How to choose a career after school (esp. in India)

How to choose a career to follow at the age of 16 is a difficult task, especially if you have Asian parents. Here is a guide to help you navigate through this difficult decision making process.

I’ll get right to the point.

To choose a career in India, or any Asian country in general, is a special type of problem. The main obstacles– our own loving parents and the lack of time for hobbies. I am, myself, a product of such a society. So, following is an insider’s solution to tackle this problem.

Steps of construction

Go through these steps, one-by-one and follow a timeline. I will provide my understanding of each section as you proceed and provide a sample timeline at the end. The steps are:

  • Step #1: Find out which technology excites you.
  • Step #2: Find a place that teaches a course in that technology.
  • Step #3: Find out what kind of jobs one can do after that course.
  • Step#4: Find out more places and respective courses in that same thing.
  • Step#5: Create a list of the top 5 courses of your choice.
  • Step#6: Convince Parents.
  • Step#7: Apply and wait for the results.
  • Step#8: Pack and leave the nest.

Step#1: Find out which technology excites you

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If you know what excites you

If you have an idea of what excites you and you also know how to turn that activity into a profession, Congratulations! You have completed step 1. You can skip reading this next part and go straight to step 2.

If you are not sure what excites you

Don’t worry, we all have been there. First point is, that it does not have to be just one thing for the rest of your life. It can be many things over the course of your life that excite you. Second thing, if you think there is nothing exciting, you just need to look from another perspective.

Jobs change all the time. Some best paid jobs of today may not exist in coming 10 years, all due to changing technological landscape. If you do not keep up with changing technology in your chosen field, whatever it may be, you will find it hard to be valuable to the society. Or in other words, be jobless. On the other hand, if you keep up with the changes and update your skills accordingly, you may end up being the leading person in your field. Beeple is such and example. His digital art sold for $69 Million. Being a traditional graphics designer, that would have been hard to imagine if had not learned about NFTs.

What to choose?

So, start by finding a technology that you find exciting. That can be technology of travel, carpet making, engineering, medical science, food, painting, financial systems, education, film making, acting, language or Space. By technology, I mean the inner workings of your field, the rules and devices which make things happen and knowledge of under-the-hood of your favourite product.

how to choose?

And if you are confused about what to choose, you need a reason to chose. You need to find a “why“. Why should you do this job or that job, Why does this profession feels better than the other? Questions like these are very important because this “why“, is the basis of job satisfaction and your productivity as a member of the society and your organisation. And trust me, if you think that money and affluence are the only goals worth pursuing, without a solid “why“, it’s just a matter of time before you burnout or feel lost.

This why will serve as a guiding compass in the uncertain future. Just like a compass always points to the north, your reason, your why, will help you go in the right direction.

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what is a good reason?

There are many ways to find your reason. For some people, this reason can be money, happiness, stability, safety, altruism or, excellence. But I find excitement is one of the key factors related to all these others. It is not only at core of them but also what makes these other values worth perusing. Let me provide my reasoning behind it.

To earn or achieve any of these targets, you need to spend time doing your chosen activity or profession. During this time, you will make mistakes, encounter resistance, criticism and disappointments. Successes, if any, would be small, short lived and mostly celebrated alone. So, you need to stay disciplined and motivated to stay on this path. And if the goal is a far off fantasy land with all your wishes come true, it may seem too far, especially when you are down. You may loose motivation, have self doubt and as result, give up. This means you will be again where you first started, faced with choices. Only this time you will be a little wiser but older. This happens to people more often than you would expect.

Excitement is a good value to work with. It is an excellent reason because it is linked to our neural pathways, which have developed overtime. If those pathways are not that rewarding, that means you need to adapt to a new way to do things or try something new. Excitement is an emotion which connects your inner self to the outer world. Excitement is happiness. So, if some activity excites you, it will also make you happy. And isn’t happiness the whole purpose of doing anything we do?

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Following is a very small guide to explore your choices regarding technology.

Long approach (time required: 1-3 months)

  • Step #1: To get an overview of what it means to find a work-life balance and why is it necessary, read any or all of these books:
  • Step #2: Follow the exercises provided in the books to get a better idea about your interests. Then, make a list of top 5 activities that excites you.
  • Step#3: List the technologies/techniques needed to learn to master those activities.

Short approach (time required: 1-3 days)

  • Step#1.1: Take a free personality test at 16personalities and read the sections named ‘Introduction’ and ‘Carrier path’. You can also read the Biographical description of some well known people in your profile type to see if some of your characteristics, ambitions and situations are similar to them or not.
  • Step#1.2: Pick 2-3 people from the list given in the introduction whose work inspire you. Observe the common theme there. If their professions are similar, that is your area of interest. If they have varied Professions, that means you may find more than one thing exciting.
  • Step#1.3: Come back to the result of the test and pick the list of famous people from your profile again the next day. See if you pick the same people as last time. If your new list remains the same, lock target on the excitement. If not, feel free to update the list. So, by the end of this exercise, you must have a list of carrier choices which are exciting to you and are also actual professions.

