Revising your career plan midway through school isn’t necessarily a bad thing
By Derek Sankey, Postmedia News
When Simon Zhu entered the electrical engineering program at McGill University, his plan was to finish his degree, get a job as an engineer and eventually get an MBA.
Instead, he took a different path. His last summer internship wasn’t at an engineering-related company but in sales at Procter & Gamble.
“I kind of knew I wanted to end up in business at some point – to get an MBA, for example – but when I started engineering, I didn’t think I would do it through business,” said Zhu.
He liked the sales job so much that he revised his career plan. He was surprised to see how many of the other sales interns were also engineers.
“They liked the technical aspect of engineering. But they saw themselves working with people on projects that require more soft skills, like presentation, selling and interacting with clients,” said Zhu.
This summer, he’s going into a marketing position before his last year of engineering. “Hopefully, if that goes well I will have an offer,” Zhu said.
Another option is management consulting. “It’s very standard in that industry for the companies to support your MBA studies, so that’s another thing I’m looking into.”
Colleen Bangs, manager of career services at the University of Calgary, also took a somewhat different path than she expected. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in English.
“I didn’t go to school thinking, ‘I want to manage a career services department,’” she said.
Yet there she is, and she sees students alter their chosen path all the time. What she cautions students about is making a sudden change for the wrong reasons such as parental pressure or a lack of money. Some students worry they won’t have good job prospects in a particular field.
“Before making a decision like that, be thoughtful about it,” said Bangs. “Go out and do some information interviews. It’s so important to get out there and speak to professionals in the area, go to events, leverage the network you already have.”
If a student enters a program and discovers two years later that they’re not enjoying it, chances are they’re not going to like the profession when they finish.
People should never feel bad about deciding to shift direction, she says, “because it’s the rest of their life.”
“A lot of [students] will take a few extra courses to take another area of specialization,” said Jack Gray, director of the engineering internship department at the U of C. “If you look at the finish line … and decide to go over to another [discipline], you just need to take the required courses to meet the graduation criteria.”
Zhu plans to finish his electrical engineering degree at McGill no matter whether his ultimate goal is to get into marketing or management consulting when he graduates. He’s even the president of the electrical students’ society at the university. When he graduates in May 2013, he’ll have lots of options available to him.
Bangs says students shouldn’t feel pressured to rush into another field in mid-stream, or after completing their degree. “You can make a change in career at any time,” she said. “Soft skills are so important, and we forget that sometimes.”
There is also the option of taking a master’s degree or even a PhD at a later date. “Sometimes you realize there are amazing opportunities and you just need to go back for some education,” said Bangs.
She also sees the value of earning a more general degree. You can get an entry-level job and, if you’re willing to work your way up, get to a higher level on the job.
“You can graduate with a really general degree and still get a great job,” said Bangs. “A university education, no matter what it’s in, is valuable.”
© Postmedia News. Article appears on www.working.com.