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What career advice
Old 12-20-2010, 10:35 PM   #1
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What career advice

What career advice would you give to a bright young person who is considering colleges and majors?

I will need to give this kind of advice soon, and I'm finding I am very, very uncomfortable with it. Consider:

1. I'm convinced that "Do what you love, the money will follow" is just too simplistic. There are too many people struggling financially in professions they once thought they loved.

2. I also believe that hating your job is the quickest path to misery.

3. I also believe it is absolutely impossible to know what career x will be like without actually being in career x for some years. There is no substitute--not books, not career counselors, not internships. None of these gives you ANY idea what the actual, day-to-day experience of a particular job in a particular field is like.

4. On a similar note, I also believe that the vast majority of jobs have little to do with the subjects they are named for and eventually boil down to full-time dealing with difficult people and bureaucracy.

5. I also believe that there is a certain hyper-entropy at work in the American workplace, causing even pleasant, satisfying jobs to decay into surreal, soul-sucking ones. Managers rise and fall, new regulations are imposed, egos seize power, resentments flare, hidden alliances develop, silly fashions in management and organizational style sweep through, cost-cutting and austerity occur, etc.

6. I also believe that even if the perfect job existed, and could be preserved, it is human nature to tire of it after a year or three or ten.

So ... what kind of career advice can I give to a bright-eyed teenager who's just wondering what color her parachute is? I'd like to tell her to just skip the work step and go directly to a fulfilling retirement. But that can't be done. Should I just keep my mouth shut?
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Old 12-20-2010, 10:49 PM   #2
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What career advice would you give to a bright young person who is considering colleges and majors?

I will need to give this kind of advice soon, and I'm finding I am very, very uncomfortable with it. Consider:

1. I'm convinced that "Do what you love, the money will follow" is just too simplistic. There are too many people struggling financially in professions they once thought they loved.

2. I also believe that hating your job is the quickest path to misery.

3. I also believe it is absolutely impossible to know what career x will be like without actually being in career x for some years. There is no substitute--not books, not career counselors, not internships. None of these gives you ANY idea what the actual, day-to-day experience of a particular job in a particular field is like.

4. On a similar note, I also believe that the vast majority of jobs have little to do with the subjects they are named for and eventually boil down to full-time dealing with difficult people and bureaucracy.

5. I also believe that there is a certain hyper-entropy at work in the American workplace, causing even pleasant, satisfying jobs to decay into surreal, soul-sucking ones. Managers rise and fall, new regulations are imposed, egos seize power, resentments flare, hidden alliances develop, silly fashions in management and organizational style sweep through, cost-cutting and austerity occur, etc.

6. I also believe that even if the perfect job existed, and could be preserved, it is human nature to tire of it after a year or three or ten.

So ... what kind of career advice can I give to a bright-eyed teenager who's just wondering what color her parachute is? I'd like to tell her to just skip the work step and go directly to a fulfilling retirement. But that can't be done. Should I just keep my mouth shut?
Safest course. Just imagine all the ways that your advice could be resented if it doesn't work out, which after all is not an usual outcome today.

I am fortunate in that I seem to appear to be such a f-up that not even my own children asked me for advice, and certainly no one else. Interesting to me as I have spent almost no time working, and I still have a very nice life. At first I felt dissed, but then I began to see the advantages.

Ha
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Old 12-21-2010, 02:34 AM   #3
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Your considerations are valid IMO.

I would add as no. 7: At that age there is no dead end if you are open minded. Even if the first choice is not perfect, it might open sopme new dorrs that will work better.

No 8: Grades and passed courses are no ends in themselves but are the signs to other people that the student is willing to do what is required and has some stamina. To find a job this "hidden agenda" is just as important as the subject itself.


Unless the teen has some very specific talents I would recommend to chose subjects that allow a lot of flexibility.
For example a girl that loves fashion might think "designer" but better study business to work in fashion industry (or other industries) unless she really has an overwhelming talent for making fashion.

