At the start your career, entering the world of work may seem daunting. The requirements of the jobs market always appear to be changing, thanks to technological shifts, while application processes can feel inscrutable and building up your skills from a limited foundation looks like an uphill battle.
If you are thinking this, you’re not alone. But, luckily, economics and the demands of business are on your side: in a tight labour market, companies across various industries are looking for enthusiastic, talented people who can get stuck into fascinating careers.
Sometimes, figuring out where to start is the biggest challenge. However, there are a wealth of resources for young people contemplating their first steps. Organisations such as the Careers and Enterprise Company train career coaches and provide guidance in schools, and others, including Prospects, offer career guides. In the UK, the National Careers Service is a comprehensive online hub where you can assess your skills, explore careers and find courses.
When considering which path to take, it’s crucial to focus on your strengths and what you enjoy. Considering the demands of the job market is also helpful — especially when a range of growing sectors are suffering from shortages of workers, despite being exciting and fulfilling areas to work in.
With governments and businesses waking up to the urgent need to address climate change, one boom area is in green jobs. These can include working on the technology needed to cut carbon emissions, such as heat pumps or solar panels.
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For those who are less scientifically minded, skills such as project management and communication will also be needed by organisations undergoing rapid change.
Last year, a report by the Learning and Work Institute found that 59 per cent of UK employers surveyed were in need of candidates with green skills, and two-thirds said they struggled to recruit staff with those skills. It also found that digital jobs would be in high demand.
“You see all these big industrial areas and they’re going to need high skill sets,” says Neil Bentley-Gockmann, the chief executive of World Skills UK, which helps young people and companies build skills through training. “Employers are crying out for digital and green skills across all sectors.”
Stephen Evans, the director of the Learning and Work Institute, says government policy is a good guide for predicting growth areas. Demographic shifts could also provide a clue: with an ageing population, roles in health and social care are likely to be in higher demand.
But the changing nature of the work and rapidly accelerating technology make it difficult to predict the jobs of the future, says Evans. Universal skills, such as communication and adaptability, are therefore more crucial than ever. “Everyone likes to predict the future with great certainty but the honest answer is we don’t know,” he adds. “So flexibility is really important.”
Bethan Staton, public policy reporter
After years of optimism and bumper growth, the tech sector has been forced to scale back in recent months, with Big Tech giants such as Google and Meta making drastic job cuts.
But there are still opportunities. Tech roles are among “the highest paying jobs with the most flexible arrangements”, says Sinem Buber, lead economist at US job platform ZipRecruiter — adding that the industry has one of the highest retention rates.
Analysis of online tech job postings by ZipRecruiter for the FT found 13,500 entry-level positions for software engineers and 10,300 entry-level positions for data analysts in the US so far this year, as technical roles remain in demand. Between 2021 and 2022, the fastest-growing entry-level tech position was application development intern, according to the data. Development intern and data analysis intern came in as the second and third fastest growing.
A report by the consultancy Hired found that, for engineers, the biggest growth areas last year in the US were natural language processing, blockchain and cyber security.
Giuseppe Gasparro, a managing director at consultancy AlixPartners, points to two other important areas of growth. The first is “customer success” roles, as businesses move their data to the cloud and rely on software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. These SaaS roles require technical skills alongside account management and sales.
In addition, Gasparro says, many companies are racing to leverage artificial intelligence, which means that roles in research and development, product management and AI programming are increasingly popular.
“Employers are mostly prioritising engineers well-versed in AI/machine learning and natural language processing as new AI technologies, such as ChatGPT, emerge,” says Josh Brenner, chief executive of Hired. “Software engineers with these skills are seeing the highest demand and year-over-year salary growth — 10 per cent.” He urges would-be engineers to learn coding, such as app framework Ruby on Rails.
Applicants should expect to do a skills assessment, says Buber, and often a presentation or assignment. They must also be ready to learn new skills on the job, such as programming languages.
Others suggest old-fashioned networking. “My advice would be to try to get out and talk to people,” says Gasparro. “It can be going to a conference, sending emails, asking questions on LinkedIn. Tech people like to talk to each other.”
Hannah Murphy, tech correspondent
Video games boomed during the pandemic. But landing a dream job takes more than a love of games, especially given recent industry job cuts and a sluggish 2022.
Horia Dociu, a studio art director at Microsoft overseeing several projects for the Halo games series, says that, while the work can be fun, “making games is a job, it’s a serious business”.
Analysis by Bain & Company last year predicted that global revenue for the game development industry would grow by more than 50 per cent by 2027. Artificial intelligence-powered software, such as GitHub Copilot and DALL-E 2, is expected to help power that growth by increasing the efficiency of game developers.
