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Becoming the Best
- a Planned Agenda for Choosing a Career
C.V.R.Murty
Department of Civil Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur
Kanpur 208016

When you were 4, your mother wanted you (the menace!) to go out of home... to
kindergarten! When you were 16, your father wanted you (the unmanageable!) to go out of
home... to college! Now, when you are 21, you (the grown-up!) want to go out of home ...
to start life! The question is: Are you adequately prepared to manage it yourself? Remember,
so far your parents made the choices and also backed you up all the way. But now, it is
YOU who has to make the choice – which career to choose, and above all back
YOURSELF up for the rest of your life.

You are now moving from a sheltered environment to protected environment.


However, the level of protection is dependent on how well you plan your career.
Planning your career means (a) understanding yourself well – your skills and your
strengths, and (b) knowing the world around you – what options are available for someone
with your skills and strengths. The challenge is in hunting for the perfect match between
you (as you are today!) and the world (as it is today!). This perfect match of today may need
some re-tuning tomorrow as both you and the world will change. But today, the perfect
matching will require dedicated hard work, detailed introspection, extensive planning
and above all... the desire to succeed. So, are you ready for the journey of life…?

The Basics
You should choose a career in a field that you are likely to enjoy the most in and
have a passion for. This assures that you will automatically excel in your career. This
excelling is different from excelling academically with the top grades. Remember, the
most successful persons, like Albert Einstein, did not excel at school, but turned tables
around during their careers. But, this does not mean that you will be lax in your studies
and do poorly in your courses while you are in college. Winning is a habit that you
should create from your young days… because every employer is looking for the winner
in the employee.

Irrespective of the career, you may choose, the most important pre-requisite in
you is... that you excel in whatever you are currently doing – be it B.A., B.Com., L.L.B.,
B.C.A. or B.Tech.. This is because every employer (who would like to offer you a position
in her/his organization) and every professor (who would like to consider you for
graduate studies) are looking for the best. NO employer or professor would ever let go a
capable candidate. In the same breath, no employer would buy trouble by picking an
academically weak candidate (basically, bet on a loosing horse) for any technical work. So,
the first and foremost activity that one needs to undertake is building the basic concepts
in the subject that one has chosen for the undergraduate studies. You must learn the
subject, and also to compete, face stiff competition, finish at the front... and continue to
remain at the front...
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The Homework
You will be spending one-half of each day at work and the other half at home.
Thus, deciding your career is as important as identifying your spouse. Often, deciding a
career is considered more critical because an unhappy career will significantly affect the
domestic environment. Therefore, doing proper homework is essential in identifying the
suitable career option. If you are worried about how an Indian marriage finally takes
place, read Vikram Seth's "A Suitable Boy" – you will learn the complexities in finding a
suitable bride/bridegroom; equal and competitive complexities exist in making a career
choice.

Firstly you will require knowing the FULL spectrum of career options available to
you after you graduate with a bachelor’s degree. A friendly professor in your college will
be your resource person for drawing up this detailed list of career possibilities. Be sure
that you will only get a list of options from him but not necessarily the intricate details of
each of these options.

Secondly, therefore, with the list of career options in hand, you need to meet
persons who are already pursuing a career in each of these career options. Talk to them
in detail, if required in more than one sitting about their careers – the challenges they
offer, the travails that they inflict, the salary and perks they provide and the satisfaction
derived from them. The possible starting point for gathering this information could be
your family members – grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews or
nieces, or even family friends of your parents and relatives. Starting with someone you
know will help you learn how to converse with elders without any tension. Be sure that
you talk to both husband and wife in the household, because you need to know both
sides of story! For this reason, going home from hostels during the summers and in
winter breaks is mandatory, e.g., in first and second years of B.Tech. program. Most
professionals who are successful in their careers will readily agree to have such
discussion with young people. You could consider inviting to your college top
professionals of the country who have excelled in different fields and have informal
discussions with them. But, the flavour of such discussions on career options is person-
dependent. So you must learn to draw only objective conclusions from such discussion and
not get carried away by personal views/emotions of individuals. This is the reason why
formal printed material is not available, in general, on various career options. To retain
the discussions on an objective platform, the questions that you would ask each
professional need to be realize a priori through brainstorming discussions in formal
meetings of student moderated by faculty member(s).

