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The pseudo-science of career planning The pseudo-science of career planning
by Joseph Gatt
2020-10-29 11:02:29
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A few myths and mistakes when it comes to career planning, in no particular order.

Mistake number 1: telling teenagers not to focus on a career goal, and to focus on school instead.

You know the story. Your teenage kid comes home and says something like “today we visited ABC trading. Cool place! I want to work there!” and the parents go like “forget it, focus on school! You'll figure out ABC trading later.”

career1_400I say this is a big mistake because if the teenager has enough motivation to daydream about working at ABC trading, what parents should really do is allow the kid to pay an occasional visit to ABC trading, and perhaps get the kid to figure out what the requirements are to get a job there.

Once the teenager realizes what the requirements are, his/her studies will tend to be more focused; college/training will tend to be more focused.

More importantly, the teenager will “discover” other companies that he/she might be interested in working in as well, because the format resembles ABC trading.

So instead of watching music videos or makeup videos or accident videos or cat videos all day, the teenager might try to catch up with information that will be helpful getting him/her a trading job.

Of course the dream might fade away and perhaps, in his/her researching efforts, the child might notice and eventually realize that they are more interested in coffee trading specifically, or in working in government agencies related to trading, or perhaps a more academic approach to trade, or perhaps shift the focus on banking, or completely shift focus and focus on legal studies or medical studies or any other field.

In sum, the effort is never wasted. Kids are never too young to be interested in working for one company or the other.

Mistake number 2: relying exclusively on help from career counselors for career planning

Big mistake! Some career counselors are great, but many have outdated information. Career counseling is also a rather low-paid job, and in my experience (and that of my friends) career counselors tend to chit chat a bit too much and rarely give “Eureka” kind of career advice.

So with a career counselor you might get a general idea of what career options are available out there. But career counselors will rarely guide you in your career choices.

So you want to do your own research. Scrolling job ads early on is a good idea, as it gives you a general idea of what is out there. Joining professional clubs and associations is also a good idea.

So you want to get an idea of what the requirements are in different trades, what the reputation is in different trades and you want to work with that.

Mistake number 3: Focusing all your efforts on one single company/organization

I've met several (let's say around 20) people who were like: it's a job at the United Nations, or... nothing.

Problem with these friends: they have no idea what goes on at the UN, what the UN does, or what their job will involve concretely.

They look at the 80,000 dollars a year income tax-free salary, the paid private school tuition for up to 5 children, and all the bonuses and perks, generous retirement’s benefits and mandatory retirement at 62, and they stop there.

Then those friends try to play the system by collecting all the necessary tokens so they can get a job at the UN.

These friends often don't realize that they could be denied a job at the UN. More importantly, quite a few of those friends did get a job at the UN, hated it, became depressed, and ran away from the UN.

That's too much wasted effort.

So if you want a job at the UN (or anywhere else) you really want to look at what the UN does, you also want to look at other similar jobs like the Red Cross-Red Crescent-Magen David Adom organization, or Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, Oxfam, Amnesty International and many other Charities, Foundations, Organizations that work along those lines.

You also need to look at the organizations very closely and very carefully. Reporters without Borders for example, an organization created to help journalists who are jailed or persecuted because of their reporting, was created by a “closet” Holocaust Denier whose obsession was to give assistance to Holocaust deniers, and everything else was almost secondary to that guy.

So you need to know that what looks like a good cause isn't always a good cause, and that the internal politics could be complicated.

Mistake number 4: I'll emigrate to Canada/the US/the UK/France/Germany and wait until I get there to get a job.

No, no, no.

Canadians hire people with work experience, and so do the Americans, British, French, Germans, Austrians, Australians, Singaporeans or Italians.

If emigration is your goal you need to know this. Getting a job is hard enough. Getting a job with local experience is hard enough. Getting a job with work experience in Burkina Faso/Pakistan/Moldova/Belarus/Ecuador/ name a country is very, very difficult.

I know pay and living conditions are perhaps a little better in Canada or Australia. And the passport is easy to get, but you won't have time, nor will have money to travel with that Canadian passport in most cases.

So the general idea is to get a job in Burkina Faso, regardless of how low the pay may be and how tedious the working conditions may be. You want to learn as much as you can on the job, the more skills you learn the better.

Once you have good skills and good experience, and that you can complete tasks (not half-bake your tasks) that's when the Canadians or Australians will be very happy to hire you, as they will know you're the kind of guy or girl who's used to waking up at 6 AM every day and who puts in the necessary effort on the job, while completing the tasks.

If you wait until you get to Canada to get a job, chances are you'll be exhausted on your second day on the job, if you manage to get a job that is.  

Mistake number 5: not working or refusing to get a job in high school/college because you want to “focus on your studies.”

The Chinese and Japanese system are systems where they tell you to focus all your energy on the college entrance exam, and that if you have a good grade at that exam, you will go to an elite college, you will get an elite job, and you will make lots of money.

Problem is that's a lie! If you go to an elite college in China, chances are you might not get an elite job. And even if you did get an elite job, chances are you'll have trouble retaining it.

So the Chinese system is one where high school students dream of getting into an elite college, and go to cram schools that promise them access to an elite college, where they are taught by elite college graduates.

So in the Chinese system, elite college education probably means you'll become a teacher at a cram school training ambitious high school students, and those schools are shutting down because of the low birth rate.

And my Chinese friends have confessed to me that many elite college graduates of the new generation show up to work in jeans, play video games all day, are frequently absent from work, and don't know how to type a letter or a report. And their sales skills are a disaster.

OK. The general idea is back in my days tutoring kids and selling sandwiches, the jobs were menial (something like 7-8 Euros an hour) but I learned a ton of stuff on those jobs.  

I learned about office politics. I learned that your colleges can be Devils and pathological liars. I learned that hard work is not always rewarded and that it's sometimes good to take it easy on the tasks. I learned that a lot of times you have to pretend not to know stuff otherwise you get assigned tasks outside your job description. And I learned that, as a tutor, no matter how hard I try, my students will sometimes fail, one of my students who I tutored several hours a week even got suspended from his school for low grades.

Point is, when you sell sandwiches, you're not only learning about sales and sandwiches (my favorite was the chicken curry sandwich). When you're tutoring kids, you're not just learning about math, science or English.

You learn a lot more when you work. You learn how to handle a paycheck, you learn how to budget, you learn how to behave at the workplace, you learn how to be cordial with your colleagues without getting too intimate with them, you learn that your colleagues are not your college buddies and that you don't discuss your academic or sentimental problems with them, and you learn that jobs are about a few great days and a few horrible days. More importantly, you learn that in some cases no matter how hard you try to fix some things, you can't fix them.

So much more I could say that I'll save for the future!

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