We all have to make choices every day of our lives. Some are simple, routine, snap judgements, others have a more profound impact on our lives, how they take shape, and the professional and personal interests we end up pursuing.
As I reflect on my career (I may as well, as no-one else will!), it’s hard to remember what choices I had when I decided a career in accountancy was the path for me. Truthfully, I didn't have many – the only criterion I applied was I had to get a job - not what would I like to do at all - just get a job. In those days, if you studied accountancy there would be a job for you somewhere at the end of it; so I studied accountancy.
Thankfully (?) , it’s not that simple anymore; today’s graduates may have more choices and they can afford to have a more global perspective on opportunities, but there is no doubt that the last few years have been tough and incredibly competitive.
That competition has led to too many positions being offered as unpaid internships. That’s fine in some ways; giving you a foot in the door; your first exposure to the real world; an opportunity to prove yourself. But, if it’s policy that after you serve your time it’s left to the next unpaid intern to pick up the work after six months or a year, why would you do that?
In that position, I’d want to know what has happened to others who have gone through the process before me – if it’s a good story, the company will regale you with these positive outcomes. If not, then you might want to reconsider taking up the role.
In addition, with so many applicants for very few jobs, HR departments are being inundated with applications. They have neither the time nor the resource to give each application the attention it’s due. So many decisions are based on academics and online tests – meaning many employers miss out on the personalities, the late starters, the entrepreneurs, or those who achieved so much by even sitting exams given their circumstances. Whoever manages to fix these cracks in the system will undoubtedly steal a march on their competitors.
Thankfully, the cut-backs, lay-offs, and flagging confidence which have prevailed for the last half-decade appear to have come to an end. There’s more recruitment on the horizon, more options for those leaving education, more push than pull, and more hope.
If I was a graduate again, about to embark on my career, what would I look for? Well, in order of importance:
- A career that interests me – Life is too short to feel bored in what you do. Make sure it’s something you’re passionate about.
- A career that challenges me – If you’re not learning new things, you’re not enjoying your job.
- A career that exposes me to great people – Make sure you’re exposed to people with different skills, who are meritocratic and fair-minded.
- A career that allows me to see the world – The world may be smaller now, but you have to see it and experience new cultures – and I don’t mean getting the bus to Paisley or Edinburgh!
- A career that gives me a good quality of life – Your job needs to pay enough to give you and your family a decent standard of living.
- A career that means my first role lasts around five years – If you've had enough after less time than that, it’s not a terribly exciting job.
Whatever stage you’re at, my best advice is that you take up some form of gainful employment – whether it’s a stop gap, voluntary, charitable, or an internship, it will help give you the self-esteem and confidence you need. You’ll learn new things and communicate every day. I can’t think of anything more important than confidence and communication skills.
With such a competitive environment, it’s easy to be disheartened by the failures in the early days of your search. But don’t give up. Just remember that most of the people interviewing and assessing wouldn't have got the job you’re after!
Given my time again, I’d probably have ended up in the same place I am now – but only after a failed attempt at racehorse training – and, very importantly, the same measure of good luck! What’s mattered most is that, even though I've only thought about it now, my career has lived up to more than I ( or anyone else ! ) could have hoped for.