Don’t have a life plan all worked out? Don’t panic – you don’t need one. Graduate Fog explains why it’s smart to stay flexible.
Yes, you read correctly. Despite many university careers advisers’ obsession with making 21-year-olds predict what career you might enjoy (before you’ve even had a proper job), the happy truth is that graduates no longer need a crystal ball at this moment in your life. But for some bizarre reason, nobody is telling you this – so Graduate Fog thought we would.
The truth is that it’s entirely possible to enjoy a long and fruitful career without ever planning your career very far in advance. In fact, there is a growing school of though that people who decide to ‘navigate’ their careers as they go along will actually do better in than those who ‘plan’.
Has Graduate Fog been puffing on the crack pipe? Nope – we’ve never felt more clear-headed. In fact, we think it’s the careers professionals who need a bucket of cold water thrown over them. Because, while they were busy studying ‘The Theory of Careers’ (or whatever it is they do), anybody who actually has a career has witnessed a whole New World of Work emerging – in which the old rules don’t apply. To everybody other than careers advisers, the idea of picking your life-long career in advance seems quaint, old-fashioned and – in many cases – impossible.
If you don’t have a fixed career in mind, don’t sit there sweating about it. And definitely don’t sit there waiting to be ‘inspired’. A far better bet is to take an educated guess at the sort of work you might enjoy for a while – say, the next two or three years. Get cracking and see where it takes you. Remember, in a fast-changing job market, adaptability – ie not having a specific goal in mind – can actually work in your favour.
RULE #1 Don’t plan – navigate
If you’ve always thought of your careers as something you could plan in advance, a fundamental shift in mindset is the best investment you can make. Think direction, not destination. This means just starting somewhere (ideally in a job that plays to your strengths) and having faith in your ability to make smart decisions as you go along. Remember, since no jobs (or industries) are ‘recession-proof’, your flexibility is your number one asset. Keep your options open and an eye out for exciting opportunities that come your way.
RULE #2 Shorten your time-frame
Instead of asking “What do I want to do for the next 40 years of my life?” try asking “What do I want to do for the next two years of my life?” It’s a far more manageable – and sensible – question. The buzz-words here are flexibility and opportunism. Whatever you choose isn’t going to be your career for life – it’s just going to be your first job after university. Jobs with small- to medium-sized companies (SMEs) are often a better plan than committing to a long-term graduate scheme, which will limit your flexibility.
RULE #3 Start with you, not your degree
Graduates who ask “What can I do with my degree?” are looking at their situation back-to-front. A far better question is “What do I enjoy – and what am I good at?” The sort of job that’s most suited to you will be one that plays to your personal strengths, not just your academic qualifications (which, let’s be honest, many of us decide on a whim anyway). Contrary to advice from some careers advisers, a degree in English Literature doesn’t limit your choice to librarian, journalist, author or English Literature lecturer.
RULE #4 Be bold
Scared of making a career mistake? Don’t be. The only mistake you can make is to wait for your ‘dream career’ to miraculously ‘come to you’. It won’t. Instead, get out there and have faith in your ability to learn as much from your first job as you can – before making a smart decision about where to go next. Don’t worry about getting ‘stuck’ – remember, nothing is set in stone. If your first job doesn’t work out, you’ll just do something else. And even a duff job teaches you something (and looks better on your CV than nothing!)
RULE #5 Look for good people – not the ‘perfect’ job
It’s easy to fixate on finding the ‘perfect’ job – but if you don’t have a particular calling it can be a smarter idea to seek out a great company run by interesting people (as long as you don’t hate the day-to-day job, obviously). ‘Dream’ jobs have a habit of turning into nightmares if the boss turns out to be Satan – and less-than-promising jobs can turn out to be winners if you have an inspiring manager.
RULE #6 Whatever you do, do something
Recruiters agree that the worst thing to see on a candidate’s CV is a big gap – and any experience is good experience. With this in mind, it’s a really good idea to do at least do something short-term, while you’re getting your act together looking for longer-term work. Even half a day a week volunteering is better than nothing. Plus you’ll find it helps with Staying Motivated.
