UFH Counselling Psychologist Sandra Sharma shares the importance of choosing the right career

Read time: 9 mins

“In view of the fact that we live in a highly competitive era whereby all career choices determine the quality of our life in the future, proper career guidance and counselling cannot be overlooked.” This is according to Mrs Sandra Sharma, Counselling Psychologist at the UFH Student Counselling Unit (SCU).

Sharma says career guidance offers students information and support in making choices that lead them from conflict and confusion to clarity about what they truly want to do in their life.

Below are extracts from a conversation Sharma (SS) had with This Week @FortHare Journalist, Aretha Linden (AL):

AL: Why is career counselling important?

SS: Career Guidance is a scientific approach to map an individual’s career profile. The career guidance counsellor administers a variety of assessment and guidance tools. These tools help them to identify the competencies of a student.  They may also use questionnaires, worksheets and have discussions, individually or in groups.

Careers are lifelong decisions and therefore must be chosen carefully. Career guidance gets you actively involved in making a major decision through a process of self-exploration that can result in finding a satisfying and fulfilling career.

AL: When is the right time to choose and lean towards the career that best suits you?

SS: The perfect time for students to seek career cis when they are in Grade 8 to 12.

It is a time when they are preparing to transition from school to college or university. It is also a time when career decisions are made.

At this stage of a student’s life, their parents are actively involved in shaping their careers. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not, because every child is unique. It is not always easy for parents or teachers to recognize the child’s strengths and weaknesses, their passion or dislikes.

In grade 12 students are forced to make serious decisions about their careers and most students are inexperienced and confused. Most students are coerced or misled by the belief that a high score in a subject is a good criteria for making choices. This is when career guidance becomes necessary.

For students that are in college or university who are still confused about what they want to do, knowing what you enjoy can give you insight into what careers you may be best suited for. When students find themselves asking the following questions: “What do I do now?” or “What am I doing with my life?” - these are warnings that they need career guidance.

Professionals may also find themselves wanting to transition from their field to something they love. Do not allow age or the number of years you have worked in your current job stop you from transitioning to a career you love.

AL: How do you know when you have chosen the right career?

SS: By using these three distinct approaches, one can determine whether they have made the right career choice:

  • Job analysis
  • Analysis of satisfaction criteria
  • Emotional validation

Analysing each element in the above way forces you to consider the multidimensional criteria that goes into determining a great job fit. With a decision that is valid emotionally as well as on paper, you can be confident that you have made the best possible choice. You will feel happier, and will realize what your life would have looked like if you had not chosen this career. You are going to love your new reality and this will convince you that you made the right decision for a career choice.

Students that have chosen the right career path find university a place of growth, enjoy their modules, work with enthusiasm and commitment and perform well academically. They are more energized and motivated. They settle in quickly, make friends and take initiative to advance themselves in their field of work.

It is important to note that careers evolve with time, and students need to know that career choices are not fixed. They can be changed at any point in one’s career.

AL: What are the signs of a bad career choice?

SS: Without a clear idea of your personal and academic goals, you can find yourself feeling out of place and unmotivated by university life.  This could ultimately lead you to quit. As soon as you start to experience anxiety and stress, this is a warning that you are not comfortable doing what you are doing. Students should listen to their inner voice, acknowledge the reason for their negative responses, and seek help earlier in their academic year.


  • When you start to feel unchallenged or miserable at work and find yourself going through the week to get to the weekend.
  • When you start to get bad feedback from your Manager or colleagues often. If this feedback starts to make you feel bad about yourself then you know you have to accept your limitations. Regard these as warning bells informing you that it is time to take responsibility for yourself and your career so you can find a place where you will be better suited.
  • If you are not passionate about your career, yet you fail to be yourself especially at social gatherings. Your work life and personal life have to balance.  This could cause a threat to your well-being and mental health.
  • The moment you stop learning and start stagnating, you will feel unchallenged.  You will feel that you are working very hard but your results are unsatisfactory. The reason for this could be a lack of skill or talent.
  • If you find yourself complaining about work all the time.
  • If you spend more time at work and go home having negative thoughts.
  • When you feel like you are running from something rather than towards something.
  • When you feel desperate and dread your work.

