Career Guidance: From the mouth of a Wits expert

Career Guidance

Raj Naran, Career Development Educator and Team Leader from Wits University’s Careers Counseling, provides insight into career guidance, decision-making and looks at the questions students face when tackling a tertiary education.

Role of Counselling and Careers Development Department:

In brief, the role of the Counselling and Careers Development Unit is to provide psycho-social support and career counselling to the students at Wits University. We also provide a career counselling service to prospective students. This service could entail a counselling session with a career counsellor and/or a psychometric assessment.

My advice for people wanting to further their education after school but are not a hundred per cent sure of the direction to take? How do they begin deciding on a degree choice?

It is very rare that an individual is 100 percent sure of which direction to take. Some individuals are clearer about which career path to follow, whereas others require some assistance and perhaps an opportunity to experiment.

In either case it is essential that an individual have a career goal , even a short-term goal that expresses what he or she would like to achieve in the year after finishing school.

For those who are less clear about which career path to follow there are two things that I like to emphasise:

  1. Individuals are planning for the first year in tertiary education / or employment. They do not need to see their decisions as a lifelong commitment that will leave them with no choice at the end.
  2. Second is the notion that for most individuals, a career is developed rather than chosen. In this scenario, it helps to know that as we gain in life experience, knowledge of the opportunities in the environment and knowledge about ourselves (self-awareness) we are able to steer our careers in directions that work best for us.

With this in mind, I encourage individuals to consider their career decisions based on what they know about themselves at this point and on what they understand to be opportunities in the economy that they would like to strive towards.

It is usually a good idea to think in terms of goals that span over a period of three to four years. It is not unusual for students to start their university careers very interested in one area of study and to find that at the end of their first degrees they wish to change direction. This is quite normal. However, a commitment to the achievement of the goals set is important. Ideally the goals set should be a reflection of an individual’s abilities, interests and personality preferences.

Is there any real benefit from job shadowing?
Job-shadowing is always useful in helping us to build an understanding of the world of work. One should be aware that job shadowing is a brief encounter with the world of work and provides us with limited insight which we should supplement with volunteer work and part-time work experiences wherever possible.

Is it a case of matching together skills, personality and IQ, in choosing a career /degree?
All these elements help us to make appropriate and realistic decisions. The development of self-awareness helps us to understand ourselves and the way we interact with others and the environment and experiences in the work environment, sports teams, committees and part-time work all help us to better understand our interests and personalities. Together, this is useful information about ourselves that can help us to make appropriate career decisions.

Many schools provide basic personality/skills testing through LO. Is that sufficient, together with a talk with their parents?
Career decision making assessments (which often include an assessment of personality, skills, abilities and interests)
are a useful tool. However, the range of assessment tools available is very broad. If an individual finds that the assessment conducted in the LO process is not a good reflection of their attributes, it would be worth consulting a career counsellor.

What if your child is unsure about the end-game?
I am presuming that “endgame” refers to the end result of a decision to study or pursue a particular career path. If this is so, then I reiterate my earlier guideline, “A career is developed rather than chosen”. If making a career decision is intimidating because one feels unsure of the end result, try to focus your plans on the short term. Career goals that are
cover a 3-4 year period usually work well. Towards the end of this period one can work on the shaping or development of new goals. This is essentially what career decision making entails…the setting of goals throughout our lives!

Do you find people are resistant to seeking advice or do you think its more a case of they don’t know where to seek advice or don’t have the money to seek professional advice?
I think people generally find it intimidating to seek advice. It is always a good idea to consult an independent “expert” skilled at helping us make decisions. Becoming skilled at using the help available is a great life-skill to have. Do bear in mind though, that as individuals we own our careers and we decide which paths to follow. Others can only help us to see the options.

Do you think finances should be part of the decision-making equation when looking for a tertiary education?
Absolutely! If one is unsure of one’s financial security, it could be a good decision to delay studying at university for a year. Applications for bursaries and loans usually need to be made early in the year preceding study at university. Prospective students must check with universities the closing dates for tuition as well as bursary closing dates. These are often different. Ensuring that you are financially secure through your studies will contribute to success in your studies.

Do you think a person is more employable if they have done a degree in quantitative subjects like Engineering, math etc.?
There is no doubt that South Africa is in need of more graduates in the sciences, engineering, mathematical sciences and technology. The economy certainly has a need for graduates in these fields. However, career decisions should also take into consideration an individual’s interests, abilities and personality.

To round off, I think the most valuable advice to those confronted with the question “What should I do after I leave school?” is captured in the following:

  • Understand that the decision to study requires planning and decision-making for the next 3-4 years. You are not placing yourself in a pigeon-hole for the rest of your life.
  • A career is developed, not chosen. Our experiences and understanding of ourselves and the opportunities in the economy usually shapes the direction that our careers take. One always has the opportunity to change direction if we plan carefully. There are many individuals who have been very successful in jobs that are not directly related to their first degrees.
  • Career decisions are rarely irreversible.

EduConnect 2Cents

Rather than going full-steam ahead with a degree or career path you’re kind of sure about, make use of every resource available to you. Whether it’s online tests, research, job shadowing or visiting a career counsellor at your nearest university of school, rather be certain of what you want than ‘kind of’ sure. A little bit more time and research won’t go to waste.

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