Thursday, December 11, 2008

The next 'hot' career

I promised to post about the placement scene other engineering colleges. But what is there, really, to say? When the going gets tough, the employer finds excuses to postpone joining dates (some software companies have asked 2008 grads to hang on - upto February '09!).

IBM in particular has even taken 're-tests' of candidates it hired and used that to rescind some offers!

So in a 'right-now' sort of way it's all kind of depressing. One can only report yeh ho raha hai, woh ho raha hai. Others are doing this - I can add little of value :)

Instead, I have written a piece on how I think you should actually go about choosing your career. This has nothing to do with today, or tomorrow. Who is hiring or firing. Yes, it is a completely different world view.

The next 'hot' career
- Rashmi Bansal

Many of you write to me asking for career a advice. What you should be doing is consulting an astrologer. Because invariably, what you want to know is how to quickly get a degree which is sure to be the 'next hot career'!

Actually, the large majority has already made up its mind on what those careers are. They're only seeking a stamp of approval from an 'expert'. Or maybe a heartfelt 'All the best - you can do it!'

Sample this question from a class 12 passout. Now this guy is actually preparing for medical entrance exams 2009 yet says:

“if i could hve got the right guidance 2 yrs ago,, thn certainly i would hve been taken the maths as the main nd prhaps now i wud be in an IIT.....”

But regardless of what course of study he takes up he is already hung up on doing an MBA. He asks:

1. wud it be better to do mba with graduation or post graduation or phd in bioinformatics
2. wud it b better to do mba with mbbs..
plz. answer these questions with an outlook over the job prospects and the salaries in both the above case in india as well as abroad....

The question is can you really ‘time’ yourself to match the job prospects and salary scenario which will exist five years from now? That’s like trying to sell your stocks exactly on the day it reaches its peak. Highly desirable but practically impossible to do!

The right attitude
There are two kinds of investors in the stock market – those who are out to make a quick buck and those who seek long term value. It’s the same with careers. Since you are going to be in the working world for several decades, it is much better to take the long term view!

So the class 12 student who is ruing his ‘lack of foresight’ really should not worry. Medicine will always remain a hot career, despite the recent trend towards engineering. In fact, if you ask me, medicine is the only truly ‘recession-proof’ career.

But yes, if you take a day-trader view of the world, medicine can feel like being stuck on the slow train while your friends are travelling by air!

The trouble is that taking a long term view requires patience and fortitude. If you track the value of your stock portfolio on a a day to day basis, you are bound to feel upset in the current market scenario. But if you invest in intrinsically sound companies and hang on to those stocks over a period of time, you will grow rich beyond your wildest dreams.

That is the story of Warren Buffet. And his philosophy of ‘value investing’ is as valuable when applied to choosing a career.

You are the best judge
Value investors, it is said, look for securities with prices that are unjustifiably low based on their intrinsic worth. Now determining this worth is the tricky bit.

In case of stocks – there are different methods to establish worth. According to “When Buffett invests in a company, he isn't concerned with whether the market will eventually recognize its worth; he is concerned with how well that company can make money as a business”.

In a similar vein, I would say that when you set out to choose a career for yourself don’t be distracted by whether the market will recognize the value of that profession, be concerned with whether you can shine in that sphere.

“Ah, but I don’t know… I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I am good at. I am no good at anything in particular.”

I’ve heard enough of these laments, and more.

If you don’t know and refuse to make any attempt to know, then you should be okay with blowing whichever way the wind goes. Aaj retail hot hai, chalo usme ghus jao. You may be one of the lucky ones who manages to catch the headwind and develop skills along the way which help you cope no matter what storm.

These skills are your ‘wings’. If you can identify a God-given talent, aptitude or temperamental advantage, those too are your wings. The more you use these wings, the higher you can soar.

Circle of Life
Oh, this is all very general and philosophical, you will say. So let’s look at some concrete examples.