One of my best teachers in school advised us: "Think twice before you turn your hobby into your job. You could easily become miserable because you have lost your hobby and realise that the job is not like you believed it to be."
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Old 12-21-2010, 05:41 AM   #4
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Pick something that, within the boundaries of one's own interests, requires a physical presence. These cannot be outsourced. Nursing, firefighter, military service, construction, police officer come to mind.

Even within those occupations there is a lot of wiggle room to find one's niche especially in larger organizations.

I did get the chance to turn a hobby into a full-time occupation and took it. That was a great gig, for ten years it was "Wow, I can't believe they're actually paying me to do this!" So sometimes it works.
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Old 12-21-2010, 06:53 AM   #5
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Get a lobotomy when you start your first job. It will make things seem more bearable.

Seriously, I think the best advice you can give someone at that age is to have fun at college but make sure you come out with a marketable skill that can be used lots of places (engineering, accounting, nursing, etc.). Expect to be flexible and have lots of different types of careers over the course of your working life.
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Old 12-21-2010, 07:34 AM   #6
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If the aptitude is there, engineering has been a great career choice for me and I believe there will always be a need for engineers, especially hand's on ones. It pays well and satisfies my creativity craving. Its also allowed me to travel and meet a lot of interesting people. At the same time it can get you stuck in a cubicle if you're not careful...
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Old 12-21-2010, 10:21 AM   #7
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Pick something that, within the boundaries of one's own interests, requires a physical presence. These cannot be outsourced. Nursing, firefighter, military service, construction, police officer come to mind.

Even within those occupations there is a lot of wiggle room to find one's niche especially in larger organizations.

I did get the chance to turn a hobby into a full-time occupation and took it. That was a great gig, for ten years it was "Wow, I can't believe they're actually paying me to do this!" So sometimes it works.
good advice

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Seriously, I think the best advice you can give someone at that age is to have fun at college but make sure you come out with a marketable skill that can be used lots of places (engineering, accounting, nursing, etc.). Expect to be flexible and have lots of different types of careers over the course of your working life.
good advice
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Old 12-21-2010, 10:40 AM   #8
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Safest course. Just imagine all the ways that your advice could be resented if it doesn't work out, which after all is not an usual outcome today.
I think the safest course also may be the most prudent here. Unless you have some particularly insightful knowledge about this person's calling, it may be best to let them find their own way.

Lately when I have been asked for similar advice I change the conversation to one of personal finance, LBYM and similar topics. If pressed, I give examples of my experience but I don't really present it as advice.

I do think all the posts so far provide sound pieces of advice, but I don't know that I personally would provide them to a person in their teens. I would save them for the actual job search period or later (with the possible exception of keeping an open mind about field of study).
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Old 12-21-2010, 10:42 AM   #9
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I would point out to this bright young person that his/her choice of majors and occupations is worth some thought, and I would ask what he/she had in mind.

Then, if asked, I would provide my opinions on those and the reasons behind my opinions. Period.

It seems to me that you can't force a kid this age fledgling adult to do what you want them to do (even though you could 5-10 years prior), and you take a risk of inspiring rebellion or resentment if you get too pushy. If this is your child, he/she probably already has a good idea of what you are thinking, and either he/she agrees and intends to proceed in that direction or he/she thinks you are full of canal water.
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Old 12-21-2010, 10:46 AM   #10
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Here is my long list of suggestions. I speak from experience where I made decisions early in life into a field I do not like (engineering).

I disagree with this bullet

Quote:
3. I also believe it is absolutely impossible to know what career x will be like without actually being in career x for some years. There is no substitute--not books, not career counselors, not internships. None of these gives you ANY idea what the actual, day-to-day experience of a particular job in a particular field is like.
I believe internships are the best way to determine if career will be a success for person. Within this there are 3 issues

1) getting the internships, and finding internships in the areas of interest.
2) Knowing if you dislike something even if you are on outside looking in. Meaning the internships aren't going to make you a project manager, but if you are good at assignments given, more responsibility will be given to explore more opportunities.
3) Having enough internships that decisions on what a person likes or dislikes have more than a single data point.


