It was a hot sunny Sunday in Chennai. Summer at its peak and Sunday is when I visit my friend at Royapettah with whom I spent time eating a sumptuous lunch and hit the beach later in the evening. My friend who handles school and college admissions in Tamil Nadu has frequent visitors mostly new students who are waiting to enter their hostels having got an admission. That day these two new girls were helping us with the cooking and we started to talk. Then as we get along, it was time for my favourite topic – careers. So my questions started to flow. Echan, how did you decide to come to Chennai? What course have you selected and why? Which school did you go to in Imphal? Sometimes, some youngsters do not open up but I approached them non-intrusively and that has really worked. Out of the many answers, the most critical information I want to highlight is the one year she lost doing a course in “Diploma of Aeronautical Sciences” in Guwahati. So I asked her why and how did you end up in that college. She was transparent and immediately answered “One of my uncle told me that after studying this course, I will have a job with good salary”. Good salary – that is the reason why she took up that unknown course. After six months, she had to leave since the college was not good and besides she was not able to cope up with the syllabus. There are many similar stories we hear on a daily basis. Why does this happen in the first place? I don’t blame it on the lack of awareness. I blame it purely on the fact that our society seems to be driven by “Shoi-chatpa-thabak-mentality” rather than understanding if that power & the associated salary is what one wants to do in life. And in the process we fail to ask our children or the child fails to ask herself – what is that she really wants to do in life.
How to choose a career is a topic I will cover in future. But in short, there are three broad career tracks available for a student to choose: 1) Academics & Research 2) A professional job mostly working from 9 AM to 5 PM. & 3) Entrepreneur – start your own company. Each track has few overlaps and you can move from one track to the other. My focus today is on what you should not do while choosing a career. So here are the top ten career mistakes I have seen most students commit during the critical stages of their careers. Critical stages are right after Class X, Class XII and after graduation.
1. Doctor (Medicine) or Nothing: After Class XII, the biggest rat race I see in our state and elsewhere is the Medicine course and to an extend Engineering. Many students just do not have a back-up plan. “What if I do not crack the exam?” – this is a critical question always missed. Whether it is the lack of other options or whether it is over-confidence, some students keep trying for Medicine even for 3 years and by the time they plan to do something, 4 years of their precious career is already lost. My advice is never to go beyond two attempts in these exams. By two attempts, I mean you can lose only one year and not beyond that. But, why do so many students end up in the rat race of Engineers and Medicine career and fail to realize that there are so many options beyond these two careers? Blame it on the pressure from parents, society and above all peers. The student should know whether she really wants the profession and if not, one should be assertive enough to say ‘No’ to all the pressures and push back in a polite manner.
2. No goal defined – take it as it comes: I remember our school Principal once said. If you do not have a goal in life, any road you choose will take you to your goal. I have met many students in several cities who have taken up various courses with no planning and with no awareness of job markets. One thing which I hear in common is “I wish I knew about this before”. The information is available today in many formats and it is just that we do not do enough research to take an informed decision and at the end we end up in the wrong college doing the wrong course and in that process – precious time, money & effort is lost. One should not decide on anything about her career without prior research in the internet or talking to an expert.
3. Study Masters without an aim to pursue Academics: After completing graduation, the easiest choice to do is Masters. But why Masters if you do not plan to go into the field of Academics & Research by pursuing M Phil or PhD. This mistake is linked to the above around no goal defined. If your goal is to work in a company, make sure your Masters is related to that else the two years you spent in the University will be a pure waste of time.
4. Not willing to start with a small job: This is the biggest mistake I see with many graduates in our state or outside. They tend to sit at home not willing to start a job because the salary is small or the company is not big. While they sit at home their peers will end up getting 1-2 years experience ahead of them and long before they realize, they have lost steam and they don’t want to work anymore.
5. Joining an MBA without knowing what to do after it: MBA is the buzz word. Like many students opt medicine after Class XII, there are many who opts for an MBA after graduation without knowing what this course can do for them. They get lost in the specialization and sometimes aren’t sure if Finance is better or HR is better. And there are many MBA schools who has no placement facilities. Joining such college will be a waste of time. Part time MBA is another fever with many working professionals. One should not opt it from any institution. The best are the ones which are tied up with a company.
6. Switching jobs with no planning: Leaving a current job without an offer letter from another company is a crime. A gap between two jobs can mean that you are not a stable employee to the new company you are applying. Besides picking a new job, in a new company and in a new city needs adequate planning. Just because you are getting a higher salary should not be the sole factor.
7. Do not have a Mentor : Many times we get into a stage where we are stuck and unaware of which decisions to take. These are decisions related to career move, issues with a current boss, skill improvement, etc. If you do not have a mentor you may end up taking wrong decisions and to regret later on. Mentor can help you see the bigger picture, clarify your doubts so that your decision is firm and you are confident to move forward.
8. Choosing a career because it pays high salary: Salary is one of the factors of job satisfaction. But beyond a point, salary has no relevance in job satisfaction. One needs to know what she wants to do in life. It is important that the basis of the decision taken is related to the profile of the job & its responsibilities. Many students end up taking up careers & jobs without understanding the profile and at the end they get frustrated.
9. A career in Sports or Music means you have to leave education: It is a myth that we think we cannot study if we want to pursue a sports career. Sports is a different career altogether and can go hand in hand with your education. If you think you have the talent of a particular sport, go for it.
10. Cannot see the bigger picture: We need to fit our life in the bigger scheme of things. Inability to see life after 50 years of age or what one wants to do after retirement is not a big concern. But having to know the end goals makes you to decide better short term goals.
In fact, I have committed few mistakes listed above in my own career. And there may be other mistakes not covered in my list. If you are in your Class X or lower, please read, digest and be aware. And for those who have made many of these mistakes, remember there is always a way out. I am sure your mistake will be a learning experience and you are on the right course now which will take you to your ultimate goal.
The author is a career counselor. With more than 13 years of corporate industry exposure, he has been engaged with student mentorship at MIMS, Manipur University. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (Published in The Sangai Express Sunday edition 20-Jan-13.)