Choosing a career
Your career choice will be one of the most important choices you make in your life. Choosing a career actually means that you are starting off on career planning for the rest of your work life. Your career choice can influence your future career development, work satisfaction and self-actualisation or growth. It is thus important that you obtain guidance to assist you to make such a choice.
You can find guidance to make such a career choice on this page.
How do you choose a career?
There are hundreds of careers to choose from. When choosing a career, you need to know yourself, know the different career options available in the labour market and then put it all together to make an informed choice, based on whether you find the career satisfying and that it gives you purpose in life.
Guide to self-knowledge
You need to know how you are as a person with regard to aspects that would be of importance in a career.
To know yourself you need to do self-reflection in the following areas that will guide you to a career choice:
- What you like (Interests),
- What you are good at (Abilities).
- Skills you have already build up in work/hobbies/leadership positions
- What you are like as a person (Personality)
- What you regard as important in life (Values)
Complete the different areas below and then complete the self-reflection exercises for that particular aspect. When you have completed this task, summarise the findings on the Summary sheet
Imagine a career which you enjoy so much that you do not even see it as work, but almost feel as if you are working at your most interesting hobby and in which you do not even count the hours go by. You need a career which you will enjoy as much to be as happy as you can.
Reflect on the following questions that can already give you some pointers on possible career field options. You can write the answers on a separate piece of paper.
- Subject (s) you enjoyed most in school/further studies.
- Subjects that you find interesting in other areas at this time (can be something you read about, for example soccer, photography, fashion, nature, etc.)
- The most interesting project you worked on and what specifically you liked about the project (for example people or facts.)
- Your hobbies or other activities that you enjoy.
- Five or more jobs that sound very interesting and what it is that appeals to you in these careers.
- Your dream career.
Career Fields Reflection Exercise
The Career Fields in this questionnaire are based on the acknowledged study fields in South Africa. The Career Fields Reflection Exercise was based on these study fields to provide you with a clear direction with regard to which career you may like or are interested in.
Assume that you are able to do all the activities at this point. Mark the activities that you will enjoy or are interested in most. In some cases you will only be interested in one of the activities under a heading-in such a case you can still mark the main activity, because you might want to choose the specific activity as career. Try and limit your choices to the five areas you like most. There is no right or wrong answers. Remember, you do this exercise for your own good. There is also no time limit, although your first thoughts are normally correct.
Read through the statements below and tick only those broad career fields that are applicable to you, for example:
Education, training and development √
|1. Agriculture and nature conservation
I like farming
I like working in gardens, parks, forests and nature
I like caring for animals
I like managing game reserves and parks.
|2. Culture and Arts
I like making beautiful things such as jewellery.
I like pottery and beadwork.
I like dancing, singing.
I like music.
I like seeing art shows and films
I enjoy taking videos and photo’s.
I like working as an actor or entertaining people with jokes.
I like doing paintings and drawings.
I enjoy television.
I like making décor for an art production
I like fashion designing.
I like repairing watches
|3. Business, commerce and management
I like organizing projects and people
I like activities where I can plan in detail
I like doing financial statements
I enjoy working with statistics.
I like managing the people in a company
I like marketing products in a company.
I like helping people buy or sell houses.
I like dealing with phone calls, filing and taking minutes.
|4. Communication Studies and language
I like languages
I enjoy persuading people through debating
I like listening to what people want.
I like translation of languages
I like writing for a journal, magazine or newspaper
I like writing fiction
I like correcting grammar in written documents.
|5. Education, training and development
I enjoy teaching and training people.
I enjoy helping people to develop and learn things
I enjoy getting people organized and excited about a task
I enjoy working with small children and helping them to develop
|6. Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology
I enjoy drawing machines, bridges, roads, aeroplanes, electrical and electronic machines
I like making and fitting together parts of machines, so that they can work smoothly.
I am interested in mining.
I like fixing and repairing things.
I am comfortable working with technical equipment.
I enjoy repairing radio’s and TV sets.
I am interested in operating big machines such as forklifts.
I enjoy designing and making tools.
