results and the probability of their being accepted in a particular faculty. So, there is always the chance that you may not really have an interest in that particular field of study.

Assessment tools

Most career services provide assessment tools — and there is a wide variety of such career interests or personality profiling tools. Pay them a visit if you have not already done so and find out more about what drives up your adrenalin level.

You may wish to explore a sales career — in which case, you should be extroverted, have a genuine interest in meeting people and are motivated by a reward system that has your level of income directly proportionate to your efforts and results.

Or, if you want to be in human resources, you should similarly enjoy meeting and working with people, in addition to having a keen interest in providing advice and counselling services to help them in their careers.

Work values

What is also pertinent for you to find out is your key work values: What is important to you in a job? For example, if you value “affiliation”, then you should try to look for a job in a larger organisation, where you have a lot of colleagues and you are able to feel a higher sense of belonging.

Or, if one of your work values is “prestige”, then you can probably derive a higher level of job satisfaction if you work for a firm that is held in high esteem in the industry.

Having this knowledge will allow you to work with a career coach to arrive at your career options. Remember also to speak to many people (in the area of work you are keen on) and read up intensively on the possible career paths you have shortlisted.

Only then will you be able to make an objective decision on which route to take. However, do bear in mind that your interests can and do change over time, so it is imperative that you do a periodic review or audit of your career, and switch lanes if you have to.

Article by Paul Heng, founder/managing director and executive coach of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. For more information, visit http://www.nextcareer.net