4 Key Career Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Graduate

So, it’s come to this. You’re a fresh, twenty-something undergraduate, knowing that eventually (unless you enter academia) you’ll have to get a job and enter the real world. Perhaps you’ve gone through a few internships and think you know what you’re doing. Perhaps you’re still clueless, unsure where you should go or where your degree can take you. Perhaps you’re a fresher, still not sure what you want to make of your 3–4 years on your undergraduate degree. Regardless of how far along you think you are, these 4 questions will help you map out your career path.

1. What is my passion?

Despite what most “inspirational” articles will tell you, you won’t necessarily get to “follow your dreams” or “do what you love”, because the world’s like that. Not everyone can get their dream job, and not everyone can make money out of it immediately.

However, what drives you is an important factor in mapping out your career path nonetheless. Are you a writer, a creative who’s willing to put hours into mastering your art and achieving your dreams? Perhaps you might put those skills to work in communications. Are you an animal rescuer who’s got a passion for all things natural? Maybe working for a company with strong environmental commitments could be your thing. Who knows, you might be able to make the switch at a later stage in your career, if you don’t have the resources to do it now; Harrison Ford was a carpenter for years before becoming Han Solo.

Regardless of what your passion is, what’s important is what it says about you. I’m a writer and a performer, pretty much a self-starting, independent person with a commanding stage presence. I identified these qualities in myself and turned them into a career decision: working in marketing, social media and communications as an entrepreneur.

In contrast, if you already had a job in mind, but your passion conflicts with what the job might be, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. If your passion is for exploring and you can’t stand a tightly-structured office environment, but you think you want to work in accounting and finance, try exploring other options before committing unless you really need the money or are willing to adapt. Work can be hell, but try to make it a little more comfortable.

2. Do I have the right skills for the job?

If you already have a job in mind, and you’re reasonably sure you won’t hate it, the next thing to consider is if you’ve got the right skills for the job. Someone who wants to design the next Uber or Tinder but is completely clueless about coding probably doesn’t have what it takes (yet). Consider what talents and skills you have, what you need to learn, and weigh the options: is it better to do what you already can, or are you willing to invest time, effort and perhaps money into broadening your skill set?

If you’ve got the right skills for your job, that’s great! If you don’t, and you want to upgrade them, there’s a whole bunch of options out there, ranging from upgrading courses at local institutions to online courses on sites like Udemy, and even intensive startup bootcamps that give you the skills you need to be an entrepreneur. These courses look good on your CV, too, and demonstrate to employers that you’ve put in work to acquire the skills they want.

3. What’s my “tolerance”?

No, this isn’t a question about alcohol. The tolerance I’m talking about is a tolerance for the “grind” of work; while every job inevitably begins with a grind, some jobs are grind-ier than others, even if they’re ultimately good career options. If you want to be a journalist, for example, you’ll have to put up with long working hours and tight deadlines from the beginning. Even working at a “famous” company has its downsides; Konami, for example, is notorious for treating its employees horribly, despite the prestige of working for the company behind legendary series like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill.

If you’re willing to put up with the “grind” of your chosen job, it might be for you; otherwise, it might be time to start looking at other options. Do your industry research well; speak to people you know have worked in those industries, outside of company events (where employees will be required to promote their companies regardless of actual experience). If you know seniors who have worked in the same industry, speak to them; I was set on a career in law until I spoke to some of my seniors who’d worked in law firms, leading me to consider other options.

4. What work environment suits me?

This is an important question, because when you start working, you’ll be spending most of your day at work (unless you’re one of the lucky few who gets to work from home). Work environment includes company culture, ethics and even the benefits which the company provides to its employees. These aren’t universal across each industry; some firms might have a better company culture or a more relaxed office environment, while others might be more traditional and structured.

To give you an example, I spent two years in my home country’s armed forces. I was assigned to an office role, where I served on a team managing training logistics. While this wasn’t exactly a career choice (Singapore conscripts all its men for two years), it did help me understand what kind of work environment suited me; I wasn’t cut out for a high-stress life where I had to constantly be on-call, ready to respond at any point of time should something happen, and a less regimented work environment.

Again, the advice about industry research applies, but in a more specific manner; don’t just research industry-wide trends, but specific companies you’re targeting. Take on internships or speak to former interns. Attend career fairs and talk to the representatives there, while watching how they respond. Get an alternative perspective by reading views from those who’ve left the industry, if they’re available; why people leave certain companies, like this executive director who left Goldman Sachs, often has a lot to do with work environment. Find out why people stay, why people leave and which one you’re likely to be, and you’ll have a better idea of what you want to do.

Graduation isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.

Knowing yourself is the first step of your career; once you know what you love, what your skills are (and are not), how hard and where you’re willing to work, you will be considerably better equipped not just to choose a career, but also for the application process. HR and interviewers are likely to be impressed by a candidate who knows they have the right skills for the job or has put in work to develop those skills, and seems like they’ve done a considerable amount of research.

What are you waiting for? It’s never too early to get started.

Robert Liow is the marketing director of The Students Startup Ltd. He is also an active writer and spoken word poet, and a law student at King’s College London.