I think education will be the next big boom sector. Yes, for years it has been a very unrewarding profession in terms of money. But with the rise of so many elite schools and and private universities, that is changing. Teachers are being paid better than before and when foreign universities are allowed entry, that bar will be raised even higher.

But who will be in demand? Those who have excelled in their field, regardless of the hardships. Those who are highly regarded for their knowledge and abilities, their expertise built over the years. These are the people who have stuck to teaching for the love of this profession and the love of their students.

So what if you join teaching next year because you think it is the ‘hot’ thing to do? A few of you may be able to cash in on the boom. But ultimately, because too many are joining this line of work with the thought of ‘cashing in’, there will be a glut. Supply will exceed demand, and we will be back to square one.

Only those who really love the teaching profession and excel in it will be able to command a price. And you see this same demand-supply phenomenon across every possible career.

People entering civil or mechanical engineering were considered ‘bechara’ four years ago. Today they are much in demand as placements on tech campuses veer towards ‘core companies’. That’s not to say computer engineers won’t get jobs but apart from the googles, yahoos and Microsofts (which hire sparingly), right now core sector salaries are higher than in software.

Basically, capital markets are self-correcting. Whether that capital is human, or financial. The wheel will once again turn – who knows where!

Tectonic shifts
Lastly, there is always the possibility that life as we know it changes. And that could bring up whole new kinds of possibilities.

I got an email this morning from Arjun P J. He says:

I am doing my under graduation in MECHANICAL ENGG.The continued recession affecting worldwide i have decided to pursue my Post graduation in AUTOMOBILE ENGG in UK.I have selected UK because it has one year (Msc) course and also my cousins are staying in UK and also i would get a Global exposure.

I wanted to know job prospectus in UK and INDIA after i complete my Post gradaution?? I also confused whether to take AUTOMOBILE ENGG OR MECHANICAL ENGG??...The reason i selected AUTOMOBILE is that my father.He has his own workshops.I have worked with my father. This made me addicted to AUTOMOBILES.

Well, duh-uh! If you are addicted to automobiles can there be a better choice? But I also happened to read this column by Thomas Friedman today which talks about a whole new kind of auto business model being developed by a company in Israel.

It is Shai Agassi’s electric car network company, called Better Place… The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy — such as wind and solar — as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure.

Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T.

Wow. That is amazing! This may be a pipedream, or the Next Big Thing. Either way, I think Arjun is safe because people will still use automobiles.

But think about what might happen to all the very well paid oil company executives and petroleum engineers... someday!

At the end of the day
I leave you with these thoughts from one of my favourite authors - Po Bronson. In his book ‘What Should I Do with my life?’, Bronson notes:

Individual success will not be attained by migrating to a particular 'hot' industry, or by adopting a particular career guiding mantra.

Instead, the individuals that thrive will do so because they focussed on the question of who they really are, and from that they found work that they truly love, and in so doing unleashed a productive and creative power they never imagined.

Here’s to all of us finding ourselves and unleashing those powers. Here’s to discovering our inner ‘Warren Buffet’!


  1. fanastic maam

    just a minor flaw i noticed in your 3rd para
    "Many of you write to me asking for career a advice."

    article mistake (oops)

    I am currently a fresher working in a top MNC related to comp. engg. All i can say is 'job satisfaction' is low for so-called lucrative jobs.

    "I was not born to earn; but may be I was born to spend and earn...earn happiness"

    please write something about job satisfaction! it's a crutical factor in worklife...
    While taking jobs, we see mostly compensation/money. On the contrary I think we should take the job which fetch us most happiness :)

    Keep Blogging

  2. Anonymous10:52 PM

    dts true...take up a job dat makes u happy...!!but isnt it true dat sumtyms u have 2 make a choice between a job dat makes u happy or a job dat pays u well...??wt do u say??

  3. I totally second you on this , but what students can do ? The root cause of the problem is education system where they have been told from the beginning that we need to study to get a good job , all that matters for us (read: middle class) is to pass 10th 12th with good marks get in good colleges and then get engg or medical degree and then get a job .

