Exploring your options

Career planning


You know that your degree programme will end and life after LSE will follow. At some point, you’ll feel ready to start making plans for how you want to spend your time, contribute to society and earn your living after being a student.

Making career plans

There are many ways to approach career planning, so find what works for you. Some of you will prefer to research thoroughly before drawing up a detailed plan and taking action, others will want to jump in and just try things out.

All involve some element of: learning about your possible futures; thinking about your priorities; and getting ready to apply for your next step. You’ll find below a structure to help you with the process.

Career development

We offer ways to reflect on:

  • who you are and who you want to become
  • what you want in the short and long term
  • what you already know about career development
  • some of the different opportunities open to you
  • way the job market works
  • exploring our website.

We think these reflections will help you make decisions now and in the future.

We can help you develop your self-concept by thinking about your skills, values, motivations and understand how these relate to possible future career choices.

We facilitate your learning about different career paths by doing as well as thinking. As well as reading, you can attend events to you help you understand more about yourself and your career development.

Check CareerHub to see the events and seminars that are coming up; when you’re ready, book an appointment with a careers consultant to discuss your thoughts further.

We’ve designed a structure to support this process while you are at LSE and beyond. You’ll see reference to the career development cycle in all our material and interactions with you. 

Thinking about yourself: skills/strengths/values/personality

An important step in career development is self-assessment, because knowing about yourself, increases the chances of knowing what you’ll find fulfilling in your career. 

What does self-assessment involve?

Knowing what you like. Knowing what you’re like.

Reflecting on your skills and strengths, values and personality type, asking people who know you well for feedback and making ‘lists’ can all give you useful clues. As well as understanding your skills and values, try to be aware of other internal and external factors that can influence your career thinking too. 

Some people find self-reflection easy; others welcome some support with this. The activities below can help you name skills, strengths, values and your personality type.

Online tools are available to help you, or you could make an appointment to discuss self-assessment with a career consultant.

Once you are aware of what is important to you and what you have to offer, you could use a career matching tool to generate some ideas of the jobs that might suit you.

Skills and strengths

How do I conduct a skills and strengths audit?

You can start by listing the skills you have used and developed during your studies, employment, hobbies, life experience etc. and then assessing whether you think you are proficient in using that skill or if you’d like to develop it further.

When you’ve done that, spend some time identifying the skills that you have most enjoyed using in those contexts. These skills are your strengths, and if you can find a career that will allow you to regularly use your strengths, you will have a greater chance of job satisfaction.

It is possible to be highly proficient at something, but for it to not be a strength. The difference between skills and strengths is that we usually feel energised when we use our strengths. Think about occasions when the time has flown by without you looking at the clock because you were so absorbed in your task – that’s probably because you were using one or more of your strengths.

Equally, you might have a strength that you aren’t yet competent in, but that you feel enthusiastic about developing.

Skills and strengths tools aim to increase and use your vocabulary of skills and strengths:

  • If you’d like to work with a pre-defined list of skills, download our LSE version.

  • LSE LIFE have developed a tool on Moodle to review skills: Me + LSE.

  • Prospects and TARGETjobs both have a section on skills and competencies which you could use to develop your own list.

  • CliftonStrengths is widely used to help people think about strengths. You have to pay for the assessment.

  • High Five Test is a free alternative to CliftonStrengths.

When you have completed your audit or strengths tool, show it to a trusted friend, colleague or mentor. You might be surprised by the ideas and insight they add.


Put simply, your values are the things that are important to you in life and at work. They can also be referred to as guiding principles. Being clear about your values can direct your actions in a more intentional way, help you to make decisions and allow you to interact with people in ways that feel genuine and honest.

Examples of values include community, optimism, directness, ambition, happiness or status.

Everyone is different and there are no positive or negative values. It is important to be honest with yourself about what is important to you.

Values tools

There are many lists of values available online, but the process of identifying your own can be more effective if you think about experiences you have had, rather than simply reviewing a page of words.

Look at the following links to identify an approach that works for you:

Your Ideal Business Partner Values Generator – this method encourages you to identify times in your life when you felt happy, proud and fulfilled and to use those to help you recognise your values.

Leadership coach Scott Jeffrey takes a similar approach, but also recommends considering a negative experience, where you were angry or frustrated, to help you identify the values that were being suppressed on that occasion.

If you prefer a more structured approach, The Life Values Inventory is a free online programme that asks you a series of questions about your values and actions and then presents you with your results.

You could look through a list of values and make your own judgements, here’s a list of 400 from Live Bold & Bloom.

The key is to narrow them down until you have around five core values that you can easily keep in mind. TapRooT recommends adding a verb to each value to bring them to life. For example, if your values are ‘well-being’ and ‘making a difference’ – they suggest changing those into actions by adding ‘Promote well-being’ and ‘Seek opportunities for making a difference’.