Most jobs can be good or bad depending on work and supervisor. It can be fun work with a boss which is an a$$hole, and that is a bad job. You could have difficult work, work you like, but your boss is cool, and the job is cool (or at least bearable).


So the advice I would give is this

1) Get a degree, preferably a general business degree or a general engineering (technical degree).

A business degree opens as many doors, or more, than an accounting degree or marketing degree (for example).
A mechanical engineering degree opens as many doors or more than a plastics degree, aerospace degree, or systems degree.

2) Get experience. Once a person has about 4 years experience, the degree probably won't matter (much), as long as the person HAS the degree.

3) The degree itself does not matter. Could be a history degree... the person should focus on non skill related factors- such as

a) people skills or work alone
b) travel or no travel
c) goals in life- make lots of money or work a job they enjoy for lower pay
d) goals in life II- is there a city or area they would prefer to live in? Some areas have limited jobs, so having a specific background might help land those limited jobs.

For example in my situation at age of 18 was an introvert. I just had not grown up yet. I made decisions based on what I was good at (science and math) and interned at lots of places in engineering (Xerox, Walker Manufacturing, US Navy doing sound signatures on submarines). The common thing about these assignments (in hindsight anyway) was

1) I did not meet anyone which struck me as a good person which would "reach out" and help a 21 year old figure life out.
2) I did not have the confidence to stand up to people telling me my way was wrong (I believe history has shown me I was right)

My 4th internship was at Ford. I remember my 3 supervisors well, they ALL treated me with lots of respect and the work was fun. That one single internship landed me a job with a software company which I still have today.

When I landed that job my boss was really cool, I was single and traveled a lot (A LOT!!!) even going back to Xerox to support them using our software, also going back to Ford, and also dealing with many companies like Walker. This is where history proved me right in some of my issues I did not have the confidence to deal with when younger.

Issue was I was teaching software- which I really really liked. Had a little to do with my engineering degree, but my knowledge of the software trumped any need to have a mechanical engineering degree. At some point I got married and wanted my 50% travel to slow down, plus the waiting at airports post 9/11 really started getting to me, so I switched to a job (at same company) which took me away from customers, away from travel, and to a boss which is an a$$hole, and he was later replaced with an even bigger a$$.

So while my work is decent, my daily schedule has me interacting with zero people, and that is bad... but who knew I was hired to do one thing, and when that project was done I was assimilated into another group, and the teaching positions have passed my skillset by now.


So my comment to the soon to be college kids would be

1) know who you are- as a person know your core values, what is important to you vs what is just a passing fad. For example is making money important, is financial security important, is family important, is living life to the fullest important? Know this and recognize if the values change between the age of 18 and 24.

2) know what it is which you like. In my case it was personal interaction. I despise not talking to people all day. Other people are just the opposite- there are some people at my company which sit behind a PC and code all day, and they like it. Know if you want to travel, or stay in one city, and be in a city with things to do, or be in a city close to family.

3) do not be afraid to admit a mistake to yourself and correct that mistake. I am prepping for a career change into financial planning (for example) to get out of the corporate rat race. Even 15 years into my career, I am willing to admit the mistake, post it on internet, and similar. My skill set is somewhat limited to the software I have used in last 15 years. In my current city, it's either work for this company or change careers. Short of leaving teaching because I did not want to travel, every other decision I have made has been a good one and done for the right reasons. But I see the one single bad decision I made (leaving work because of travel even though I liked the work) and am taking out of this whole thing a core value- I need to enjoy the work I do and work for a boss which I respect. That is enough for me with 20-30 years of work left.

4) it is OK to choose a career which interests you, but separate what you are good at vs what you are interested in. Some careers have over saturation, so what will make you succeed is a work ethic and determination (not the degree and skill sets) and realize this going in if the career is competitive.

**edit to add**
I think the problem for a boy vs a girl might be different (depending on interests and how child sees money).

