At the start of Goodfellas, Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill says, “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”. And yes, it’s true: we see he’s still at school when he realises that’s what he wants to be, and he’s still at school when he joins the mob.
It’s not everyone’s career choice and well, thank goodness for that. But it’s nonetheless the case that there are several people out there who, like Henry, know what they want to be from the get-go and move straight into it. No setbacks and no self-doubt. They go for it, and it just happens.
But those people are in the minority. Many of us leave school or reach the end of our time at university with no clear idea of what we want to do. We may have a few half-formed notions, but nothing solid. As a result we apply for something and if we’re lucky we land ourselves a job — and if we’re luckier still it turns out to be a job that we enjoy.
But some people aren’t that lucky. OK, they get the job and they can handle it, but it’s not a role that suits them. They don’t get any satisfaction from it. They either stay put or jump ship — and if they do leave, they might take the first thing that catches their eye, simply because it offers a means of escape. The result? They’ve drifted from one unfulfilling role to another.
Now they’re looking at their CVs and they’re worrying. Two very different but equally unsatisfying jobs in rapid succession. It doesn’t look good. They’re also looking at their peers: here’s James and here’s Melissa. They’ve both found jobs for which their degree discipline suited them and they have two solid years of experience behind them. For them, in fact, it’s wrong to say they merely have jobs: what they do have are promising careers. Whereas me, they think? What do I have?
It’s called the Second Jobbers Career Crisis, and it’s not entirely their fault. Too many graduates and school-leavers, faced with too much choice (or possibly too little) have fallen into the first job they’ve come across. Unprepared to enter the job market, they’re making the wrong career decisions, and their careers are suffering as a result. Schools, colleges and universities today aren’t properly serving their career needs. The advice they give only goes so far. They don’t really coach or assist people in finding the ideal job. Many Second Jobbers may as well be on their own.
But then again, the false starts evidenced on their CVs shouldn’t entirely be something they should worry about, either. This isn’t the 20th century any more. A seamless career path like James’s or Melissa’s is no longer the norm. In recent decades we’ve seen increasing volatility in the lifespan of businesses, increasing globalisation and several major economic downturns, all of which mean that employers as much as anyone are aware of and accept a corresponding variety in candidates ’career paths. Indeed, those employers themselves may well have been subject to similar circumstances.
What Second Jobbers need to do is take stock calmly. They won’t want to rush headlong down yet another wrong path. They need to think not just about what their current job history says about them but about where their strengths and interests lie and how best they can showcase them and turn them to their advantage.
Easier said than done? Not if they realise their position is far from unique. They aren’t alone, and the more they pool their knowledge with others, the more advice they take from people who have trodden the same path before them, the more coaching they get from people who understand what’s lacking in traditional careers advice, the more confidence they’ll have.
Not just confidence, either. The more preparation of this kind people do, the more opportunities will come their way. As the golfer Gary Player is said to have once declared, “I find the harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
So what if you didn’t start out like Henry Hill? You got where you wanted to be, you’re happy — and you’re not living out your days as an ex-gangster in a witness protection programme…
It’s time to give your career health the TLC it deserves.
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