Thirdly, as the information base grows at your end through discussions with each
practicing professional, your mind gets to serious work of the exercise of searching
within you as what you would like to see yourself as some 25- 30 years from today! This
will require two sets of inputs, namely (a) what a career demands from you, and (b)
what skills or interests you have. So, for each of the career options that you have already
identified, prepare a detailed outline on paper what each career option means. Record on
this outline (a) all the factual information that you have gathered from the various
discussions you had with numerous persons and professionals, and (b) all the factual
information that you can get from the internet. Be cautioned that most material on the
internet is uploaded by individuals, and is not always peer reviewed; hence, it may only
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give a partial or biased view. Therefore, use your judgment to ensure that the material
downloaded from internet is authentic.

Fourthly, prepare a bio-data of yours that accurately represents your background


and skills. Preparing a bio-data is a serious matter. There are many versions of bio-datas
that you can prepare (resume, curriculum vitae,…), and each of these has a specific intent
depending on what you are looking for an employment in a consulting/contracting firm
or for an academic position. Consult good text material on how to write a bio-data. But,
irrespective of type of bio-data you prepare, there is one bare truth about it – your bio-
data should be a factual and quantitative record of your true self with no subjective item.

Good colleges often provide good exposure to the career options and therefore
make it easier for students to identify what they like. Talking to your professors beyond
class hours to know more about a certain field of work is a good starting point… but you
need to meet more people. So, step out with your curious mind into the big wide world –
travel, talk and explore before you decide what you want to do. Don’t be in a hurry to
settle down. Understand who you are and what you want. Don not get carried away by
what is the hot thing in the market. Remember, markets are fluid, fickle and dynamic.
What is hot today may be cold as ice in a few years, and than what will happen to you?
Ask yourself… Are you the outgoing type or the introvert type, and so which career will
suit you the best? Are you creative in your thinking, and so which career offers avenues
to put your creativity to good use? Are your very independent and enterprising, and so
which career will help you retain this freedom of mind? Do you like a small cozy
environment or prefer to work in a large organization, and so which organisation is this?
So, talk to yourself and do a good homework…

The Planning
The task of narrowing down your options for a career choice is quite challenging.
Before you embark on this exercise, you must learn the distinction between a job and a
career. A job simply addresses your materialistic needs – money, power, pride and social
image. But, a well chosen career can offer much more than the above. It gives you honour,
dignity, satisfaction and achievement. Very simply, a successful career will make you a
humble and human person, if you are not already so.

Often, students (and their parents!) evaluate colleges based on the numerical
success of their on-campus placement in the previous year(s). Such persons doubt
themselves – their own capabilities. Campus recruitment reflects market forces – supply
of a set of graduates with certain quality education and attitude, and demand of a set of
jobs that arise from the new projects that employer organizations conceive or win in
competitive bidding. Only a handful of organizations have the long-sight of planning for
the future. If you are looking for a career, you need to know which of these organizations
are futuristic in their manpower planning and technical projections. For this reason,
keeping track of the happenings in business page in the morning newspaper is
beneficial. Listening to Jayaram Ramesh on his market analysis may also give you
additional perspectives on global market trends. You need to collect important
information on (a) how the organisations treat their employees, (b) how do the
organisations nurture the career dreams of young employees, (c) what is the growth
potential in the organisations, and (d) how receptive are the organisations to new ideas
and how dynamic are they to cater to the market demands. Watch the growth curve of
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the organisation, particularly in the past five years. Find out the average age of
employees to understand if the organisation is forward looking or filled with deadwood,
meaning are you simply going to be a cog in the wheel… or are you likely to make a
difference!