But Joshua Balcaceres, studio art lead at games company Ubisoft’s San Francisco office, and former lead artist for Electronic Arts, says AI is not the first disruption he has encountered in his 20 years in the industry, and it will most likely not be the last.
“3D was my AI back in the day, and I had to become very technical to use it — and now AI is another tool in the Batman belt,” he says.
Potential mergers, including Microsoft’s push to acquire game maker Activision Blizzard, and the entrance of tech companies such as Netflix into the space, may make it harder for newcomers to break in. Company size, software limitations, budget and status of the project all play a role in staffing, says Dociu.
Ninel Anderson, chief executive at Devoted Studios, a US-based game production management company, says having a good portfolio is crucial when applying for jobs.
Rather than including a broad range of work, Anderson advises game developers to identify the skills and style needed for a company and create a portfolio in that art style.
She also warns candidates not to underestimate the importance of team collaboration. “I highly recommend reading or taking some courses on agile development and basic project management skills,” she says.
Online resources on YouTube and LinkedIn Learning can help students gain experience with industry standard software such as Unity and Unreal Engine.
Some industry professionals even suggest formal education is no longer a pre-requisite for a career in game development.
“I know lots of successful people from colleges as well as folks who never set foot in a classroom,” Dociu says.
Jobs in the industry span several areas including design, art and animation, production, publishing and engineering. Morgan Ling, senior product manager at Amazon Games, says it is important for applicants to assess their skills to find the best fit for them.
“Do your research: what are the things in the gaming industry that actually excite you?” she says. “Maybe that’s being part of game development. Maybe that’s being on the research side and better understanding players and their behaviours and bringing that to the game development team.”
Charlotte Tarlitz, lead 2D game artist at Floor 84 Studio, says industry research and conversations with game developers will reveal the variety of jobs available.
“Most people, if you ask them in college what they want to do in games, they’re going to say I want to do character design,” she says. But it’s also worth looking into areas such as user interface (UI) and world building — for example, creating weapons or the trees in a game.
“The bulk of the art is going to come from all the worlds you move through.”
Avalon Pernell, journalism student and FT News School programme participant
If you’re a fan of the TV show Suits, the idea of a job in law may well appeal. The bad news is that most lawyers live a far less glamorous life than Harvey Specter. But the good news is the profession still offers a stimulating and potentially lucrative career path, and a wide variety of roles.
Many lawyers work in firms, where days are spent on anything from advising on a corporate deal to preparing to do battle in court. Others work in-house, in a company’s own legal team. There are also a growing number of legal tech start-ups, where data, technology and project management skills are just as prized as a law degree.
Most countries require prospective lawyers to complete undergraduate degrees and postgraduate education, then work experience or some form of apprenticeship. In the UK, this means the legal practice course (LPC), and those without an undergraduate law degree must also take the graduate diploma in law (GDL). But other options are becoming available, including the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, set to eventually replace the LPC.
Elsewhere, the route is slightly different. In the US, for example, law school applicants need an undergraduate degree and must also pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). To practise law in the US, you need a Juris Doctor (a kind of law degree), and to pass the bar in the state you will practise in.
Many law firms now offer apprenticeships, too. Karen Davies, global chair of Ashurst, says this creates a new pathway for those who either don’t like the idea of university, or who are put off by the prospect of student debt.
“We’ve had a really good uptake on our own scheme, and the quality of the people we have hired is fantastic,” she says. “It won’t be long before the first apprentices start to make partner at some of the UK’s top law firms.”
Law is highly competitive, and candidates will need to prove they have strong intellectual and communication skills. Universities and many law firms will want to see a strong academic record, but other metrics are also used. Davies says Ashurst has introduced online tests of cognitive ability, problem solving and emotional intelligence to predict “on-the-job performance”.
A sense of commercial awareness is important, as well. “Firms are now not simply just looking for the brightest brains but also those with holistic business development skills,” says Nathan Peart, a legal recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa. He recommends All You Need to Know About The City by Christopher Stoakes for an insight into what life would be like at a commercial law firm.
Career options can include working for one of the larger law firms, which take on trainees each year and will work on anything from mergers and acquisitions to property deals. Other firms work solely on one area — such as family law or criminal law.
There are also a wealth of jobs for lawyers who want to work in a company’s legal team, or at a legal technology firm, where skills in data and coding are in demand. Similarly, traditional law firms are hiring people for non-legal roles, ranging from project managers to technology experts.