I am interested in becoming a pilot.
|7. Human and Social Studies
I like understanding people and why they act as they do.
I am interested in people’s habits.
I like to guide people into the right direction
I enjoy helping people to develop skills to deal with life demands
I like helping people improve their relationships with others
I am committed to become a priest and help others grow in their belief and spiritual life.
I enjoy studying the earth and why people live in certain cities. (Geography)
I am curious about ancient people and animals (Archaeology).
|8. Law, Military Science and Security
It is vital to protect others by looking after their safety and security.
I like debating about the right and wrong of a matter
I take interest in crime
I like helping others to prove their innocence
I like to see that justice is done
I am interested in a military career (army, nay, air force)
I am interested in becoming a traffic cop or policeman,
|9. Health Sciences and Social Services
I like to help sick people to become healthy again.
I am interested in different diseases
I am interested in medicines
I am curious about how diseases can be prevented and health promoted.
I am interested in medical careers such as doctor, nurse, dentist, optometrist, paramedic, radiographer, occupational therapist, dietician and sports trainer.
I enjoy helping others to have a better quality of life.
I like helping people with their social welfare issues such as fund-raising, providing clothes and shelter.
|10. Mathematical, Physical, Computer and Life Sciences
I enjoy working with numbers.
I enjoy solving problems.
I like working out costs of something
I get totally absorbed when working with computers.
I enjoy helping others install their computers or software programmes.
I am curious about designing robots.
I like studying animals, plant and organisms
I like helping other people
I am interested in working in a restaurant and hotel or other leisure facility
I am interested in travellng
I will like working transporting people and goods
I enjoy helping people do their hair or giving them beauty treatments
I enjoy looking after old people or children
I enjoy cleaning people’s houses or offices
I enjoy selling products and services.
|12. Physical planning and construction
I enjoy drawing plans for buildings and houses
I like building houses and other structures such as roads and bridges
I will enjoy putting in electrical wires in buildings
I am interested in plastering and painting buildings
I am interested in putting in windows into buildings
I am interested in installing cupboards and doors into buildings.
Abilities and skills
Your abilities and skills refer to those activities you can do well or your talents. Abilities are your innate talents, while skills are normally those talents you have learnt.
Your hobbies, school education, work experience and skills development programmes or formal tertiary studies already completed, can give you an indication on possible talents you have.
Reflect on the following and write the answers on a separate piece of paper:
- When you performed exceptionally well in a project, which skills helped you to do so?
- List the skills on which family and friends have complimented you on
- Write down your highest school Grade and you two best subjects
- Write down which formal tertiary degree or diploma you already have and whether you would like to pursue this further, or whether you would like to choose a totally different career field.
- List any other formal training and development you have already completed, for example a learnership in motor mechanics or hair-dressing, a computer course in Microsoft Word, etc.
- What other informal courses have you completed
- Which skills have you developed by working as a volunteer?
Talent Self-appraisal Exercise
The Talent Self-Appraisal Exercise provides a sample of the major skills a person can have, but is not exhaustive. You will find space to add in additional space at the bottom of the exercise. It is not a test and there is no right or wrong answers. The Exercise should be used to provide you with an indication on which career to choose and must not be used as a recommendation to an employer for a job.
Mark the talents in which you know you are best at. Try to limit the areas to your five best talents. There is no time limit, although your first thoughts are normally correct.
Talent Self-assessment Exercise
1 Work with numbers (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing)
I am good at working through data step by step, am neat, accurate, good with numbers, use my mind, find mistakes easily, am precise. I am good with working out financial statements and costs.
2. Solve problems
I am good at reasoning, debating, using mind to think things through, analyzing information, I have a good memory, use rules and steps to solve problems. I am scientific, intellectual and use my imagination.
I excel in using tools such as spanners or machines, making or repairing things, I am good with working with my hands. I am practical, accurate, and technically-minded.
4. Work with art
I am good at creating new things/ideas and expressing myself in the things I make or do. I can draw well and make beautiful products such as beadwork and paintings. I am good at singing, acting in plays,
I am good with words and talk and write well. I use ideas, words and thoughts through speaking and writing in a manner that people enjoy. I can negotiate with other people. I do very well in oral presentations.
