27/03/2015 11:14 GMT | Updated 26/05/2015 06:59 BST

You're About to Graduate - Now What?

My favourite typo on a graduate cover letter has to be from one pompous student who had attempted to turn his one shot at a particularly prestigious placement into a philosophy essay. "Yes" - he opined in his opening passage - "I asked myself that common graduate question, who do I want to do professionally?"

I howled with laughter at that one, but to be fair, he was spot on in that so many graduates have come to me asking what they should choose to do as a career and what they can actually do with their degree. Most commonly, it's the Humanities grads who are at a bit of a loss.


I sometimes feel like some kind of clairvoyant when I'm asked by a desperate English Lit grad for advice on how to spend the rest of their life, I have to try and cold-read them over the phone and then do a bit of communing with ancestors to divine whether the Three Fates really do have an opinion on the one true path for this particular soul.

Because of course, what you did for your degree could have very little bearing on what you'll want to do for the rest of your life. You have to look way beyond the degree you chose at 17 and which you perhaps spent as little as six hours actively learning a week. I'm a Humanities grad, but I bloody love pivot tables and looking at graphs in Excel, so who's to say I wouldn't enjoy a career in data analytics?

Likewise, a Maths graduate might hate Matlab, R and Maple, but everyone will be lining the runway with fluorescent jackets and carrying large neon signs saying *bleep* *bleep* i n v e s t m e n t b a n k i n g t h i s w a y. At least you'll be rich while you're miserable eh guys?

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't quite agree with "find a job you love and never work again" because that field will definitely not be hiring. Don't confuse a career with salaried playtime. The big question on your mind should not be what you're going to enjoy doing, but what you're going to enjoy learning.

Your career is going to be a lengthy one, it could be fifty or sixty years. You could be retiring from a profession in 2060 which hasn't even been invented yet. You're constantly going to have to learn new things, unlearn old skills, adapt your training. If you don't enjoy doing that, I recommend becoming an installation at a Victorian Living Museum and hoping for the best.

So, step number one to finding out what to do professionally is to find out the skills you enjoy learning. Your career's going to be a jungle gym, and most likely will cover more than one industry, it'll be your skillset which will remain the constant.

And by skills, I don't mean the hard skills such as Excel or French, I mean the soft ones, analytical skills, people skills, problem solving skills etc. The transferable skills. All you have to do is work out if you're going to like analysing things, or if you'd prefer talking to clients, whether you like making quick decisions or slow choices, if people management is your thing, or the happy solitude of freelancing. There's a smorgasbord of careers out there for you. Don't let your degree define your choice.

Oh and don't make any typos in a cover letter, even if they are funny.