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Tackling the Paradox of Choice

A short introduction to the role the Paradox of Choice in career management by Darcey Gillie.

Careers consultants are often asked by researchers if we have a “list” of careers we can give to them.

There isn’t one. (Well, not like that.)

In the Standard Occupation Code (SOC) produced by the Office for National Statistics and used by many to understand the UK labour market there are more than 28 000 occupations listed. Despite it’s length, the list doesn’t capture the diversity and richness of what people do for a living.

It also doesn’t capture the significant details of different jobs. It doesn’t reveal how the same occupation can differ greatly from employer to employer. It doesn’t reveal any indication of career paths and career progression.

Even if there was a list, why limit yourself to what other people have done? Why not use your research and critical thinking skills to develop a career that is satisfying and fulfilling for you?

You could do almost anything you want with your research experience. The research you did on yourself last week will help you focus “almost anything” into a more manageable pool of options to explore, tailored to you.

Read and reflect on the questions below to help you to refine your ideas of what you are looking for in a career.

  1. Look back at what you learned about yourself last week. Be as objective as possible (or even imagine the information belongs to someone else if that helps):

    • What recurring patterns and themes do you notice?
    • What stands out? This could be particularly strong language or the repetition of certain words.
    • What insights can you gain from analysing and interpreting the data?
    • What possible career options come to mind from looking at the data?
  2. Often after doing exercises like those you encountered in week one, researchers will come and talk to careers advisers about insights they’ve been having, test ideas out, clarify their thinking, explore next steps, etc. Use your network to do this or you may also want to speak to a careers adviser or other trusted career “friend” or mentor at your institution, as well.

  3. What would you like the purpose of your job to be? Or imagine you’re at a dinner party and someone asks you, “What is the impact of your job?” What would you like to be able to say? Be as specific as you can at this point in time. For example, if the first thing that springs to mind is “I want the purpose of my job to be to help people.” What does “help” mean for you in this context? Does it mean teaching people, healing them, helping them find work, supporting people who are socially excluded, build healthier more sustainable communities? Something else?

  4. What skills, strengths, qualities, values do you want to play the most prominent role in a possible job?

  5. Make a list of the tasks and responsibilities you’d like to have as part of your role. Assign a percentage to each that seems a desirable balance to you. You must include “administration” – often it’s not in the job specification but almost every job will contain some element of administration.

  6. Use Linkedin (you can turn the security settings to private if, at this stage, you don’t want anyone to know you’ve been looking at their profile) to generate ideas. Look for people with similar skills and interests. Make use of your institution’s alumni network on LinkedIn for information – and to connect by asking for an informational interview (described later in this course).

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Career Management for Early Career Academic Researchers

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