Having seen a commendable recent effort in this area, on top of a comment leveled in relation to lack of experience of the author (and with a career all but done and dusted myself), maybe I can add a twilight zone perspective to balance things out.
Starting off on a career is always daunting. Nobody however gets to choose when they are born. Unfortunately for many of us, it is very clear it is the latter which overwhelmingly determines how successful we are.
Your hand was dealt you by your parents. Deal with it. You are not the master of your own destiny. It is all about the circumstances of your birth.
Thousands of American males born in the early to mid 1920’s experienced the Normandy invasion beaches of Utah and Omaha in WW2. My father himself was born in Britain in 1924. He was claimed by Bomber Command, but he entered active service after it was all but over. By the grace of god he survived. Had he not you would not be reading this.
The hand you have been dealt is not a bad one. Nobody is firing bullets at you. You are not wearing a military uniform. (I was lucky too.)
Somebody, somewhere, is nearly always worse off than you. The Russians suffered some 11m casualties on the Eastern Front in WW2 with 7-20m civilians lost. Total US casualties in WW2 were 420k (Source = Wikipedia.)
Get your head around the demographics of your birth and location and try to reach an understanding of how the hand you have been dealt is stacked against you. Construct your career aspirations in the context of the terrain you see.
In my case I am an “in-betweenie” – not quite a real WW2 baby boomer. I was born in 1954, caught between the real WW2 baby boomers and the next population bulge – essentially their first-borns.
The bulge in the population ahead of me shut me out of middle-management positions in my early career. There were so many of them. Generationally, In my mid-career, the very brightest of the next bulge were promoted over my head. To make matters worse, I did a PhD, and delayed my entry into the job market by several years, by which time I was even more unemployable. So I was still sizing lines in my 30s. (Crane Technical Paper 410 was my bible.) Opportunities opened up in my 40s. I had to be patient.
Always keep asking yourself what is happening and why. Often the answer lies in your birth demographics. Craft your expectations and career progression strategy with an up-to-date assessment. When the cold wind blows, bend with it.
Determine how badly you yearn for security and your appetite for adversity. This is an exercise in self-knowledge and honesty. If you can’t trust yourself, use any mentor-type elders, teachers, or older brothers and sisters. The only people you have a hope of being able to really trust is family. Teachers too see all sorts. A good school teacher will have the measure of you – and they will be happy to share it with you if you approach them in an honest and forthright way. Asking them for their advice shows that you respect them. Be prepared to be surprised by their candour. If closer to one of your parents, go have a heart to heart talk. Teenagers try to do it alone. Beware of this little trap.
Don’t go into a cyclical industry if you are an unadventurous soul. Be careful not to kid yourself you are more adventurous than you really are. Oil and Gas is highly cyclical and is not for you if you – or your partner – yearn for security and stability. Oil and Gas too won’t be around with any substantive presence when your working life ends, but it will morph into something else. – read my earlier post !
The ride could be exciting. We are however at the beginning of the end of hydrocarbons. We live in interesting times.
Determine your capacity for coping with adversity, especially if you think a cyclical industry is worth a punt. How will you cope without a job? It is very very easy to interpret lack of employment as a personal failing. In the vast majority of cases it is not. Don’t take any periods of unemployment as a personal failing. I did. It was tough. Be prepared for adversity. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Admiral Lord Nelson was passed over by the British Admiralty for many years. In mid-career, he watched warships sail past his stretch of coast and yearned to be on them. In the end it is very clear that that part of his life actually made him stronger. He knew sailors and respected them. They loved him for it. Have no doubt he would have coped too without the key phone-call…(just joking).
Explore your appetite for travel.
This is an interesting one. I spent my teenage years in Cornwall, which sits in splendid isolation out in the western approaches to Britain. Had I stayed at home, I would never have found work in my chosen career. I was also RAF family as a toddler. Upheaval was everyday life.
If you opt for a roving lifestyle, you will probably earn more than the friends you leave behind, but you will lose touch with your school-buddies, institutions, and you will miss places. Whenever you go back, you will walk streets and paths you knew and skipped along as a child as an outsider.
My brother Simon and I now live very close to each other. He stayed in Cornwall much longer than I did. When I am back in Cornwall, we now go to a lot of places together. Almost without exception, we bump into someone he knows. Then it’s me in lemon mode pretending to be interested. And that is in towns and villages miles from where we live. That doesn’t happen to me. I am a stranger in my own land. I have lost touch with my roots.
If you opt for travel, be prepared to be the stranger whenever you return “home.” In fact, be prepared to kiss “home” goodbye.
The upsides of travel are significant. Your thinking becomes more expansive and you derive a better appreciation of your life and its context. However, by far the greatest impediment to travel, is a partner with a career of his/her own. If they dig their heels in, the consequences of going ahead anyway could mean curtains. Just one divorce usually means you won’t ever be able to retire. Choices in this area can be very difficult.
Assimilate the current prevailing historical backdrop.
The world is a vastly different place to that into which I was born. There are few certainties now that will endure. New entrants have to face up to a faster pace of change, and it is fact that nothing happens smoothly any more (in truth it never did.)
Technologies come and go and disappear via a process called disruption. This process is well articulated by Tony Seba whom you should google and read. His book is stimulating, but he is not an engineer.
The key lessons I would extract from his powerful insight for an aspiring young engineer are:
- Familiarise yourself with the disruption process.
- Target skillsets which support a disruptor in the ascendant.
- Satisfy yourself any potential employer has understood the likely disruptors stalking it.
I have delayed consideration of the staff v contract route but it is very important. My experience of contract working is that it pays better, but that is not always the case. For example in Venezuela, in the late 90’s, contract guys were paid less than staffies. However look where Venezuela is now. (I do quite often still – I am married to one.)
My advice would be to plum for several years of staff working, then take the leap to contract when you have something to offer. It is my experience loyalty doesn’t pay. For my son Kevin it does. He is a planner at BMW and they look after him.
The downsides of staff working centre around the politics you will have to endure. Culture too comes into play, however you will only notice it if you have moved frequently and experienced others. Once you reach middle management, you will be forced to play the system game. As contract you can sail your boat with blissful disregard, but beware you are often seen as a hired hand, and areas where you might want to exert influence are not always going to be open to you. Contract working is usually good for the bank balance, but it can be frustrating if key decisions are made without your input.
- Stay curious – never leave any topic half-assimilated or half-understood.
- Work down into the nitty gritty and then resurface back up to the working level where you need operate. Be absolutely confident you know what you doing. Your calculations have to be perfect. (You are fashioning a reputation with this tactic.)
- Always reality-check if you can, i.e. with a different / alternate mathematical approach.
- Never bullshit. You will be rumbled.
- Be flexible, keep reinventing yourself, always strive to be more articulate.
- Numeracy is your secret weapon. Side careers in other industries open up to people who are numerate but also have knowledge or expertise in a particular area or technology.
Good luck !! Find ways of making your own !!