These two exercises are meant to guide you in the direction of self exploration. There are of course numerous other way for self exploration ranging from meditation to joining a personality development course to doing multiple internships overtime. Feel free to choose whatever method works best for you and remember the goal: to find what area of knowledge excites you.

Step#2: Find a place that teaches a course in that thing

After selecting your area of interest based on what excites you, you need to find a master to learn from. Or in our case, a group of masters in form of a course. A master is someone who can guide to through the process of learning and self discovery. A master can help you figure out your personal best way to learn and show you the possibilities on this path of learning. If you have 3-6 months time, you can try to find a short term course of 3 or 6 months to get a feel of the technology you want to learn for the rest of your life. But most of you will not have the luxury of time because of the pressures from parents, peers and the society. I do not like this way and I strongly believe that no one should be allowed to jump to a bachelor degree directly after school without taking a gap year to explore other choices or testing your ideas.

But let us get back to our present reality. we are locking on to a degree program in a limited time.

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So, start researching about the places that teach such a thing. Start with Google and type “Course on …..” fill in the name of your area of interest. If you want to work with marine animals, type “Courses on Marine Animals“. It will take you some time to get to the correct words to type but you will get there. Google is like a Genie from Aladdin. He can find you anything you say but you have to be careful what you say.

So, after you have optimised your search tag words and have reached the correct name of courses, try to find what is the course content of that program.

  • What is the syllabus?
  • How much time is for practical training?
  • What is the qualification of course instructors?

These information can be easily extracted from the course website. Also, check YouTube for videos related that course to learn about the actual experience.

Step #3: Find out what kind of jobs one can do after that course.

Now that you have the name of the course that you want to learn, its time to see what kind of jobs one can do after it. Every field of knowledge is ever expanding and new roles related to it keep emerging. So, there is probably more than one kind of job that you can do after you complete this course. You will have plenty of time during your 3-4 years of study to make that choice but before joining that course, it is good to know that you have choices.

So, we head to Facebook and LinkedIn for research and type in the name of the course you want to do. It will give you a list of people who are related to that course, most probably, graduated from the same one. Look at their resumes, locations and the companies they have worked with. You should message them and ask about their experience and recommendations of the course. Do not hesitate, people are happy to help if you ask nicely. Not all of them will reply but even if one of them replies, you can take their guidance in your decision making. You can some of the following questions to them:

  • Did you find the course updated in terms of actual industry demand?
  • What was the biggest challenge for you during the 4 years of study?
  • What was the first job you took after college and how did you find it?
  • What is your ambition in this profession?
  • Do you want to do a masters course? If yes, then in which field and why?
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These are some of the things you can ask without falling into the trap of asking about salary, job perks and other monetary questions. And avoid asking obvious questions like ‘What is the chance of getting placed after this course? because of course if you did well, you will get a job. And you will do well because it is what excites you. Studying will be fun, not work if you choose wisely.

Step#4: Find out more places and respective courses in that same thing.

So far you have done the basic research about the field of technology you want to learn and found at least one course, which is taught in some universities/colleges. Now is the time to cast a wider net and look at some similar courses.

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You should also search for the variations of the original course you selected. There might be something you did not notice or simply did not care to check because you were focussed on only one course. Now is the time to do a more open minded search as see what are the possible variations of that course or the field. Ask yourself:

  • What can be other applications of this course?
  • What other fields can be combined with this field to make a new specialisation?
  • Is there a course with just the parts I like?
  • What are the highest paid jobs from this field?
  • What kind of master courses are offered based on this course?

Step#5: Create a list of the top 5 courses of your choice.

To be sure to get an admission in your desired course, you need to make a list of 5 courses in different colleges. If you are sure, you can make a list of 3 colleges. The main criteria should be that these all should teach similar course content in order to choose one direction and maximise the chance of getting an admission.

If you are making a list of 5 colleges, they should look like this:

  • College #1 – Hardest to get admission in.
  • College #2 – Moderate chance of getting admission.
  • College # 3, 4 & 5 – Good chance of getting admission.

If you list consist of 3 college, then

  • College #1 – Hardest to get admission in.
  • College #2 – Moderate chance of getting admission.
  • College #3 – Good chance of getting admission.

The main criteria to filter a course can be found in the course requirements. Course requirements will give you an idea about how hard or easy can it be to get an admission. Although you will not know for sure but still you need some criteria for classifying the courses. These are:

  • Academic requirements – minimum percentage
  • Language requirements – International course require a English Language certificate from TOEFL or IELTS.
  • Application Deadline – Last date to submit your application
  • Recommendations – Letter of recommendations from your faculty.
  • Financial requirements – These are your personal limits to which you can take a loan or use your parents savings to pay for college tuition fee and accommodation, food and travel fees. We will consider this in a while.

Step#6: Convince Parents.

