Lucy Romijn and Beka Kimberley, Careers Consultants here at the CS, discuss the pressure to have a passion which translates to a career and how that’s not the reality for many people and their career paths
A lot of the rhetoric around jobs and careers talks about passion. Finding your passion, communicating your passion to employers, explaining why you really want to work for their particular organisation. But what do you do if you don’t have a lifelong passion to go into a certain area or work for a particular firm?
Don’t panic, you’re not alone! Some people have a burning desire to work in a particular area and it works out for them. But for others that passion turns out to be not quite what they thought and they re-evaluate. Some people don’t know what they want to do until they enter the world of work and they gradually become more invested in what they are doing, narrowing down their options and eventually finding a good fit for them. Other people may never find their passion, and their career remains something that is- hopefully- satisfying but ultimately not the most important thing in their life.
Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t know enough, as curiosity is a valued asset in itself. (Melanie Miao, Ruffer LLP, Architecture to Research Analyst blog)
As careers consultants, we interview a lot people about their career. A recurring theme for many of our graduates looking back is, “I didn’t do the typical thing, my path was a little bit different.” Here’s the thing, taking a non-linear route is actually the more common way to find what it is you want to do. Here are a few quotes from our alumni, follow the links for more of their story
“I actually started into retail banking, and fell into the [charity] sector, […] I was feeling like I wanted to do something that felt fulfilling and socially purposeful. I didn’t have a particular cause in mind, I was really open minded […] I figured it out as I went along” Craig Pemblington CharityWorks, Careers in Charities Panel
I wanted to keep using my Chinese after I graduated, while also starting a professional career in business. I wasn’t sure exactly what specific job or industry I wanted to work in (Conor Mitchell, Swire, My Journey on the Swire Management Programme blog)
It wasn’t until Lent term of third year that I discovered medical writing. After writing my dissertation, I realised I wanted to continue writing about science, taking a more hands-off approach compared with lab work. (Andrew Briggs, Allegro, Trading Lab Work for Medical Writing blog)
I have some time to explore: what can I do to help me move forward in my thinking?
Ultimately, we can’t think our way forward, you’ll need to take some action. A good starting point might be to reflect on your curiosities. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you’ve been curious about over the last couple of weeks. It could be something you’ve had a good discussion about with a peer or in a supervision, a podcast you found interesting, a news story that jumped out at you or a new activity. Consider what you found interesting about it, why it captivated your interest and how you might be able to follow that up.
“Just explore, there are so many online events, workshops that are free…there’s loads of stuff out there and I think if you’re open to it and you’re taking a bit of time to explore it and not expecting it to land in your lap, then I think you’ll find stuff that you didn’t even realise existed and see where that takes you.” Dr Jennifer Harris, ABPI, Hands Off Science In Conversation With… series
With so many opportunities on offer at Cambridge alongside a busy academic workload it can be hard to decide which activities are the best use of your time. Don’t get caught up in what the outcome might be, focus on doing something that piques your interest even if you aren’t sure what might come out of it, just give it a try!
An internship, volunteering, joining a student society, attending a talk, taking up a committee role or getting involved in a student project are all ways of learning about what you enjoy, to meet new people and to be inspired. When trying something new, take the time to pause and look back at your experience to recognise what you’ve taken from the activity – you never know what you might notice!
Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to people or find opportunities to hear the experiences of others. Be curious about people and their career stories and don’t be afraid to ask for help or inspiration.
I just need to start looking for jobs! Where do I start if I don’t know what I’m looking for?
Even if you don’t have a particular passion, before you start looking for jobs it’s worth having some basic criteria to help you filter your search and prioritise opportunities. These might be practical (location, working pattern, pay), or more focused on the nature of the work (identifying what you definitely don’t want to do, and the type of tasks that you find motivating).
Once you have a short list of criteria, this will give you some parameters to help you rule in/out particular vacancies so you don’t feel like you’re aimlessly scrolling.
It’s perfectly legitimate to apply for jobs because the ad grabs your interest, even if you don’t think it will be your long-term career path. When looking at jobs, consider what’s motivating you to take the time to apply, this will help you with applications and interviews.
As an alternative, you could consider using recruitment agencies or temporary employment services who will match you up with suitable vacancies, enabling you to try things out on fixed-term or temporary contracts, giving you a range of experience to help you think about your longer-term plans. You can find advice on using recruitment agencies on our website.
This all feels a bit risky…
It can feel a little risky when you aren’t certain what you’d like to do. New activities or gaining experience in the workplace is never a waste of time. All experiences will give you something of value, in particular evidence of your transferable skills which are useful across all sectors and industries and opportunities to learn what you do and don’t like which can help you to clarify your ideas.
Leaning into your interests will also likely help you to recognise what you find interesting and motivating – even if it doesn’t sound relevant at the time it will have a connection somewhere! We’ve met students that did marketing for their May Ball and discovered they really enjoyed it so chose to gain more experience and see what the job is really like to students whose experience of competitive sport has helped them to recognise their strengths and skills when considering job opportunities.
Many employers are keen to hear about a wide range of experiences you have had at university. For example, Teach First give this advice
When answering competency-based questions in applications and interviews, we encourage applicants to draw on voluntary, personal or academic experiences, as well as professional ones, so our top tip would be to lean into your interests whilst studying at university – this will help you build up a bank of experiences to draw upon when it comes to graduate job applications. We are more interested in the skills and behaviours you have demonstrated than the opportunities you have had.
Reach out for support from the Careers Service
- Use our Career Planning resources to help you think about your motivations, skills and interests
- Book a 1:1 appointment with a Careers Consultant to talk through your ideas and get help with exploring your options.