The job market is more dynamic than ever, with unanticipated industry disruption from small outsiders (think Uber, AirBnB) and from technology (artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, 3D printing…). I’ve read that 70-80% of jobs that exist today will disappear in the next 20 years, which also means that a lot of new jobs will be created that we can’t even predict right now. So how can graduates possibly prepare for such an uncertain future, and how can we – who supposedly are older and wiser – give them effective careers advice?
Rather than trying to pinpoint the one perfect career and plan their whole future path, these days it’s about being proactive and making smart choices that will equip them with the skills and tools that will allow them to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities that arise.
Here are my 5 tips for how you can give graduates careers advice, without being overly directive and imposing your own judgement.
1. Help them to get clear on their personal definition of ‘success’
We all inherit an expectation of what success should look like from our parents, our teachers, from TV, and from the society that we’ve grown up in. Given the changes that are happening around us, not to mention the fact that we are different individuals to those other people, with different interests and strengths and ambitions, that inherited definition is not necessarily meaningful to us. If they don’t decide on what success means to them, then it will be very easy to be pushed towards living up to someone else’s definition. Encourage them to spend some time now – and check in regularly, at least every year, to see how this changes – to understand what they’re hoping to achieve, and what will make them as individuals happy and fulfilled.
2. Ask them what they enjoy and what they’re good at
What are their favourite school and university subjects? What do they find much easier than others they know? What kind of things do people come to them for advice on? Tell them to go beyond the academics, and look at any clubs and activities after school, and what they do in their spare time. Make sure they really consider what it is about that particular thing that they enjoy. For example, if they really love acting: is it standing on stage in front of people, is it the camaraderie of the cast, or maybe the creative process of getting to know the character and the script? These different aspects will lead to different ideas about what to do next.
3. Encourage them to talk to people (but remind them it’s still their decision)
Networking is as important for young graduates as it is for us in later stages of our careers, both when it comes to finding a job and also finding out more details about different jobs and careers. They already have access to a range of different experiences, so tell them to consider their network – their parents, their friends, their friends’ parents – and ask to talk to people who are in jobs that they’re considering, or who have done the courses they’re looking at. They should be asking the questions that they can’t answer from looking at a job description: what does an average day look like, what kind of people do you work with, and why did you choose this career? They can learn a lot in this way, and get access to a range of different perspectives, but do remind them: it’s their life and ultimately their decision!
4. Advocate that they build their ‘career capital’
In the early stages of a career, it’s important to invest in yourself so that you’re better placed in the future to make the most of the changing job market. That means that the graduate should be developing transferrable skills, building connections (that network again!), establishing competencies and credentials that will be valued by employers, and also creating a savings buffer, which will allow them more flexibility in their choices in the future. It can also include things like building their own business alongside their studies, or maybe writing a book – anything that demonstrates their motivation, develops their skills and contributes to a body of work that they can be proud of.
5. Suggest that they think in terms of projects vs The One Career Path
In stark contrast to our parents and grandparents, graduates today are never going to be following that linear career path, staying in the same career, or even in the same job, for their whole working life. The good news is that this takes the pressure off them deciding on that One Perfect Career. Instead of trying to choose now the one career that is the perfect fit (anyway, it’s impossible to know that without having experienced it!), tell them to think of their next steps as a project that appeals to them right now. Maybe it’s a graduate scheme, or a work experience placement, volunteering abroad, or further study – they’ll get the most out of it if they’re really motivated and excited about it. Make sure that they’re clear on why they’re choosing it, and that it will bring them some of that career capital that we were talking about.