My high school, despite its decile-three ranking, was pretty good. I’ve got to give it at least some credit for getting me this far. I’ll tell you what wasn’t good though—the career advice. Unless you call rounding us all up into a classroom and making us do the careers quiz from careers.govt.nz good advice.
In my humble opinion, the careers quiz is a cop-out, especially since my school had a careers counsellor. Sure, the government’s careers quiz has some merit. It can introduce you to a bunch of industries you might not have considered before. For example, my chemistry-enthusiast, food-loving friend got wine-maker. Unfortunately for me, she went on to study medicine. I guess I will just have to accept a store-bought rather than a homemade bottle—it better be expensive.
Since I was so set on becoming a doctor, all the quiz did was tell me what I wanted to hear. You best believe I answered every health-related question with “very interested”. It’s not the careers quiz’s (or the counsellor’s) fault that my 16-year-old self didn’t know what her true calling was; privilege means I’ve had access to plenty of other ways to find out the career I want to pursue. But what about all the other kids who didn’t have access to the same opportunities as me? When high school is the one place where they can find about this stuff, how’s the career quiz going to help them find a job they enjoy and lead a fulfilling life?
I went to my school’s careers advisor twice: once in Year 10 and again when I was in Year 12. I was a bit too eager to be a capitalist slut, I admit. At my first visit I was dead serious—I wanted to be a “scientist”, but that’s as far as I gotten. I’d hoped a trip to an all-knowing careers guru (who also daylighted as our PE teacher) would set me right. Needless to say, the woman who’d snickered at my 100m sprint also laughed at my over-zealous enthusiasm to join the workforce and sent me packing with a “come back in two years”.
So, back I went as a weary Year 12. I’d got enough merits in Chemistry and fucked up my titrations too many times that I’d sworn off the scientist path. But as a cringy 16-year-old riding high off my social justice warrior phase, I was all into that international human rights shit. “Law seems like a good fit” that same careers advisor told me. But she failed to mention what studying law meant and what the fuck a conjoint was. I knew it wasn’t making coffee (stop making the barrister joke, please), but I had this idea of “lawyer” who would fuck up the baddies (criminals, not 15-year-olds on TikTok), like Annalise Keating and Rob Kardashian. It would’ve been nice if my careers advisor actually talked me through what being a lawyer meant, rather than scaring me with ominous talks of low employment rates and sneakily trying to push STEM onto me.
When Craccum asked readers for the worst career advice they’ve ever had, someone said their grandma told them “just marry a rich man.” My careers counsellor similarly said, “just get a job that makes you a lot of money”. Look, it’s probably not terrible advice. No one’s denying the importance of money and I’m sure it was well-meaning. But I think that without further explanation that advice has the potential to disenfranchise some students from believing they could make money from jobs and careers other than the classic money-makers: medicine, law, or accounting. Plenty of people are living comfortably without having studied these things or going to university at all. Where were those perspectives when we took the careers quiz?
Gone are the days where you could pick up a job by just asking nicely (unless you’re a nepotism baby). So, from everyone under the age of 25, please stop pushing outdated ideas of the grind. “Reuse cover letters”, someone’s mum told them. “If you work hard you can achieve anything”, an actual employed person advised another. Even if some career’s advice is well-intentioned, it can still be shit. Maybe it’s time we get rid of our degree-to-job pipeline mindset, and start getting advice that actually helps us figure out what we want and need.