6. Deal with people
I am skillful with dealing with other people. I am friendly, persuasive, can influence people and provide leadership, helpful and loving. I can give advice and teach people in a patient manner. I network easily with people.
|7. Other talents that you have|
Career Choice Summary
The Career Choice Summary will help you to pull strings together, so that you can come closer to a career decision.
How to use the Career Choice Summary
- Your interests will already guide you to possible learning or career fields. You will just have to double-check whether your talents will fit in. To do this, compare the blocks on the Career Choice Summary and look for aspects under Career interests that match your Talents.
- There might be perfect matches, for example you are both interested in the learning field of Mechanical, Engineering and Technology and are good at mechancial work. Also you did a basic course in motor mechanics. If so, this clearly shows you that you should look for careers in the Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology learning field.
- Your interests and talents differ from each other? Perhaps you find that you are interested in the Mathematics, Physical, Computer and Life Sciences learning field, but your strongest talents lie in languages and communication. You can choose a career where you can use both your interests and skills, eg by becoming a teacher in Mathematics. In this way you can have a match for both your interests and skills. Perhaps you could also consider one of your other interests to get a better match.
- When your interests and talents differ, it could also be due to the fact that the talent does not describe the career or study field clearly, for example you are interested in the Law, Military and Security field, but have a talent for solving problems. Do research on your field of interest, to see if you will be able to apply your talent in your chosen job.
- Do you have too many interests or talents? You can narrow your field of choice down by looking at careers information.
- If you already have training in a skills development programme/tertiary qualification and want to do further training in this field, read up on the careers in the learning field of your skills development programme/tertiary studies in a Career Guide to see what progression there can be in the career path. Each qualification/skills programme can be combined with higher level subjects/different subjects, to either give you a higher level qualification or branch you out on a different career path.
The Career Choice Summary will only give you a career choice based on the Reflection Exercises. Remember to also take into consideration other knowledge you have about yourself, such as courses attended or your hobbies, to bring you to your final career choice. You might have worked as a volunteer in an animal shelter in your free time and therefore would like to become a veterinary surgeon or animal nurse. Also keep in mind the five careers that you liked at the beginning of the exercise as well as your dream career.
Based on the above, you can now write down around five broad areas of learning or careers on a separate piece of paper, for example
- Agriculture and Nature Conservation and
- Communication studies and Language.
People often say different people are made for different careers. If you are a shy person, you will not be happy in a career where you have to work with strange people the whole time. Think of about ten personality traits (how you are as a person) you have and write them down on a piece of paper. You can think back to the personality traits that friends and family have already said you have and use those to develop your list.
Below is a Personality Trait Checklist, which can assist you to identify some of your own personality traits as you know yourself. There are once again no right or wrong answers, so be as truthful as you can to get a good picture of yourself.
Tick those traits which you think are true of you, for example:
|Shy-not willing to put yourself forward|
|Extrovert-sociable and outgoing|
|Energetic-can work long hours|
|Persevering-can continue with an idea despite setbacks|
|Adaptable-open to change and new situations|
|Practical-prefer doing things hands-on|
|Co-operative-work well with others|
|Articulate-can speak well|
|Helpful-help other people|
|Ambitious- prefer to succeed and improve status and financial position|
|Tactful-sensitive not to hurt others when giving feedback|
|Inquisitive-curious and eager to learn more|
|Systematic-tackle tasks in a specific order, one after the other|
|Precise-doing tasks correctly and in detail|
|Logical-prefers to work using clear thought processes|
|Leader-prefer to give instructions and guide other people in such a way that they enjoy it|
|Supporter-prefers to follow other’s instructions and agree|
|Independent-do not want to be prescribed how to do tasks|
|Competitive-wants to surpass others in work|
|Confident-belief in self and abilities|
|Negotiator-discuss to agree on something|
|Creative-prefers to use imagination to come up with new ideas and products|
|Orderly-prefers to work in a neat, arranged manner|
|Calm-does not get upset by events easily|
|Responsible-prefers doing tasks by adhering to rule and due dates|
Career Values are the aspects you deem important in a career. If you want to have much money, it is not going to work for you, to choose a career which will bring in a small salary. Write down on a separate piece of paper some conditions that must exist in your future career, or what you would want from a career, for example to pay your house.
