In today’s competitive job market, it’s a basic fact that some people just can’t get what they want. Many fields are stressed from a lack of openings or new positions, and an inundation of qualified young graduates. As a result, graduates are finding their preferred field of interest either no longer feasible or practical as a career path. Sometimes the demand just isn’t there; this is common for people looking to become educators, for example. For some, this career sidetracking may be temporary: an education upgrade or additional qualifications may be needed. Others have to begin exploring other options.
At first glance, not putting your degree or education to direct use in a profession can seem like a waste—years of hard work and studying (not to mention huge amounts of money and debt) and then not being able to apply them directly to earning a living. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.
An education of any type is always an asset; in fact, some employers prefer candidates with varied backgrounds in education and work experience. Many people take radically different career paths from what their education would seem to predict. For example, it is very common for professionals like doctors and lawyers to obtain their undergraduate degrees in fields that are entirely unrelated to their eventual professions. The number of brilliant medical doctors with language or arts degrees under their belts would likely come as a surprise to many.
An education is more than just practical or technical information to apply towards future work. Completing a degree or diploma shows a commitment to finishing a large and important project (hopefully with high grades to back it up). Employers value workers whom they believe will see their work through to the end, and there are few greater symbols of that work ethic than a solid education. Furthermore, there are broad skills to be gleaned from academic pursuits that are applicable to the vast majority of jobs. Research and analytical skills, the ability to tackle complex problems creatively and efficiently, and the determination to produce quality work under pressure: qualities like these are going to be essential regardless of what you do—and your education helps prove your mastery of them.
Similarly, school and temporary post-graduation work can be when career networking begins, opening doors to career paths that you may never have considered. Actively involving yourself with classmates and faculty on various projects or events—related to your area of study or not—can forge long-term relationships and create opportunities down the road. Part-time or temporary work to establish yourself or break into a competitive field can be useful in creating connections that could prove valuable as your peers start to move up in the world.
Working temporarily in a field that differs from one’s long-term plan often ends up being an asset for future educational upgrades. Highly selective professional programs like medicine and law often accept second-application candidates whom they initially rejected, and who then went on to work in varied fields and jobs to beef up their credentials and show their commitment to achieving their goals before reapplying. For example, an aspiring doctor could work as an assistant in a hospital, clinic or care facility for a period before applying to medicine to show their interest in different medical perspectives. In this regard, many programs prefer these candidates as they are more well-rounded and worldly, able to approach difficult situations with a wider range of perspectives because of their experience.
The road to success is rarely smooth, and life rarely turns out exactly the way we plan. Those who are willing to take chances and try new things often find themselves richly rewarded. Branching out and exploring different jobs—and perhaps even entirely different careers—can enrich the collective experience of your education and work. Approaching what may at first seem like a less than desirable career move as an opportunity to polish your other skills or test your ability to see the job through can turn an ostensible “trade down” into a rewarding employment experience. They say variety is the spice of life, and even when you’re forced into it by situation or circumstance, having a little variation in how you earn a living can yield some surprising career options.