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What to do if you change your career goals during university

Should I switch courses? What will I tell employers? Two graduate careers experts talk changing career aspirations

    Joy Hunter's avatar

    Joy Hunter

    Student content curator
    December 7 2021
    finding a job as an international student


    As the old saying goes, if you do something you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. However, figuring out what it is you would love to do can sometimes feel like the hardest job of all.

    Many students will begin their university journey with one career goal in mind, only for it to chop and change as they go through their studies.

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    This is a completely natural and normal process, but it can cause a lot of worry.

    If you’ve had a change of heart, you may be wondering how to pivot from one career goal to another, what to say to employers or even whether you should change course.  

    Below, two graduate careers experts offer their advice on what to do if you change your career goals as a student or recent graduate.

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    Advice on career development from employers 

    Don’t panic

    First things first, don’t panic.

    You are not the only student to change their mind on their career direction, or to feel unsure about the exact path they want to take after university.

    It is very normal to feel a bit stuck at some points in life,” says Heather Lu Lasky, founder of ChampAmerica, a New-York based career and leadership development consulting firm. 

    “Having worked in the finance industry for a dozen years, I have witnessed many graduates join and leave the sector,” she says.“They all worked hard in school, had great grades and internships, networked, passed all kinds of tests and landed well-paid jobs straight away. Later they find it's not where their heart is – that might be down to culture, personality, skillset or stress level,” explains Heather.

    “If you have a change of heart about your career direction during college, you’re actually realising a potential problem early, at a time where there’s lots of opportunity to pivot your skills towards a new goal.”

    Should I change course?

    You may be wondering if it’s worth changing courses to something more directly relevant to your new goals.

    The process of changing courses depends on the country you’re studying in, as well as the specific rules at your institution.

    “In the US it can be easier for students to change majors or add a minor concentration which would lend better to your new career direction,” says Amber Wigmore Alverez, chief talent officer at Highered, a global careers advice platform. “In Europe, where you tend to study one single subject, it’s not so easy.”

    While changing your course or switching majors is an option, it can require a huge amount of admin and disrupt your learning. It’s important to remember what employers value most before taking an extreme step like this.

    Of course, there will be always some highly specialised jobs out there that require specific subject knowledge, but this is not the case for every role.

    “Majors or subject choices don’t matter as much as you might think for most jobs,” adds Heather.  

    “The people who succeed these days are agile, adaptable and able to take on any piece of work,” explains Amber.

    “It’s easier than ever to supplement your current programme with online learning platforms and short courses to pick up more industry specific knowledge,” she adds.

    “Tools such as Coursera allow you to pursue personalised pathways to gain knowledge in a certain sector, as well as helping you brush up on your digital literacy.”

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    How do I pivot my studies and experience towards my new career goal?

    Whether or not your subject is directly related to the industry you want to end up in, employers will want to know what you have done outside of the classroom to make you stand out.

    One thing you could do is gain relevant experience by finding an internship or work experience placement related to your new field of interest.

    To find an internship, a good place to start is by looking for any corporate partners at your university or asking your careers service for information on how previous students have gone on to break into your chosen field to see what sort of placement might be most advantageous for you.

    If you have work experience already but you’re worried about it not linking directly to your new goal, try picking out the skills you learned from the experience and focussing on how they might transfer to your new areas of interest.

    Often, work experience is where people find out whether they really do enjoy a given role, so it’s also a great test of your suitability to an industry.

    “Relevant student societies or clubs are also well worth getting involved with,” adds Amber. “They provide a great opportunity to prove your passion for a given field to an employer, especially if it’s not reflected in your professional experience or academic credentials.”

    Having a strong network is also a huge boost. “Relationships are the currency of career success,” says Amber.

    “Find out the key people you need to know in your new field of interest,” she advises. “How did they break in? What skills are on their CV that you need to seek out to get on yours?”

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