I was a philosophy graduate with no career ideas – this is my advice for today’s students

I was a philosophy graduate with no career ideas – this is my advice for today’s students

The careers office at Cambridge University was a cramped little room filled with dusty leaflets, located at the opposite end of town from my college. I’d trek down there and realise I had no idea where to begin. 

My research included enrolling in a summer law course, but I detested the learning-by-rote and inability to question unjust laws. Journalism was also a “no”; everyone working on the student newspaper seemed to relish the pressure of deadlines, while I found them stressful.

Although it was discouraging to realise certain paths were not meant for me, the process of elimination was crucial. It was friends who suggested the City. They identified traits that I struggled to see in myself – a risk-taker who enjoyed working with those who were equally ambitious. 

My journey was aided by the “milk round”, when merchant banks promoted their firms through in-person events at Oxford and Cambridge.

The milk round is no longer, with virtual careers fairs, graduate job boards (listings of jobs for graduates) and company presentations taking its place, making the information accessible to a broader audience. There are also online courses to help school leavers and graduates apply for jobs and prepare for the world of work. 

The Diversity Project (which I chair) runs online skills workshops hosted by different investment firms, for example, completely free and open to anyone over the age of 18. Now in its fourth year, 24,000 young people have participated so far. 

The wealth of information is good news but can make the search for the “right” career seem even more daunting. “Career assessment” tests aim to help narrow the search. Curious, I have tried a couple; they were more personality tests than aptitude tests. 

My children have also taken similar quizzes at school. They yielded some unexpected – and unappealing – results; to be honest, I’m not convinced. Friends, teachers and family know you better than any test. Explore your ideas by talking to them, and listen to their advice. It certainly worked for me.

My third suggestion is not to look for the one “right” thing, which can be like finding a needle in a haystack, but to search for something that simply piques your interest. If you know exactly what you want to do, go ahead. The rest of us may need to gradually learn to love what we do. 

You’ll know when you’ve made a good choice when a virtuous circle develops, where you start to enjoy it more as you improve – and your increased enjoyment levels, in turn, help to enhance your performance.

Related Articles