3 Rules For Careers Advice to Students

By April 15, 2020 No Comments

I’ve kept half an eye on “thought leadership” posts created by people wishing to help the career progression and happiness of young people. A lot of common themes ensue. Young people need to be inspired, they need meaning, they want to feel they can grow, they want to follow their passion rather than do a crap job that’s beneath them.

A lot of this thinking sets up young people for massive, depressing falls.

For the most part, life is hard. It gets harder when you leave the confines of the education system and enter the workplace. Where high fliers once dominated, their new context will see them at the bottom of the food chain and, mostly, incompetent. Workplace politics snuffs ambition. People feel they should progress quicker, yet others stifle that ambition. The merry go round creates frustration.

Also, assessment of your own ability can be wildly out of step with reality. You don’t deserve megabooks because you’ve an “A*” in chemistry. The workplace values competence. A rookie is mostly incompetent due to lack of experience. They’re paid in line with that. Careers advice may have shown you that “an engineer can get £70K a year” so you feel demeaned at your £18K starting salary. Yet, you’re yet to do your time.

Incompetence reaches competence with time, effort and experience. For “millennials” (hate that word), the drudgery of developing experience can be overwhelming. They want their cake whilst eating.

Here are 3 rules for student careers advice that might serve to build a better mental model for young people when they enter the world of work.

  1. Your career will not be linear

In fact, it will probably be like a drunk on a bouncy castle. You will fall into jobs, find new opportunities and develop new connections as you go. Your career will evolve over time. Schools careers advice can create the impression that you pick a career and then you shoot for it.

This is wrong (unless dentist, doctor, teacher?—?where it could be linear).

Your job is to build up skills and competence over time so you are able to capitalise on any opportunity that lands in your lap. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Get your head down in whatever you’re doing now, become really good and improve your competency.

2. You might have to shovel sh*t

Your early steps into a career might be a reality check. I once met people on a highly prestigious graduate scheme who had recently graduated from Oxford. They were telling me about their daily tasks which essentially involved answering the phone and dealing with customer complaints.

This work sounded highly tedious.

The winners, however, shovel the sh*t. They work their proverbials off. They pick up the phone and patiently listen to customers. They make the cups of tea. They take the notes, file important papers, do simple but boring research tasks.

They also develop competence. They build, build, build. They keep grafting. Then someone takes notice.

3. Career happiness is a function of becoming really, really, effin’ good

The best book on careers I ever read was “So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport”. Cal cites happiness research of employees in various professions. He noticed the happiest people had been doing the job the longest. He realised that this was due to the competence and confidence they developed over a lifetime’s dedicated service to their profession.

It’s easy to buy the “follow your passion” narrative. It seems easy to blame your unhappiness on not having found your passion.

Humans, however, are social beasts. Our evolutionary superpower is the ability to build communities. The best communities are built by people who contribute to the well being of the group. If you get really good at your work, you start to contribute. This contribution lights passion. If you’re skills and talents are furthering a goal shared by others, you feel like the king.

You can only get to this stage by becoming good at what you do. You can only become good at what you do by spending the time.

Let “spend the time” become your mantra. Spend the time to get really good. Spend the time developing the skills to get really good. Really earn a successful career. By spending the time, you’ll create momentum that reaps rewards in the long run.

By telling students that they’ll have a whizzy career if they do well at school we’re creating groups of people primed for disappointment. Instead, if we build the skills and attitudes required to look at a career as a true master’s journey, people will approach things differently. They’ll see their work life as a progression from incompetence to competence and the to mastery.

Let’s show students how to derive pleasure from the process. Let’s tell them the reality that you have to be bloody good to deserve success. That even then, it might go awry, but by getting back up and ploughing forward, embracing drudgery and attacking the obstacles, they will find happiness and solace in the process.

Humans are designed to contribute. That’s the overarching message. The best careers advice? Be a contributor, not a leach.

Phill

About Phill

Phillip is co-founder of Kloodle.

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