Do I Specialise? and 4 other Questions to Ask about a New Career

Challenges are not unique to any generation, and certainly travel across one from another. Yet, while few students in the post-war generations shall finish high school or university with a booming economy around them offering jobs across the board; current students, soon-to-be graduates, and those considering a career transition do indeed face some very unique challenges.

While there is much to celebrate and herald in the new and growing digital economy, with traditional industries dissipating, the nature of work evolving in many countries from a conventional 9-5 in 40 hour work week to a different measuring stick, and a higher cost of living in many cities and nations leaves many young people between the ages of 15-25 with many challenges ahead of them; and much uncertainty surrounding the path to navigate them.

Yet, there are 5 questions to consider when it comes to a new career that can prove useful in deciding where you wish to go, and how to navigate the challenges that surround it…

1. Is it Smart I Specialise?

Specialisation can indeed be useful, and at times essential. Whether it is restoring a vintage car, seeking out SEO for your new business, or looking to get your startup funded: those who hold unique and particular knowledge – a ‘particular set of skills’ as renowned hostage negotiator and conflict resolution specialist Liam Neeson holds – can certainly help a young person stand out when starting their career.

The danger here can come when that knowledge is too specialised or nuanced to be transferrable. You could be the world’s foremost design expert on the manufacturing of flip phones, but if you graduated in the past decade you’d likely have had a hard time making the case to Apple or Samsung you’ve vital knowledge they need in-house (how things can change).

In order to best assess whether specialising in your field is right for you, it is useful to ask…

2. What led to the industry requiring specialists?

While there are jobs that have always been unique and niche, generally speaking: specialisation evolves out of a greater demand or necessity for knowledge and techniques than are otherwise on offer in the general stream of a profession. For those seeking to discern whether it is wise to specialise or seek a more general education, looking at the evolution of the field is wise, and long term trends over time.

While specialisation may in the first seem the best course of action – ‘hey I know a lot about this stuff whereas these other guys only know a little about it’ – consideration need be given for the industry in which your specialisation exists, and the changes surrounding it therefore.

While you may be a virtuoso designer of artisan book covers, or a truly magnificent developer of vintage film, the reality of the eBook and digital photography world would suggest time spent learning the ins and outs of these niche fields over acquiring a more generalist understanding of book publishing and film editing would be the better course of action.

Further, it’s worth keeping in mind too: many careers are built off a generalist understanding first, that later then grows into a specialist knowledge. What’s more, this can often be done via further education, or while working in the field. For this reason it’s also wise to ask..

3. Is the Demand Long Term?

Futurology is always a risky prospect, but from the recent past some reasonable observations can be made about the future and certain career prospects. If you are a university graduate in many countries where there is held to be a ‘glut’ of university educated youth, you shall find casting an eye towards the long term viability of your industry as it stands today useful.

Two decades ago saying you are a computer programmer or a web designer may have been sufficient, now there is usually the need to specify what it is you do exactly: that you’re a front end developer, a full stack developer ? and so on.

Using computer programming as an example, it is possible more languages shall continue to evolve in future? Almost certainly. It is likely these languages shall overnight wipe out and replace all the current ones that exist and are used day to day? Well, given use of languages tend to hang around and take a while to dissipate – Latin is still commonly used in medical and science quarters even if it is notionally a ‘dead language’ – such a occurrence appears unlikely.

Latin Books

Pictured: What a ‘recent’ list of Latin best sellers looks like..

While you cannot anticipate and plan for every trend in your field, you can look to the past for a idea of that the future’s foundations shall look like in your career. This shall help decide whether your first inclination is to generalise or specialise, and you can then ask…

4. Could I Do this All My Life?

Deep breath here. No one is saying you need know at 18, 19, or any stage of life what you absolutely and unequivocally want to do over your whole life. Not only could such certainty make you really boring at cocktail parties, but the changing nature of so many industries mean having a set role in mind could ultimately end up closing you off needlessly from other potential career paths that may open to you.

Instead, may this serve as an early warning if you find yourself already absolutely hating the path you are on: it is unlikely to get much better going forward, and so seeking a change when so possible would be wise. This especially applies to study.

By no means does everyone love every course they study through high school or at college; but if you find yourself drumming up new and innovative swear words every time you wake up for class in the morning, it’s likely time to speak to a course coordinator, and see what you can change. Such change may mean you need do some extra classes, or it takes a little longer to graduate; but better to change boats than sink a ship altogether.

5. Can I Grow in this Role?

Whether you are someone who is an optimist and seeks to continually grow, or a perimissist seeking to ‘future-proof’ your industry; growth and the chance to continually build your skills in a role is a vital consideration. While if you’ve a job like president of the United States or the Pope you may find the opportunity to move across to similar roles limited – as no us US president has then go onto to serve as a prime minister of Canada or a president of Mexico – there are few industries around that offer a simply vertical progression in careers.

Even fields like police or military service – where the term ‘rising in the ranks’ literally applies- don’t promote based strictly on time in uniform, instead typically considering a wide variety of factors alongside length of tenure when deciding who to promote up to sergeant or commander.

Accordingly, this means time and experience are very different things. If you’ve worked in your current field for 5 years you’ve certainly not spent as much time as someone who has worked in it for 10. Yet, if you’ve spent those 5 years working across multiple areas, projects, and tasks, a strong case can be made you’ve greater experience, even if you’ve not spent as much time.

Materials for Building…

This piece should not serve as an in-depth guide to advice on life – there are good how-to guides, ancient classics, and temples high the in the Himalayas for that – but for young students, recent graduates, and others considering a change up in their careers these 5 questions can serve as useful in building a blueprint.

This especially so for those who feel a little nervous about the future, for challenges notwithstanding there are numerous areas in which great advancements large and small are set to bring about some exciting change and innovation in the way people live, work, and grow.

Best of all, if you get to a stage where you do find you can easily answer yes to all 5? Signs are good you’ve picked a great field, and maybe have a particular monk somewhere to thank.

'That monk was right about everything! My career, AND how cold it gets at dusk without a jacket'.

‘That monk was right about my career AND how cold it gets without a jacket’.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist and web designer proudly from Melbourne, Australia. Say hi to Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co or on Twitter @Edkennedy01

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