Dr. Timothy Hsi, Founder and Principal, Abundanz Consulting Pte. Ltd., Singapore

A counsellor educator, psychotherapist, and coach, Dr Timothy Hsi is the Master Instructor for Knowdell’s Job and Career Transition Coach Certification workshops and a NCDA Instructor for the Facilitating Career Development programme. He is also the Founding President of the Career Development Association of Singapore (CDAS). He recently achieved the “Outstanding Career Educator” Award at the 2018 Asia Pacific Career Development Association (APCDA) conference

In my years of providing career coaching, education and guidance to students (& adults), I have often asked the question “how do you know which higher education course/university to take/apply to?”

I have found that an estimated 1 out of 2 individuals actually have no idea how best to choose a higher education course for their educational progression. Here are some of the usual reasons I hear or encounter from students.

“My parents will decide for me”.
“I’ll apply for the ‘xyz’ course because I will get a high paying job upon graduation”.
“Most of my friends are going to this university/school, so I will join them”.
“It’s the easiest course in this university”
“The university is closest to my home”
“It doesn’t matter what course, as long as I graduate with a degree”

Enrolling in university is an extremely important point in a young person’s life. So is choosing the right course. A wrong academic choice not only brings about a lot of doubt about their capabilities (especially if they are not doing too well in school), it may also create a situation where there are too many graduates with the wrong set of skills or knowledge out in the market which has no need for their training.

A 2017 Forbes article highlighted that 1 in 3 university graduates are not working in jobs which they studied for. Up to 43% of these graduates found themselves in jobs which paid similarly to those without a degree!

If you’ve read up to this point, you may be asking yourself, “so what must I do to ensure that I choose the right course?”

There are 2 things all students (and parents) should do to ensure that you’re on the right track.

  1. Find out more about your Career Attributes. Career attributes are facets or characteristics of ourselves that predetermine us towards certain types of job roles or industries.

In my practice, I operationalise career attributes as ‘VIPS’.

Values—Values are cognitive structures and beliefs which motivate us to behave in certain ways. Values give us purpose in life and govern the way we function within our families, community and society. It is important that we figure out what our values surrounding careers are.

Knowing our top values will enable us to have clarity around the kind of work we are motivated to engage in because those same values will be the ones that determine whether you bounce out of bed every morning, eager to go to work or you drag yourself out, dreading the idea of stepping you’re your office.

For example, if ‘working on the frontier of knowledge’ is an important value for you, you will definitely find yourself highly motivated should you be working as a scientist or a researcher. However, you will be very de-motivated should you find yourself working in as a sales manager for a beverage company because this role has very little alignment with your personal career value.

Interest—Career interests are areas of work that individuals are particularly drawn to. According to Holland (1985), all individuals have a preference for certain types of work which are categorized as RIASEC.

Realistic – individuals with this preference tend to prefer work that gives them the chance to be hands-on and be physically involved while actively utilizing skills, strength or coordination.

Investigative – Individuals with this preference prefer work that utilizes their powers of thinking. They enjoy learning new things, analyses facts and data in order to understand and solve problems.

Artistic – Individuals with this preference are ‘creators’ in that they have an artistic bent and enjoys creation, design and generally does things differently.

Social – Individuals with this preference prefer to work with other people and are engaged in activities such as helping, healing or developing others. Some examples of roles are teachers, counsellors, doctors, nurses, etc.

Enterprising – Individuals who are ‘enterprising’ have tendencies that motivates them to engage in activities such as leadership, entrepreneurship which utilizes their influencing abilities.

Conventional – Individuals with ‘conventional’ preferences prefer to work in environment where things are in order, follows processes and rules, favours repetition and is detail oriented.

Personality—Every individual has a combination of characteristics or qualities which makes them unique. These characteristics form an individual’s distinctive character or personality.

Numerous models have been presented in the field of personality research, but for the purposes of this article, readers could consider their personality along the lines of extraversion-intraversion. If you are an extroverted individual, the kind of job options should be aligned to your personality. Imagine the pain experienced should an extroverted individual find themselves in a job which deals only with tasks and numbers with very little interaction with people.

Skills—Skill refers to the ability to apply knowledge obtained either through study or experience and using the know-how to carry out tasks involved in a particular job. There are two types of skills that individuals will obtain over time namely; technical skills and transferable skills.

Technical skills are skills which an individual will gain through training obtained from school or university (e.g. accounting skills learnt from accounting school or teaching skills learnt from schools of education).

Motivated skills are skills which individuals bring from one job to another (e.g. communication skills, IT skills, research skills) and these skills are gained through work experiences or even participation in clubs and other non-academic activities.

The VIPS which I have just explained forms the basis of your career attributes. Once individuals understand and are clear about their career attributes, making a decision about courses to take in university becomes slightly easier. They are now able to make an informed decision regarding their future career and the type of courses that supports their career journey.

  1. Seek the help of a Career coach or counsellor who will work with you to figure out your career attributes and enable you to make the informed decision/choice regarding the higher education course that is aligned to your ultimate career pathway.

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