The confusing conversation around career choices

I just got off the train, after having completed a week-long trip to Andhra Pradesh, where our company is now expanding. Yesterday, I interviewed some engineering graduates for our implementation team.  After the interviews, the placement officer asked me to speak to junior college students regarding career counseling.

I wanted to keep the discussion conversational, more so because I had nothing particularly enlightening to share. I asked twenty students what they wanted to do after college.  Answers ranged from software engineer to army officer. I focused the discussion on core attributes that are needed no matter what career choice one makes – leadership, comfort with failure, developing analytical skills, and constantly learning and reading.

After the session, two students walked up to me and said their biggest concern was they did not know what they were passionate about. They said a previous career counseling session conducted by a paid career counselor focused on how one should do what one is passionate about.

But there’s a problem here. Indian colleges, including the best, provide no avenue for students to explore their passions or strengths. Moreover, passion is also a function of effort – when you invest energy in an activity and start seeing success in it, passion usually follows.

It will be a much more fruitful conversation to help students explore their strengths, and present to them career choices that leverage some, if not all, of those strengths.  Correct expectations also need to be set – like everything else in life, career also needs figuring out through a combination of effort, patience, and experimentation. For e.g. Someone who finds no joy in learning about object oriented programming can suddenly not become a prodigal android developer.  Someone with an outgoing personality may be a much better fit in sales or support, but these career choices are not even discussed on campuses.

Placement officers and colleges need to get their attention realigned to educating students on what’s out there in the market,  rather than just obsessing on placement numbers and philosophical conversations around passion. Unless we do so,  industry will continue to see an influx of ill prepared and demotivated workers.