by Amber Bytheway
I’m in my late twenties. I work as a Project Consultant for an award-winning early careers and talent consultancy in Sheffield. I am very fortunate, working at a SME that I have the privilege of working and learning from all my colleagues in Gradconsult. A rare statement, I know! I also have the benefit of working with this hugely knowledgeable team whilst being able to work from anywhere in the country I choose. The founder of Gradconsult not only knows my name, but I see them every week, have support from them whenever required and am always informed of what direction the business is going in.
I can also keep more of my earnings. I don’t have to waste money commuting to an office every day or buying lacklustre meal deals. But I also feel a tinge of sadness that I don’t get to hang out with my colleagues for a lunch-time coffee or after-work drink. It’s not quite the same on MS Teams.
I work autonomously, being trusted to manage relationships with clients and deliver projects on-time and to a high quality. I often deliver skills sessions for current students or recent graduates for our university clients across the UK online through Zoom. But I am also required to occasionally travel long distances for work. This means being away from home sometimes with overnight stays. It’s fun, and I get to go to lots of cities across the UK (many I haven’t been to before) and meet lots of students, and have that instant feedback you just simply can't get online. The travelling can also mean that I sometimes snowball into eating badly, losing my gym routine, and feeling a bit tired.
I truly love my job.
But it’s not my dream job.
That’s because I don’t believe there is a thing such as a ‘dream job’.
We are encouraged from a young age to aspire for a dream job. Think back to when we are children. We tell our parents how we would love to become a Doctor or an Astronaut. It’s fun dreaming of these different careers we could have one day, looking at the world through a pair of rose-tinted glasses.
But as we hurtle towards adult life, and we begin to understand the commitment, knowledge, determination, and education that is required to achieve dreams. We can admire Actors or Entrepreneurs with 7-figure turnover businesses. We also learn that with every job, every career – there are positives and negatives. There are parts of these roles that will inspire us to get out of bed in the morning, and things that will make getting through the day a little harder.
Ultimately, what many of us are searching for when we talk about a dream job or a career is personal fulfilment. We want to feel good in what we do, and we want the reasons to go to work in the morning to always outweigh the reasons why we don’t want to go to work.
In the last few years, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how I came to settle into this profession. I have come to the realisation that I didn’t actively choose to pursue to work in the early careers sector. In fact, I fell into it through circumstance.
I spent most of my time at university completed daunted by the prospect of graduating. I floated with many career ideas at university. I first studied Psychology. I excelled at the subject during A-Levels which prompted this choice of degree subject which I confirmed at age 17. In my first year of university, I was particularly interested in becoming a Forensic Psychologist. Why? Probably because I was obsessed with the Netflix prison drama Orange Is The New Black and became extremely passionate, all of a sudden, about reducing recidivism rates. This idea didn’t last long.
I then flirted with the ideas of aspiring to work in Public Relations, Events Management and eventually Marketing which I completed a master’s degree in. During that time, I began to wonder if I could combine my hobby which was going to the theatre, with my love for Marketing. Arts Marketing. I am passionate about theatre and still am to this day. Why didn’t I go onto work in the arts sector?
In truth, circumstance and opportunity have led to where I am today. Whilst at university, I managed to secure myself a part-time job as an Administration Assistant at the Jobshop when I was actively trying to develop my skill set and move away from jobs in hospitality. Little would I have known or realised at the time how pivotal that opportunity was. By the time, I had graduated, I had become the Recruitment & Marketing Coordinator. I had developed a whole plethora of skills (admin, marketing, business development, payroll, HR) working in a small team running a small recruitment agency. I really loved that job, and it was pivotal for the development of my professionalism and soft skills.
When it came to thinking about what was next, I realised that I had indeed developed an interest in helping students with their employability. I also noted that I enjoyed many elements of the role. I had my Master’s degree in Marketing and so I was able to put my knowledge and skills into action when promoting our services. There were so many responsibilities I had learnt including organising jobs fairs, recruiting and training temporary workers, filling temp positions, advertising part-time jobs, interviewing, assisting with the payroll and so much more.
What started out as a part-time role changed the course of my career. It probably wouldn’t come as any surprise that I didn’t spend my formative years feeling passionate about recruitment, employability, or early careers. But being open to trying something new, I discovered a sector that gave me fulfilment.
“The simple truth is that you can't be passionate about something that you have not yet discovered; be it a role, profession or sector. Your passions are not fixed and what you are currently passionate about, at this crossroads between education and your professional life, will not necessarily define your career path.”
Mike Grey, Director, Gradconsult – Let’s stop pretending passion is a prerequisite for embarking on a successful career
I have spoken to a lot of students and recent graduates who confide in me about their worries for their career direction. I’ve noticed there seems to be in some recent graduates, an inherently instilled fear or pressure into being obsessed with the need to find the dream job immediately with and not being considered a failure. Pressure often comes from societal expectations; in my case this pressure came from myself to want to achieve a significant greatness in my career. For others, it may come from family and friends. As well as the inevitable, soul-crushing comparison to your peers to calculate your own level of success. This is something that most people will struggle with early on in their career.
