Finding out about career paths: a student’s perspective

Being curious and exploring different sectors, finding out about different roles and employers, can help you work out what’s a good fit for you… in this blog, we share Jessica Motley’s experience of researching careers.

Hi Jessica, what are your tips for researching careers?

I am a fourth year LLB law student, from the United States, who has changed my career plan about every six months since starting university. While my experiences relate to the legal sector, my four top tips are applicable to students of any degree discipline:

1. Use the Careers Service

There’s a range of ways they can support you to make career thinking manageable and enjoyable:

  • A good starting point is to view the job profiles on their sector information pages to compare and contrast job roles and find out what they really mean.
  • Have a read of their guide to careers research in simple steps.
  • Check out the events section of MyCareerHub to stay up-to-date with events and workshops, which take place throughout each semester, are supported by employers and alumni, and are free to attend.
    • Such events will help you to discover what’s out there and gain a better insight into specific organisations and roles.

2. Talk to those in the field you are interested in

  • Use Platform One, a University of Edinburgh online platform, to connect and explore the career paths of alumni.
    • It’s a great way to discover new options and remind yourself there is no single right pathway.
    • Find friendly alumni willing to answer your questions and share their experiences with you. For example, you may be looking for some honest insights into career areas or hoping to speak to people with particular skills or experience.
    • Sign up to create a profile and view helpful “how-to” video guides via this link.
  • Consider reaching out to academic staff, especially if you are interested in academia or research.
    • You can find out about their journey into academia and how they integrate research, or other work, into their teaching work schedules.

3. Join a society

In my experience, societies are an invaluable (and usually free) resource which can be used to build connections:

  • I contacted advocates who judged my mooting competitions with the University’s Mooting Society to learn more about their work and the path they took to become an advocate.
  • There is a society for nearly every sub-discipline and protected characteristic at each school, so there should be a society of interest to you. Search for societies on the Students’ Association website.
  • If no such society exists, you can think about starting a society yourself; if you have an interest in a particular subject or discipline, there is a high chance many other students will also be interested.

4. Create your own opportunities

  • Google can be an effective tool
    • Sometimes positions may not be widely advertised depending on the sector you’re interested in. So, these require careful research and commitment to finding them and this is where I used Google. You might use a different search engine. I’ve spent hours researching key terms to search with when looking for work within the Edinburgh area and these often led to a position that I would be interested in undertaking.
  • Apply speculatively
    • I have become comfortable with reaching out to law firms by myself, even if they aren’t advertising vacancies. If there are niche firms that specialise in the type of law that I am interested in, then I will often send a well-worded email with my CV attached asking if they would be willing to take on a summer intern. Nine out of ten times, I do not receive a response, but it is that one time that counts for finding work experience. I have landed some incredible opportunities by “cold-emailing” firms, non-profits and other legally oriented organisations.

Final thoughts

While there are many approaches to finding out about career paths or discovering work experience, these are the four approaches that have worked best for me. They may not be the most effective for everyone though, so if you find that one of my suggestions is not working for you, then try another!

Thanks Jessica.

Jessica has highlighted the importance of taking a chance and applying speculatively. Read our recent blog post on How to succeed with speculative applications”.

The Careers Service is here to support you shape your future – we can help you work out what you want your future to look like, or advise on next steps if you already know where you’re heading:

  • Our information and advice drop-ins are offered online and on campus. No need to book! They’re great for asking quick questions and getting answers. Check this schedule to find a session that suits you: Information and advice drop-ins.
  • You can also book an appointment with any of our Careers Consultants via the “Talk to us” tab in MyCareerHub.

(Image credit: Arek Socha from Pixabay)


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