Personality type indicators

Understanding your key personality traits plays a role in self-assessment. For example, if you are someone who enjoys being surrounded by people and activity, it is likely that a solitary job won’t suit you very well.

There are online tools that can help you to learn more about your personality. Commonly, these free online services give you an initial description of your results free of charge but charge a fee to access a more detailed report. They usually require you to register an email address to take the test.

The VIA Institute on Character, an organisation dedicated to promoting the ‘character strengths’ that ‘make up our personality’, offers a free online survey that assesses you against their 24 defined character strengths. Click on ‘Take the free survey’ to start and you’ll get access to your results, with your greatest character strength highlighted.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter – is a widely used personality instrument with 70 self-directed questions designed to help you uncover your personality type, which will fit into one of four temperaments. Click on ‘Start’ and when you’ve finished the survey, you’ll receive your result and an overview of the key characteristics of that temperament.

16 personalities presents 16 personality types based around what’s known as the ‘big five personality traits’ model. After answering the questions, you are presented with your results and a detailed overview of the personality type you fit most closely with.

Career matching

Having undertaken some self-assessment, you might feel more self-aware and better prepared to review the career options open to you when you start to research different sectors and job roles.

There are career matching tools free online that analyse your skills and preferences, and suggest suitable job matches for your personal profile.

Prospects Planner for students, graduates and postgraduates asks you to rate various skills and motivating factors based on how important they are to you. The ‘scores’ you receive are then compared with a database of occupation profiles and possible career matches are suggested.

Prospects Job Match asks you whether you agree or disagree with a series of statements and then matches you to one of 15 job groups, ranging from ‘creator’ to ‘guide’, and suggests a range of related occupation profiles. It’s quick and easy to register.

Most of the following are US based tools. While they each provide you with a useful taster that should help you to build a picture of your career options, their full reports are only available for a fee. 

You might find it useful to undertake more than one of the free tests and then cross reference your taster results to look for common themes or career types.

The MAPP (Motivational Appraisal Personal Potential) career assessment is based on your skills and personality. For free, you receive a sample document based on your results and an opportunity to compare those results with 5 careers from a library of over 1000 options. You search the database, choosing either a category or keyword, and the system shows you how well you match the careers you choose.

Holland Code Career Test measures your level of interest in a wide range of activities and uses your responses to prioritise your top career interest areas across 6 categories, i.e. building, thinking, creating, helping, persuading and organizing. It then suggests careers that match your interest profile.

Career Explorer by Sokanu, requires your response to over 300 questions, exploring your personality, skills and preferences for your working style and environment. It then suggests a range of career matches and lists some of your key characteristics. You can access a useful sample of your personalised report.

None of these tools will tell you definitively what career would suit you best, but they can all provide ideas to inspire you and stimulate further research. Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t interested in any of the options that come up – try instead to identify any common themes and start from there. For example, all the careers suggested might involve people, or data, or analysis or community, etc.

If you need help to explore your findings, you could make an appointment with a career consultant. 

Exploring your options

Finding out about careers and generating new career ideas. Being curious about roles and organisations. You don’t need to know it all, so exploring means following your interests and learning about opportunities for the short, medium and longer term.

Apply your research skills to your job search. Sometimes you’ll benefit from narrowing your focus, deepening your knowledge; at other times you’ll benefit from broadening your horizons and looking more widely.

Useful information

There’s a hierarchy of careers information. Use it well and you can learn about sectors, organisations and roles. Information should be up to date, reliable, valid, and (usually) appropriate for your level of entry.

More broadly, labour market trends and anticipating future opportunities might be interesting for you. We suggest you keep track of what you’re learning – as if this is a research project, you’re at the data gathering stage, make notes.

Our employment sector guides include job roles, routes in, what’s new as well as links to useful additional resources.

Job descriptions linked from adverts for jobs on vacancy sites such as CareerHub give more detailed information about roles in specific organisations.

Meet and talk to people

Meet and talk to people who work in or know about the sectors and roles that interest you. This brings to life the reading you have done, and you can sense check your understanding.

We host a range of employer and alumni events, designed to facilitate opportunities to meet and talk to people.

You also have your own network of contacts to assist your learning about sectors and roles they know about. Generate more career ideas by asking each of these people who else they would like to work for; where else they have applied.

LinkedIn is a useful research tool for learning about the career progression of other people and finding out where else they have been employed. Start with LSE alumni  you’ll find a great network for you to draw on.

Stories of career progression of LSE alumni can be found on your department website and other LSE webpages including the Graduate Outcomes information on what do LSE graduates do?


Look back over the notes you have been keeping while you’ve been reading and talking to people about work.

Review what you’re learning and consider if it’s helping you to clarify your next steps

Ask yourself some questions.