You need a career that highlights your strengths and avoids your weaknesses. If you do not utilize your strengths this is because your career is not rewarding or fulfilling.  Then you should consider a career change.

AL: What are the implications of choosing the wrong career?

SS: First-year students may find themselves failing their first semester due to lack of commitment and discipline. Their disinterest in their career choice may influence them to indulge in unsavoury behaviour, such as substance abuse or high-risk sexual behaviour. Most of them become depressed and isolate themselves or even resort to suicide. They experience fear of disappointing their parents, appear as failures with their peers and fear financial loss due to the wrong career choice. Final-year students who realise they have chosen a wrong career path are faced with the reality of the job they will be doing that will not make them happy and satisfied.

AL: What are the benefits of choosing the right career?

SS: In the case of college or university student, they experience fewer adjustment problems.  They remain focused and motivated. They perform well because they are committed and enjoy the modules they have chosen.  They are more likely to complete their choice of career without encountering academic difficulties whilst enjoying a balanced social life.

In the workplace, when you love the work you do, you feel motivated, energized and confident. You will also seize any opportunity that comes your way to advance yourself in your career.

You will feel a little scared.  Remember that fear is a very normal feeling before making any decision. This fear should not make you feel like you have made the wrong decision; instead, it is a sign that you, in fact, made the right choice. This fear can push you to grow.

You will start to feel your confidence grow as you take the reins of your own life. Your boost of confidence will make you realize that you are capable. You will also find yourself making good decisions more quickly.  Productivity and work satisfaction will increase.

AL: What advice would you give to those who might feel like they have made the wrong career choice and would like to rectify their decision?

SS: It is very challenging to consider a major change in your life. There will be many things to consider before transitioning to a new career. You may have questions and thoughts such as:

  • Where should I begin?
  • It’s too much work to change careers
  • I’m too old to change careers
  • I don’t have enough skills to consider a new career
  • The economy is so bad I’m lucky to have this job

Changing careers does require substantial time but you must remember it does not happen all at once. Sit down and plan by breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones.  It then becomes manageable. Remember always that if the change offers a happier and more successful career, it is worth it.

If you start to wonder whether you have enough skills to consider a new career, then it may be that you are unaware of the skills you have, or you have low self-esteem that leads to underestimating your marketability.

Consider skills you have learned not only from your job but also from hobbies, volunteering, or other life experiences. Without quitting your current career or job, you can consider volunteering in your interested field to gain experience and further your studies part-time.

You may start to wonder if you are too old to change careers and decide that it is best to stay in your current job. You may also consider the loss of retirement, health benefits and the effort you put into your current career. Remember that in the time you have worked, you have acquired skills that you can transfer to a new career. You can also plan a new career transition after retirement.

Considering the economy, you might feel that you are lucky to have a job and not want to risk your current employment. However, if you are unhappy in your current job the best option is to explore other careers that can offer fulfilment and job satisfaction. You do not have to leave your current job until you are certain of your new career path.

AL: Lastly, please share some tips on how to manage a career transition

  • Pace yourself. Try not to become overwhelmed and remember that you can and will get there with commitment and motivation.
  • Ease slowly into your new career. Take time to network, volunteer or work part-time in the new field before committing fully.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. Manage your stress, eat correctly, have adequate sleep, exercise and conserve your energy for the changes to come.
  • When transitioning to a new career make sure you market yourself to employers and identify gaps where you might need more training. Consider an additional degree or specific training.

Having a degree in a field that was wrong for you is not the end. You can still learn something you like and eventually change your career path. Take some courses, or take some time to learn something new by yourself. Do not be afraid to venture into a new career. Remember it is never too late to change because learning is a continuous process no matter what age you are. If you continue studying at the same university, you can always apply for credits from your previous qualifications if it is pertinent to your new qualification. This offers you a head start in your new degree.

If you are nearing the end of your study it would be best that you finish it first. If you are in the first few months of your studies and realize that it was the wrong choice, changing your course of study as soon as possible may be a better option.

Always remember to get help from a career guidance counsellor in order to make the right choice next time.

For all career guidance related matters, students can contact Mrs Sharma on: ssharma@ufh.ac.za