What if I change my mind about my career after college?

Work is an integral part of our lives, even those with a work-life balance. The average Irish worker, for example, works 1,772 hours per year – nearly a third of their waking hours. Your career ensures your material needs are met and should give you a high level of personal fulfilment.

So deciding what to do with your career is a pretty big deal, arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your life. It’s also an unreasonable responsibility to place on a teenager. Unfortunately, most people are at that age when they decide on a tertiary education course.

So even though choosing to make a career switch may seem like the end of the world to some, it’s not that surprising if, at the end of your studies, you decide to do something different with your life than what you had initially planned.

Making a postgraduate career choice change

So you’ve been working your way through lectures, assignments, research papers, and exams for about three to five years. You’ve acquired a solid foundation of knowledge upon which to build a towering, shining skyscraper of a career. The only problem is that you’ve lost interest in your chosen field.

If that applies to you or your child, don’t worry: you’re not alone. edX survey found that nearly one-third of Americans ages 25 to 44 have switched to a completely different field since their first job out of college. Significantly, 53% of respondents said they’d used less than half of what they learned in their field of study in their work, while 15% said they’d used none of it.

Understand your reasons for a new career direction

Understanding why you are no longer interested in your original choice of work is an important step in finding a suitable alternative. Work through the following questions to find out where you stand.

  • Was your course of study as you expected it to be?
  • Did you learn the skills you expected to learn?
  • Are you still interested in the subject matter?
  • Have you found another potential occupation or field that interests you more?
  • Are there fewer or different jobs available to what you expected?

Answering these questions frankly will give you a better assessment of whether you are uninterested in the field as a whole or whether only the job prospects seem unsatisfactory. Many people are discouraged from doing what they are good at or passionate about because they can’t find interesting work – or any work in that field. In this case, a little lateral thinking can be very helpful. Research what other careers require similar skills, and see if you can move into one with minimum training.

If you find that you have truly lost all interest in your original field of study, your degree or certificate is not a waste. Pursuing a course of study is about more than just acquiring subject-specific knowledge: you develop discipline, self-motivation, and time management skills and learn how to communicate, handle criticism, and even resolve conflicts. 

These skills will benefit you in any career and your life in general. They are transferable, which is good news because the world of work is changing and changing fast.

The age of expiring skills

If you’ve just graduated and want to change your field, this next part may be good or bad news. Technological advances combined with the massive disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have fundamentally changed how we work, the tools we use, the types of jobs that can be automated, and the speed at which skills become obsolete.

Research by Gartner found that one-third of the skills required in a typical 2017 job posting will no longer be relevant in 2021. The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020  report found that half of all workers worldwide will need to be retrained by 2025, while 40% of the core skills required for a job will change.

This is indicative of a fundamental shift in the way employers and employees think about skills and learning, which is now understood as an active, career-long pursuit. It also means that employers are much more willing to hire people who need some basic training to get the job done. This is advantageous for recent graduates.

Focus on your transferable skills

Here we return to the invaluable, fundamental skills you’ve acquired throughout your studies. But it’s also about taking stock of the non-technical skills you can apply in other professions. Law and engineering graduates, for example, often find jobs in different fields because their studies provide robust and universally valuable skills and ways of thinking.

Figuring out what you’re interested in gives you a framework into which you can fit your existing skills. This makes the path to a new career much easier. Let’s say you studied IT but want to pursue a career in teaching. You could join an online learning platform. If you studied English but aren’t interested in another academic career, you could apply your skills to a position in journalism, marketing, or public relations.

Get career advice

Even if you’ve already graduated, you can probably use the career counselling services of your alma mater. Professional career counsellors have likely dealt with similar situations and can give you practical advice to help you move forward. Contact your instructors and professors, who may also be able to offer insight and possible solutions. Talk to old classmates to find out what paths they took. The broader your perspective on the situation, the more likely you will have a successful career change.

Find the right career for you

If you want to take a methodical approach to finding a career fit for you, try a personalised report from Career Fit, which uses scientifically validated methods to match career interests and three aptitude tests with more than 1,200 potential occupations to create a list of 16 potential options that are likely to interest you. Contact us for more information.