“The most important thing is not to be afraid to get in touch,” says Davies. “We can only succeed by finding the brightest and best, regardless of who they are.”
Kate Beioley, legal correspondent
Climate and sustainability
For young people looking to play their part in protecting the planet, a career path in sustainability is proving to be a resilient choice, as regulatory changes force companies to spend more on these roles.
The number of green job openings worldwide has outpaced the number of people who say they have green skills over the past five years, according to a report from Columbia University, citing LinkedIn data. Chief sustainability officer (CSO) roles have also surged both in number and in importance within companies. In 2021, management consultancy PwC found that, out of 1,640 public companies it surveyed, 28 per cent said their CSO was now part of the C-suite — the highest executive level.
In the case of corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) roles, students need to show they can connect the dots between different subject areas, advises Aron Cramer, chief executive of BSR, a consultancy.
“ESG is ultimately about connections: between business and society, between present and future, between the needs of people and planetary boundaries, and between rich data and human experience,” he says.
Employers are increasingly looking for candidates with a broad range of skills who can help their organisations meet the demands of a greener future.
“The skills needed now are often more centred on transformation and helping organisations adapt,” says Catherine Zhu, head of the sustainability practice at Egon Zehnder, a recruiting firm.
Students can put into practice skills they may have honed during the pandemic, she adds, such as their “agility and ability to connect”.
Choosing a career in sustainability no longer requires a trade-off between lucrative rewards and “helping to create a better world”, says Zhu, given the number of green jobs available in a range of sectors:
“We continue to see rising demand — from consumer goods, industrial companies, financial services, to consulting firms — for sustainability related hires.”
PwC, for example, said in 2021 that it would increase its global headcount by more than a third over the next five years as part of a $12bn investment to capture a booming market for ESG advice.
Another reason jobs are increasingly plentiful in ESG is that most companies now disclose more of this information. Ninety-five per cent of companies are reporting some ESG information, and almost two-thirds are getting this information verified by a third-party, according to a report last month from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.
In addition, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is soon expected to adopt rules mandating certain carbon emissions disclosures for the first time. The Big Four accounting firms — Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC — are all eyeing the SEC developments as sources of new business.
As the sustainability sector matures, job descriptions are becoming more precise, says Zhu. Within asset management, for example, some sustainability roles will focus on communicating with shareholders, while others will be working with portfolio companies on energy efficiency solutions.
“The most important preparation for anyone who aspires to enter the sustainability space is to have curiosity, systematic thinking as well as change management skills,” she says.
Patrick Temple-West, governance reporter
Working in the public sector is often billed as a safe and stable option compared with working for a private company. But roles delivering frontline government services — or working out how they should best be organised, directed and designed — can also be some of the most exciting and rewarding jobs out there.
In the UK, about 3.6mn people work in roles attached to central government and 2mn in local government, according to the Office for National Statistics. Potential careers include roles in the civil service, nursing, social care, or teaching.
For those with a science or technology background, teachers of physics, maths or computing are always in demand. Technician roles in the National Health Service, or working on engineering or high-tech systems for local authorities might also appeal.
Arts, humanities or economics degrees are highly valued in areas of the civil service that involve research skills, building relationships, and relating national politics to people’s everyday lives.
For careers such as teaching, nursing or medicine, you generally need university-level study followed by a higher-level course that can involve training on the job.
A wide range of apprenticeships are also available in the NHS, civil service or other frontline government roles for those who want to earn while they learn.
In the past decade, buzzy initiatives have sought to make UK public sector careers more appealing and accessible.
Educational charity Teach First recruits more than 1,500 teachers annually for more than 750 schools. These teachers take part in intensive training and spend a minimum of two years in a school in a low income area. Many go on to have long careers in teaching, while others use the experience to jump into other sectors.
Similar UK schemes are available in prisons, social work and policing. Brett Wigdortz, founder of Teach First, believes the public sector has always offered good careers but new programmes have helped to highlight the benefits to appeal to ambitious young people.
“Graduates and talented people don’t just want [a job] for the money. They want to make change, experience leadership and community,” he says.
In the US, portals such as government.org are a good source for central government jobs. Also look out for fellowships or entry-level opportunities at the Partnership for Public Service, which can be short term or for one or two years after graduating.
Bethan Staton, public policy reporter
Logistics and supply chains
Have you ever wondered how your online purchases get from the manufacturer to your front door?
A few years ago, not many people thought about the logistics sector: the network of warehouses and delivery businesses that keep goods moving around the world. But supply chain disruptions during the pandemic — which have led to shortages of everything from PlayStation 5s to books — have put these companies in the spotlight.
