London is a city full of opportunity, but it’s also very expensive and it can be a difficult place to get noticed. Carving out a career for yourself in the face of these obstacles can be quite a challenge. What should you be focusing on if you really want to make it happen?

Make a career plan

In a city like this, it’s very easy to find yourself taking whatever you can get to make ends meet, and all too quickly losing direction. Although you shouldn’t set your sights too high at the outset, it really helps to stay focused on where you want to go and how you can get there. Making a career plan helps you pick the right jobs, even at entry level, to build up your skills and make the contacts who can help you on the road to success.

Stretch yourself

Faced with lots of competition, far too many people sell themselves short. Women, in particular, tend to apply for jobs only when they meet all the criteria the employer is asking for. In fact, most employers are happy to consider applicants who meet only 80% of the criteria, as long as they display other important qualities, such as diligence, a strong work ethic, and a real enthusiasm for the job. If you’re willing to rise to the challenge, you might be surprised by what you can accomplish.

Find a mentor

It’s much easier to make progress if you have somebody looking out for you, and if you’re really excited by your chosen career path, you may find it surprisingly easy to find a mentor. Most people who love their jobs are excited when they see young people who feel similarly entering their professions, and they’re often willing to help. A mentor can show you the ropes, sharpen up your skills and help you make those all-important personal contacts.

Consider a freelance career

If your job search is taking its time to produce results, you can always take matters into your own hands by going freelance. Many businesses in London pay good freelance rates, and using an umbrella company means you can dive straight in without having to learn lots of complicated record-keeping skills first. You can find opportunities online or get out there at industry events and make yourself known to the people who can use your work.

Learn as you earn

If you’re short of the qualifications needed to make progress in your dream career, finding the money you need to study while living in London can be really tough. A better approach is to seek out roles in which you can learn as you earn. Despite the bad reputation internships have recently garnered, there are real ones out there that provide both training and pay. There are also employers who will support you to gain professional qualifications as you work.

Building up a career in any city takes effort, and you may find that you need to accept a lower rate of pay in the short term in order to pursue your ambitions. While the streets are not paved with gold, however, London is a place where hard work and smart thinking really can make you successful.