My best friend has 3 kids, 2 of them are girls, and one of them is my kids (twins) baby sitter. She has a really caring/compassionate touch, and she would be more than willing to ride horses all day and be a housewife too. She is really smart and motivated too- she does real well in school. We have discussed the ROI for college and for this girl it is negative (she will likely get a degree which costs 100k, and she may never earn 100k in her life if she has kids soon after getting married and graduating college). Her dad said its a$$ insurance... if she married an a$$, he tells me she can leave him, support herself, and that is just as important as whether she actually has a career or not- just gives her options.
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Old 12-21-2010, 10:51 AM   #11
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Safest course. Just imagine all the ways that your advice could be resented if it doesn't work out, which after all is not an usual outcome today.

I am fortunate in that I seem to appear to be such a f-up that not even my own children asked me for advice, and certainly no one else. Interesting to me as I have spent almost no time working, and I still have a very nice life. At first I felt dissed, but then I began to see the advantages.

Ha
Wow! Sorry about that.
Reminds me of the guy I know who built this A-frame hot dog stand to insure that his children "will find summer jobs somewhere else". Sure enough, they all did. He sells hot dogs and this sort of humor.

Lot's of good career advice on this thread. The physical presence thing is also a good idea to keep in mind. However, the only constant is change. The most stable employment opportunities that I could imagine when younger have become "unstable". Utility worker - energy deregulation has caused massive employment changes in industries that previously did not lay off even during the great depression. Banker-nuf said.

It is a hugh step that a young person actually asked for career / life advice. Good sign. He /She did ask, didn't they?

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Old 12-21-2010, 11:29 AM   #12
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A degree leads to a profession and a profession usually leads to a certain income range. It's rarely a bad idea to get a degree in something that earns good money, something for which there's always demand. Even if you end up doing something completely different later in your life, you'll always have a great degree to open doors for you and to fall back on.

I like these quotes, but others will disagree:

"Whenever You’re in Doubt, Err on the Side Of Safety"
-- Harry Browne (on investing decisions)

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Old 12-21-2010, 11:46 AM   #13
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She's asked me to help her with her college search. We regularly talk about economics and investing, and it's very likely I'll be asked for some career advice at some point.

A common theme in the replies so far is flexibilty--gain flexible skills that can be used in a variety of fields. That sounds like good advice that I hadn't thought of.

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I have spent almost no time working, and I still have a very nice life.
Do elaborate!
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Old 12-21-2010, 03:09 PM   #14
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Get a lobotomy when you start your first job. It will make things seem more bearable.

Seriously, I think the best advice you can give someone at that age is to have fun at college but make sure you come out with a marketable skill that can be used lots of places (engineering, accounting, nursing, etc.). Expect to be flexible and have lots of different types of careers over the course of your working life.
+1 on this.
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Old 12-21-2010, 03:47 PM   #15
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Take all the money that would have been spent on tuition, fees, books, room and board, beer and partying and all other expenses and invest it

Take all the time that would have been spent on classes, studying, video games, and instead earn income at something that offers room for advancement

Don't turn down be able to live with your parents until around age 23 using that as a major asset to increase your net worth

By the time you do think you might know what you would like to do when you grow up you'll be in a position to go ahead and do it
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Old 12-21-2010, 05:24 PM   #16
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I just retired from a career that I loved the first 30 out of 32 years I was in the workplace and rewarded me financially. I ditto everything jIMOh says and add.
1) Get a degree and make sure that the grade point in school is high. 3.0 or better, 3.2 to be considered for an entry lever position at megacorp.
Unfortunately, a college degree is no longer optional for any reasonable job any more. Companies are getting 1000 resumes for every opening. Since there is no way they can look at 1000 resumes, they filter out as many as they can by using arbitrary requirements. The feeling at my company was while there may be some good candidates without degrees I can certainly find enough with degrees. Requiring a Bachelor's just cut down on the number of resumes I had to review.
2) I agree with jIMOh to make the degree relatively flexible unless there the young person has an obvious world beating talent or love. I have one daughter with a degree in architecture. She loves the field but there aren't any jobs there right now. Her younger sister is having no trouble finding an internship in business. (which really torques off the unemployed older sister).
3) Don't go to a party school and do pay attention to school rankings. The young person doesn't have to go to an Ivy league school but the quality of the education matters. Companies are cutting back on the campuses they visit and are focusing on the schools with good reputations.
4) Expect the young person to get their first job close to the school. Same or adjoining state. Midwest companies don't generally hire from California and vice versa. If you go to school in North Dakota, your employment opportunities may be limited.
5) The degree and the school will greatly affect the opportunities that are available for the first job. The second job will depend on what is learned and demonstrated at the first job. Etc.
6) Company financial health matters. If you have a great job at a bad company, you are at risk of having it go away or be outsourced.

