How do people decide what career path to take?
This is something I’ve often wondered. There are almost unlimited options and I never cease to come across roles that I’d never encountered before, even after years of recruitment and CV writing experience. As children most of us imagine we’ll become an astronaut, a ballerina, teacher, fireman or something similar. So, how does someone end up becoming an HSE Quality Manager, an Enterprise Partnership Director or even a CV Writer?
I recently took to LinkedIn to find out the answer to this question and received an incredible 2435 responses to a poll that asked, ‘How did you decide what career path was right for you?’.
► 13% used a career coach or career advisor
► 20% listened to their family and friends
► 58% simply tried different things
I have included some of the comments from respondents throughout this article, they are quite inspiring and well worth reading!
It appears that for the majority of people it’s a process of trial and error. I take comfort in this. We often get stuck wondering what we should be doing with our life and there is so much emphasis on what we do. When we meet new people one of the first questions we ask is 'what do you do for a living?' and then we define them by this.
It shapes our perception of the person and we put them in a box. But life, and our careers, are a journey. What we are doing today is not the final destination, it’s not the culmination of all that we are. It is just the thing that we happen to be doing right now.
In fact, most of us have multiple careers in our lifetime. There might be themes but the path is rarely straight. The point is to keep learning, keep growing and to keep trying different things. I do think that for most of us ‘trying different things’ is the best approach to take. Here’s why:
It’s easier to steer a moving ship
In other words, it’s easier to change direction and plot your path forward once you start moving. Many of us simply get stuck trying to think our way into the perfect career, the fear of making a mistake paralyses us into inaction. Early in our careers, we can have thoughts such as ‘I must choose the perfect degree/university/internship because this is going to determine the rest of my life’ or ‘what if I don’t like doing xyz, I’ll be stuck doing something I hate forever’.
Of course, there are some of us who know from a young age exactly what we want to do and then find fulfilment doing that thing for the rest of their lives. But it’s rare and unless you fall into that category, it can be unhelpful to approach your career with that same mindset.
So, don’t get stuck at the starting blocks, waiting to have all the answers. Start taking steps forward, try things and pivot and change direction as needed.
The average person today will have 5 careers in their lifetime
My dad finished his studies (without many qualifications) and fell into the roofing industry through a friend. He started working for a roofing contractor as a Tiler, working his way up to Contract Manager and eventually to become a Director. Last year, he retired from that same company after working for them for over 30 years. He didn’t love roofing, but it’s what he had experience in and so it’s what he continued to do for his whole working life. He was loyal to his company and a good worker and they were loyal to him too.
However, this type of story is becoming less and less common. The world of work is changing at a more rapid pace than at any time in history, with roles becoming obsolete and new roles emerging all the time. What’s more, the concept of loyalty to one company (and company loyalty to an individual) is becoming a notion of the past.
Studies show that most of us will have around 5 distinct careers in our lifetime, as we navigate changing career landscapes and personal interests and as we continue to study and upskill throughout our lives. Therefore, the old notion of identifying your one area of interest and pursuing only this, now feels outdated. As individuals, we are always changing and the world around us is changing too, try different things and take advantage of the many possibilities that are out there.