Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The confused graduate...

Have you come across people who tell you they became who they are by chance or luck and not by conviction or passion? I have... at my work place, at university, at college - I have come across professionals and students who are pursuing a particular career or opting for a course because that just happens to be something that was financially lucrative, or something their parents advised (in some cases 'forced') them to do, or because they happened to get a particular job offer or acceptance letter into a program. Now many of these people might be doing great at whatever they are doing and might be very happy with themselves as well while others drag themselves to class or work because they just 'have to'. Some people make it big by virtue of chance and random decisions, while others spend years yearning for one thing and pursuing another. 

In Pakistan, where there is still lack of career counselling services and programs and where parents still have their pre-historic, risk averse views about professions and their scope, young o-level and a-level students are almost led to making subject choices by virtue of their grades or luck. What they choose as their subject in a-levels/Fsc/FA to some extent leads them to the university program they are well suited for. Since the first decision was not based on thorough potential and aptitude analysis, neither is the next level and the next level until they join the work force where they finally realise that they had been going in the wrong direction all that time. Since its too late to change or go back now, often people work hard and try to maintain their performance just so that they remain employed. But such people keep themselves unhappy and their colleagues frustrated because given their natural in-aptitude or passion for that job, they cannot progress beyond a certain limit, thus holding back the entire team they work with. This kills their own self-esteem too and impacts their career path in the longer run. 

I think career counselling starts way before children get into colleges; a good exposure to a wide variety of options either through mentor-ship, internships and personality assessments can help a student realise at a very early stage as to what they are naturally inclined towards. And this exercise needs to be done repeatedly in short intervals to test for natural evolution of interest that often leads youngsters to change their mind every few months (which is alright, as long as they do it at the right stage). 

While professional career counselling services might take their due time to develop in schools and colleges, as elder family members (uncles, aunts, elder siblings or cousins) we should take interest in our up coming generation and help them figure out what it is that they would like to stand for in life. Because honestly, the career you choose is likely to take up 70 percent of the hours in your 'non-sleep' life. If you think of it this way, it better be something you really enjoy and can excel in with the least amount of pain. 

You can take them along to spend a day at your work place during their summer/ winter vacations. It would be good for young students to come for a round to the offices of banks, factories etc. to get a feel of the work place; some of them also spend a week or two at the office, even if they are too young for internships yet. The kind of work environment your career entails also has a lot of stake in your career choice so although students might not understand what exactly the employees are doing sitting at their computer screens or before assembly lines, simply the feel of the work environment will also help them understand their professional temperament.

Ideally, it would be good if schools also organised for professionals from different fields of arts, science, business etc to visit their students once in a term and talk to them about their jobs. Students could also follow up with one on one meetings with the guests later on. I know that guest speaker sessions are held at undergraduate and graduate schools (like Fast, NUST, LUMS, IBA) but that is more like narrowing your core area or choosing the employer in the field that you've already chosen. Broad career choice is made much before a student enrolls in a university and similar seminars, sessions need to be held in secondary level schools too. 

I went for a personality assessment by Meyer Briggs ((http://www.myersbriggs.org/) some years back and I found it to be very useful in defining and reassuring me of my strengths and accordingly suggesting the careers and functional roles that suit my personality. I was surprised at the accuracy of the tests results and now having worked for the past four years I see myself playing along the same strengths and the same behaviour that the test had identified in me. ) 

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