In a recent talk i gave to students of NUS Engineering I was deeply encouraged by the eagerness by the students in wanting to know more about their career options and future. Some students even seem bent on finding the “right” job from the start, with the same determination and single-mindedness associated with finding the right lifetime partner. I read that an average Gen Y’er will change jobs 29 times in their lifetime. I got a very different impression that day.
So how would i know if this job is for me? I think many people would have a different answer to this question. Some could still be asking this question after working for 20 years. I’m fortunate to be in a job i know IS for me. Here are three things that helped me in my own journey.
1. Try Different Jobs
I do not mean changing jobs every 2 months. Doing that will both be unfair to the employer and not do us any good in the long-run, especially in a small country like Singapore where many people in each sector knows one another and words spread quickly. So what i meant was try different jobs …. before we graduate. While having a long list of companies we have worked for in our resumes makes us look like “non-stayers”, having done different jobs or projects before graduation makes us stand out and look attractive to a prospective employer. More importantly, through trying out different jobs, we get the inside experience of working for different companies with different cultures. Small businesses operate very differently from multi-national companies. Working for the government could also be a total contrast to working for a start-up. Even among multi-nationals, an American company may have distinctively different culture as compared to a Japanese or a German company. People often join a company because of the job, but leave because of incongruence with the culture or conflicts with people.
Before i graduated as an engineer, i spent weeks and sometimes months working different jobs during vacation and in-between transitions. I’ve worked in an American accounting firm as a clerk, did telemarketing for a Japanese company, interned as a civil engineer with a local consulting firm, served as a banquet staff for a hotel, sold UK car polish, and i think i spent two weeks driving forklift for an European company. At that time, i was only working to get some allowance but on hindsight these experiences gave me insights which i would never be able to have otherwise. When we get into a company, ask ourselves – Do i like how the people relate and work with one another? Is this a company that rewards performance and provides opportunities for employees? Are the leaders leading by example and do the employees like working for them? How is the organizational structure, bureaucracy and working environment? Does it suit me?
2. Know Yourself
This is not just a cliche, but really one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Some like it fast-pace, some prefers to take it easy. Some likes a structured and predictable environment whereas some enjoys spontaneity and thrives on uncertainties. Some are okay with bosses directing them exactly what to do, whereas others absolutely detest any forms of micro-managing. There are plenty of personal inventories, psychometric or career profiling tools out there that can help us know ourselves better. I’ve done the DiSC, Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Firo-B, Big Five, Emotional Readiness Index (ERI), Adversity Response Profile, Strengths Finder and Hogan. Each instrument has its strengths and limitations and i will leave the discussion on psychometric instruments for another day. I was fortunate to have done some psychometric assessments before graduation to understand my personality better and know what types of jobs may be more suitable. Do a search on the internet, we can start by doing some free assessments, but i usually find that the good ones come with some investment.
3. Talk to people (Who knows what they are saying…)
I found talking to two types of people helpful for me. Firstly, people who knows me, worked with me, mentored me and seen what i can do, and what i better not do. Everyone has blindspots. There were times i thought i could do certain things because i’ve seen others do it… and there were times i thought i could never succeed in certain areas but these people around me saw something different. The second group of people are those who are going through OR have gone through what i am thinking to do. If we want to work as marketeers speak to a real marketeer working in a firm we would like to join. If we are considering joining an offshore refinery speak to someone who has the experience working in that environment and understand the challenges of having to manage work and other areas of life with possibly different working hours. Get it from the horse’s mouth.
So try different jobs, know yourself and talk to people. Finally, it’s alright to make mistakes. Failure is not fatal. If it doesn’t work out the first time, you have another 28 chances in your lifetime.