Erica wrote recently at challenging the idea that entrepreneurs need to go to college/university, it brought back memories of my interview with a careers advisor many years ago.

I was a good student, I was good at and interested in sciences and languages and really didn’t know what I wanted to do, although I knew there were somethings I did NOT want to do. So they careers advisor took me through an aptitude test and a personality test. The result of which was, as he informed me, I was bright enough to do whatever I chose. He said this as if it was good news, but I wanted help and this was one seriously unhelpful answer.

Now I work at the cross roads of technology, business and communication and I love the combination of working with people, analysing technology, problem solving, design and creativity.  It took a long time to get here, with some big career detours along the way (to see just how circuitous my career has been you can check my linkedin profile). I’m now managing a small team and talking to people about their career path and it seems that the classic career advice serves a few people, and fails many.

Where it succeeds


People who know what they want to do, those who say something like “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer”, or “I’ve always wanted to design dresses”, or “I like computers, I don’t like meetings, tell me what to build and I’ll make it”.

There’s usually a fairly clear connection between the career they want to follow and the training they’ll need. It’s therefore rather easy to to point these people in the right direction, advise them on courses, help them apply.


People who don’t really want the effort of a career, they’ll work hard, but the job is one part of their life and they’ll do what they’ve contracted to do.

Usually you can combine the persons interests and skills to find several acceptable options, occasionally later in life this group get a whack of inspiration and take off in a different direction. But most often this group will be happy with regular work, a reasonable pay, and maintaining a life balance.

Where it does not succeed

Entrepreneurs (particularly young entrepreneurs)

This group have an idea that they can develop into a business, they’ll probably be very enthusiastic about their idea even if you ask practical questions indicating how half-baked their idea is. There’s a good chance they already have a hobby that they’re selling to their friends.

It’s hard to advise this group, there isn’t a course that is automatically going to fit all entrepreneurs. I think they need to create their own “apprenticeship”, meaning they might follow a small business course, they might do a semester of marketing courses, they might work with someone great in their field. This is basically what Erica did, as outlined in her post, although she may not have thought of it in those terms.

I think this group get bad advice from career advisors because career advisors are typically not entrepreneurs, and what this group need is very far from the traditional logical career path and career ladder they’re used to discussing.

Slow starters

This group have no idea what they want to do, they’re likely to have seemingly unrelated interests, they may have a couple of things they know they don’t want to do (for me that was teaching). Like Anna, who had a string of low paid jobs, a failed university degree in Art, travelled in Europe for a bit, did some work for a photographer, she went on to be a not great photographer herself and her family worried. She now works in publishing; specifically publishing high quality books about Art. It’s a dream job, but she could never have articulated that dream at 17.

It’s actually easy to advise this group. “What is the thing that most appeals to you right now? Do that.” Because in a sense it doesn’t really matter where we begin, we’ll move around and it may take a decade or more to connect all the dots and then launch ourselves into a niche career that was not thought of before.

On second thoughts “What is the thing that appeals to you right now? Do that” could apply to all groups and all stages of your career. I think I’ve just done the career advisers out of a job!

image Advice

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