How to decide which career to choose

Professor Kobus Maree

Professor Kobus Maree

Published Jan 2, 2017


A few years ago, a 27 year old medical doctor consulted me for career counselling.

“I need guidance,” she said. “I simply cannot continue doing what I have been doing for a few years now. I am in the wrong career,” she sighed.

“In Grade 12, I was still uncertain about what to do after school.

“Then, one day, I contracted the flu and my mother took me to the doctor.

“Sitting in the waiting room, I saw an attractive brochure from a university a few hundred kilometres away.

“Reading about and seeing the impressive medical campus, where students could visit the gym for free, helped me make up my mind.”

Smiling shyly, she continued: “I always dreamt of going to a gym with the latest technology, and the prospect encouraged me to study medicine at that university.

“I was accepted and graduated eight years later.”

Like her, many students today still choose a future field of study and enrol for it without knowing what exactly the career entails, only to discover later that they had made an inappropriate choice.

That is deplorable, because one’s job profoundly impacts one’s lifestyle and happiness.

Still uncertain about which career is truly for you? 

At the end of Grade 12, most students apply for study at the tertiary training institutions of their choice - many for several fields of study at different universities, for instance, medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.

If a prospective student is accepted for one of the three only, the choice appears obvious.

However, sometimes applicants who apply at different universities are accepted into two or three fields of study and do not know which to choose. How can they resolve this matter?

First, they should have explored these fields of study and careers thoroughly long ago. It is irresponsible and short-sighted to wait until the crisis is upon you.

Second: thorough job analysis to help you finalise the choice of a career is essential. If you haven’t done this already, start doing so right away.

Job analysis - obtaining and analysing career-related information - promotes self-efficacy (students’ belief about their ability to perform a given task or assignment successfully), contributes to resolving career indecision, bolsters students’ knowledge about the world of work, and addresses their subjective experience of a career.

Job analysis can best be achieved by carrying out a combination of the following activities:

* Shadowing employees - spending a few days with practising professionals in their actual work environments.

* Conducting interviews with employees and employers - it is essential to prepare thoroughly for every interview, including arriving at the interview with a number of carefully pre-planned questions.

* Reading as much as you can about careers - in print or online by surfing the internet.

* Watching and analysing DVDs on specific careers and fields of study.

* Doing part-time (temporary) work, for example, holiday work, where the execution of this type of work is viable.

* Volunteering your services at churches, mines, banking institutions, any institution that offers activities related to any of the dream careers one has in mind.

* Analysing documents that contain up-to-date information about the world of careers.

* Visiting career exhibitions, expos and training institutions, and attending open and information days and career displays.

* Using the internet to peruse relevant websites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

* Organising mentorship and engaging in vicarious learning - for example, observing and learning from role models.

* Consulting final-year students and lecturers at different universities about different aspects of fields of study.

* Comparing the different institutions where one’s chosen field of study (for example, accounting) is offered, in terms of course fees, structure of the course, degree or diploma, number of applicants who find work post-study and pass board entrance exams, and so on.

By doing a thorough job analysis, you take ownership of your own career-life story.

Ideally, you should approach a career counsellor to not only ‘test’ you but, more importantly, help you identify your main life themes.

For example, do you want to help people in need, fight for the rights of others, counsel adolescents, help people become healthy again, take care of the spiritual needs of others?

Back to our initial point: if you haven’t done thorough job analysis at this late stage, start doing so today.

Look through the list below and see what is still possible at this late stage.

Can you, for instance, talk with and observe three dentists at work?

Do part-time work in their practice?

Ask yourself the following questions about future careers:

* Will the career help me realise my key life theme - for example, healing others, taking care of the elderly, counselling or helping young people realise their potential, teaching maths to pupils from resource-poor contexts, preserving the environment, helping people who feel ‘unattractive’ attractive, taking care of cancer sufferers, the aged or people with poverty, standing up for people that have been or are being bullied, protecting my country, etc.

Ideally, you should consult a career counsellor to help you identify these themes.

* What is the biggest pain I suffered, especially when I was very young? Something that I do not want others to suffer - for instance, having been humiliated, having stood by helplessly as my beloved mother died from cancer, having seen friends hit by cars, some of whom subsequently died as the nearest hospital was far away.

The more you help others overcome this pain or hurt, the more you will be healing yourself.

* Will I be able to find employment in South Africa only or can I work abroad as well? Fields of study that are in high demand are, for instance, those that lead to professional registration (medicine-related, engineering, accountancy, psychology, plumbing, electrical engineering), information-communication technology; data analysis-related careers; medical-related careers, nursing, medical technology; bio-technology-related careers; technical careers; and teaching related careers.

* Is this field expanding or are companies that offer this kind of work down-scaling?

* Will the qualification enable me to become employable instead of merely finding a job?

Today, very, very few people stay in one career for the rest of their lives.

* Will the qualification enable me to become self-employed?

* What are the chances that I will become redundant or be laid off in the near future?

* What major changes are people expecting to see in this career over the next few years?

* Is the field saturated? Are more people entering the field than can be accommodated realistically?

* What will my salary be when I start working and what are the future projections in this regard?

* What courses are available to help me grow and develop and remain relevant and employable (renew myself) in the course of time?

* Does the field offer a good ‘fit’ between my traits and preferences (for example, working with people), and the job requirements and circumstances?

Interested pupils/students are encouraged to:

* Watch this video:

* Then watch the following clip:

You will immediately be able to make the connection between the two clips - and hopefully discover the power of the new approach to career counselling.

Education analyst Kobus Maree is also a professor in the Department of

Educational Psychology at the University of

Pretoria and the recipient of multiple awards for his contributions to the field of career counselling.


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