This a question you have probably wondered many times, and been asked about by those around you not so infrequently. Not everyone knows exactly what set career or profession they would like to enter from an early age. In fact, many people remain uncertain about what they should do even after they finish university and much further down the line as well.
The education system encourages young students to decide what they would like to do at an early age. GCSEs and A-levels influence degree choices and as a result these influence the jobs that people can apply for thereafter. While this may seem quite daunting, and at times career decisions can be difficult, fear not! Life is more flexible than you imagined. This was brilliantly described by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook, activist and author) in her book ‘Lean In’. She wrote that “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” This is true particularly today. The days when people spent an entire lifetime career in one company are waning. This means that while it may have seemed to us that adults work in one company or one role and stay there forever, the reality is that the nature of work today is quite different.
In other words, the subjects you studied are not the sole aspect that define what job you will enter. In fact, the main determinant of your future is you. The skills you acquire during your studies, and the way in which you can demonstrate these through presentation and experience, will be more valuable to an employer than the dry facts you learnt during your studies. Of course, if you want to enter a vocational profession which requires specific knowledge or certifications you will have had to study this, and remember that the option to expand your knowledge and to dive into a vastly different learning route is always a possibility. It is key to remember that employers place a very high premium on various skills such as being organized, consciousness, pro-active, creative and socially competent. These are characteristics which will not be necessarily obvious to an employer by looking solely at your degree choice. You will have to ‘sell yourself’ before an employer and demonstrate these qualities to differentiate yourself from others.
I believe that the subject which you read at university serves the following purposes: a) being interesting, b) providing you with an in-depth understanding of a particular topic, c) equipping you with a certain set of skills and d) demonstrating your overall interests and capabilities to future employers. It is a baseline from which you develop further skills and competencies thereafter.
Your degree choice is a key way to help you identify what type of career you might want to pursue, though it is not a final determinant. Through the courses you enjoy studying and the topics that you choose to explore in detail you will gain a better understanding of what it is you enjoy doing. Later on, finding out what may interest you professionally demands some more concerted efforts in the following areas. Here is a short list of what you can do to find out what profession may interest you:
- Look at your degree course and consider what types of professions relate to this. You may wish to have a chat with a career’s advisor
- Pinpoint your strengths and build on these by developing deep knowledge in that area (through independent research and reading)
- Attend talks about topics that interest you
- Join clubs or societies that will help you develop certain skills and will help you understand how you work best – independently, in teams, working on long or short-term projects, etc.
- Try and take on short-term jobs or internships between terms to learn more about what are you strength-points in the workplace
Here’s another little tip: try and think of what it is you like about other people when working with them. What qualities make you want to work them? What makes them a good worker? How can you develop such skills or qualities? How can you demonstrate these types of qualities before a potential employer?
Remember that not everyone has things figured out, in fact, most people don’t! Careers are like a jungle gym, and they develop through opportunities available at the time, through experience and through how well you sell your skills. Take the time to test the actions above to identify what you enjoy best – the rest will follow! Good luck!