Careers advice for the real world

The year was 2002. I was 16, awkward, chubbo and quite possibly the last virgin in my year. I was seated at a scuffed up desk covered with scratches and rude words scrawled in biro, in front of a tired-looking female teacher I’d never met before. The sun was quickly setting outside, and she clearly had somewhere better to be. She peered at me over her clipboard, and cleared her throat.

“Ah, okay, right. Jem. You’ve got quite good marks in English … and your Biology doesn’t look too bad …have you considered nursing?”

“Hadn’t really thought about it, Miss. Maybe.”

“Okay, well possibly journalism, instead. You could try art college if you wanted, you’re doing really well there. Limited jobs though.”


“So you definitely want to go to university?”


“Well, just make sure you take the right amount of approved subjects, and do well in your exams – you’ll be fine. Right, who’s next?”

That was the sum total of career guidance advice I ever received in my life.

Now don’t get me wrong. Life’s not fair, and nobody should expect spoon feeding. But I’ve looked back on that night many times over the years with regret (particularly nights like tonight, when I’m still stuck at work at 10pm and alternating between hitting my head on the keyboard and sipping my fourteenth cup of coffee).

So with the bitter benefit of hindsight, here are some useful questions I wish had been asked at my Careers Advice Night.

Question 1: Would you go to class if there were no consequences for not doing so? This should enable the weeding out of pupils likely to spend their entire first year of Uni getting stoned and eating Cookie Time sandwiches in front of YouTube (or similarly pointless pursuits). Uni isn’t for everyone, and a high percentage of young adults go utterly mad once there’s no teacher breathing down their necks.

Question 2: Do you have a pastime you’re passionate about, and CAN IT MAKE YOU MONEY. The first half of that question becomes pointless without the second. It’s all very well chasing the dream, but nobody feels overly dreamy when their flat’s moldy and freezing, their fuel light’s permanently on, and they’re living on a diet of instant noodles and shattered hopes. If you want to do what you love, find a way to support yourself while you do it first.

Question 3: Do you have any sort of personal principles? Are there things you will not do for money? If not, definitely don’t work in law, media, marketing, journalism or advertising. And possibly not stripping or prostitution.

Question 4: Do you want to ‘help people’ in your role?
If you think so, spend six months volunteering in some unforgiving hellpit of humanity (or a local poor community if Daddy won’t pay for airfares). This should separate the truly altruistic from those who want to APPEAR kind and compassionate at parties – but baulk at contact with actual poor, sick and/or smelly people.

Question 5: Is money the main thing that matters to you?
If so, do whatever you want – you’re never going to be satisfied anyway.

Question 6: Do you have at least a rough idea of what you might want to do?
If not, stay the fuck out of university for the time being. Starting a degree – any degree – is a ridiculously expensive way to pass the time until you get your shit together. Working at Macca’s is better – at least you get paid.

Question 7: Have you talked to somebody who actually does the careers you’re interested in? Do you know what a typical day was like in their first/third/tenth working year?
If not, do it before you make a decision. Most jobs are absolutely nothing like what they appear.

Question 8: Are you considering modelling, promo work or trophy wifedom?
If so, go for gold … just be aware that you’re going to be back looking for a second career in less than half a decade, with no additional education or work experience to back you up.

Question 9: Does becoming a politician interest you?
An affirmative answer should bar you forever from the halls of Parliament.

Question 10: If you summarise your potential career path in 20 words or less, does it still sound appealing?
For example: paramedic – I attend accident scenes and try and keep injured people alive until I can get them to hospital. Chef – I work with a team to prepare top quality food for hungry but often critical customers. Mother – I supervise a group of impulsive, manipulative, loud, mini-human terrorists hell-bent on breaking ALL the things 24/7...

I wonder where I’d be today if I’d had to consider all those questions. Probably not still at the office. And while writing this was a pleasant diversion, it’s time to continue my evening where I left off – planning creative ways to manipulate everyday people into feeling inadequate and buying unnecessary products to impress people who don’t care.

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3 Responses to Careers advice for the real world

  1. Michael G says:

    Truth and hilarity. I love it.

    The career guidance counsellor in my school was inexplicably keen on me choosing chemistry as one of my high school subjects (well, the Irish equivalent), despite the fact that I had shown no interest in the subject.

    • jemaverage says:

      Thanks! Seems to be a common experience … hope you ended up doing something more in line with your interests.

      To be fair to the counsellors, I think it’s hard for them to give accurate advice when it’s usually been such a long time since they had to choose and carve out a career themselves. We need people more familiar with the various job markets to give advice (or alternatively, people with really good scare stories who ended up in jobs they hate).

      • Michael G says:

        I studied something I was interested in, but ended up in a job I hated… so I quit after less than three months and fled the city!

        Perhaps schools should invite former students to come back and talk about their experiences of college life and the working world. I think I would’ve benefitted from that. Actually, I feel the same way about teaching kids about alcohol and drugs and sexuality. It’d be best to get people in (recovering alcoholics or drug addicts, or gay people who have come to terms with their sexuality) to talk about their experiences so they would be more real to the students.

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