In March, our programmes team at Vibrant Girls Development Initiative (VGDI) partnered with the BMGA Fellows Program (BFP) Alumni Network to execute a Career Drive Project in Lagos, Nigeria targeted at reorienting public senior secondary school students on career choices as they look to apply to universities.
As the Director of Partnerships at VGDI, I was invited to co-facilitate one of the sessions on the topic ‘Finding success in conventional and unconventional career paths’ alongside Muhammadulfatiu Adepeju, who leads our communications at VGDI.
Photocredit: Vibrant Girls Development Initiative (VGDI)
The topic is one that is very close to my heart and I enjoyed engaging with the 80+ students in attendance using my story and that of those who are also doing excellently across conventional and unconventional careers.
Below are a few key things I stressed in my session:
Careers are evolving rapidly, providing more opportunities
Many years ago, the only careers we knew were in medicine, nursing, law, civil service, oil and gas engineering, teaching, banking etc. Those were the only careers our parents also considered decent. As a result, we (my friends and I at the time) all went in to study for these courses in droves. Today, several years after we graduated, many of us are not in these professions.
I am leading global marketing operations at an organization, some of my old friends are software engineers, product designers, etc at their respective companies. Careers such as product design, product management, blockchain development, skit making and social media influencing, cloud computing etc. have become notable.
While the careers we have always known still exist, it is important that young people open themselves up to these new roles, and not box themselves to the old ones.
Careers are not static anymore
Gone are the days when after you have chosen a career, you are stuck with it for the rest of your life. The notion that once you decide to be a doctor, you can never pivot to something else is now obsolete.
Today, you can study to become a doctor, practice for several years and pivot into online content creation in the health niche. You can work as a digital marketing manager for several years and pivot into product management. There are basically no ceilings.
Of course, some careers are relatively “easier” to pivot into than others. But the underlying fluidity of careers remains the same.
It is still possible to succeed exceedingly well in conventional careers
Given how pervasive and profitable the newer and unconventional careers are, some people are now quick to dismiss and condemn others who are choosing to pursue conventional careers. There is room for success across both careers paths.
I told the story of one of my friends, Abdulqudus Balogun, who is now the VP of Finance and Admin at a notable edtech company in Nigeria. He was always certain he was going to be an accountant and he was ready to defy the odds to actualize his ambition. He only had a diploma (upper credit) in accounting when he started applying for roles about 7 years ago. He was chartered after a few years (still without an undergraduate degree) and went on to work at one of the largest asset management companies in Nigeria. The rest is history.
Moreso, if everyone decides to become software engineers, who will be doctors in hospitals?
The sauce required to succeed across both conventional and unconventional careers are similar
For conventional careers such as medicine, law etc, your formal education gives you an edge. I mean, no one without a degree in medicine or law can practice to be a doctor or lawyer. However, what truly makes one successful in that keenly contested market include:
- Additional formal education: acquiring a master’s degree, for example, provides an automatic step up in some careers
- Networking: “Who you know” many times plays a more important role than “what you know” in conventional careers. You need to stack up your people capital.
- Associations: Becoming a recognized member of an association of bankers or becoming a member of ACCA almost automatically provides a career uplift
For unconventional careers, your formal education often doesn’t matter. An employer will not bother about what degree you hold, if you can code with your eyes closed. Given this reality, a few things that can help one succeed here include:
- Strong portfolio of projects: since employers cannot hire primarily based on degrees anymore, they have turned to portfolios. The stronger your portfolio, the higher the chances of career progression and success
- Being excellent through and through: When you are excellent at your job, it is not uncommon to see your former colleagues/boss recommend/poach you for roles in other organizations
- Branding via social media: Some people say personal branding is dead. I disagree. People who put their work on their social platforms e.g. Linkedin and demonstrate thought leadership are positioned for higher visibility
- Fellowships and virtual courses: Fellowships/virtual courses have proven to be great catalysts for career growth.
Eventually, when it comes to careers, conventional or unconventional, the key is to pursue one that aligns with your values, skills and interests. But, leave room for flexibility so that when one career doesn’t work out as well, there is room to pivot to another.