IMOP, The best advice for a young person is to work hard, show initiative, don't be afraid to be seen doing the right thing, and live within your means. If they do this, they will be promoted and be financially secure. If they keep learning and demonstrating new skills that are essential for the company (either technical, marketing, or management) then they will have a secure career as long as the company stays healthy. If the company or the division you're in doesn't stay healthy, then it isn't enough to just beaver away at your own job and do it well. You need to consider moving before you're forced to.
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Old 12-21-2010, 05:37 PM   #17
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Whatever the major, a minor in business will help open doors in the major field (as well as some door she might not realize she's interested in). At the very least take some accounting classes. DD said her roomie lost out on some interviews because she had no business classes at all.

Agree with TractorGuy both about the level of the school (try for the state's flagship public institution first, for example) and keeping a GPA above 3.0--keep in mind that graduate schools have a threshhold for admission and she might one day want to go on.
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Old 12-21-2010, 08:10 PM   #18
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There's some great advice on this thread, to which I would add, that a young person embarking on a career would be wise to always keep one skill ahead of the demand. Always keep learning. That's how you become and stay competitive no matter what is changing. Keep abreast of current affairs and economics so you can anticipate developments. To quote Wayne Gretzky, skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.

I also agree with whoever it was who said that the choice of initial education can determine how much you can earn. Certain early choices will leave you range bound. The highest earners are successful entrepreneurs who have managed to create and sell a product or service of value. They also have nerves of steel.
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Old 12-21-2010, 09:18 PM   #19
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What career advice would you give to a bright young person who is considering colleges and majors?
Kinda hard to provide career advice when they haven't even decided what they want to study. I guess the best "career" advice would be to try to study a major that's interesting or get that sort of internship before really making a decision. I'm not sure that it's a good idea to "lock in" to a particular major in the first semester.

We know several families whose kids never visited colleges, never really felt involved in the selection process, and defaulted to their parents' alma maters. The results have been ugly.

- Start cruising college websites and Facebook pages. Try College Confidential for student perspectives. There are other websites run by and reviewed by college students to rank & critique colleges. The goal of this research isn't so much to choose a college as it's to learn how to develop the criteria to choose a college.

- You get more personal attention at a smaller college.

- You get more internships & research opportunities at a bigger college town.

- Start visiting colleges ASAP-- summer after 9th grade if possible, because after 10th grade they're doing driver's ed. Walk around the campus to see if there's a feeling of "Yeah, I can do this place" and commitment.

- Try another college trip in the summer after 10th grade (if possible) and the fall/spring break of 11th grade. An overnight in the dorm is great, if not then at least attend classes.

- Summer after junior year is the time to go to summer programs at the top two-three schools. This is the try-before-you-buy time, and it's also when the college admissions staff get a look at their candidates... so the students are being interviewed while they're considering the school.

- Service academies can be an irresistible challenge. Even ROTC provides structure & camaraderie to help a freshman avoid "getting lost" among the student body. Both programs have a ready-made job waiting after graduation...
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Old 12-21-2010, 09:36 PM   #20
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There's lots of good advice here. I would just add two things:

1). Too many people leave college thinking (consciously or unconsciously) that they are done with learning. This could not be further than the truth. Learning must be a lifelong process, which helps with #2 below.

2). Remain flexible to try new things and explore new careers. Many jobs evaporate as technology progresses or processes are outsourced to other domestic or foreign companies. Employment security is a thing of the past, but you can create your own employment security by maintaining your employability thru constant learning and flexibility in career decisions.

FWIW, hope it helps.

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