    Result get a job , which doesn't interest you , but still you have to continue as you are quite used to sporting those branded labels and spending money on Barista's and CCD's and multiplexes.

    But then there is a limit....and then comes the frustration...with vows of doing something great and different and result is 2 lakhs + candidates for CAT. Which in itself is another rat race to bell this CAT.....and result after MBA is also not so bright ....but yes MBA gives you that extra edge (read acceptance from industry and a brand value ) which gives one option to pursue what your heart says.

    Nice article Maa'm , couldn't resist speaking my heart out.

    BTW nice work with engg survey book and stay hungry stay foolish.

    VictimOfEducationSystem :)

  4. :) When I told people I wanted to do a PhD coz I loved research and eventually wanted to teach in India, people told me that I was crazy.

    They still tell me that I am crazy every time they come to know of it! ^_^

    Well, I might be crazy, if a crazy person is who does what he likes to rather than what he is told to. And so are all the others who choose to do what they think they'll love. It's about time people stopped thinking about Engg/Doctors/MBA as the only way out. There is so much more out there!

  5. Well, great & sensible post.

    BTW, what about basic sciences as a career? Research should move to our country sooner or later. Nuclear research in specific - we already have an acceptable track record in pharmaceuticals. Next set is behavioural psychologists.

    Finally, all boils down to find out what you are good at. Do you like to tinker, fix things [mechanical engg/automobile engg]? do you like to play [sports personnel]? do you like to help others with your brain [support - technical, counsellors]? list of questions is endless - ergo the career options.

    Never, ever go for the flavor of the year careers - they are truely detrimental for your life & you will be wondering why I chose this path.

    Once again, great post.

  6. @ Akash - follow your path, rather than following others. They might be successful for some time but the herds will get to them! :)

  7. just came across your blog... really liked it! Keep Writing... God Bless

  8. Rashmi...good write up...glad u have thrown some light on education as a its always ignored....

    m keen to know when are the international universities being let in....coz the private universities here suck and the central universities usually have their gates closed.....

  9. hey, good post....

    I have a request... can you translate those hindi expressions please? i don't quite understand hindi ....

  10. Rashmi,
    I am an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Science as well as ISB and just back from attending the Centenary conference of IISc.
    After being away from my parent discipline for a long time, I see that there are so many opportunities in basic sciences, engineering (not IT. I am from IT but most of IT is not necessarily engineering). All that is required is motivation and a commitment to make a difference.

    Unfortunately in India a lot of us have to take a call between the age of 17-22 when may not be very sure.


  11. It is good to write but perhaps when careers of people are involved, I think a writer also has to involve great responsibility and some, actually much more than some, 'research' involved.

    I think choices of careers are not solely based on one's wish but family factors such as financial etc. are relevant as well and if there are some exceptions to it then that's what they are--exceptions and not the norm.

    I think you are fooling the future generation into believing that Doctor's profession is THE Profession to go for. Have you tried to find out how long/thankless/demanding/no-money this career is?

    For the start, it may take one or two years (ofcourse, not for all but for many) even to get in a medical college after 10+2. It is not like other Bachelor Degrees that finishes in 3-years! Takes about 6 years to complete.

    Just MBBS gets you the shittiest job in this corrupt country. Some of my young Doctor colleagues actually applied for job in Call-centres because 10+2 kids were making far more money than MBBS Doctors but were turned away because they were Over-qualified!

    A govt. MBBS Doctor is paid about 20,000 Rs. in India (highest in India that is New Delhi, if you go South India MBBS Doctors are paid as less as 4000 Rs. a month. Go look for the truth.) BUT the same Doctor is paid 14,999 Rs. in even Big hospitals such as Apollo. Why? Because, all the money is kept by the management team and the big consultants.

