Counselling and Career Development

Introduction to careers

What is a career?

The past, the present and the future

The past

A typical career path in the past involved almost guaranteed job security. You obtained a “job for life” and you could expect steady progression up an organisation's structure.

The present

Factors such as technological growth and consumer demand have changed the world of work. Career development is now a lifelong process, rather than a lifelong job, and involves moving laterally or upwards within an organisation or between organisations. It is the combination of your life experience, learning, and all work experience. These days, you are responsible for your own career and you have to continuously reflect on where you are, where you want to be and how you will prepare for further career opportunities.

The future

Change is everywhere. The world of work is constantly changing and we must rely on ourselves much more for stability and direction. In order to do this, we need to be aware of the changes that are occurring in the current world of work.

What is the world of work like?

Have I got the right information?

It's important to make sure that your career decisions are informed by a realistic assessment of the information available rather than relying on assumptions that you or others may have.

Some of these assumptions may have gained credibility over time, especially if they have been reinforced by the media and people whose opinion you value.

The exercise below will give you the opportunity to test your own career assumptions.

Myths and realities quiz

This mini quiz gives you the opportunity to become aware of any career myths you may have accepted as realities and to possibly challenge these assumptions. Being aware of career myths that have influenced your career planning so far may open up new possibilities for exploration that you may not have considered.

Choose whether you think the following statements are a Myth or a Reality:

StatementMyth?Reality?

1. The earlier a person selects a steady career, the better.

2. There are many ways to find out if a person might enjoy working in a particular occupation besides taking a job in that field.

3. Somewhere there is a test that can tell me what to do for the rest of my career.

4. During his/her lifetime, a person is likely to work in several different occupations.

5. The current job market determines what career a person should choose.

6. The majority of job seekers find jobs through word of mouth.

7. Changing careers indicates there is something "wrong" with a person.

8. There is no job security anymore.

Answers

StatementAnswer

1. The earlier a person selects a steady career, the better.

This is a myth.

The idea of a steady career for life has changed as each person is likely to have several careers in a lifetime. The key is to learn how to change, to master career transition skills, and to maximise the learning you gain from all of your life experiences.

2. There are many ways to find out if a person might enjoy working in a particular occupation besides taking a job in that field.

This is a reality.

Job shadowing, research, reading, volunteer work and interviewing those in the field are some other ways. These methods will save you time and money and enable you to make changes to your career direction before you are committed to a job.

3. Somewhere there is a test that can tell me what to do for the rest of my career.

This is a myth.

There are no tests, inventories and career assessment instruments that will tell you your perfect career. These assessment tools help you assemble your motivations, interests, skills and values as they are at the point in your life when you complete them.

YOU then take these "jigsaw pieces" and match them with career alternatives. Career assessment is something that is useful to do in an informal and ongoing way throughout your career, as your internal and external influences change.

4. During his/her lifetime, a person is likely to work in several different occupations.

This is a reality.

It is now estimated that most adults will work in five to seven occupations during their lifetime. Often people will work in a combination of more than one occupation at any one time.

This combination could include a part-time job with regular hours, part-time self-employment where hours and income may fluctuate, and part-time creative practice/voluntary/hobby work. For most people, there is no "one job or career for life" anymore.

5. The current job market determines what career a person should choose.

This is a myth.

Individual interests, preferred skills and values and a passion for what you have chosen determine the occupations in which you are most likely to be successful and find personally satisfying.

6. The majority of job seekers find jobs through word of mouth.

This is a reality.

It is estimated that 80% of those currently employed found out about their jobs through networking, including information interviewing and maintaining mentoring relationships. Employment advertisements in newspapers are only one small component of available opportunities at any given time.

7. Changing careers indicates there is something "wrong" with a person.

This is a myth.

There are many reasons that career change makes sense: desired new learning and personal growth; monetary; labour market demand; and a reassessment of "who I am and want to be". In a rapidly changing world, career and occupation change is common and does not indicate that there is something "wrong" with a person.

8. There is no job security anymore.

This is a reality.

There is no longer an expectation that employers or organisations will take responsibility for an individual.

Unmistakeable trends

Change is everywhere. There are no longer short periods of change followed by long periods of stability. We have to learn to live and prosper in a world of constantly changing demands and possibilities. Some of these changes include technological change, globally competitive markets, new patterns of work and higher educational requirements.

Whatever the reason, there has been a series of unmistakable trends, particularly in the world of work. These trends include:

  • changing social contracts between employers and labourers;
  • increasing contract work;
  • globalisation;
  • an increased competition for employment;
  • technology and its impact on all industries;
  • the creation of new industries;
  • an ageing population.

In South Africa, we are still grappling with high youth unemployment, unequal access to further education opportunities, and a widening income gap.

The results of these changes and trends are now having a major impact on our lives and we must rely on ourselves much more for stability and direction. We are constantly being reminded that we need to operate as a “company of one” and be flexible enough to respond quickly in this ever-changing environment.

The current world of work

Here are some examples of the changes you can expect in the current world of work:

  • Undertaking six to 10 different jobs throughout your lifetime
  • Increased responsibility for planning and managing your career
  • Less stability and security within organisations
  • Involvement in education and training throughout your life
  • Developing portable skills to ensure employability
  • Keeping up to date with labour market trends
  • Spending time unemployed
  • Holding temporary and short-term positions
  • Working towards a job that does not exist at present
  • Constantly aiming to acquire new skills to increase your employability

Adapted from:

CareerStart, Career Development Program, Queensland University of Technology, http://qut.edu.au/.

Keeping track of your career development

Career decisions are influenced by a variety of factors which need to come together before you are able to make an effective career decision. You need to think about where you are going (your career vision) and how you will get there (your career goals). You will need to gather information and think about your interests, values, skills, career influences, study options, the labour market, and the support you are likely to get from others.

We suggest that you start some sort of system to keep track of your career development.

  • Use a notebook, file or a computer to store the information you will gather about your career decisions.
  • Make notes of what you did, how you feel, what you have learnt and what you still need to do.
  • Use the activities in this book as a starting point and update it as you continue on your career journey.

This decision-making process will be repeated throughout your life as making a career choice is a life-long process.

Further resources

Start with career choice (PDF)

Need a qualification (PDF)

Choosing between or among different career options (PDF)

These conversation sheets contain a number of questions to help you think about your career choice.
Making career choices (MP3) You will make choices about your career on a continuous basis. In this podcast, we chat about how to make effective career choices.
Making career choices (MP3) This podcast focuses on making career choices.