I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger

Image: Me if I had signed onto a graduate recruitment scheme in 1995.

I had a bit of banter on Twitter with @hlloydwilliams earlier today. We both lamented the fact that the decisions that we took at the end of university about whether to enter a graduate recruitment scheme (no) have seriously undermined our Lamborghini owning  potential. (BTW this wasn’t how @hlloydwilliams put it – but I think that we both know what we were talking about).

I suppose one answer to this would be to blame my troubles on my failure to engage with the careers service. If only I could have been dissuaded from drinking coffee, listening to grunge and debating globalisation with other pseudo-intellectual undergraduates I might have found time to think about where my post-graduation beer fund was going to come from. I might even have given some purposeful thought to where my future was going.

As it was I fell out of university into a job in a call centre. Six months later I was writing press releases about telephone systems. Six months after that I was back at university under-taking a PhD that would kill any interest I had in literature. All of these shifts happened without an awful lot of thought.

Three or four career changes later and I’ve sort of settled down in something that engages me pretty effectively but will probably never buy me a Lamborghini. So if I’d known all of this back when I was sitting in the Charles Wilson coffee shop what would I have done? Would I have taken the devil’s shilling and ended up as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company that drilled oil and sold weapons of mass destruction on the side? Would I have purposefully moved towards the sort of thing that I do now with less detors and kinks? Would I have decided that I should try and head out to Greece and work in a cabaret bar? Who knows? I might have just let things unfold as they have, although with hindsight I might have missed out on the month I spent picking out green and black crisps on the Walkers assembly line.

My guess is that there is just no telling some people. For all of my sense that graduate schemes have a lot to offer people (see the Lamborghini picture again) I can’t really see taht I would have been a good fit for anyone’s corporation. Equally  the career path that I have taken would have looked impossibly bizarre if you had set out to follow it.

Could I have benefitted from thinking more about the future? Absolutely! However, given my post-teen, Gen X value set that conversation couldn’t have engaged me while it was constructed around graduate recruitment and the attainment of loadsamoney. Let’s be honest I had to Google Lamborghini to see what one even looked like when I wrote this. Big piles of cash haven’t been a major motivator so far.


Image: Me as I imagined myself in the mid-1990s

As it was it took me starting to work in careers before I really started to manage my own career.

So where does this leave us? What does my ramble down memory lane tell me? I suppose something like this…

Individuals careers are complex. They are bound up with identity and opportuntity, with peer group and culture. Consequently careers work needs to recognise this complexity and not to try and shoehorn people into places that they don’t want to go [like graduate recruitment schemes]. This is just the old value of impartiality restated, but it is a value that VCs in search of high rankings in graduate recruitment would do well to think about. You can lead a slacker to water, but you aint gonna make him drink your corporate soda.

The other thing is that we’ve got to stop talking about people making the “wrong choice”. Life choices are never absolutely right or wrong, they just are. You can think about them before you make them, you can learn from them after you have made them – but there isn’t much point in deciding that they were wrong. No amount of career guidance or career learning is going to stop people making choices that they regret or that don’t turn out right. But preparing people to manage their own careers will enable them to pick themselves up, live with their choice and move on from it.

Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? Should I have done a graduate scheme?

Now where did I leave the Lamborghini keys?


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