    You said, long-term vision!! How many years are long-term vision for you? An MBBS Doctor may work for 20 or more years in a Hospital and will NEVER see any increment in salary, that's how it is baby. So, please find out about things before suggesting them.

    Now, about Post-Graduation in Medicine. Firstly, it takes either lots of years to get in or about 50 lakh Rs. to get in a Specialization + 3-years of study. After that, a Specialist's salary is only about 25,000 Rs. in Govt. [again much lesser in other States of India. E.g. In Mumbai, PG Grads wanted 11,000 Rs. instead of 8000 Rs. they were being paid--as a result, govt. cancelled the license of 150 Doctors. Every Indian just wathces/ed the drama. That's what we have been doing since beginning, Indians are the ONLY race that helped foreigners rule with fierceness in their own country. British ruled India for over 200 years ONLY WITH THE HELP of Indians :-) ] and lesser in Private Hospitals!! And, as usual there will be no increment ever because there are just too many Doctors in large cities as all Parents and all Counselors like you only know of one FOOL-PROOF Profession, that is being a Doctor.

    In reality, very very few, some old and top Doctors in a city make it good. Rest live a very very pathetic life no matter how good they are in the skills of medicine. It is a pathetic situation that practically no one knows about the reality and no one cares.

    It is the same with our Armed Forces, the people who save us with their lives, stay away from their families on the border are paid 6000 to 8000 Rs. a month and DO WE CARE? Ofcourse not. It is the same with Police-force in India. They work all night, Sundays, Holidays etc. and are paid shit, Do we care? No. Indians are like that, no one wants to pay for any services as every one wants services for FREE. Everyone wants politicians from their region, religion or caste, no matter if they are corrupt, criminals etc.

    And, when India is attacked by Terrorists, then we wonder how come we have these politicians. IT IS BECAUSE "WE" Chose them out of our own ignorance and selfishness. And, we simply get what we grow!!

    Please do not advice being a Doctor to anyone in India as it is a tough, no-money, thankless job in India. Meet some young and old Doctors who have been working for years for day, night, sundays, festivals because Hospital has to run 24-hour and ask how much they want to change their profession but can not do so because of our superficial culture and peer-pressure, social pressure, parents pressure etc.

    And, if you need more proof of your ignorance then visit a hospital and see for yourself the dirty even dangerous working conditions for Doctors and Nurses.

    In short, if you are an advisor to people's career then please be responsible and well-informed before any suggestions.

  12. @Mayos
    Thanks! Pretty much what am doing right now! ;) :D

    I am dismayed. Though I agree with the points mentioned by you, the fact that your reply (and so many on this blog) revolve just around money is so disturbing.

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  14. The placement scene at B-grade engineering colleges in the country is even worse.

  15. Hey, insightful post...

  16. Hi
    Came to your blog after a long time. Nice to see you posting with the same zest.

  17. well do add blogging to list.

  18. Hi Rashmi,

    I had reviewed your book - Stay hungry stay foolish here (first time anywhere in Hindi) :

    बने रहिए सदैव मूर्ख और भुक्खड़ (Bane Rahiye Sadaiv moorkh aur bhukkhad)

    I thoroughly enjoyed this great work of yours.

  19. Rashmi,
    This has been a topic so close to my heart. Making decision about career has never been easy.
    Po Bronson said "Whatever job makes you being YOURSELF, is what you should choose".
    You should not be having to change the person within.
    Like many examples in the book, my wild fantasies were not encouraged as a stable career. I am 25 now and money through career does matter to me.
    So I have chosen the idea of moonlighting. I do what I like ( Website development) as part time and I continue my main career as an electrical Engineer, because I am competent enough and wish to make money.

    Time management ? - I have a good support system with my husband and mother both helping me out.

    Associating money with career is not a bad thing. Though it should not be the only reason, for many middle class families in India, there is no luxury to try wild things involving time, energy and capital investment. This does not mean they do not pursue their true interests at all. It simply means that they do it in a safe manner, with some backup.

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