Careers you didn't even know existed

“What do you want to do when you finish?” If you’re at uni or in your final years of high school, this is a question with which you are undoubtedly well acquainted. While this inquiry is typically an innocent expedient used by uncles, aunties and friends of parents to break awkward silences, for many of us in Gen Y and beyond, it’s the most loaded question since someone asked, "what is the Matrix?" Our generation is home to a flourishing breed of students with increasingly vague ideas about what they want to do with their career life.

For the first two years of my Arts/Law degree, I was one of them. It wasn’t that I was void of passion, or that I didn’t know what my particular strengths were. But no career path from the fairly generic set of discipline areas available for study at uni appealed to me enough to invest the next four decades of my life in any one of them. I had this sense that there must be something else out there in that vast undiscovered country of the 9 to 5; and I’d had plenty of people tell me that “you can do anything with a law degree.” But I had no idea what “anything” was, or where to find it.
After two years spent coming to terms with the fact that if I hoped to get paid at any point in my life then I would be forced to don a suit and get in a courtroom, I made my first discovery of a working world beyond the standard study areas: consulting. I encountered a person who was flown around the world to hear the problems of billion dollar businesses and come up with solutions – for a job. To my linear-brained younger self, this was both astonishing and troubling: how had I missed the degree in problem solving in the tertiary study handbook? Luckily it didn’t take me too long to realize that my new idol was not even an anomaly, but one of thousands of employees in an international industry of professional problem-solving. This was the first nugget in the gold mine of career possibilities I was about to unearth.
It was around this time that my understanding of the purpose of secondary study began to open up. Upon learning that my new friend the consultant had in fact studied civil engineering, and now worked alongside graduates of arts, science and even law, I realized that for many employers out there, the value of a university education is less in the attainment of a set of practical skills than in the development of a more sophisticated way of thinking.
Perhaps the most exciting left-of-field career I have discovered so far is that of “Story Specialist”. This description that sounds like something you would find in a Hans Christian Anderson tale is someone’s legitimate job title. After ten years working as a scriptwriter and freelance journalist, Tom Machlachlan now spends his 9 to 5 creating compelling narrative through which to tell the real-life stories of not-for-profit campaigns. He works for a company called Make Believe, another consulting group that works with NGOs to deliver effective public campaigns.
So if you’re one of many experts at discreetly changing the subject whenever the “career” question is fired, it’s time that you started doing some of the asking. Talking to the people who’ve already thrown their mortarboards is the best way to discover what’s out there beyond the boundaries of a uni degree. Research around your passions and gifts, and you’ll be amazed at what you find.