Now school leavers and university graduates with a range of skills are in demand. As consumers order more products online, companies including Amazon, DHL and shipping giant Maersk want to employ people who can help them deliver goods fast.
Global political disruptions, including Brexit, the Ukraine war and US-China tensions, have also made the international supply chain more complex. The UK government is funding a campaign called Generation Logistics, which seeks people with the skills to make the sector “more environmentally friendly and resilient”. The campaign regularly posts TikTok videos explaining the range of opportunities.
“We all know that, during the pandemic, there was an issue,” says Richard Holden, the UK government’s road and local transport minister. But logistics, he adds, “can offer long and exciting careers”.
The sector has traditionally been male-dominated, and also continues to face criticism for employing manual labourers, such as warehouse workers and delivery drivers, on low wages and unstable contracts. But companies say they want to hire people from different backgrounds with a range of skills.
“There are stereotypes in logistics: white, middle-aged males dealing with transportation and warehousing”, says Grace Whittaker, a graduate in Asda’s logistics business who studied business management. “[But my experience] has opened my eyes to how many roles are available.”
Liz Noble, vice-president of human resources for DHL Express in the UK, who has also worked for the delivery company in Poland and China, says encouraging younger people is a priority. DHL offers apprenticeships in engineering, finance and HR, and has programmes for graduates, which include opportunities in IT, marketing and finance.
Bethany Windsor, a deputy director at the UK’s Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, says the industry particularly needs to appeal to people with skills in engineering, data analytics and project management. New recruits will need “clusters of skills . . . that reach across the supply chain”.
Oliver Telling, supply chain reporter
Arts and culture
Many people dream of a career in the arts and cultural sector. It sounds creative, even glamorous — and that can certainly be true: these jobs are often exceptionally varied and fulfilling.
However, they can also be mundane, lacking in opportunities, highly unequal of access (especially, still, for women) and badly paid.
So, whether your aim is to join a grand institution, such as a museum, or a smaller business, being well-informed about the realities can make all the difference.
First, access to jobs. The so-called creative industries in fact span a huge range of activities, and contain everything else within them: law, accountancy, public relations and digital skills of every sort. But they are also famously exclusive and full of the kind of benign nepotism that rightly infuriates outsiders. Once again, information is key, whether in a search for an internship, a slice of work experience or a starter role. Never mind if you’re not a nepo baby: the internet is here to help. Most positions are only ever publicised via social media communities of some sort. Time spent researching and following selected individuals and groups is therefore well invested.
To decide which area to aim for, read everything — and not only online. Go to everything you possibly can — a gig, a design fair, a production. The experience will tell later on, and it will also help in focusing on a chosen path.
Following a dream is important, but the pragmatic strength lies in considering it from the employers’ point of view. Take a good look at what they do — find out more from the inside, if you are able to intern — and work out what they might need.
Areas of future growth will almost certainly involve the digital sphere and technology. So, even if your passion is for 16th-century Flemish altarpieces, make sure you are fully clued up on non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and AI.
The formal qualifications needed are hard to judge. A degree in English or history will always be valuable but it won’t distinguish you from the pack, and no college course will replace the experience of a working culture. Get as much varied, hands-on experience as you can. It’s never too early to start, in a field where connections count for so much (these can be cultivated online, if not in person).
Pack your CV with interesting and relevant things, even if they are small-scale: if you have immersed yourself in this world, it will show to your advantage. Tip-top digital skills will be necessary, but don’t forget the power of social media blows both ways. Curate your personal online presence: anything too silly (or worse) could dash your hopes with potential employers.
But, if you can make your way through, it’ll all be worth it. It’s a great working life.
Jan Dalley, arts editor
Banking and finance
More than a decade on from the financial crisis, the banking sector has changed dramatically. Institutions have had to adapt to new regulations and shocks ranging from Covid to inflation to the rescue of Credit Suisse.
At the same time, interest in the world of fintech has ballooned — and, more recently, wavered. Higher inflation has made investors wary of throwing money at start-ups without a clear path to profitability. Job cuts — at both fintech companies and traditional banks — have also shaken the sector.
But demand and competition for employment remains high.
“If you’re interested in problem solving, in technology, and in delivering good products to customers, there’s roles there,” says one senior banker at a large UK lender. “Opportunities are still as great as they always were.”
“Financial services is still growing,” says Dias De Sousa, tech recruiter and team lead at Nicoll Curtin, a global tech recruitment agency. “We are seeing a lot of job seekers transitioning from tech to the financial industry.”