Below is a Career Values Checklist that can provide more direct guidance to assist you. There are once again no right or wrong answers, so be as truthful as you can to get a good picture of your career values.
Tick those Career Values which you think apply to you, for example:
Salary that increases regularly √
|Salary that increases regularly|
|Opportunities for promotion|
|Fringe benefits such as leave to have time for leisure|
|Flexible work situation|
|Job security so I do not lose my job|
|Recognition for achievements|
|Work in a team|
|Responsible for decisions and results|
|Like a challenge|
|Use specialist abilities|
|Recognised as expert in my field|
|Make own decisions|
|Free from rules|
|Working for myself|
|Helping the community and others|
|Working on beautiful products|
You need to do as much research as you can on those career fields that you have identified as possible options for you. Read up on all the careers in the different career fields, the nature of the work entailed in them, whether you would like the work tasks, the type of person that will be suitable to match such a career, entry requirements for study and duration of study. Many people make a wrong career choice, because they did not do enough research on careers information and then find the career field is not to their liking, the study course is too difficult for them, they cannot find work, because the labour market have too many of that kind of employees, or the cost for the studies is too expensive. One has to do careful career decision-making, so you can follow through on your career choice.
Another reason to research careers information is that the modern labour market places high demands on employees. Computers are taking over some careers, whilst new careers are developed, that keep up with new technology. You need to be abreast of labour market trends to choose a career that will be in demand.
Whilst going through the career description, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the nature of the career tasks really grab your attention?
- Will the career be a good fit for your personality-match with your Personality Traits.
- Will the career provide you with what you need from a career (match your Career
- Where can you study?
- What is the duration of the studies?
- What are the entry requirements to the study course and do you meet these?
- Where you can study?
- Can you choose a similar career on a lower level if you do not meet the entry
requirements for the career of your choice?
- Should you perhaps redo some of your school subjects to gain entry to your study
- How will you fund your studies?
- What options are there for further study in your chosen field of study?
- Will the career be in demand in the future?
- What will be the role of computers in this career in the future?
- Should you perhaps start your own small business? Job opportunities in an
environment where you work for an employer is scarce today.
- If you start your own business, what would you need to do so? Training, funds,
equipment, premises, mentoring?
Very important considerations for a career choice
- Scarce and critical skills are those skills that are in high demand in
the labour market, thus employers will snap up people with such skills very
quickly. It is no use to study in a career field where you will not find work.
- Computer skills and a driver’s licence are two critical skills that all employees
need on top of their work skills.
- The right work attitude such as timeliness, adherence to rules, good
interpersonal relationships. These can be gathered through life skills training.
- Multi-skilling means that you gain more than one skill to offer the employer and
make yourself indispensable or more employable in the labour market.
- Lifelong learning is important to continuously upgrade your skills and become
Find out about scarce careers and the other aspects above and ask for a referral to a life skills programme from the Career Counsellor at your closest Labour Centre.
Types of educational institutions
There are a number of different educational institutions that offer different options for further studies. You should research which educational institution will suit your career choice best in Career Guides. You also need to have a look at the entry requirements that these educational institutions set and see whether you will obtain approval for entry. Selection for entry is very strict due to the fact that there are many students that want to study. If you cannot find entry for one institution, you may decide to first study a course at another institution, to ensure you can get access to the institution you actually target, or you can improve your subject marks or redo your matric. The following options exist:
- Universities: They offer degree courses that are normally more theoretical.
Universities require matric exemption and set other strict entry requirements, such as certain subjects and symbols.
- Universities of Technology: They provide qualifications and lead
students to careers. The Universities of Technoloy also have entry
- Further Education and Training Colleges: They train skills and students
usually obtain work experience, thus integrating theory and practice.
- Learnerships can be studied through Sector Education and Training
Authorities. Studies consist of both theory and practice and work