Words by: Zena James
A student pondering something deep and meaningfulIs all your ‘doing’ stopping you from really thinking about what suits you best?


Overwhelmed is the new busy for most students searching for career success, so creating giant to-do lists can make us feel better even when the tasks we tick off aren't getting us very far.

It’s easy to spend ages 'doing' stuff like applications, advert-scouring and chasing replies, but have you invested proper thought into what sort of work would actually fit the way you look at life?

It’s easy to 'do' career-searching stuff, but we might be underestimating the art of reflection. How often do you take time away from smart screens and just ponder? Not daydreaming (though that’s important too!), but pondering whether you’re barking up the right tree in how you’re approaching your next phase in life: the 'become financially independent' phase.

Do you ever spend time exploring with friends and family what fulfilling work really means to you and whether it will be able to apply to you in the jobs you’re currently going after?

Reflection is crucial. Have you thought hard about your values, what you believe in, what motivates you and therefore what kind of work and environment is most likely to make you leap out of bed in the mornings?

After all, there are well over 10,000 working days stretching ahead of you, so it’s worth a bit of serious questioning before rushing into job applications that simply tick the usual boxes eg money, status, progression, and so on.

Even Radio 4’s Thought for the Day recently talked about the importance of valuing silence in our increasingly noisy world. 'FOMO' or 'fear of missing out' now stops many of us from ditching our phones, tablets and headphones long enough to get through an entire train journey/couple of hours and just sit and think.

Thinking and reflecting are more important than ever when lecturers, friends and family start asking you ‘what do you want to do’? It’s surely not a question any of us can answer if we’re not clear who we are and what our experiences have taught us up until this point.

As head teacher Neville West said: “Nobody ever learned anything from experience. It was the reflection on the experience that taught him something.”

A student with lots on their mind, having a good old thinkSo maybe it’s time to start reflecting before you continue on your career-search, albeit with the help of others. That means creating (or call it treating yourself to) time, space and focus – on you, and what you’re about. Here are some useful questions to get you started.


1. Is there someone, living or gone, who’s been a powerful influence on you? What is it about them or what they did that’s been influential, and what have you done - or do you intend to do - as a result? This could be a parent, friend, or a public figure.
2. Think of a time recently when you were at your best. What happened and what allowed you to be this way?
3. Can you think of a time when your gut instinct influenced a decision? Your gut instinct is something you develop and evolve throughout life and it’s very important in most decisions you’ll make.
4. When you walk into a room for a formal interview, how do you want to come across? This is a useful exercise to help you clarify to yourself how you want others to see you.
5. Think of a time when life hasn't been great or a result hasn't gone your way. What have you learned from this experience? What positive thing can you take away from it?

Two questions to ask other people (parents, older relatives etc)

1. What piece of advice would you give me right now?
2. What piece of advice would you give yourself if you were my age again?

So…go on, take a moment or three to be really honest about yourself, your likely true direction and your future!

Previous blog posts by Zena James

How do I know if a graduate scheme is right for me?


Zena guest blogs for TSR on the topic of careers. She also freelances for Eyes Wide Opened, an organisation that runs intensive career-clarifying courses for young people at different life stages, be they curious school-leavers, mid-degree forward-planners or recent panicking graduates! If you think they might help now or after exams are over, have a look at Eyes Wide Opened.