Where I come from in Hong Kong, the financial industry opens applications for summer internships due one year later every July.
Aggressive students begin preparing their curriculum vitae (CVs) and cover letters and create a spreadsheet detailing every bank’s website, application forms and relevant interview tips. This spreadsheet often goes up to more than 30 different companies and roles.
This well-known ‘interview season’ is what essentially equates to the purpose of university for many students around the world. First year for parties, the second year to make up for your grade point average (GPA) and third year to start giving real attention to building CVs and joining student societies and hopefully landing an internship with a return offer.
“As young and ambitious university students, idealism is both our strength and limitation”.
This career-building process is simple: we worked hard in high school to enter university, and so we will have a bit of fun and find a good enough job later so we can cover student debt and start a living. For many first-year students, a career simply means a job. But as you grow into the years, this meaning can shift to encompass more aspects of life.
Career isn’t just your job
The four burners theory puts your limited time into perspective. There is only so much fire (time) you can allocate to each burner (use of time) in your life, across the four domains of family, friends, health and work.
The Japanese way of life, ikigai, can also guide you on finding your purpose and ‘reason for being’. Do a Google image search and see how you can incorporate profession, passion, mission and vocation into your career.
“Check out these two concepts and see how you fit in!”.
Don’t chase your passion for its sake
As young and ambitious university students, idealism is both our strength and limitation. Strength in the desire to make a difference but a limitation in the underestimation of complexity and constraint in doing what we aspire to do. If you recall saying “I want to change the world” or “I want to make an impact”, then it merits a reality check.
As Cal Newport has popularized, chasing our passion is bad advice. Otherwise, we would all be artists and singers in the world. Instead, we should identify our strengths and find a way to get paid for them. Eventually, we will find satisfaction in doing something we’re competent at.
It doesn’t have to be black and white
From the gig economy to increasingly flexible ways of working, our economy enables us to develop slash careers, or simply, a career that offers multiple roles.
“Take time to learn more about your strengths and carve them into your role”.
For example, you could be a banker by day but volunteer at a dog rescue organization over the weekend. You could be a user interface (UI)/ user experience (UX) designer at a startup by day but engage in a few freelance contracts on the side. You could be a marketer but also be part of a band in your spare time!
Your career doesn’t have to be fixed on doing one thing. Give it colors! Explore more interests and develop them during your university years. You will find them useful later once you graduate.
Establishing yourself: CV versus eulogy
University is a breeding ground for CVs, obtaining various leadership positions, volunteering posts and internship experiences. And by final year, most students would have a packed font size 10 Times New Roman one-pager designed to impress employers.
However, this box of thinking naturally shapes our understanding of career to job-hunting. Very little attention in university is paid on developing our character and values. Are you a good person? Are you ethical? Are you understanding of others? These all seem like fluff until you start working.
Hear it from David Brooks himself down below 👇🏼
Your next steps
If you’re reading this as a current university undergraduate, know that you still have time to explore but be realistic that there is a deadline on how many internships and experiences you can obtain until you land an actual job.
Meanwhile, take the time to learn more about your strengths and carve them into your role. Also, consider your job in relation to different aspects of a holistic definition of career. Finally, in your spare time, why not cut down the Netflix time and do something more meaningful that can play into your slash career?
Harrison Li is a graduate of Fudan International School in Shanghai, China. He continued his studies at The University of Hong Kong majoring in Food & Nutritional Science, and now developing professionally in the human resources industry, and working towards a social mission in the healthcare sector. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.
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