Transitioning from university to the working world might be the most difficult period in our entire lives. After spending over two decades focusing on and learning how to achieve stellar grades, we enter into a workforce where such skills are ultimately made redundant.
Rather, the skill which appears to be the most crucial in adult life is being able to understand yourself – knowing your likes and dislikes, your needs, and how make decisions based on this information. Knowing thyself is not as simple as it seems, even for mature adults who have spent decades in the working world.
Research done by behavioural psychologist and author of the book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely, suggests that we are generally bad at making decisions based on our wants and that unrelated matters easily influence us. Therefore, when paving your path after university, here are a few pointers to look out for:
1. Taking action is more important than taking correct action
While soul searching is important, it might be dangerous to do so while job hunting as it causes us to be deliberately choosy with the options offered to us, making it virtually impossible to make a decision. We tend to tell ourselves that we are figuring things out, but in actual fact, when a full range of choices is made available, our preference is to actually do nothing…
In a job search, by telling yourself you have several choices, you immediately do yourself a disfavour. Instead, try taking a job, any job. This might allow you to limit what you would consider in your next job - you begin to determine what you dislike about your current job and not take on similar jobs in future.
2. Postgraduate School is not the answer to career uncertainties
Though it might sound surprising, there are many who are still unclear about their career plans and goals, even after spending 4 years in their course of choice and graduating from their Bachelors Degree. A large percentage of this group end up choosing to enter Postgraduate School so as to delay entering the workforce, giving them more time to figure out their career paths, for fear of making a wrong choice.
This concurs with Ariely’s study which discovered that if one is feeling conflicted regarding a certain decision, one would most likely take the default choice – which in the case of fresh graduates is to enter Postgraduate School. When our parents were graduating, postgraduate studies might have been considered a safe choice for them. However, in today’s context where experience is key, falling back on this ‘default’ choice whenever we feel uncertain might deprive us of valuable time to gain real life working experience.
The feeling of uncertainty should never be your reason for entering Postgraduate School. Instead, you should make your decision after doing a proper cost and benefit analysis of taking popular postgraduate courses such as Masters in Business Administration (MBA) or Masters in Financial Economics (MFE) – do the returns of taking a Masters degree outweigh the cost of it? If your answer to the question is no, you might be better off using that precious time gaining some soft skills in the corporate world, albeit the role not being your definite career choice. To make a good, informed decision about postgraduate studies, ensure that you think through the matter with focus and are absolutely certain of the options available to you.
3. Take pride in making bad career moves
Truth is, even though we might assume we have a good grasp of our preferences, we tend to overestimate our ability to make decisions with regard to them. Perhaps, that is why we often find ourselves making career decisions which we regret.
However, find comfort in knowing that making bad career moves is all part and parcel of us trying to determine what is best for ourselves. As long as we are not making irrational choices, we can be assured that we are on the right path.
So, let us all celebrate all the memories and times that we ended up taking the wrong path. Ultimately, that is how we know we are really guiding our own careers.
Books that you might find interesting if this article interests you:
a. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (2006)
b. "The Art of Happiness" by The Dalai Lama & Howard Cutler (1998)
c. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz