What are the factors that affect your career? When it comes to my career, I’ve worked in my dream roles as a management consultant, investment banker, CFO of an airline company, and entrepreneur. At different stages of my life, a myriad of opportunities, challenges, and habits guided my career decisions. Here are 5 things that really helped steered me to what I wanted to do – tips that could be useful for undergraduates, graduates, and career switchers.
During the fall of my first year at Columbia University, the engineering school offered weekly lunchtime lectures by alumni on their respective fields. After seeing a presentation by an alumnus at Mercer Management Consulting, I knew that consulting was the job for me. Taking this to another level, I conferred with a senior in one of my campus organizations to find out which major and classes would best prepare me for this field. Speaking to people about what they do and surveying the options for yourself is important. At the same time, you could benefit from having built some relevant networks just because you’ve reached out to people and showed (a potentially shared) interest in their passions.
School provided additional insight into career choices, and what I did in class reaffirmed my inclination towards specific roles in consulting and investment banking. The case-based strategy courses I took were a very good proxy for consulting work. My accounting and finance classes were very representative of the fundamentals required in investment banking. Be sure you’re studying for something that has transferable skills that can take you from one field/passion to another. You might forget the classes, but you’ll usually recall the lessons. Learn smart.
Tapping into literature beyond my major was useful because it allowed me to take a step back and analyse the big picture of my life and career. At the same time, you get to access the insights and thought of those in the industry that can beneficial. Here are some of the books I’ve read and gained from.
The Story of You: And How to Create a New One
This book, written by motivational speaker and author, is great for broadening perspective and mindset in preparation for a career transition. Chandler also touches on how to look past false ego stories and stay true to genuine accomplishment.
In Transition: From the Harvard Business School Club of New York’s Career Management Seminar
Mary Lindley Burton and Richard A. Wedemeyer A premier book on the topic that exemplify how exercises and techniques require time and effort, but are extremely valuable to develop the self-insight and strategy for an effective job search. It is centered on finding out what you want out of your career and how to combine your personal and professional skills.
Don’t Send a Resume: And Other Contrarian Rules to Help Land a Great Job
Jeffrey J. Fox A quick read on unique, effective, and proactive job search tactics as well as tips for scoring in an interview. This one was also insightful in terms of getting to know what the job market was like, from a businessman’s perspective.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie An old book and simple read with many basic lessons for effective networking, a fundamental skill of any career move.5stepCareers career guidance workshops recognise this and are designed with a special focus on networking, because it’s just so important to get it right for career success.
Jobs / Internships
Knowing what you want to do isn’t enough. Trying it out first-hand could very easily change your mind – and internships/part-time jobs are a great way to do just that. In my first year of university, I was interested in law and was fortunate enough to work in the law library. However, after a few weeks observing students in the law library, it became obvious that I would be a better fit for a career that wasn’t in this field. As a sophomore, I benefited from Columbia University’s location and secured a part-time job at Mercer Management Consulting in midtown where I worked until graduation. This validated my interest in consulting and allowed me to build networks with people from within the field. Look out for opportunities that can value-add what you know about a job or industry, and put your assumptions to the test.
Columbia and Duke career offices
School career offices offer independent, pre-paid career advice. In my last career transition, the career offices of my alma mater were not able to help me with my queries about specific things like the investment banking market in Southeast Asia. However, one of them was able to direct me to two alumni that had made a similar move several years before, which were very valuable resources. Career office websites can also have valuable information that could help you on more general career moves: I downloaded some presentations and listened to them while running! These were extremely useful:
– “Build Your Unique Brand Identity” featuring Laura Allen of 15 Second Pitch (Columbia University)
– “Working with an Executive Recruiter” featuring Paula Weiner of Weiner & Associates (Duke University)
In a nutshell, exploit the resources around you to make smart career decisions, even (and especially) if this means talking to strangers.
This post has been adapted from the fourth in a five-part interview conducted by Columbia University Centre for Career Education.