Career Choices



I was recently approached by a high school boy to give him some advice on the subjects he should choose because he didn’t know what career he wanted to choose. Initially I was amazed at his request, until I realised that he was still thinking that if he made the wrong choice now, he would be doomed for the rest of his life.


Nothing can be further from the truth. So let me try and summarise my thoughts to young aspirant career choosers.

A career is essentially a specialized job market containing a group of people who share a common interest or quality. As with any other group, you can choose to join or leave at any point.

The reasons youngsters get stuck at this point are:

1) They think they’re going to be married to it for life (so they stress out and procrastinate making the choice)
2) They’re afraid their career is going to fail and not be profitable and they will end up as poor beggars on the street.
(both reasons are basically saying that they are afraid of choosing the wrong career).

To solve this dilemma we can use a Decision Tree, and start talking about one of two possible branches:
1) Something (an area or a sport or a task or a hobby) you know how to do;
2) Something you don’t know (uh, duh! not good!)

There are pros and cons (advantages and disadvantages) to both of those choices, but I prefer starting to talk about something you know and are passionate about because:
1) Your enthusiasm will help you get through the difficult times, something that everybody and all businesses go through (the ups and downs);
2) Your output (the quality of your work) will be better;
3) You understand the marketplace and you can relate to your users or customers better.

Some advice: Try not to fall in love with your career selection, as it could become a stumbling block if you are too fondly attached to it and you have to make changes and upgrades.

One big change from my generation to the new youngsters is that my father believed in having one job, one career, for life. This is no longer true and even in South Africa it is often said that people will have 3 major careers in their lifetime. I believe the number to be higher. Therefore consider the possibility of developing several careers in several job markets over the long term (multiple streams of income will add stability to your home life). BUT, and this is key, start with ONE. Choose one, now, and work on it (pun not intended).

Before you launch your new career just do some research. Have a look around if your career choice can sustain you before you invest your precious time and money into training or schooling or developing your career.

When you do your background research you may want to consider how your particular personality traits blend in with the demands that your career is going to place on you. What do you naturally do today and every day? Are you a gregarious bird with tons of friends, or are you a dedicated sportsman, or do you enjou the solitude of the library? For example some questions you might ask are:
– How big is the pool of workers (and jobs) in your chosen career area? Is it a popular and congested career or rare with few candidates? Specialised or generalised? When you review tertiary institutions, do they all offer courses in your area, or do you have to study at a single remote location? How many candidates are released on the market every year, vs how many new positions are available?
– How competitive will it be when you apply for jobs? Today in South Africa there seems to be an abundance of arts and social sciences candidates and competition for jobs are fierce, but there ain’t enough qualified engineers and a good candidate can dictate his terms. Checkout cashiers are easy to hire and get low wages, but programmers who can develop programs for checkouts are scarcer.
– How profitable is that career, considering all the variables? Will you have to consistently perform at high levels or be outed (associated with family strife), or can you expect to work at fairly “normal” energy levels and still have a family and hobbies? Being a property consultant can generate nice bundles of cash infrequently but the expenses are high, as opposed to being a medical doctor in a practise where you are assured of a regular income but you also have to regularly work long hours.
– How many other sub-options are there in your career area? In other words can you find several related jobs with your skill set, or are you bound to one particular task. For example, a pharmacist can only work in a pharmacy, but a draughtsman can probably find work in quite a few different kinds of drawing offices or jobs. Will you have the potential to change positions easily? Can you redirect your career in other directions with minimal disruption?
– Do you want to work in the corporate world where everything is decided for you and you have very little decision making power? There is a lot of security in such a career and lots of bureaucracy which is good for planning your cashflow when you have your first child, but this can be frustrating to an entrepreneur. Or do you want to work in a small office with lots of responsibility and lots of flexibility but potentially less stability and of course you will always have challenges with cashflow. Its either/or, you can have a salary but always bitch about your manager, or you can be your own manager and bitch about the money. I don’t think you can have both.
– Do you enjoy trends and fads, or do you prefer evergreen stability? Hot topics like internet and mobile phones are always great opportunities for making money in the short term, but they might fade and be replaced by even better or faster fads. If, on the other hand, you want to build this particular career for the longer term, you might consider something a little less fashionable like medical or dancing. Again engineers have such a wide variety of choices!

In summary I can recommend that you don’t look at your career – like I did when I was young – as Life Imprisonment. It isn’t. Your most important decision is to decide what you like doing, and then to go and do that. Don’t plan on doing it for more than a few years, because your world will change in a few years and then you will have to make new plans.

It is exciting, isn’t it!

One Response to “Career Choices”

  1. Matt Ibbetson says:

    Thanks for the post 🙂