Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life, they say. It sounds like the simple answer to all life’s problems. But making a decision about which career to choose can be both daunting and overwhelming. We spoke to counselling psychologist and founder of The Career Guidance Company Zakiyya Essa to gain some valuable insight into how to make an informed career choice.
What’s the difference between a job and a career?
It’s important to distinguish between a job and a career. A job is typically a shorter-term work activity you do to earn money and gain experience; a career is an exalted form of employment in which personal aspirations can be aligned with talents, adding value and meaning to your life over the longer term.
It’s easy to tell someone to find a career they love but how does one go about doing this? What are some steps to follow?
Choosing a career requires careful planning, thought and reflection on who you are as an individual and what you can offer to the workplace. Start with an assessment of your skills, strengths, limitations, values and interests to get a sense of your preferences. Next, research courses, careers, job positions and companies to see whether it will be a good fit for your abilities, personality, values and interests.
Test-drive careers. Interview people in the workplace to get the inside scoop about their careers, volunteer or do part-time work to immerse yourself in the work environment. Seek assistance from a career guidance specialist. Preparation is your key to success!
Schoolchildren — and even those who finish school — are still discovering themselves. What steps can people take to discover what they like and what skills they possess?
Most people will naturally be drawn to certain activities, things, technology and so on from a young age. If you look back at your childhood, growing up, schooling, hobbies, extracurricular activities – even book titles and television series – you will be able to see patterns and gauge where your preferences lie. Input from friends, family members, teachers and others who know you well can also add to your process of self-discovery. Psychometric assessments can help to highlight strengths and developmental needs. Thanks to technology, it’s become so easy to acquire new skills through online courses, YouTube and apps.
What should people consider when choosing a career? Should money or employability influence decision-making?
You need to have realistic expectations when making career decisions. Money is important – you need to be able to pay the bills – and it can be a good motivating factor initially. But you also need to assess whether your career path will sustain your interest and make use of your skills in the long term. It’s important to have occupational awareness and ensure that the skills you acquire will enhance your employability. If you choose to go into a career simply for the money, your other needs and values may be negatively compromised and could lead to potential job dissatisfaction and even burnout.
Should people consider job shadowing or consulting a career guidance counselor?
A combination of both will ensure that you make informed decisions. A career guidance counsellor can help you to narrow down your focus areas so that job-shadowing doesn’t become overwhelming. They can help you prepare your questions and work with a structured plan so that you make the most of your job-shadowing. After job-shadowing, they can help you to make sense of the information and with your final decision-making process.
Today, there are so many different careers that people can go into. How can we be aware of all the options?
It helps to do as much research as you can early on: job-shadow, visit career websites, career expos and university or college open days, attend company presentations, do volunteer work. This will enable you to get a feel for what’s out there and you can start narrowing down options as you go along. You can also do a career assessment which will filter out career fields that you aren’t inclined towards and highlight options for you to consider based on your overall profile which makes it easier to focus your research.
What advice would you give a matric who is applying for different courses in university? How can they ensure that they choose the most suitable ones?
Make sure you understand what the degree entails and what you can do with it once you’ve completed it. Choose your courses wisely. Choose those which will enable you to filter into a similar degree aligned with your broad career objectives so that you can earn credits towards the qualification if you change over. Unfortunately, many students make the mistake of choosing career paths across faculties rather than inter-faculty. The career path of an accountant is very different to that of an engineer or lawyer. If you’re inclined towards accounting for instance, choose a BAccSci and if you don’t get into it, a BCom with Accounting majors, as you can build up towards your final interest in Chartered Accounting.
What if finances are difficult, what options to university or college applications have to seek financial assistance?
Enquire about bursaries, scholarships and study loans from the financial aid office at the institution you’re applying to. Many private sector companies and non-profit organisations also sponsor studies, so check their websites or contact their HR departments.
Consider a Further Education and Training (FET) college or apprenticeship. FET training offers learners the opportunity to obtain valuable skills, like welding or plumbing. You may apply for learnerships or apprenticeships where you do not have to pay for training – and you often receive a stipend! These programs are designed to address the critical skills shortages in South Africa and increases your chances of employment after studying. There are opportunities for further study within the industry once you have your certificate.
Apply for matric-friendly or student jobs in areas like call centres, administration, retail, waitressing to earn money to fund your studies or pay back a loan while gaining valuable work experience. Ask if there are any in-house training opportunities that you may benefit from. If you are entrepreneurial, you can try to start up your own business and work towards a formal qualification. There are youth development agencies, companies and banks who may be willing to assist young entrepreneurs who have sustainable business ideas and business acumen.
There are also many “open” learning institutions online and companies who offer free training opportunities in certain fields, so lack of finance should never be a deterrent from seeking knowledge or building up your experience.