Applicants considering a career in financial services have tended to study finance, economics or mathematics, he says, but an increasing number of hires have backgrounds in other areas, such as computer science and engineering.
That reflects the continued — if somewhat dimmed — appeal of fintech. From neobanks such as Monzo and Starling to payment companies including Stripe and Adyen, the sector has revolutionised financial services.
However, growing digitisation means that even joining a traditional bank will involve grappling with technology, ranging from cloud computing to machine learning.
“Ultimately, any career in the financial sector requires having some interest in either digital material or technology,” says the senior banker.
Other areas of growth include investment banking, wealth management and insurance, De Sousa adds. He advises applicants to tailor their CVs and covering letters to the roles they seek, “highlighting projects [and] hobbies you completed, showing your knowledge and achievements”.
Networking is also key, he says. For example, “always be open to taking the recruiter’s call as it will give you an indication of the market and options of what’s available”.
Another area to consider is compliance and tackling financial crime — a core focus for all companies in the sector, ranging from the big banks to the new start-ups just getting off the ground.
“What you want is to show interest or an aptitude,” says Jessica Hamilton, recruiter and co-founder of financial crime career consultancy FincSelect. She says students should consider studying programming languages for coding, such as SQL or Python, but also spoken languages such as Mandarin, Arabic, French or Spanish.
She recommends applying for internships, too, which can be a reliable route into careers fighting financial crime. Some schools offer criminology or sociology courses, which are helpful skills to learn, she adds. “An interest in politics can also be useful, due to the socio-economic nature of financial crime.”
Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan, banking and fintech correspondent
Health and pharmaceuticals
The Covid-19 pandemic showed the power of the pharmaceutical industry to change lives, through the rapid development of vaccines.
But, for people in the industry, the vaccines were not just a one-off. Drugmakers are also excited about creating new medicines that can help patients with few options, including tricky-to-treat cancers, or rare diseases that can affect babies from birth. They hope we are at the start of a scientific revolution that will make drugs more personalised to each patient.
The ageing population means that demand for medicines is likely to increase, fuelling the industry’s growth and creating more job opportunities.
Chris Smith, a director at recruiter Hays, who hires people for jobs in life sciences companies in the UK, says the outlook for the sector is “buoyant”. In a recent survey, 97 per cent of employers said they have a shortage of employees with the skills they need.
“There’s a lot of growth in small and medium-sized enterprises,” he says, noting the increasingly diverse range of biotech and healthcare innovation companies established in the past five years. “Positions in research labs are in high demand.”
In the UK, most of the jobs are concentrated in the so-called “Golden Triangle” — of London, Oxford and Cambridge — but there are also opportunities in the North West and Scotland.
In the US, the biggest biotech hubs are in Boston and San Francisco, with many large pharma companies based in New Jersey. In Europe, there are opportunities in Switzerland and Germany and, for manufacturing, in Ireland and southern Europe.
Many life sciences professionals build global careers. Smith says it is common for teams who work with regulators, or analysing scientific data, to be global, so there are opportunities to transfer overseas.
Prospective employees will usually need at least a bachelors degree in science, and often a further degree or PhD. Some have a background in medicine or pharmacology, which can eventually lead to high-profile positions in the industry. With technologies such as artificial intelligence being used to replace some experiments, companies are particularly interested in hiring people with bioinformatics skills: experience using software to manipulate biological data.
There are still some routes in if you have not studied science. This could be as technicians in labs who can master specific skills to support the scientists, or in departments such as marketing or finance.
Having at least an interest in science is the main thing, says Smith, and a desire to do something “for the good of humankind”.
Be prepared for criticism, though: the industry has been attacked for putting high prices on drugs, making them unaffordable in some developing countries or for poorer people in countries such as the US without universal healthcare. Campaigners have also highlighted how the industry distributed Covid vaccines to the richest countries first.
However, if you are inquisitive, excited by science and want to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, a career in the pharmaceutical industry could be for you.
You can learn more about the industry and improve your employability with work experience. Many companies and multinational organisations, including the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, offer internships. Information can be found online from organisations such as the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation, and International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering.
The Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry offers advice on finding work experience in the UK, and bursaries to cover the costs can be found through the British Science Foundation CREST awards or the Nuffield Foundation. In2science runs a summer programme for year 12 students (or equivalent), including working alongside Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) professionals.
For science graduates, large drugmakers, including GSK and AstraZeneca, and research organisations, such as Cancer Research, run graduate trainee schemes, while King’s College London offers an integrated apprenticeship in clinical pharmacology.
Hannah Kuchler, global pharmaceuticals correspondent