The best resources for planning your career

When you’re choosing between career options you need detailed information on different aspects of your career so you can evaluate potential impact, work out what skills are needed, and see whether you’d like to pursue that career. Unfortunately much of the information you need doesn’t exist. For instance, you can easily find minimum entry requirements for different roles, but there’s isn’t much on how to judge your chances of being successful once you’ve got the job. We know some important useful things about finding a job that suits you, such as evidence-based ways to judge whether you’ll enjoy a particular job, but it isn’t covered by conventional careers advice. And it’s difficult to find any information at all about more entrepreneurial paths.

On the other hand, the existing resources are great for certain types of information. Governments collect detailed information on types of roles, what they involve, what skills and qualifications are required, basic salary data and industry trends. There are also some private providers of career information and advice, including advice on how to get into certain types of jobs.

We’re going to prepare career profiles on specific careers that will help you work out whether to pursue that option. But in the meantime, here’s our first thoughts on the best resources that are already out there.

One word of caution about these sources – most of them are general career resources that cover many industries superficially and so they tend to summarise the most common aspects of the career rather than the most promising opportunities. For example, C and Java are the most commonly used programming languages, but that doesn’t mean they offer the best opportunities for a programmer just starting out.

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How to use the sources

I’d suggest that you:

  • Use the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook and some of the advice websites that list types of jobs to get an overview of the options available.
  • Then if you care about salary you can get more information on salaries for different jobs using the Occupational Employment Statistics site for an overview and salary.com for detail.
  • You can get a picture of what the jobs are like using ONET, Vault, and other general career advice resources.
  • Then you can get more information on particular companies and careers by looking at glassdoor, going to careers fairs, searching on Quora, and talking to people.

Also, bear in mind that networking is very powerful – both for getting a more accurate picture of different careers and for actually getting a job, so only use online sources for getting the basics before you go out and talk to real people.

Government data

Government data is probably the most accurate source for basic information on what jobs involve, salaries, skill requirements, hours, and industry trends. This data isn’t perfect though – one problem is that it doesn’t take account of earnings such as bonuses that are not part of the basic salary. This and other problems are outlined in this post on the problems of salary data.

Occupational Outlook Handbook from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics’

The online BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook has profiles on many broad categories of occupation. It’s a good place to look to find lists of different occupations when you’re just starting to think about your options. It also has job descriptions, skills required, pay, and work environment information. The section on job outlook is particularly useful – it’s important to try to work out the long term prospects of a career or industry.

Occupational Employment Statistics site from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics’

They have profiles for each occupation which cover salaries broken down by percentiles, industries, and locations.

UK Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings

Less detailed than the US BLS data but it covers earnings for different job categories. You can get the report here and the data here.

ONET

ONET is a US Department of Labour website that contains detailed profiles on different occupations. It is the most systematic and evidence-based source we’ve found that covers what jobs involve and what skills are required. For each job it has a summary report and you can see all their data on each job by clicking on the details tab in one of the job profiles.

To check the quality, I contacted ONET to find out how they gather this data. They send surveys out to a sample of people in each job and contact experts in each occupation.1 it’s great that they gather all this data, but there are some problems. for example, self-reported answers to questions about skills won’t be as accurate as a study of the skills determinants of success in a particular career. however, it is currently the best source we have that covers most careers and at least uses some systematic evidence to describe jobs. see also this site for an overview of how they collect their data.

Salary data for particular jobs

Salary.com

Salary.com collates data on the salaries of jobs in the US that is more fine-grained than government data. They also categorise careers by seniority – for example, Software engineer I, II, and III – so you can trace expected earnings increases as you get promoted. Each job has both median and other percentile data and you can see salary + bonuses as well as basic salary.

Salary.com appears to be the best-quality non-government source of salary data. They take use employer-reported salaries and more than 90% of the job salaries listed take data from 100 or more people in that job.2 They also have data on salaries by location, but since they calculate it by adjusting national averages using a weighting factor rather than by presenting actual salary data by location it might be better to use the BLS occupational employment statistics handbook for location-based salary information.

Glassdoor

Glassdoor’s salary data is taken from self-reports by people who register on the site and is displayed by company, so it’s less useful for getting an overview of salaries by job type. However, glassdoor is excellent for doing research when you’re thinking about which companies to apply to. As well as the salary data they have job adverts, reviews of each company by employees, and summaries of interviews at different companies written by people who have interviewed there.

Career advice websites

These sites don’t simply present information from other sources – they write guides to different aspects of career planning. Because of this, it is hard to be sure of their quality. Make sure that check the advice you read with other sources and by talking to more experienced people.

Vault

Vault is a source of career related analysis. Rather than just presenting data (like salary.com) or user-generated content (like glassdoor) vault provides written guides on many career topics. They have:

Wetfeet

Two sites:

You can register on wetfeet.com and get access to articles (of unclear quality) and more usefully, Q&As with hiring managers at major companies.

They also have schools.wetfeet.com which is a more comprehensive career advice site with advice articles, testimonials from people at various companies describing their work life and guides to help with getting a job.

Targetjobs

UK-based. An advice site with job-search, employer profiles, summaries of different career sectors, and general career advice.

Careers in business

Includes subsites on finance, consulting, and marketing, among others. It’s particularly useful as a collection of links to other useful sites.

Prospects.ac.uk

A career advice website for UK students graduates with information on different careers and industries. See especially their list of types of jobs which has profiles on many careers.

University careers services

University careers service websites may be helpful. e.g. the University of London’s careers group has advice as well as information on many different industries. Your local university careers service will also have a library of books and resources for career research.

Wikipedia

Has articles on most jobs and industries. Useful for getting your bearings.

Finding companies

Apart from the websites above (many of which contain company profiles) you could look at:

Lists of top companies

For example, the Sunday Times 100 best companies to work for or Vault’s top 100 Law firms. Google to find lists for your preferred industry.

Careers fairs

Search for ones in your local area. Often they are organised by university careers services but there are also industry-specific fairs as well, such as the Consultancy careers fair and tech-startup careers fair Siliconmilkroundabout

Other information

Quora

A question-and-answer site that you can search – often the people answering are experienced professionals. It’s useful for getting an insider perspective on many jobs and is especially strong for tech jobs and non-technical jobs associated with the software industry (e.g. sales and online marketing).

Wolfram Alpha

Like a search engine, but returns information rather than search results. It’s useful for finding career-relevant information such as the cost of living in London.

Conclusion

Be cautious when using these sources – careers advice is hard and many of the sites don’t have an evidence-based approach. But they are a useful start in your careers research as long as you supplement them with advice from lots of people with experience of the careers you’re interested in.

Let us know in the comments if you know of any good sources of careers advice.


References and notes


  1. From an email from ONET: “The primary method for collecting this information is the establishment method, a survey of workers employed in a national probability sample of establishments. This method essentially uses a stratified two-stage design in which businesses (the primary stage) are selected with probability proportional to the expected number of employed workers in the specific occupations being surveyed, and a sample of workers (the secondary stage) is selected in the occupations within the sampled businesses. In addition to this primary method, alternative or supplementary methods include sampling from professional and trade association membership lists and sampling from lists of identified occupation experts. … It should be noted that ONET occupational information is composite information from many jobs and therefore is not intended to describe a particular job. With all methods, the ONET survey instruments Questionnaires are used.” 

  2. You can read more about salary.com methodology here and here