The question “What are you going to be when you grow up?” has long been a staple of relatives and parents’ friends when stuck for something to say to the younger generation. Truth is, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. There are only choices, and with every choice there will be an opportunity to narrow your path.
Put on the spot, occupations such as doctor, lawyer, economist and astronaut are generally trotted out. Despite this, as society evolves new professional roles appear and, consequently, the spectrum of jobs has expanded b more complex and nuanced; some are even unrecognisable to adults over a certain age.
The fact is that the job market is evolving at breakneck speed and while we will always need doctors and lawyers, certain professions have shrunk, morphed or disappeared altogether while others are emerging and will continue to do so with descriptions we are yet to conceive of.
How then to guide students to a career that will turn out to be right for them?
The majority of parents are keen to see their children aim for a degree that will provide solid job prospects, mainly because they want their offspring to enjoy a secure future. But as the future by definition is far from secure, having a flexible, creative mind-set can be more important than fixating on one professional goal, particularly before embarking on further education.
As Secondary teacher Paul McNally, who helps with career guidance at King’s College Madrid, says, “We give emphasis to the idea that their professional lives will frequently be dictated more by postgraduate qualifications than their undergraduate degrees and they should do things they like at undergraduate level. Obviously there are exceptions to this, such as Medicine.”
In addition, Paul acknowledges that the topic of what can be done with specific undergraduate degrees tends to get covered at King’s with an emphasis on the fact that most degrees can lead to the majority of graduate jobs.
An inkling of which direction we want to go in before embarking on an undergraduate degree is, of course, advantageous if our destination may ultimately involve the STEM subjects. While it is easy to switch from science to humanities, it is harder, though never impossible, to do the reverse.
At King’s College Alicante, Career Guidance Officer Conchi Soler points out that this autumn, a number of First Career Assemblies geared to specific needs and ages were organised to get students thinking about which direction they might want to take while one-to-one discussions are held throughout the year with individual students on career preferences and what they can lead to.
Finding our path is not only about academia; the more extra-curricular activities we pursue, the more we come to recognise the strengths and character traits that set us apart from the pack.
Conchi explains that King’s students are advised on social projects that might help orientate them in this respect, as well as work experience placements, summer activities in universities and specific programs organized by universities such as Law and Marketing experiences.
Defining our potential and then tapping into it in this way is really the key to setting us on the right path. It is, in effect, what The Radical Sabbatical author, Emma Rosen, did when she made the bold decision to give up her job on a graduate training scheme that ticked all the right boxes, but failed to make her happy.
After drawing up a list of all the jobs she had ever wanted to do, including those that seemed like a pipe dream, she asked herself three questions:
What skills do you want to be using and what skills are you good at? These are not necessarily the same thing, but some will cross over.
What do you want to get out of your job – for example, variety; money; a positive impact in society?
Finally, what environment would you prefer – inside or out, mobile or desk-based, team-work or autonomy?
During a Ted Talk she gave called How to find your passion and make it your job, Emma speaks about “the sheer importance of getting multiple work experience placements in a diverse range of careers,” an undertaking she compares to dating, pointing out that we rarely marry the first person we go out with. This approach is one actively encouraged by King’s through Junior Achievements work shadowing programmes.
After her ‘radical sabbatical’, Emma decided on a portfolio career in communications, writing The Financial Times Business Book of the Month, employing her skills in a range of sectors and calling herself a “wide achiever.” Being a “wide achiever” is possibly not for everyone, but the variety suits Emma, something she only became aware of after putting her long list of jobs to the test. To conclude, it would seem that finding our dream job is like finding our ideal mate; we have to kiss a lot of frogs.