CAO Countdown: What to consider when selecting the next move after the Leaving Cert
Can you put the facts about yourself together to see what picture may emerge?
‘Just one step at a time constitutes perfect career planning.’ File photograph: Getty
What will you do after you complete the Leaving Cert? It might seem a simple question but if you think about it for just a minute, you just might find that the answer is not quite as straightforward as you first thought.
Are you interested in a career in medicine, business, the creative arts, design or in social studies? Or like so many others at this stage in the Leaving Cert cycle, it may be that you have not made your mind up just yet.
Life is a journey of exploration and discovery. Any adult reflecting on their own career journey since leaving school realises that expecting a young person at age 18 or 19 to have decided on their occupation for life in 6th year is completely unrealistic.
Nobody knows what the next three to five years will bring. Both you as an 18-year-old and I at 65 go through the same process to determine what happens next on our career path. We both look at our life experiences, our interests and aptitudes, likes and dislikes, opportunities, what our financial and personal circumstances offer us.
The only difference between us is that I have more clues buried in my life journey than you have. You will probably engage in this reflection and decision-making process at least 15 to 20 times between now and when you are physically incapable of meaningful career activity – which may be more than 50 years away, in your case.
Career choices will recur many times over your lifetime. The options at the end of second-level education are the first significant career choices you will make, but they are not life determining.
Therefore, don’t get anxious or distressed by this decision-making process now, as you’ll face it again throughout your life. The decision about next September will simply determine what you will commit to for next year, or, with college choices, three to four years. It is perfectly normal to tell your guidance counsellor at this stage that you have no idea now about what you want to do after the Leaving Cert.
Clues embedded in your life story to date can help determine your next step. Your unique life experience advances daily as you express yourself in your personal, educational, sporting, musical, social and vocational life.
To make sense of it, sit down and look at the jigsaw pieces of your life. The trick is to see if there is a pattern or linking theme within them.
We all have a wide range of interests, hobbies, skills, aptitudes and achievements, both academic and personal. Can you put the facts about yourself together to see what picture may emerge?
What do you enjoy doing in your personal life? Are you an outdoors type who loves the freedom of being in the open air? Are you good with people and do you enjoy helping or caring for them?
Alternatively, you may enjoy making things or taking them apart to see how they work. Are you entrepreneurial, having bought and sold things among your friends and made a profit? Do you like routine and organising your room so it is neat and tidy, where you can find anything you want at a moment’s notice? The answers will give you clues to your future career journey.
What are your favourite subjects, in which you have done well in school exams or Junior Certificate? Do they include languages, the sciences, business, technological subjects or perhaps the creative arts? If you took any interest inventories to help choose Leaving Cert subjects, they may indicate career or course areas of interest.
You probably took aptitude tests either at the end of Junior Cert year or transition year. Did they indicate you were strong in numerical, linguistic, abstract, mechanical or organisational reasoning? This is an important clue.
Family interests may also come into play. Is there a pattern in your family, on either side, which might point you in a direction?
Have you helped at home or in a family business or profession? Many people follow a family direction, such as politics, farming or in business.
Go through the questions posed here, write down any relevant answers or information that arises. When you have finished your list of facts about yourself, look to see if there is a pattern to it. You may see a theme or possible area of interest emerge, which will inform your research in the months ahead.
Remember, you are not looking for any blinding flash of inspiration that will determine your entire working life, but a strong indication of what might be the best next step in your life. If you get that right, it will consolidate the pattern and help you to take the next step in a few years’ time, after completing your initial choice. Remember, just one step at a time constitutes perfect career planning.
Your ultimate decision may be to apply to college for this September or to volunteer abroad for a year or to do something completely different. The choice is yours and only you can know what is right for you.
For an insight into the changing world of work and evolving roles, go to careersportal.ie. It has an excellent interest inventory and personality profiler which may help you clarify your emerging picture of yourself by taking one or both tests.