  • What have I been learning about opportunities that connects with my sense of myself and fits with my identity?
  • What’s attracting my attention? Rank order the roles and/or organisations you know now in order of interest.
  • Am I using a range of different types of sources of information? Or overly relying on one source, say job adverts?
  • What am I curious to learn more about? Remember your self-awareness.
  • Which roles or organisations roles connect with my sense of myself and my identity? – the person I am and the person I want to become.
  • What should my next steps be?
  • What do I really want?

It might be time to get some experience and test out in practice what you have learnt about through reading and talking to people.

Getting experience and taking action

Experiences matter. You learn most by doing things. Trying things out in practice gives you the chance to test and learn more about your evolving career ideas. Developing skills and experiences in contexts outside education builds your confidence that you’ll be taken seriously as a candidate or co-worker (as well as helping you know what you don’t want to do). The experiences also give you stories to tell at selection interview and other meetings about careers.

Building your narrative

Try writing a concise description of the career you want. Draw on experience of your past and current career (in education, work experience, student societies, hobbies, other interests) to connect your past with your future.

  • What’s missing? What are you not saying?
  • Your identity might be embodied in the story you tell about yourself. Reflecting on this, what are you really saying?
  • How coherent is your story? Are there obvious gaps?
  • Can you see a continuous thread running through your story? Or repeated patterns or themes? There will be many different versions of this narrative. How would you tell the story to a close family member? A friend? An LSE academic? A future employer?

Try it out with different people and see how you feel describing the life you want.

Your career narrative does not have to be completely rational. There is a space here for dreaming, fantasising and letting your imagination do some work. We all have personal myths.

If the story sounds compelling enough to you, what should be your next step? Make a plan and go get it! You're ready to implement.

If you still have concerns about your career narrative, now’s a good time to review the guidance offered in this section; talk to a careers consultant or try some of the other techniques below.

Tools for building your narrative

Keep on reflecting on who you are and who you want to become.

Think creatively

  • Role models now and from when you were young (a ‘real’ person or a character from culture eg a book, TV show) > Who is influencing you?
  • Favourite Magazines / TV shows > What topics interest you?
  • Hobbies and interests > Where do you chose to spend your time?
  • Books – your favourites (could be films or other entertainment media). What’s important to you about the plot, characters, themes? >Interests again.
  • Favourite sayings, could be a tee-shirt message, banner or a ‘tag’ > your approach to life.
  • Favourite school subjects / and those disliked > fields of interest.

Sketch a three-scene story board of your past, present and imagined futures

  • Note the turning points in the story.
  • What's going on and who is involved?
  • Notice any recurring themes or patterns.

Re-tell the story of your life so far to different people

  • What do you emphasise?
  • What are the key themes?
  • Why are you telling the story in this way?
  • Can you identify the influences different people have on you – enablers and constraints?
  • What is pre-occupying you?

Attune your critical career sensibility by listening to narratives or reading career stories of other people.

Publicly available career stories are on podcasts, radio shows, in magazine articles, autobiographies...What do you notice about the plot; characters; untold story, recurring themes and performative elements in the story? What is the person really trying to say? 

Interview an older family member about his or her career

Ask open questions and record what you are hearing. Afterwards look back over your findings. What is going on in this story? What can you learn from it? What are the surprises? How does it compare with yours? At any stage you can review your findings with a careers consultant and identify useful next steps. Often career is a cyclical process. It is common to move around in circles or spirals as your identity, self-concept and understanding of opportunities develop.

Your pitch

Finally, your narrative needs to make sense to other people too.

Sometimes called a ‘personal pitch’ or ‘elevator pitch’ this covers who you are, what you currently do and what help you need to reach your next goal, all covered in 30 seconds!

Have a think…what three things make you unique? 

Then practise presenting this as if you were addressing different types of people – a friend, contact, future employer. A career consultant can help you refine this.

When the career plan doesn't go to plan – take action

Don’t stay stuck. It’s usually not your fault and you are not a failure if you do not get job offers based on the career development process described.

Keeping optimistic and establishing a positive mindset will help you keep going but can be easier said than done. Some people are more pragmatic than others. Don’t give up, keep actively exploring

And try some of these activities based on a ‘test and learn’ approach:

  • craft experiments – start some side projects, take on a part time role, do some volunteering. New experiences are vital, so find a new course, a trip away or new extra-curricular activity
  • shift your connections – network outside your usual contacts, find a new role model, ask to be introduced to someone new
  • make sense of the changes – in time, after trying out these new activities and meeting new people you can start to see different possibilities which can help you describe the person you want to become.

This is an experiential learning approach to career. Keep up your energy levels. Give it a go.

The ideas are taken from the work of Professor Herminia Ibarra.  You can read her Harvard Business Review article (2002) ‘How to stay stuck in the wrong career’. She uses the term ‘working identity’.

It will take time and effort but you might start to be able to tell a new story, create a new career narrative. Talk to a career consultant if you need a guide to this process.


Related pages

Navigating your career


Career planning by year

Career planning by year