What is personal career guidance, anyway?

What is personal career guidance, anyway?



Before writing this blog, I spent a little time choosing the images on the left here, to reflect on what personal career guidance means to me.

I was drawn to these images because personal career guidance provides opportunities to:

  • Pause, look back, assess your current situation, and look forward to the future
  • Unlock and express career ideas
  • Discover, discuss, and evaluate potential career choices
  • Think about where you are heading and the steps and resources you need to get there

Personal career guidance offers much more than this, but these are the images that sprang to my mind. I thought it was worth sharing my rationale for my picture choice before I explain more about personal career guidance and what it can do for you.


Before defining and describing the benefits of personal career guidance, I want to share with you what I believe ‘career’ to be.

Not everyone believes they have a career. They might think they have a job or a series of jobs, or do work to make money. They might think that ‘career’ is a word that applies to people with a plan, who work in a well-known profession, or who have made a series of logical steps towards a long-defined goal.

I don’t believe this.

I believe that career is a word we can all use about how we spend our time, however we occupy it. Whether we spend our days learning, working, caring for others, contributing to our communities, or seeking our next opportunity, career is our word – a word we can use to describe our “journey through life, learning and work” (Hooley, 2017).

Whatever we do, we all have careers. Careers come in many shapes and forms. They are as individual as we are.

I believe that as we all have careers, we can all benefit from personal career guidance.

What is personal career guidance?

Personal career guidance is one activity within the career guidance family (CEC, 2018).

The Inter-Agency Working Group on Work-based Learning (WBL) (2019) defines career guidance as “services which help people of any age to manage their careers and to make the educational, training and occupational choices that are right for them”. WBL explains that career guidance can help “people to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications, skills and talents – and to relate this knowledge about who they are to who they might become within the labour market”. 

Hooley, Sultana, and Thomsen (2020) describe career guidance as “a purposeful learning opportunity which supports individuals and groups to consider and reconsider work, leisure and learning in the light of new information and experiences and to take both individual and collective action as a result of this”.

Personal career guidance is one method of delivering career guidance. It takes place on a one-to-one basis through a structured conversion between you as the client and a qualified careers professional (Stewart, 2019), who can walk alongside you and support you in this important reflective space.

Why is personal career guidance useful?

In a fast-changing volatile context, we can’t necessarily assume we will make and then execute one career plan.

Even if we know ourselves well enough at the start of our career to make an informed and appropriate career choice – I certainly didn’t – life happens, things change, and plans don’t always go according to schedule or turn out how we think.

The world around us is constantly changing, throwing up the unexpected, requiring us to adapt and change while still moving forward. In light of this, our plans may need to change too, or at least adjust.

It’s not just the world that changes. We change too. I don’t know about you, but I am not the exact same person I was at 17, when I was making decisions about my future. My core values are the same, but my experiences have evolved how I think, what I want, and how I want to spend my time.

As we change, and the world around us changes, it makes sense that we may need support to navigate and manage our careers.

How can personal career guidance help you?

Talking things through on a one-to-one basis with a career guidance professional can help you to get clear on:

  • Who you are now (skills, qualities, strengths, interests, preferred learning style, decision-making style)
  • What is important to you now (interests, motivations, values)
  • What you want now (aspirations, goals)
  • What is possible now (opportunities, factors impacting career choice) 

A personal career guidance meeting can help you to:

  • Unlock, explore, and review your career ideas
  • Identify career goals that align with your skills, qualities, interests, and values
  • Discuss any limiting assumptions that may be impacting your career choices
  • Evaluate any skill gaps and make realistic plans to deal with them
  • Identify and address your career information needs
  • Find and access relevant sources of labour market information (LMI)
  • Make confident, well-informed, and realistic career decisions

What to expect from a personal career guidance meeting

Your personal career guidance meeting is a confidential, impartial, and non-judgemental space for you to explore and review your career options. It is focused on you and tailored to your personal needs.