What sort of job would suit you best?
It’s tempting to spend hours, days, months pondering this question – but don’t bother. You can’t figure it out on your own. Instead, take an educated guess – and just get out there and see what you work you enjoy and what you’re good at. If you’ve had a few jobs already, think back to those. What parts of your day did you enjoy the best? What personal skills were you using then? What other jobs might involve using those same skills?
If you don’t have much work experience, try the little quiz below.
(The full version appears in Dude, Where’s my Career? The Guide for Baffled Graduates – along with ‘The Three Day Plan,’ which will get you started if you find yourself stuck in aimless-research hell)
** DISCLAIMER These suggestions are just intended to be a starting point to spark off ideas – they are not a comprehensive list of the only jobs you could do. Remember, you always have more options than you think you do!
QUESTION: Among your friends, what are you known for?
“Having the gift of the gab”
Look for jobs that involve: presenting new ideas to people you might not know, persuading people that your way is the best way, translating complicated stuff into plain English, using charm and wit to get what you want.
“Being a shoulder to cry on”
Look for jobs that involve: working with people on a one-to-one basis, listening to individual cases, giving advice or guidance, jobs that require you to be ‘the sensible one’
Look for jobs that involve: thinking up new ideas, predicting and planning for the future, working on large-scale projects, influencing policies that will have far-reaching consequences.
“Making life beautiful”
Look for jobs that involve: using your artistic vision to create, design or collect new and beautiful work, dedicating your time to bringing exciting new artists and their work to a wider audience.
“My dogged determination”
Look for jobs that involve: troubleshooting and problem-solving, organising large, long-term projects, facing daily challenges, future opportunities to lead a team.
“Making things fun”
Look for jobs that involve: entertaining or inspiring reluctant people, using charm and humour to get what you want, presenting ideas to an audience, future opportunities for managing a team.
“Haggling and bargain-hunting”
Look for jobs that involve: negotiating the best outcome, persuading and sourcing new business, doing deals, being in charge of budgets
Look for jobs that involve: planning and organising detailed information, clear thinking and prioritising tasks, organising and delivering long-term projects on time, liaising with lots of different people.
Look for jobs that involve: infiltrating social networks, matching people together, using (and widening) your own social network.
“My sense of fair play”
Look for jobs that involve: standing up for what’s right, protecting the disadvantaged, bringing people to justice.
“My no-nonsense approach”
Look for jobs that involve: practical decision-making, organising projects and events, managing contracts and other staff, keeping a level head.
“Building and fixing things”
Look for jobs that involve: investigating problems sand sourcing solutions, applying skills and expertise, designing workable plans or products, practical problem-solving.
A good place to start is new website CareerPlayer.com. There’s a huge library of dinky little videos about pretty much every industry you can think of.
And for more detailed info? Well, you won’t often hear us recommending Prospects.ac.uk (their career advice is out-of-touch, basic and Zzzzz… Sorry – we nodded off there.). However, the section ‘Types of Job’ is by far the best thing on it – and you should find it pretty good for helping you brainstorm ideas. Just have a browse and see what grabs you.
Two words of warning though…
ONE – We’re not sure how up-to-date the list is
We typed ‘social media’ in the search box and it came up with nothing at all. Odd, since this has become a huge growth area in the last year – and one where graduates’ skills are in great demand. What other new, booming industries don’t they know about? Approach with caution.
TWO – Take their ‘Salary and Conditions’ info with a pinch of salt
Although they claim all their stats are (fairly) recent and Graduate Fog is not an expert in every type of job listed, we can tell you that the section ‘magazine journalism’ doesn’t reflect Tanya’s experience of this field right now (she’s a mag hag by trade). In particular, it makes freelancing sound like an easy option. It isn’t – it’s a hard slog. Make sure you do your own research before setting your heart on one of these jobs – a few carefully chosen facts can be misleading.
*Anything we’ve missed on this subject?
Email Graduate Fog here and we’ll weave some extra info into this section for you.