CAREER GUIDE Friday, January 10, 2003, Chandigarh, India
Work out your career strategy
ou need to choose a career... What are the issues to consider? How do you make a good choice? What can you do about it? Pervin Malhotra discusses the process of choosing a career and gives you useful tips on where to start.




Work out your career strategy

You need to choose a career... What are the issues to consider? How do you make a good choice? What can you do about it? Pervin Malhotra discusses the process of choosing a career and gives you useful tips on where to start.

A satisfying career is determined not by chance, but by choice. And there are several ways to choose a career. You can follow family tradition, you can do what your friends are doing, you can take the first option that comes along... or you can match your interests, values and aptitude to an appropriate career field. The latter option is not only sensible and logical, but will likely enable you to choose a career that will keep you motivated and help you scale your professional ambitions.

Statistically, nearly 75 per cent of working people in the world are unhappy in their current job role a rather disturbing revelation that makes choosing the right career one of the most important decisions of oneís life. And also, perhaps the most difficult.

But how do decide? The sheer number and variety of options is so bewilderingly vast, Whatís more, new fields and opportunities keep emerging with unfailing regularity, while yet others become obsolescent which further compounds the confusion.

That, however, is no reason to despair. Understanding how experts view this vast jungle of jobs and professions can throw some valuable light on this issue.

Select the right occupational level

Over the past few years, sociologists and vocational psychologists have been categorising various occupations into different levels. The occupation level is a quick way to assess the responsibilities attached to an occupation, the level of skill and knowledge it requires, and the level of education or experience necessary to enter that field.

Compare, for example, the work of a doctor with that of an accounts clerk. The doctor is required to have an in-depth knowledge of how the human body works and the effect of different diseases and injuries. Highly skilled in diagnosing disorders and treating patients, the decisions taken by the doctor may be a matter of life and death. Students aspiring to be doctors must complete a five-year MBBS course plus work experience in a hospital, preferably followed by further specialisation which could take anywhere up to another four or five years. Besides, entry into medicine is extremely difficult.

On the other hand, the accounts clerk writes books of accounts, checks bills, maintains accounts and records. However, this knowledge base is quite limited and his or her work is typically governed by clearly defined policies and procedures. Academically therefore, a decent B.Com would suffice.

Because of these differences, the occupations of doctor and accounts clerk are placed at different levels.

As a general rule, the higher the level of occupation and the more skill and knowledge required, the greater the responsibility and longer the training and experience necessary to enter it.

While these are general principles only, there are some exceptions and there may be alternative ways to enter the different levels. However, looking at occupations as belonging to different levels is generally a useful technique to determine the kinds of jobs are that are real possibilities for you.

What are the different occupational levels?

It may help to think of jobs as falling into one of these categories"

1. Minimally skilled jobs

2. Skilled jobs and trades

3. Mid-level jobs

4. Professional/managerial jobs

5. Independent professional/senior managerial jobs.

Level 1- Minimally skilled jobs

These jobs usually require no specific educational level or training before you start. The necessary training is given on the job, although there may be some short courses available to supplement your work experience. Examples of jobs at this level are courier, shop assistant, waiter, cinema hall projectionist, sales demonstrator, etc.

Level 2-Skilled jobs and trades

Examples of skilled jobs and trades are motor mechanic, typist, hairdresser, electrician, market research interviewer, call center executive, etc. These jobs usually require the person to undergo some vocational training either before entering the field or while apprenticing in the job. To join an ITI or vocational training institute, you need a minimum class X (and increasingly class XII) education in most cases.

Level 3- Mid-level jobs

For these jobs, you typically need a more lengthy and detailed certificate or diploma course. Entry into these courses is usually restricted to those having completed their 10+2.

Electronic engineering technician, travel agent, photographer, draftsperson or nursery teacher, are examples of mid-level jobs.

Level 4- Professional/managerial jobs

Professional occupations are usually open only those who have a postgraduate or professional degree or diploma.

Examples of jobs at this level include teacher, librarian, social worker, audiologist, pharmacist, speech therapist, computer programmer, nurse, human resources manager, physiotherapist, biologist, statistician, industrial chemist, etc.

Level 5- Independent professional/senior managerial jobs

Job at this level include lawyer, managing director of a larger company, psychiatrist, judge, gynaecologist, university professor, head of government department, technical consultant, company secretary, surgeon, etc.

Typically, preparation for these occupations involves lengthy academic and training programmes, including postgraduate study. Considerable work experience is also usually necessary.

At this level, professionals have the option to work in the public or private sector or be self-employed.

Entry into these professions (for example, medicine, engineering) is usually restricted to those who have done exceptionally well in class XII or in the competitive entrance exams. Entry into senior management positions is equally related to very successful work experience.

These five levels can be thought of as a pyramid. As you move upwards it gets usually more difficult to enter each successive level. The higher the level of the job on the pyramid, the higher the education level and/or greater the natural ability and experience required to enter that job.

Once you have a reasonably good idea of the type of work that appeals to you and the level of job that you can realistically enter, then you are well positioned to select an occupation that will best suit your talents and interests.

Choose your job type

Jobs can be divided into nine different interest types:

  • Persuasive jobs ó influencing people

  • Helping jobs ó understanding and helping people

  • Clerical jobs ó office work

  • Creative jobs ó imaginative tasks

  • Language jobs ó using and appreciating words

  • Managerial jobs ó organisations and leading people

  • Scientific jobs ó researching problems

  • Technical jobs ó using technical equipment

  • Practical jobs ó good with your hands

Assess your interest level

You can do this by examining the areas of your life and identifying activities and fields you are interested in.

  • Which subjects did (do) you like best at school?

