Lust for Life
Your career is the biggest lifestyle choice you will ever make. It determines where you live, what you wear and even how much free time you have. Look around campus and you will be forgiven for thinking that all the answers lie aboard the corporate gravy train. But perhaps yours is the path less trodden, writes Karen Higginbottom.
Ever thought about being an acupuncturist or working in the film industry? For many final-year students contemplating their next move after university, these options may not seem like feasible options. But for those former graduates that have taken risks with their career and opted for an unconventional path, there are rewards.
Lena Fong is a 28-year-old acupuncturist who studied Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. She graduated in 2000 but was deterred from being a research chemist by her experience of an industrial placement during her degree. "The first two years I really enjoyed the course, then I took a year out in industry and it really changed my perspective," recalls Lena. "My placement was in the oil industry and I found the isolation difficult to cope with, as well as the politics." Coming from a Hong-Kong Chinese background, Lena was always interested in Chinese medicine, but the treatment of her mum’s osteoarthritis by acupuncture revived that passion. "My mother had some amazing results when she had acupuncture. She was pain-free for the first time in her life," explains Lena. So, in 2001, she entered the Northern College of Acupuncture in York to begin her four-year training as an acupuncturist. "My parents were supportive and my friends were surprised and delighted by it. They thought I was brave to go down an alternative route," she adds.
Lena has no regrets about changing her career path and now works for four clinics. "I’m happy to have taken a risk and I’m more interested in being happy than being rich," she reflects. "My work is really fulfilling and I feel like I’ve done a good day’s work." Flexible hours are one of the perks, says Lena. "I work four days a week and charge £35 for a 45-minute session."
How to find your career
Fiona Christie, a career consultant at Manchester University Careers Service has seen a lot of students who might not necessarily opt for a conventional or orthodox career path. "Many students don’t want to join the corporate gravy train and are thinking of alternative careers." She advises students to take the initiative and do some groundwork around the area they’re interested in. "Students have to do research and be prepared to volunteer and network," she suggests. "If you want to work as a tree surgeon, then get some work experience. This is sometimes a test of how committed you are to that choice." Network as much as possible to find out what particular jobs are like and get an idea of the working environment, she advises. "In Manchester, there are quite a number of networking organisations around; in the film, music and fashion industries, for example. You need to be someone who is prepared to go out of their comfort zone."Manchester University runs a Kaleidoscope career fair on an annual basis, where ‘alternative’ employers, such as the North-West College of Homeopathy get a chance to show the opportunities available in their fields.
Focus on what you enjoy
Sometimes, a hobby or interest pursued through university can lead to your eventual career. That is certainly the case for 27-year-old Adam Phillips, who left his job as a chartered accountant for BDO Stoy Hayward to set up his own business as an events planner. "I organised parties and events, which helped to pay my way through Birmingham University." Armed with a degree in accounting and finance, Adam applied for a job at BDO Stoy Hayward on its graduate scheme. "I got unbelievable training from them where I was doing auditing for international companies." During his time at BDO Stoy Hayward, Adam continued to organise private parties. He decided to leave the security of his well-paid job in July 2005 to pursue his passion for events organising for both private and corporate clients. "There was nothing holding me back and I felt that now was the time to take risks," he recalls. "It was the right time to leave BDO before I was on a salary that was too good to give up. I wanted to see if I could make a go of my business full-time and to try and make a living out of putting on events and organising parties."
"There are no guarantees that I will make a success of it. All of my friends have gone down the lawyer/doctor route. I’m qualified, so if the worst comes to the worst, two years down the line at least I can say I’ve tried it." Since setting up the business last May, Adam has organised parties for well-known corporations and celebrities such as BBC Television, EastEnders and Channel Four productions.
Unorthodox ways forward
Adam is not the only graduate to follow his passion, according to Linda Buckham, director of the Career Development and Employment Centre at Sussex University. "There is an increasing trend for people to want unorthodox ways forward. From a career advice perspective, we want to help people identify their skills and find out what they are passionate about," she says. "More and more people see their degree as a jumping-off point. Why should mathematicians work in the city? They could go into charity or social work."
Careers services need to look at the individual and what their passions are and what they want be become involved in, says Linda. "I’ve met a PhD biologist who left science to retrain in antique furniture restoration." She also believes that there is a strong rejection of the traditional career path in search of a job that offers creativity and a better lifestyle among today’s students. "The current generation of students do want something different; there is a sense that people are rejecting that career path they have see their parents undertake," she surmises.
Money or satisfaction?
Graduates are rarely motivated by money when it comes to making a decision about working for a company, according to the 2005 Graduate Recruitment Review by Hobsons. Its survey of more than 16,000 first- to final-year university students revealed that interesting work tasks, training opportunities and friendly work colleagues were far more important criteria when choosing a job than salary.
Money has never been a consideration for 24-year-old Pete Lowden. He wanted to work in film and TV from a young age but decided to get a degree in an academic subject first. While studying for a MA in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, Pete landed a highly competitive position as a cameraman for a TV channel, as part of the Edinburgh Festival. He graduated in 2004 and moved to London to further his experience as a freelance cameraman. "My contacts as a cameraman for the Edinburgh Festival led to me being flown to Budapest to film behind the scenes footage for a Hallmark production," recalls Pete.
But work as a freelance cameraman can be a financial struggle and it’s not all glamour, part of his work involves filming video footage for Asset TV, a hedge-fund website. "I’m lucky because I get continued financial support from my dad. He’s very supportive," he says. Despite that Pete has never considered more conventional career paths. "This has been my life-long ambition and I’ve never thought about corporate options." .
Sophie Relf, the author of The Right Career Moves Handbook, recommends that students telephone people in a job they desire and ask them how they got there. "Ask them to describe a typical working day and their career history," she says. "Also, read the biographies of people you admire and want to be like and find out how they forged their careers." And never underestimate the power of networking, concludes Relf.
Finally, if you can start thinking about life after university as soon as you can, advises Jessica Jarvis, an advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "It’s really worthwhile graduates spending time thinking about what they want to do and summer holidays are an ideal opportunity to get relevant work experience or a placement in an area that they are interested in," she says. "Find out what graduates are doing a couple of years ahead of you. Just don’t expect the university to hand it to you on a plate."