When I meet students, school-leavers and graduates, they often ask me what “real work” is like. They tell me that they’re thinking about a career in this or that, and that they can’t decide between various options. Frequently the options are wildly varying – “I’m not sure whether I want to be a vet or a pilot“; or “I’m wondering whether to open a coffee shop or become a marketing director“.
They spend a lot of time thinking about it all, and weighing up the pros and the cons – the entire process seems rather analytical. There are plenty of factors to consider, including job prospects, expected salary, qualifications, suitability to the role, route to get there etc. All those factors are hard to quantify though, and are so often based on the judgment of others.
Here’s the thing though… when I ask which of the options they enjoy the most, they almost always say they don’t know; they haven’t tried them. So they are considering a career in a particular field which they haven’t ever tried!
When this happens, my advice is usually to go and find out what it’s really like doing the job. Ask to spend some time in an office helping out or even just watching. Most people are willing to find time to help young people if they appear interested enough. Perhaps some employers don’t allow this “on the grounds of health and safety”, or for some commercial confidentiality reasons.
I recently met a young woman who had always wanted to be a teacher, and she figured it would be a good idea to get some work experience before embarking on the qualifications. So she spent a week at her local primary school working as a teaching assistant. At the end of the week, she decided it wasn’t for her. What a brilliant outcome! One week of experience convinced her that it wasn’t the right career choice.
No amount of analysis would have helped. It was the experience which convinced her.
As employers, maybe we should take more responsibility for making “taster” days more readily available to young people. We should be encouraging young people to go out and try things, rather than thinking about them. It’s not more foresight they need; it’s more hindsight, earlier.