It is a chance to think about where you are now, where you want to go, and what happens in between. It offers you space to think about the steps you need to take to move forward, and to identify the tools and resources you need for your journey. These might include self-awareness, the right mindset, qualifications, skills and qualities, experiences, decision-making skills, labour market information (LMI), a CV, LinkedIn profile, and your support network, for example. Career guidance can help you check what you have and identify what else you might need.

It is not just a packing exercise, however. Career guidance can identify and help you address barriers preventing you from progressing. It can help you understand yourself and your story better, preparing you to move forward. It can open your mind to new possibilities, and give you the confidence and positivity to embrace those possibilities.

Although the word ‘guidance’ may conjure images of someone leading you or telling you what to do, a good career guidance meeting is not and will never be about someone telling you what to do. You have the best insight on yourself, your situation, and possible solutions to that situation. As I mentioned at the start, the career guidance professional’s role is to work alongside you, helping you to explore and review options, clarify your goals, and plan for next steps.

You can find out more about what you can expect from a personal career guidance meeting with Sunrise Career Guidance here.

Reference List

Hooley, T. (2017) ’Redefining Career Guidance: Is it time to move on beyond the OECD definition?’ [PowerPoint presentation]. Symposium at #BERA2017. Available at: https://adventuresincareerdevelopment.wordpress.com/2017/09/06/redefining-career-guidance-bera2017/ (Accessed: 7 August 2020).

Hooley, T., Sultana, R., and Thomsen, R. (2020) Why a social justice informed approach to career guidance matters in the time of coronavirus. Available at: https://careerguidancesocialjustice.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/why-a-social-justice-informed-approach-to-career-guidance-matters-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/ (Accessed: 7 August 2020).

Stewart, M. (2019) Briefing Paper: Understanding the role of the Careers Adviser within ‘Personal Guidance’. Available at: https://www.thecdi.net/write/CDI_27-Briefing-_Personal_Guidance-_FINAL.pdf (Accessed: 7 August 2020).

The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) (2018) Personal Guidance: What Works? Available at: https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/sites/default/files/uploaded/1146_what_works_-_personal_guidance_digital_15-11-2018.pdf (Accessed: 7 August 2020).

The Inter-Agency Working Group on Work-based Learning (WBL) (2019) Investing in career guidance. Available at https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/files/2227_en.pdf (Accessed: 7 August 2020).

Preparing to write your UCAS statement? Check out these tips for further reading…


Further (or wider) reading – reading beyond the texts specified within your current course syllabus – has many benefits. It can:

  • Extend your subject knowledge
  • Build your skills as an independent learner
  • Test the depth of your interest in a subject before you commit to further study

If you are applying to university, you can also reference further reading in your personal statement, using your self-led learning to demonstrate the depth and focus of your interest in a particular subject matter.

Writing about what you have learnt beyond the syllabus can show you are genuinely interested in a subject and can be used to show the reader precisely what your interests are.

There is no perfect formula, or roadmap, for wider reading. Be curious, follow your interests and see where they lead you.

Even if you are aiming to study the same subject as your friends, what interests them may differ from what interests you, and so it’s best to see what captures and holds your attention rather than working from a prescriptive list.

However, students often tell me they don’t know where to start.

These tips may help.


Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series 

With almost 700 titles in the series, the A Very Short Introduction books offer an accessible introduction into diverse topics, ranging from accounting and advertising through to refugees, renaissance art, and reptiles. Whatever you are planning to study next, it is worth checking out Oxford’s extensive publication list to see what catches your eye. If a topic or sub-topic captures your attention, use the references supplied to identify your next read.


Subject-related magazines 

Reading a subject-related magazine can help you to broaden your knowledge and interests. Examples include The Economist, BBC History, New Scientist, History Today, and Empire, although there are many more. Your local council website (e.g. Kent County Council may feature details of local eLibrary services, which offer online access to thousands of titles. PressReader’s catalogue is one place that you can browse and locate subject-specific titles and you can avail of a free trial before subscribing to the service.


