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When the going gets tough, the fancy jobs get going. Yes, placements at IIT have been muted this year, but at least they will all get jobs. The scene at state-level engineering colleges is much worse.
Companies are postponing joining dates; some have even taken a re-test and used that as an excuse to rescind offers made last year. The roti, kapda and software-job-for-all era seems to be drawing to a close!
The moral of the story is that yesterday's hot job can be tomorrow's lukewarm option. So should you really go about choosing what subject to study based on what you think is 'in demand'?
I think not!
Planning your future
Many of you write asking for career advice. What you should be doing is consulting an astrologer. Because invariably, what you want to know is how to quickly get a degree which is sure to be the 'next hot career'!
Actually, the large majority has already made up its mind on what those careers are. They're only seeking a stamp of approval from an 'expert'. Or maybe a heartfelt 'all the best -- you can do it!'
Sample this question from a class 12 graduate. Now he is actually preparing for medical entrance exams 2009 but says:
"If I could have got the right guidance 2 years ago, then certainly I would have taken maths as a subject and perhaps now I would be in an IIT."
But regardless of what course of study he takes up he is already hung up on doing an MBA. He asks:
1. Would it be better to do an MBA with graduation or post graduation or PhD in bioinformatics
2. Would it be better to do MBA with an MBBS degree
Please answer these questions with an outlook over the job prospects and the salaries in both the above case in India as well as abroad.
The question is can you really 'time' yourself to match the job prospects and salary scenario which will exist five years from now? That's like trying to sell your stocks exactly on the day it reaches its peak. Highly desirable but practically impossible to do.
The right attitude
There are two kinds of investors in the stock market -- those who are out to make a quick buck and those who seek long-term value. It's the same with careers. Since you are going to be in the working world for several decades, it is much better to take the long-term view!
So the class 12 student who is ruing his 'lack of foresight' really should not worry. Medicine will always remain a hot career, despite the recent trend towards engineering. In fact, if you ask me, medicine is the only truly 'recession-proof' career.
But yes, if you take a day-trader view of the world, medicine can feel like being stuck on the slow train while your friends are travelling by air!
The trouble is that taking a long-term view requires patience and fortitude. If you track the value of your stock portfolio on a day-to-day basis, you are bound to feel upset in the current market scenario. But if you invest in intrinsically sound companies and hang on to those stocks over a period of time, you will reap rich rewards.
That is the story of Warren Buffet. And his philosophy of 'value investing' is as valuable when applied to choosing a career.
You are the best judge
Value investors, it is said, look for securities with prices that are unjustifiably low based on their intrinsic worth. Now determining this worth is the tricky bit.
In case of stocks -- there are different methods to establish worth. According to investopedia.com: "When Buffett invests in a company, he isn't concerned with whether the market will eventually recognize its worth; he is concerned with how well that company can make money as a business."
In a similar vein, I would say that when you set out to choose a career for yourself don't be distracted by whether the market will recognise the value of that profession, be concerned with whether you can shine in that sphere.
"Ah, but I don't know -- I don't know what I want. I don't know what I am good at. I am no good at anything in particular."
I've heard enough of these laments, and more.
If you don't know and refuse to make any attempt to know, then you should be okay with going whichever way the wind blows. Aaj retail hot hai, chalo usme ghus jao. You may be one of the lucky ones who manages to catch the headwind and develop skills along the way which help you cope no matter what storm.
These skills are your 'wings'. If you can identify a God-given talent, aptitude or temperamental advantage, those too are your wings. The more you use these wings, the higher you can soar.
Circle of Life
Oh, this is all very general and philosophical, you will say. So let's look at some concrete examples.
I think education will be the next big boom sector. Yes, for years it has been a very unrewarding profession in terms of money. But with the rise of so many elite schools and private universities, that is changing. Teachers are being paid better than before and when foreign universities are allowed entry, that bar will be raised even higher.
But who will be in demand? Those who have excelled in their field, regardless of the hardships. Those who are highly regarded for their knowledge and abilities, their expertise built over the years. These are the people who have stuck to teaching for the love of this profession and the love of their students.
So what if you join teaching next year because you think it is the 'hot' thing to do? A few of you may be able to cash in on the boom. But ultimately, because too many are joining this line of work with the thought of 'cashing in', there will be a glut. Supply will exceed demand, and we will be back to square one.
Only those who really love the teaching profession and excel in it will be able to command a price. And you see this same demand-supply phenomenon across every possible career.
People entering civil or mechanical engineering were considered 'bechara' four years ago. Today they are much in demand as placements on tech campuses veer towards 'core companies'. That's not to say computer engineers won't get jobs but apart from the Googles, Yahoos and Microsofts (which hire sparingly), right now core sector salaries are higher than in software.
Basically, capital markets are self-correcting, whether that capital is human or financial. The wheel will once again turn � in which direction though is hard to tell.
Lastly, there is always the possibility that life as we know it changes. And that could bring up whole new kinds of possibilities.
I got an email this morning from Arjun P J. He says:
I am doing my under graduation in mechanical engineering. The continued recession affecting worldwide I have decided to pursue my Post graduation in automobile engineering in the UK I have selected the UK because it has a one-year (MSc) course and also my cousins are staying in the UK and also I would get a global exposure.
I wanted to know the job prospectus in UK and India after I complete my Post graduation? I am also confused about whether to take automobile or mechanical engineering. The reason I selected Automobile is that my father has his own workshops. I have worked with my father. This made me addicted to automobiles.
Well, duh-uh! If you are addicted to automobiles can there be a better choice? But I also happened to read this column by Thomas Friedman which talks about a whole new kind of auto business model being developed by a company in Israel.
It is Shai Agassi's electric car network company, called Better Place... The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy -- such as wind and solar -- as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure.
Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors [Images] snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T.
Wow. That is amazing! This may be a pipedream, or the Next Big Thing. Either way, I think Arjun is safe because people will still use automobiles.
But think what might happen to all the very well paid oil company executives and petroleum engineers -- someday!
I leave you with these thoughts from one of my favourite authors -- Po Bronson. In his book What Should I Do with my life? Bronson notes:
Individual success will not be attained by migrating to a particular 'hot' industry, or by adopting a particular career guiding mantra.
Instead, the individuals that thrive will do so because they focused on the question of who they really are, and from that they found work that they truly love, and in so doing unleashed a productive and creative power they never imagined.
Here's to all of us finding ourselves and unleashing those powers.
Here's to discovering your inner 'Warren Buffet'!
Rashmi Bansal is a writer, entrepreneur and youth expert. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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