Do you need a Plan B career?

July 09, 2015
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Were you one of those kids who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up? Or did it take you a while to find your true vocational calling? Perhaps you’re still pondering your options, midway through your Bachelor of Arts.

No matter which category you fall into, the reality is that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Even those who once saw their future clearly may one day find themselves in career limbo, either disillusioned with their chosen path or newly qualified, but desperately unemployed.

In these situations, what’s the advantage of having a professional “Plan B”?

Manager of RMIT University’s Career Health Check Project and Career Development Education, Con Moraitis, believes students should be flexible in their approach to planning a career.

“We certainly encourage students to look at alternatives, [and] to have options,” Con says.

Further study, specialised disciplines, or even short courses, can reinvigorate qualifications that students have become disillusioned with. Con points out that parental pressure to focus on a particular field can leave some students floundering if they realise it’s not what they want.

But changing your mind partway through a degree isn’t the end of the world.

“I don't think anything’s wasted, ever,” Con says. “You take what you’ve learned from that and then use it in the future.”

 It helps me take more risks [with my music], knowing I have another career to fall back on.

And these days, it’s never too late to change careers if your original choice becomes unfulfilling or unsustainable further down the track.

“The most important thing is having transferable skills. You can take them from job to job,” Con says.

Difficulties can arise with career choices that are in particularly small or competitive industries. In Australia, for example, creative job opportunities in the arts are limited due to the diminutive nature of fields such as film, theatre and music, and notably because of the lack of arts funding.

Having a “day job” as an arts practitioner is a common way to support a creative career in the early days.

Twenty-three-year-old musician Sally Coleman is committed to her music career – where she's currently kicking goals – but also has two part-time jobs and a communications degree from the University of Technology, Sydney under her belt. She says her jobs help pay the bills, and her Plan B qualification acts as a safety net.

“It helps me take more risks [with my music], knowing I have another career to fall back on,” Sally says.

The notion of keeping your career options open comes with pros and cons. Having an alternative job or qualification to your ideal is safe and sensible, giving you peace of mind that if things go pear-shaped, you won’t be out on the street.

 The key to a Plan B is finding something with purpose that sits well with your values and interests.

But does splitting your time and energy between your passion and your Plan B mean you won’t excel at either? Con doesn’t think so.

“I tend to believe in the Plan B; it’s a security blanket,” he says. Also a musician on the side, Con understands the reality of needing a viable way to earn an income.

“The key to a Plan B is finding something with purpose that sits well with your values and interests.”

You also need a balance between putting yourself under excessive pressure and challenging yourself to work towards ambitious goals. So if you don’t “have it all” by the age of 30 (or whatever target you’ve set for yourself), don’t panic.

“Have conversations with others - people who are involved in the same endeavours - rather than allowing yourself to fall apart over it,” Con says.

Meanwhile, getting your first job after graduation can be difficult in a flooded labour market. Con suggests keeping an open mind when applying for jobs – consider going for a job that may be a useful side step towards your dream job if you don’t get what you want immediately.

“It’s the networking that you do and the relationships that you create – that’s what impacts on whether you succeed,” he says. “So putting yourself out there and doing other things is actually good, because it opens up other opportunities.”

A self-proclaimed optimist, Con’s advice to all students is to keep at it: “The key thing is to continue developing yourself, keep developing those employability skills … and be proactive.”

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: Markus Thorsen, Flickr Creative Commons license