Once you’re in a graduate job, it’s almost impossible not to try and compare every detail of your job with your peers. Your salary (#1), work-life balance, working location, stress levels, your relationship with your team, the culture, the benefits, the opportunities for progression.
But finding a job that you love should never be made to feel like it is a competition with your peers.
Carving out the right career path is not something that you’re expected to have all the answers to and get right straight away. Finding a job which we love is a bit like trial and error. It is about the journey, the process of giving things a go, and the not the fixation on the destination. There will always be some people who have clear career goals and those that don’t. It’s perfectly normal to not know what type of job you want to do or which sector you would like it work in.
What should always come first in building your career is sourcing the best opportunity for you that that suits your underlying talent, motivations and interests!
“Rather than necessarily following a pre-defined ‘passion’, broadening your horizons and taking a pragmatic view of finding employment, that will both sustain you and develop your skills, could allow a career-related passion to gradually develop or simply buy you valuable time to engage in further career exploration.”
Mike Grey, Director, Gradconsult – Let’s stop pretending passion is a prerequisite for embarking on a successful career
So how do you find the best graduate job opportunity for you?
Let me introduce you to an extremely useful concept that can help you plan for your career: Careers Anchors.
Edgar Schein, a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management suggested that every individual possesses specific and unique ‘anchors’ – which are one’s own perception of talent, skills, values, motives and abilities.
In the original research, Schein had identified five constructs that anchors are based upon. This was expanded to eight in response to further research in the 1980s.
Why are Career Anchors important?
As you navigate the world of work, there is only one thing that can ensure you are truly fulfilled. The answer is not your workplace. It’s YOU. When it comes to career decisions, you should always keep your best interests in mind and prioritise what’s most important to you and your welfare. Learning more about yourself will help you to have a clearer idea of what you want from your career. Careers anchors will help to increase your self-awareness of what these are.
What are the anchors? (Anchors taken from here)
1. Technical/functional competence – these individuals enjoy being good at specific tasks and will work hard in order to develop the specific skills necessary to complete them.
2. General managerial competence – these individuals thrive off performing in a position of responsibility; tackling high-level problems, building relationships and interacting with others; they require strong emotional intelligence skills in order to succeed.
3. Autonomy/independence – these people need to be left to their own devices, and to be able to act without needing too much direction, interference or confirmation, often avoiding standards and procedures to do things ‘their way’.
4. Security/stability – they seek stable and predictable positions and activities, which they are able to plan aspects of their life around, taking few risks; they are also often the individuals who will spend many years in the same position.
5. Entrepreneurial capability – these are the creatives within a business, who enjoy brainstorming and inventing new things, and also often seek to run or start their own business; they are different from those who seek autonomy as they will share the workload with others and enjoy individuals, including themselves, taking ownership for their work; they often get bored and seek monetary gains.
6. Service/dedication to a cause – these individuals always seek new ways to help other people, both within and outside the organisation, using their talents; they are often found in relevant employment areas, such as HR and customer service.
7. Pure challenge – driven nearly entirely by a need to be continuously stimulated by new challenges and tasks which test their abilities to solve problems; they will often seek to move jobs when their current position becomes stagnant, or they no longer possess the challenges they need to progress.
8. Lifestyle – these individuals orientate everything, including their role, around their pattern of living as a whole – not so much balancing work and life, as integrating it; they may also take long periods of leave to take part in recreational activities or balance themselves and their lives through holidays and other forms of downtime.
How do I find out what my Careers Anchors are?
It’s easy to find out what your careers anchors are. It’s based on a self-assessment that has 40 questions designed to help you question what you really want from your career. You can complete the Careers Anchors questionnaire here.
What do the scores mean?
Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, you will be given a percentage score out of 100 for each of the 8 anchors. By finding your three highest scores, you can see which anchors are most important to you in your career motivations.
The results will most likely come of no surprise and may help you to understand your current career actions and decision-making. My top three career anchors are Lifestyle (90%), Service & Dedication to a Cause (80%) and Security & Stability (76%). Balancing my career with my personal needs and family life is vitally important to me. I am very fortunate to work completely flexibly for which I am very grateful at Gradconsult. Compromise is required though, as I mentioned earlier, I do have to travel for client work. I’ve always been strongly motivated by the perceived value of my work to others, especially when I know that it makes a positive impact to individuals. This knowledge has helped to guide me towards work with students and graduates as I am aware of the difference it is making in helping individuals to develop soft skills and navigate the ever-changing graduate labour market. I am also someone that seeks security in my job and organisation! Using these findings helps to guide my career because I know what is truly important to ME.
Back to the dream…
So, why am I saying that you should stop obsessing over a dream job. Your dream job might not actually mean living your dream. Prioritise learning about yourself and what truly matters to you. The more self-aware you become, the better your choices will be.
That’s one of the keys to unlocking your career happiness.