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The Career Advice I Wish I’d Had

Emma Rosen is trying 25 careers before turning 25 through short term work experience, shadowing and just giving things a go. Her 25before25 project hopes to provide career clarity for others, question what we should expect from the workplace and will also help Emma figure what she wants to do for a living somewhere along the way. Here is what she has learnt so far…

I have just taken a gamble, possibly the biggest career gamble I’ll ever take, and it’s all to do with career advice.

Six months ago, I quit the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate scheme, and my opportunity for ‘job security for life’, in favour of trying 25 careers over the next year though work shadowing and interning before I turn 25. The 25before25 project aims to advocate for more diverse careers education and advice, as well as to promote the importance of career fulfillment.

Going through school, college and university, careers advice was always very limited. The questions I was asked were centred around what I was good at academically and what my personality type meant I’d be best suited to. The conversation was focused, at its core, around what an employer could gain from having an individual as an employee, rather than what that individual wanted from a workplace.

I have now come to realise that one important aspect of career happiness is that it is not a one-way demand from employer to employee, but a two-way conversation to ensure that the workplace is also right for what the individual wants.

There are three main questions that I was never asked, and a work of warning, when thinking about which career to choose, that now frame the 25before25 approach;

What do I enjoy?

This is not just about what you’re good at, but also what you’d think about spending your free time doing.

Yes, you may be fantastic with numbers, but if the idea of spending the next decade in front of a spreadsheet fills you with low-level dread, maybe that isn’t for you. Equally, if the thought of writing a fifteen-page report using actual sentences makes you break out into a sweat, read the job spec carefully to make sure you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.

This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but all too often in our desperation for gainful employment after graduation, we jump into jobs and careers without considering what they might entail on a day-to-day basis.

So if you have a passion for something, whether that’s art, an adventurous sport or playing video games, think about if you have really explored if there is a way to work that into your professional career. Working in sales for PlayStation, for example, means you should know the product inside out – employees are actively encouraged to play during the working day.

What do I want out of work?

Is earning a high salary important to you, or having a work-life balance? Often recent graduates will be facing a choice this stark. It is rare to find a job with a high salary and regular hours in your 20’s, though there are plenty with both a low salary and late nights.

Once you have that decision made, it is also worth thinking beyond this, to if things like international travel, creativity or making a difference matter to you. Spend some time thinking about if the career you’re considering will tick that box in the back of your head of what really drives you – whether it’s personally adding value or having variety on a weekly basis – and make sure they match up.

What sort of working environment do I want?

Some may want to work for a large organisation in a glass skyscraper somewhere deep in the city, where immaculate suits are the norm. Others might be happier working in a 3-man start-up in someone’s garden shed, wearing something in between jeans and pyjamas. Others, again, might not feel comfortable working for a profit-making organisation and so would prefer working for a charity or public sector body. Some may also want a social life from work, though some have no desire to be friends with their colleagues.

Regardless of the industry you work in, there is a huge range of different working environments to suit everyone’s personal preference. This never even crossed my mind as something to consider when choosing a job, as I was just grateful to be employed. However, after working for the largest organisations in the country with a 70-minute commute on Southern Rail and very few employee benefits, I began to understand just how important this is.

Would you rather work somewhere like Google, where all your meals are free and there’s a slide, but you rarely leave the workplace – or the other end of the spectrum, where there are few employee benefits but you can clock off at 16.59? One may have a 70-minute commute with Southern Rail and another might be a 15-minute cycle from home. That extra £3,000 salary may sound very appealing, but if you have to spend two hours a day with your face in someone’s armpit and pay £1,500 a year for the pleasure, think hard about if it is really worth it.

Your working environment can have a massive impact on how much you enjoy your job, so it is worth spending time considering if you’d rather work for a big company, and SME or a tiny start-up. Think about how important working somewhere with friendly colleagues is to you, and what an interviewer in jeans versus a designer suit says about the organisation – and how much that truly matters to you.

Don’t make assumptions

If you aren’t 100 per cent certain what is actually involved in a career as a commercial solicitor, for example, it is perfectly acceptable to find someone already doing it to ask. Whether that is through LinkedIn, your personal network of friends and family, or through your university’s alumni, it is always worth having those conversations.

Speak to people that love their job, but also speak to people who don’t, as you need to hear both sides of the story. Both will have their own biases and will challenge what you assume is involved. It is very easy to glamourise some careers and even grad schemes, either because they seem impossible to get into, or perhaps because of the salary and benefits – whilst enthusiasm is of course a brilliant thing to have, just ensure that you make an informed decision based on fact, not assumption.

You can view Emma’s website and blog here: