Be strategic, adaptable, and keep your eyes on the prize

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which direction

Be realistic? Follow your passion? Look for the predicted shortages? The high salaries?

You are bombarded with advice from journalists, government ministers and careers advisers on the best path to follow in career choices. The job climate is highly unpredictable, and there are huge issues regarding youth unemployment yet to be addressed. For you, the individual in the middle of the storm, a student or a new graduate, there is a strategic approach that encompasses all of these aspects.

Career decisions in a turbulent and unpredictable era should be a strategic mix of pragmatism and keeping your eyes on the prize, following your dream and ensuring your Plan B skills are well honed. 

Consider the scenario which looks like this.

  1. You choose well and achieve a good start. You have chosen to train in an area which fits your interests, talents, skills, and yes, your dreams and aspirations. Aspirations are the engine of career, the motivation that leads to achievement, so chances are good you will complete your course. The area of highest interest and motivation is also the one you are likely to be very good at: interest is the foundation of engagement, curiosity, investigation, achievement, inspiration and innovation – all the qualities required to produce innovative work, including the new ideas that lead to wealth creation. None of these come from people who are only slightly interested in their field.
  2. You’ve noticed the alternative – a choice that doesn’t suit leads to drop out and failure. NZ has a high rate of non-completion of both university and training programmes, including apprenticeships. So poor choices produce a waste of money, effort, and loss of confidence at a time when you are itching to get out and prove yourself. Your friends may have managed that first year of accounting, or physics or chemistry, but probably not the second, so failure looms. Or they hate the course so much they drop out.  No matter how much people may want to take part in a high income trend, if their abilities are not in this area they won’t be good enough to get useful work, and they will lack the interest to sustain their learning.
  3. You gain higher level skills.  The content of your programme is what engages you to learn higher level and advanced skills – in fact you are learning to think, analyse, write, communicate , use technology, problem solve or use practical skills in more complex ways.  Even if you are doing this in a program that is traditionally seen as not providing jobs you are developing skills that are useful in a wide range of industries. Most tertiary institutions make an effort to provide relevance and connection to real world opportunities. The curriculum of your qualification of choice should ensure you are getting useful skills, and some plan B options as well as your subject of deep engagement and satisfaction. So the strategic approach carefully considers the skills that a programme develops, and where they have a broader application, a Plan B possibility. Hopefully you also learn how to self- manage and self -motivate during your study, because you will need to use these skills to get through the post -graduation challenges.
  4. You understand Plan B.   This is the part which requires the most important 21st century career management skill of adaptability. In a recession the opportunities will go to those who are proactive, adaptable, and willing to offer a range of skills. So the newly graduated event manager needs to forget that that was the title of her degree, recognise the skills of communication, organisation, planning, and technology that she has gained and look for work that uses this. Understand that broad experience brings broad skills, and you will be better placed in the future by being adaptable in work choices. The OE traveller knows this – by changing locations you are immediately required to adapt while keeping your eyes on the prize – the job you really want.   But pragmatically a strategic graduate knows you do what you need to survive, grow whatever skills you are able, while not losing sight of your goals and dreams. Take whatever earning opportunities are available and squeeze every ounce of learning out of them. Learn how to grow career capital – this can be done any place, any time.  Don’t be so proud of being a new graduate that you refuse to return to that part time work that kept you going at university. Of course you don’t want to, but the resilient careerist does not see this as going backwards- just adapting to circumstances, while doing whatever you can to find the new work you want.
  5. You work on your mind-set.  Decide to be resilient and adaptable and you will be developing a strong sense of self. Taking what you can get, while holding the vision of what you really want- and not feeling diminished in the process -is part of the skill of adaptability and identity growth. It’s all about how you frame it: in a recession, a ‘not quite right job is still an addition, not a subtraction. You do best to frame it as a transition solution. The important outcome for you is not to feel less because of accepting it. In fact you are demonstrating sound attributes of adaptability and pragmatism, until the times change, which they will.

The greatest risks for young graduates is losing confidence, and losing faith in competence because they have no place to demonstrate it. Their biggest challenge is to continue to grow in an adverse environment – but this can be done by applying new solutions. The young careerist needs not just a degree but a skill set for the complexities of today’s employment challenges: the ability to self-manage and self-motivate, a mind-set that understands adaptability and how skills transfer widely, and strategies for resilience. We don’t teach these career management strategies in our schools or universities, and we should.