Should I focus on a job or a career when I graduate? - Career HQ
Are you graduating to get a job, or to start a career? Should you follow your heart or choose one with a more conventional and secure career path?
job, career, graduate, study choice
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Should I focus on a job or a career when I graduate?

Am I graduating to get a job, or start a career? It’s a common question asked by many University students waiting in the graduation line for that all-important record of their achievement.

Should you follow your heart and try to get a job that you are really passionate about, or choose one with a more conventional, and perhaps more secure, career path?

career advice

Passion versus skills

At this time of year, there are many people like you have finished their studies, and joining the same group of graduates as you, all vying for their first job.

One of the most important things to realise at the start of your working life is that there is a difference between your interests and your skills. It’s essential that you don’t confuse your hobby with the skills that will be important for a career.

Some people are lucky enough to find that the two overlap, and are able to do what they are most passionate about for their regular job. But for the majority, it’s often better to play to your skill strengths, not your passions.

So, say you have a mathematics degree. Maths is all about solving problems. Which means you don’t have to be an actuary – there are many careers where a maths degree will be a solid foundation. You might think you would enjoy being and accountant, investment analyst, big data analyst, data scientist, or a statistician – to name a few.

Keep an open mind about jobs you’d accept – be realistic that you are unlikely to get your dream job a month out of university. And with the right job there will always be time for the things you enjoy, regardless of whether you studied them at university or not.

What if I just need money?

There is no doubt that generally, if you have a genuine interest in something, you are more likely to succeed at it. So whether it’s a hobby or a job, if you get up every day and feel like doing it, you are more likely to apply yourself, and therefore be successful.

But let’s face it, for some, getting a job – any job – will be their first priority. Most people have debt when they graduate, and probably also need money for rent, food and some fun! Many new graduates want, or need, to get into the workforce as soon as possible, even if it isn’t in a job they would see as their first choice, or something they could say they are truly passionate about.

On average, graduates stay in their first jobs for about a year and half. So don’t think you’ll be stuck with something you don’t enjoy for the rest of your working life, just because you needed money. Once you are in a job, it’s easier to look for another one that might better suit your skills or passions.

career choice

I need to work in a ‘blue chip’ to make the most of my investment

Any study you do at University is essentially an investment – in yourself, and in your future career. Like any type of investment, this means it has cost money to hopefully generate a ‘profit’ on that investment someday. That might lead you to think that your ‘profit’ needs to be financial, not just academic.

However, you can find many studies online that show there is little correlation between people’s salaries and their job satisfaction.

Many graduates focus heavily on large or ‘blue chip’ companies and their very public graduate programs. But don’t dismiss small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – there are many more of these than there are large companies, and the bulk of jobs available nationally are in these smaller companies. SMEs hire about three-quarters of all graduates and are often much more desperate to hire bright young people. You just might have to do more of your own research to uncover opportunities at some of these companies, as they may not be so readily advertised.

Starting your career with a job in an SME is certainly no disadvantage to your career. Indeed, there are many potential advantages – more flexible roles, the possibility of making an impact sooner, perhaps being recognised more readily by senior management, and even competing with fewer colleagues when promotions come around.

Think laterally

When I talk to the people who seem happy with their careers in my broad network, most of them say their job isn’t remotely close to what they envisioned when they graduated. Or that the job they do now didn’t even exist then. They couldn’t have predicted it, even if they had tried.

The world of work is changing so rapidly that the ‘career’ you choose now might look completely different in a few years’ time. Current research predicts that 85% of the jobs we will do in 2030 don’t even exist yet. Today’s graduates will hold twelve to fifteen jobs, and 3 or 4 different careers, in their lifetime.

Thinking laterally about your strengths and skills, and looking at jobs in new or emerging areas or industries that require those skills, can be another way to start along a career path.