Making career decisions

Knowing yourself, understanding the world of work then planning and acting are important first steps when looking for work.

Career decision making is a lifelong process, not a one-off event. Whatever degree you have studied, you have an element of choice in the career that you follow. At first you need to be able to let your ideas run freely. You may well feel constrained if you limit your research initially to jobs that relate directly to your intended or current study plans.

At its simplest the process can be described in three stages:

  • Know about yourself
  • Know about the world of work
  • Plan and act

Know about yourself

Start your research with "you". Find out more about who you are and what you have to offer. This exercise does involve some work, but after a number of years of study, you are no doubt familiar with the link between doing the background work/research and results! If you spend some time on this you will discover a lot of new things about yourself, or remember things you had forgotten. Writing things down is an important part of the decision making process.


How much of yourself do you want to put into your work - are you seeking to live to work or work to live, or a balance between both?
There are no right or wrong answers to these and other questions. But your answers will have implications for your job search. The closer the match between your philosophy of life and your job, the happier and more successful you will be.


Reflect on your achievements, starting with your academic achievements at school or at university. If you have little or no work experience, you can go back to school days. Think about what led you to choose your course of study, and the kinds of strengths you have developed along with specific knowledge gained. Identify which courses you enjoyed most and resulted in your best achievements. Other achievements, such as responsibilities accepted in organisations, within your family, vacation or part time work and socially show that you are more than your degree. Recall those positive comments that friends, classmates or colleagues at work have made.

Skills and abilities

Skills are the essence of what we contribute to the world. Advising, coaching, communicating, analysing, researching, organising, painting, repairing, for example. These are only a few of the hundreds of skills you possess. Think about situations in which you have demonstrated these skills and highlight skills that you would enjoy using on a regular basis as part of your ideal job.

Careers NZ provide a range of tools to help you identify your skills, and get job ideas based on your skills.


Think about the things you like doing—list 20 things you love to do, and then pick five favourites. Give some thought to areas which most interest you, i.e. administrative, artistic, technological/digital, musical, outdoor, persuasive, scientific and / or social service. Consider such aspects as working on your own or with other people; leading others or being part of a team; persuading people; being entrepreneurial, the level of risk you are comfortable with and new developments in the world of work that interest or excite you.

Personal circumstances

Be honest with yourself about factors that may impact upon what you want to do. It doesn't always mean you can't do a particular job, but you need to be aware of how you would manage any challenges and the help you will need. However, focus on the key skills you have more than physical constraints, remembering that help is available for workplace modifications and that diversity and equal opportunity are important to most employers.

Know the world of work

The world of work is changing, so researching what is out there and how different career options fit with your skills. interests and values is an ongoing process. The following are some ways to explore options:

Matching your interests to work environments - find you if you are realistic,investigative, artistic, social, enterprising or conventional (RIASEC).

What can I do with my degree? Use this guide to explore study and career pathways for the many different study areas at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Find out where graduates work, ways to get relevant experience and how to make valuable career connections if are studying a particular subject. Read graduate career stories that relate to the areas that interest you.

Research the range of jobs in your interest areas using Careers NZ jobs database or Jobs by Interest.


CareerQuest is a fun and easy way to explore job ideas.

  • Find job ideas matched to your interests
  • Explore your interests and discover job ideas tailored to you
  • Learn about the pay, skills and qualifications for your job matches
  • See what courses or training you'll need

Complete the 78 question photo quiz. It takes about 15 minutes.You can save your results on the Careers NZ website and discuss them with a Careers Consultant in a drop-in appointment.

Plan and act

There are many planning tools and resources that can help you plan. Decide the style that works best for you. Setting SMART goals—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound—will help you.

Our study and career pathways information on What can I do with my degree? will give you ideas based on career destinations of graduates who have studied each major subject.

If you are going ahead with next steps for looking for work, go to Looking for work for help with job search and creating your job applications.