There are two ways to fund your education. One is that your parents to the initial investment and you manage to support your studies by earning from a part time job. Other is that they fund all the course fee. The last is that you do not take any money from them and only use your savings for admission and late for semester fees, pay from earnings from a part time job. If you are lucky, you will have no problem with convincing your parents about your future plans and getting money from them to support you in perusing the plans.

But assuming you are not that lucky, let us make up lost luck by hard work.

So the problem with parents is that most of them have their own expectations and ambitions from you. Mostly it will be one of their repressed dream that they could not fulfil or if they could, continuation of their legacy by including you in family business. Also, they tend to have very telescopic vision of carrier choices and lack knowledge of existence of other fields out there. Also, they do not consider you an adult yet, who can make life decisions. Maybe even you think so about yourself. This aspect of parenting is very different in eastern and western world. Western world focuses mostly on self-reliance and independence while most of the Eastern societies cultivate a culture co-dependence of family members.

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But this is the time to change it. If you do not follow your plan, you are doomed to follow someone else’s plan. So, we start by convincing ourselves that I need to take charge of my life. No matter what happens after I decide to go on this path it, I will not back off and keep moving forward. It is my life and not anyone’s property. Be responsible for your own fate.

Now to the parents. They mean well and wish the best for you but they probably also had a plan about your profession even before you were born. Sometimes love can act like a golden chain, tied to your leg. It can keep you safe but will also limit how far you can go. They will not take this chain off until they trust you that you can make your own decisions. That may not happen anytime soon but we have to start somewhere, right. So, to convince your parents of your plan, you need to convince them of your decision making abilities. If they trust you to make a decision, they will most likely let you make it.

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To convince your parents, you need to show them your decision making process. You need to show them your work so far. What is that you want to study, the names of the courses and the job prospects after that. For them, the most important thing is that will you be able to earn decent amount of money to support yourself. So, prepare this part well. If you can show them the profiles of some people on Facebook and LinkedIn from your research, it may help. Also, if someone replied to your questions, show that. It is a proof that you are able to take action and get results. You have to win this argument because your life literally depends on it. Prepare your whole presentation in advance and ask for an appropriate time when you can present it. Ask them formally that you want to show your research to them that want to have a discussion about it.

Suppose they get convinced and fully support you in your decision. Best case scenario, right. But let us face the possibility of rejection, the worst case scenario. To mitigate failure to get their approval, you need a backup plan.

Here is the time for first big decision of your life, whether to follow your plans despite opposition from your parents or follow their suggested carrier path and follow your plans on the side. If you have the time to save enough money for admission by working part time for a year or two, take that that path and work towards your chosen carrier. If you do not have time, choose the path thought by your parents but make a plan to study your field. Maybe your university or college has some course in your field too and you can switch to it in the second year of your course. It is a long shot but if you are trying to salvage your idea, this might be your best practical shot.

Main idea here is, present your best idea but be prepared for whatever outcome it generates and keep on your choose path. Whatever path your decisions lead, just remember your compass, and seek excitement. You will find your goal.

Step # 7: Apply and wait for the results

Going ahead with your best case scenario and successfully convincing your parents, you start the application process.

As you have the list of colleges and courses ready, you know the application deadlines.

  • Prepare each application with the same care and responsibility. If you need to get letters of recommendations for each course and letter of motivation(LOM), prepare each one custom and modified according to each course. Do not send a general sounding LOM to every college.
  • Check for spelling and grammar errors in all written documents.
  • Check if all necessary forms are signed and dated.
  • Check if the colleges require attested copies or normal copies of your certificates.
  • Apply at least 15-20 days before the last date of application, if possible as early as possible.

After application is the period of wait. It can excruciating to wait for the results as you have no way of knowing it otherwise. Find something that will keep you engaged like doing a short term course as a primer for the course you want to do. Or just chill with your friends if they are free. It will be the last time for most of your friends to spend time with you as they too will soon leave to follow thier paths.

Step # 8: Pack and leave the nest

So, you did it. You got admission. Congratulations for the beginning of a beautiful friendship with work. This day marks an important day in your life because you are going to face the world on your own for the first time alone. But do not worry. They are also going to face you for the first time.

This also marks the start of your skill development – both hard and soft. Hard skills are the technical aspects of your trade and the soft skills are the emotional skills that you need to successfully work with other. Some of the most important soft skill to learn are:

  • Goal orientation,
  • Resilience,
  • Empathy,
  • Assertiveness,
  • Ability to work in a team and
  • Social support

What you should learn during your studies is a discussion for another time. For now, following is a summary of all the steps and a possible timeline.

Hope this has helped you. Till next time.

Author: Ykazmi

Hi, I am Yasir, a Civil Engineer, working in Germany. I am a firm believer that we should leave the world a better place than we came in. Along these lines, this website is dedicated to helping you, motivating you and supporting you in your journey to a better and happier life. As with everything in life, including you and me, it is a work in progress but I am dedicated to being there when you need me.

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