University reading lists

Universities sometimes feature reading lists on their undergraduate course pages, and these can provide a helpful starting point for your reading. If the provider you are considering does not have a reading list, you might look at other providers for inspiration. Here is one example I found: https://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/reading-list.html


Professional bodies, societies, and trade associations

If your target subject links to a specific profession (e.g. law, medicine, engineering, project management), you might consider visiting the website for the trade association, professional body, or society. These organisations often feature blogs, magazines, videos, and webinars that can help you to explore your subject of interest. For example, the Royal Aeronautical Society publishes Career Flightpath magazine, and you can download copies for free online here. You can use the Prospects website job profiles and National Careers Service job profiles to locate professional organisations linked to specific jobs. UK ECC Services offers a useful list of associations/bodies and their websites. I have included some additional links to societies and council websites here:


Specialist careers websites 

A quick Google search on your subject of interest and the word ‘careers’ will likely return options for sites offering content linked to your chosen subject. Before using any site, check out who is behind the site, how credible it appears, and how recently the content was updated. Here are some of the specialist careers sites that I regularly use:



Further ‘reading’ is not the only way to explore and extend your interests. Volunteering, work experience, virtual internship programmes, and informational interviews are just some of the ways you can build and evidence your interests and skills. You could also try:


Lectures, talks, and virtual tours 

If you prefer watching to reading, that’s fine too. We are individuals, and the way we learn isn’t the same for each and every person. It’s not the medium that counts, anyway. It’s the learning. 

You might want to start by watching one of the brilliant TED talks or by visiting Learn Lounge. You could also use YouTube or iTunes to search for videos or podcasts by people already working in your target sector, company, or area of interest. https://lectures.london also features a calendar of lectures and webinars from leading institutions in one handy list. You might even be interested in a virtual tour of a museum or an art gallery.


Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

Studying one of the many free online courses is a great way to further your knowledge and interests. They can help you to discover more about your target subject or to find a specific area of interest to explore.

There are so many to choose from, and courses can be completed at a manageable pace that suits you. My World of Work offers a useful roundup of online course providers. I have personally referred students I work with to the following sites: 

Choose one of these places, or visit a few to start your journey, or use it as inspiration to find your own… the choice is yours. Follow your interests, read or listen to what you enjoy, and once you start, you may find that one activity leads to the next. If the author or speaker makes a point or reference that interests you, follow your nose, see where it can take you.



It can be helpful to reflect on what you read, learn, or do to understand what you gained from doing it. Whatever you do, it’s a good idea to make brief notes on:

  • What motivated you to read/do it? What interested you about it? Why did you pick it up? What did you hope to learn?
  • What were your main takeaways? What did you find out?
  • Was there anything you discovered that intrigued you? Or anything that you disagreed with?
  • Did this activity lead you to anything else in your further reading journey? 

These notes will provide useful points that you can weave into your personal statement.

UCAS offers useful tips on how to write your personal statement here.



“Be careful about mentioning specific titles/authors/articles in a personal statement that you haven’t really read or read in much depth as some universities (including Oxbridge) will use this as the basis of an interview question.”

Victoria Geary, https://victoriagearycareers.co.uk/ 


“If you are still in school, consider if and how your extended learning links to your studies. Does what you read support, complement, extend, or contradict your learning so far? If so, how? Reflecting on this will help you to craft a strong personal statement.”

Liz Reece, http://lizreececareers.co.uk/







How should I prepare for my personal career guidance meeting?

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Our meeting will work best if you can locate yourself in a quiet place, where you are able to shut the door if needed, giving you the privacy to talk openly, free from distraction and potential disturbance.

Avoid interruptions by turning off PC or mobile notifications or other forms of contact.

It would be useful if you have a pen and paper to use during our call, as I may ask you to jot things down or even draw things.

If you have any post-its available, you could use these too.

During our session, we might decide to access to the internet, so please confirm if this is possible, although I will also send relevant links after our call.


You might like to have a glass of water to hand; talking can be thirsty work!

Before we begin, it can help to take a moment to check in with yourself. Here is one way to do this:

  • Sit in a grounded position, with your feet on the floor.
  • Check your back is straight yet relaxed. Now, focus on your breathing.
  • Inhale for the count of four, hold that breath for four, and then exhale for the count of four.
  • Repeat this three times.
  • Now, you are ready to begin!