What Can I Do With My Degree?

Careers are not linear

The experiences you engage in, the interests you pursue, and the decisions you make — prior to, during and beyond your time at the U of A — will impact your career, often in ways you cannot predict. Research in the field of career development shows that most people's careers paths are nonlinear because they are significantly impacted by positive and negative unplanned events, or happenstance. But, this does not mean you hand your career over to fate. There are things you can do to prepare yourself to become an active agent of your career, reacting positively to change and unexpected events.

A "planned happenstance" approach to managing your career is one that involves taking action and trying new things, even if you are not sure of the outcome:

  • deliberately and intentionally engage in a variety of activities,
  • follow your curiosities and interests, and 
  • get involved in life beyond academics.

By engaging in activities outside of your formal studies, you can break the cycle of "I need experience to get a job, but I need a job to get experience!” The resources available to you on campus and through the Career Centre can help you explore traditional and alternative job options in or outside your field of study. 

Take time to reflect during and after taking action. Doing so will help you determine what you have learned about yourself and the world of work. You will discover (or even create) new opportunities and interests while developing knowledge, skills, and connections that will benefit you in your career and life. Taking time to reflect will also help you make informed next steps. 

A next steps approach

It is not possible for you to know exactly where you will be one year, five years, or even 10 years down the road. It is possible, however, to know what you might want to do or accomplish in the next week, month, or even a few months. 

A next steps approach is similar to your car’s headlights as you travel down a dark highway. Your headlights are not bright enough to light your entire trip at once. But, they are bright enough for you to see a few feet ahead of you, then the next few feet, and the next few. You continue to travel a few feet at a time and adjust your speed and direction depending on what you are able to see. Over time, you safely reach your destination--even if it is not the one you intended.

Similarly, it is not crucial for you to decide exactly what you will be doing in the future.  It is important, however, for you to take actions that will continue to propel you towards your preferred future.  If you are regularly taking action and reflecting on your experiences, you are gathering current information to use in your decision making. Over time, your career will unfold one step at a time.  A next steps approach is flexible, adaptable, and focuses on possibilities.

What do I have to offer?

Your career potential and employability is a product of more than just your formal education. What you have to offer, and what employers are looking for, is a combination of the skills, experience, and attributes you gain through formal and informal education, paid and unpaid work, as well as the activities you pursue in your leisure time. Potential employers will be interested in how you can apply your set of skills, experiences, and attributes in unique and meaningful ways.

It is critical to be aware of the skills you have to offer and to be able to effectively communicate the value and applicability of your skills in different settings. Your skills will evolve over the course of your career, so it is likely you will have to re-evaluate your skill set on an ongoing basis.

  • Personal Management Skills
    Otherwise known as soft skills, transferable skills are highly marketable because they can be used and applied in multiple settings and contexts. They are gained and strengthened throughout your life through all of your experiences in learning, work, and leisure activities. For example, when you participate in group work you are developing your interpersonal skills, communication skills, and maybe even your conflict management skills.
  • Personal or Self-Management Skills
    These skills refer to your unique personality and your motivation and are learned through your life experiences. These skills are desired by employers because they are difficult to teach and take a long time to master. Ambition, independence, reliability, and initiative are all examples of personal or self-management skills.
  • Technical Skills
    These are the abilities and knowledge you need to perform a specific task. They are often learned through formal education or training, but also can be self-taught. For example, as a nursing student, you might learn how dress a wound in a lab. You might also teach yourself coding, simply out of your own interest. Depending on the occupations you are interested in, certain technical skills are requirements while others enhance what you can offer an employer.

What are my career options?

Start by exploring occupational profiles associated with your education and skills. Occupational profiles give a brief description of general job duties, working conditions, educational and skills requirements.

In order to widen your perspective and expand your options, be sure to look at profiles that require your earned degree(s) as well as those that require related education and skills. Consider if the profiles you explore align with your values and your preferred work environment. You can also use occupational profiles to research what you can do with further education.
Remember that internet research is a great place to start researching your career options, but the richest and most current career information comes from engaging with professionals in your field of interest.

We recommend two sites as a starting point to research occupational profiles: