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Career advice and strategic life long learning

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It’s that time of year when students at Dublin City University are wrapping up dissertations and practicum projects. Many of them have already secured positions while others are looking forward to a few weeks off before getting stuck into the job hunt.

Despite reaching the end of their current university experience, there’s no doubt that they will return to learning in some form in the future. They’ll have to. The pace of technological and industrial change is so great that they can’t rely on their Masters Degrees to keep them employed for the next 40 years.

To say that we live in a changing world understates the pace and the scope of this change. Huge amounts of what students learned this year may be obsolete a decade from now when they will be working in jobs that haven’t been created yet. In fact, some of the most in-demand and jobs today didn’t exist 20 years ago. Think about the number of roles that fall within the realm of digital marketing for a start.

In the face of change, today’s graduates will need to be able to continue learning, unlearning and relearning new knowledge and skills to remain adaptable and employable. To reject such a proposition will leave you in a tough spot and some forced learning, like how to live on a minimum wage.

I’m being facetious but the point stands. When it comes to responding to change, graduates will need to continue their learning journey, at the very least by acknowledging that what it means to be competent today, may not be the same as what it means to be competent tomorrow. Unfortunately, we live in a time where what it means to be competent is changing all of the time.

Great career advice

Being open to life long learning shouldn’t conjure up images of all nighters poring over books in the library. Learning doesn’t have to be in the classroom. We can acquire learning at work, from friends and colleagues, listening to podcasts and choosing some strategically useful books to read in between Jack Reacher novels!

A friend and mentor Alan Gleeson recently shared with me a photocopy of a page from the Tim Ferris book Tools of Titans which had some of the best career advice I’ve ever read. On the subject of how to direct our learning intent, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, had the following to say:

‘If you want an average, successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1) Become the best at one specific thing 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better then most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

I always advise people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who only have one skill. Or get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more ‘pretty goods’ until no-one else has your mix. At least one of the skills in your mixture should involve communication, either written or verbal. And it could be as simple as learning how to sell more effectively than 75% of the world. That’s one. Now add that to whatever your passion is, and you have two.’

This is sound advice indeed.

For my own part, while I’m not a recent graduate, I value learning and regularly take the opportunity to remind friends and colleagues of the value of life long learning. If we don’t I jest, we may find ourselves in the same position as the telephone exchange operator!

Telephone exchange operator

Another very worthy piece of advice was given to me by my old mentor Professor Theo Lynn at Dublin City University – “always be the hardest working person in the room”. This is something that I’m still working on.

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