24 Jun 2015 18:00 IST

A beginner’s guide to the corporate galaxy

Don’t worry about which sector is hot: find something you like to do, and you won’t regret it

Which is the current ‘hot’ industry to work in? This is a question I’m often asked by students, parents and other well-wishers. The sector that gives most scope for professional advancement is something many of us lose sleep over when looking to enter the workplace and build a career. And the answer is more difficult since Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) has become the norm in the corporate environment.

How does one decide where to throw in one’s lot?

That question has caused me to reflect on sectors that have been ‘hot’ over the years. In the early '90s, I remember brand management and marketing were perceived as careers with sure growth potential. Likewise, the exponential growth of the financial sector and entry of global players saw a boom in finance and investment banking jobs. In the late '90s, the technology boom saw a different set of skills gain ascendancy and continued into the heady days of the dot-com boom.

Rise and fall

More recently, we have seen 'star' sectors come and go. Telecom, insurance, retail and aviation all saw significant growth and investments in the mid 2000s. This growth, as expected, was accompanied by steep compensation hikes and career progression. This led to many career aspirants focusing on how they could be part of this growth. We all know today that regulatory changes, competition and technology shifts have resulted in a mixed bag of opportunity in these sectors. While they are bound to see growth in the medium term, there will also be tough choices to be made along the way including on retention and compensation of employees.

Today, newer sectors, including e-commerce, m-commerce, are the ones people are running after, while newer business models see the emergence of demand for skills as varied as content writing, and physiotherapy to name a few. So what are the choices we have on the core question of how to choose a career?

We can continue observing trends with a hawk’s eye, predict which sectors are poised for growth for whatever reason, and try to ride that wave. It almost reminds me of the approach traders adopt to stock picking.

Or, we can focus on finding an area of work that we enjoy and find fulfilling, whether it is currently a 'hot' sector/skill set or not. That way, whether the area is experiencing unprecedented growth or not, whether the compensation levels are top of the line or not, you will be in the enviable position of being happy with the work you do. My own experience bears this out. I entered the consulting arena in the early ’90s when it was a small industry with very few players, and found that I loved the work, the variety and opportunities for learning. Salaries did not compare with those in the industry and many colleagues left for greener pastures.

Challenge and fulfilment

Over the two decades I have spent in this field, this sector has experienced and alternated between heady years of growth, tough years which have seen cutbacks; and unprecedented compensation hikes as well as years of stagnation. However, the challenge and fulfilment the work has provided have been invaluable and consistent.

Way ahead

Find what you love and work to be really good at it. The VUCA factors are going to test you and as professionals we need to be able to continuously learn new skills and adapt to change. Management guru Peter Drucker talked about the need to think about a parallel or second career for every knowledge worker and that fact is truer than ever today. Times change, workplace models evolve and organisation expectations will evolve along with it. However, finding what you love to do, building a strong capability in it and continuously learning new skills to stay relevant remains the simple yet fundamental truths to building a fulfilling career.

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