There is an increasing trend of students getting hold of group emails of professors


in India and abroad while hunting for openings of summer internships or higher studies,
and flood them with generic emails: “Dear Sir: … I really want to work with a renowned
expert like you …”. Such efforts are often counter productive. In fact, someone who is
looking for a career will do things differently. While most government organizations do
not have websites, private organizations do, but they often keep some vital information
off the public domain. Questions like the following are critical to someone who has to
decide which organization to choose:
(a) What is the annual turnover of the organization?
(b) What are the numbers of employees in different department?
(c) How many of them are in your area of specialization (say, in law, if you are an LLB)?
(d) What are the types of projects handled by the organization?
(e) What is the career ladder in the organization of prospective employees with your
qualifications (i.e., of chartered accountants, if you are a B.Com.)?
(f) What is the starting salary of the persons with your qualification (just indicators)?
(g) What are the five best ongoing projects of the organization?
(h) What are the five best completed projects of the organization?
(i) What are the new technologies/ strategies adopted on-site and in-office in the
specialization of persons with your qualifications (say, in Civil Engineering, if you are
a Civil Engineer)?
(j) What is the fresh intake of persons with your qualifications every year?
(k) Does the company have any multi-national links?
(l) What are the employee development programmes planned by the organization?

So, you may want to write a formal hardcopy letter to HRD Managers of the
organizations you have in mind seeking responses to the above questions. It would be
appropriate to attach a bio-data of yours when you seek such information. Also, expect
that all such letters you write to various organizations may not draw satisfactory
responses. As you put together all the above information and analyse them, you will
reach a narrowed down list of your career choices because some options automatically
will be discarded for obvious inadequacies…!

The Judgment
Narrowing down to a single option from a set of choices can be made simple if
you do your homework right. Identifying your dream career is about the most participative
but personal exercise that you would have ever undertaken – participative because you
have to meet/interact with many persons, and personal because ultimately you have to
decide what to do.

At every crossroads of life, you will have all your experiences of the past, the
factual data about the various options ahead of you, and your ability to make rational
choices. You will make a considered choice (which is your best bet on which career you
are likely to succeed the most in) and stand by it. As you move ahead in time along the
choice you have made, often you do not look back. But sometimes, your considered choice
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may lead you to a dead-end. At the juncture, do not hesitate to back-track to the previous
cross-roads and make another choice. This back-tracking to the previous cross-roads will
not be a loss of face or a defeat, if you had taken your best decision consciously the last
time you were there. It cannot be expected that a winner will always continue to win…
Just as you began to win, someday another new winner will be born! So, winning is only a
phase of life. But, champions are those who are most consistent in their wins and who
keep extending this winning spree. So, learn to become a champion. However, a stage
comes in every champion’s life, when even he/she has to bid good-bye… gracefully!

The Act
Once you have made a choice for a career and joined it, you will stand by it. There
is no scope to doubt it immediately, because you are starting a new phase of life and that
must be with a positive frame of mind. Your initial days of starting a career require you
to keep yourself compact with no extra-thoughts. Try this for a modest beginning:
(a) People are important and human relations are vital. But, your focus has to be only on
the work and nothing/no-one else.
(b) Keep your eyes open and look for correlations between what you learnt at college
and what is happening around you now. This will make things look familiar and
enhance your self-confidence.
(c) If you find that something is not going logically, always come up with a logical
solution of doing that properly. But, don’t jump into name-calling or fault-finding of
those who joined before you. Remember you are in the organization to stay, and so,
make friends with them, and see if you can put across your solution informally and
respectfully. If you are indeed right, your solution will be accepted…if not today,
tomorrow. So, respectful assertion is the way out and not sheer aggression.
(d) Learn dignity of labour. See every employee as yet another spoke of the wheel – each
is as important as the other.
(e) Keep looking for opportunities for making both your organization and you win.
Truly, if your organization grows, you grow too. And, if you were genuinely the
critical reason behind the success of your organization, sooner or later you will see
the results.
(f) Ensure that each day at work teaches you something (however small it be), and on
each day at work, you have contributed your best (yes…nothing but the best!).
The above is not a checklist to memorize and implement, but a habit to create and live…

But, no decision in life is final, and so even your career choice is not. Review your
life every few years and make a career change if you find yourself stagnating. Life is all
about re-inventing yourself. Winners are those who initiate the change, survivors are
those who flow with the change, and losers are those who resist the change. So, all the
while, be alert, be active and keep doing new things… or do the old things differently!

In Closure
“Becoming the Best” is all about wanting to be useful to the community around
you and to humanity at large. Your success in this regard will largely depend on how
much you love people around you and how much you shed your insecurities.
“Becoming the Best” is about becoming human, and not about becoming someone.
“Becoming the Best” is simply realizing your self, your role, your limitations and your
usefulness in the context of the large mass of humanity on this earth…