  • Have you any special talents or abilities? What are these?

  • What activities do you do in your spare time?

  • Have you any special hobbies?

  • Do you belong to any organisation?

What does the company do?

What do you do in that company?

  • Have you gained any awards, certificates or prizes?

What were these for?

Is this an area where you have special talents?

Points to consider

  • Most people are capable of working successfully and happily in a number of jobs

  • For many people there is no one ideal job that will perfectly suit them

  • You may not be able to get everything in a job that you want

  • Once you get a job, you can often use the skills and knowledge to gain another more appealing job.

* Eight tips for planning your career

1 Make a list of your interests

2 Make a list of youíre values

3 Make a list of your aptitudes and skills (what youíre good at)

4 If you are terribly confused, take an aptitude test. But donít take them as gospel. Most standardised tests fail to measure or identify key traits such as motivation or enthusiasm.

5 Read the employment section of the newspapers from A-Z (note the jobs that interest you)

6 Research careers based on the above

7 Talk to people already in careers that interest you

8 Gather as much info as possible on the relevant professional courses - the institutions, the duration and the costs involved.

Further study

If youíre considering further study, thereís a lot to think about. Today, the higher education sector offers a much greater range of choices than you had at school.

In fact, post-school education has become so diverse and varied over the past few years that it has made the process of decision-making somewhat difficult. But on the flip side it also expands your options. A little thought and some careful research should see you doing the course that is right for you.

Which course?

It is important to understand the kinds of courses available and consider those best suited to your needs. Your answers to the following questions may provide a starting point:

  • How much study do I want to do?

  • Do I want a course based on theory or practice?

  • What level of academic study am I comfortable with?

  • How far am I prepared to travel for the course I want?

  • Where will I study?

Once you have a fair idea of the kind of training or education you want, the next step is to consider where you will get it. There are two main options in the undergraduate education system in India: universities and private colleges. Each has different strengths and emphasis.


Universities offer a wide range of courses in different disciplines. The courses tend to have a scholarly approach. The basic unit of university education is the Bachelorís degree followed by a Masterís degree. You start as an undergraduate student and the degree will normally take three to five years to complete. Courses vary from the more generalist degrees, such as BA, BSc, BCom to more specific degrees like BE, BArch, MBBS, BBA, BCA, BLib, BA LLB or BHM(Bachelorís in Hotel Management).

A generalist degree will give you a wide range of skills in gathering information and problem solving that can be transferred to many different types of jobs. A more specific degree, on the other hand, may lead directly to a vocation like a Masterís in Architecture or Biotechnology. Several foundation-level and full-fledged professional courses like CA and CS are also available. These can be done in tandem with your undergraduate study ó either regular or correspondence.

Private colleges

There has a tremendous growth in the number of private institutions over the past few years. Many of these offer courses with built-in training in areas such as hospitality, fashion, business and computers. Yet others have tied up with universities abroad and offer foreign degrees while studying in India. You may have to pay through your nose for some of these courses, but they do cater for several areas which are simply not covered by the university. Look around and check out your options. Make sure the course is accredited by a statutory body.


Q I want to become a film actor. Could you please tell me how I should go about it?

ó Akshay Chopra, Chandigarh

A The stage is an excellent grooming ground for acquiring hands-on experience. Participate in as many stage productions (even street theatre) as you can to gain confidence. Join a good acting school if you can. Between them, the FTII and the NSD have contributed a mega-share of professionally trained actors to Bollywood.

Get a portfolio shot by a professional photographer and take a screen test if possible to seek an unbiased professional opinion about your potential.

While good looks are an asset, they are certainly not everything. Itís your spontaneity, naturalness, and acting skills that really count. For instance, neither Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Kamal Hassan, Nana Patekar or Manoj Bajpai (who incidentally flunked his entrance test four times before finally making it) are drop-dead good looking in the conventional sense - but see how they electrify the screen with their performance! What you need is screen presence.

Jobs in the film industry are rarely advertised. So, do try and crack an entry by approaching studios and production houses directly. Try television first - it is relatively easier to break into and can serve as an excellent springboard to Bollywood. Also, if you are serious about a career in this industry, youíve got to be in one of the major film centres: preferably Mumbai.


Q Iím appearing for a very crucial interview next week. Coming from a small town, Iím terribly nervous, although I have worked briefly in a lawyerís office. Please give me some last-minute tips, so I donít end up making a fool of myself?

ó Karan Gulati, Jammu

A Assuming that youíre sufficiently qualified for the job, and that youíve done your homework on the company, you have little to worry about. Remember that an interview is a show-and-tell session. Be sure of what you have to offer so that you can convey your positive can-do attitude and strengths. Here are a few doís and doníts from the interview codebook: Donít try to control the interview, let the interviewer remain in control of the flow of questioning.

Donít discuss your personal philosophies, politics or religion.

Donít bring up the issue of salary, fringe benefits or leave policies. Almost all employers will call you back for a second interview if they are considering you for employment. Let the employer approach the subject first.

Donít criticise or bad-mouth your present/previous employer. Itís in bad taste. Donít site money as the reason for leaving your job. Unless itís much below the industry average or if thereís been a freeze on increments.

Donít chew gum or smoke a cigarette while on an interview.

Do dress appropriately. Do be enthusiastic. Many interviewees donít wish to appear overly eager, so they adopt an air of nonchalance which can be mistaken for lack of interest or apathy.

Do thank your interviewer politely before you leave. When itís all over go home and relax. Remember, at the end of the day, itís just an interview, not an interrogation. Best of luck!

Please send in your query preferably on a postcard along with your name, complete address and academic qualifications to:

Editor, Career Hotline,
The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh-160020, or at [email protected]