How to Choose the Right Career in Indian Scenario

India, one of the ancient civilizations in this world has transformed a lot since Independence from British in 1947. For last several decades, it has been observed that career choices in our collectivistic culture has been more influenced by social perception about relevance of occupations, family expectations, peer competition,  opportunities arising out of dynamic economic conditions, materialistic goals etc. Thus, career choices have been governed to large extent by external factors rather than individual ones. Some individuals rise to social expectations and become engineers, doctors, bureaucrats, managers, entrepreneurs etc. However, it has also been observed that few years into their career, they become disillusioned gradually and lose interest in what they do.

Why this happens?

Most of the times, we make career choices not because we want to pursue it but because somebody else has told us to do so or we do because we don’t want to do something else.

Conflict between Self and the Ideal self

Every individual has got his own interests, desires, attitude, beliefs, ambitions, goals and capabilities. Due to the uniqueness of these things, we often say that every individual is unique in himself. However within every individual there is a conflict going on. This conflict is between the self (what an individual actually is) and ideal self (what an individual wants to be). If the distance between the self and the ideal self is too large, the individual will remain dissatisfied. The ideal condition is that the self and the ideal self are congruent or totally overlapping each other. That means, individual is what, which he wanted to be. However this is an ideal condition. There will be certain interests, hobbies or goals which we always wanted to pursue but never got a chance to do so. So total or hundred percent congruence is difficult to achieve. However if we are able to reduce the distance between the self and the ideal self, it will enable the individuals psychological well being. We find people doing things which give them materialistic satisfaction. But they have no intrinsic desire for the work they do. If we want to bring congruence between or self and ideal self, we should do things which motivate us intrinsically or do things according to our capability.

The Indian dilemma

Selecting a career path is one of the initial challenges faced by an individual as a young adult. Little over a decade ago parents considered engineering and medical as most viable career paths for their children. Getting into these streams was considered as top most priority for most students. However with evolving socio-economic scenario, the market dynamics has changed a lot. Now a day’s students are being prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. Innovation is the buzzword.

However this was not the case few decades ago. In a collectivistic society like India, society’s perception about job roles plays an important role in an individual’s career selection process. If we look at the history of modern India, just before independence, becoming lawyers was considered as an achievement. That might be because many leaders of our freedom struggle were lawyers. Post Independence, in the Nehruvian era, the demand for building infrastructure was enormous.  This demand prompted engineering as an enlightening career choice, particularly civil engineering. The first IIT was set up in Kharagpur in 1951. Similarly India health infrastructure was also in a poor shape. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi was established in 1956. The demand for doctors increased manifold.  Thus, becoming an engineer or doctor became the cardinal aspiration of Indian middle class. However, as we started developing as a socialist economy, agriculture being the primary driver of economy, government services particularly joining Indian civil services became the symbol of achievement for the middle class. Joining civil services was beyond the scope of ordinary Indians during British raj due to the inherent demands of biased selection system favouring the British. In our country politician epitomized the symbol of power but for the middle class becoming an engineer, doctor or bureaucrat became the symbol of empowerment not only for self but also for family and peers.

Thus, the three professions of engineering, medical and civil services dominated Indian mind sets for several decades after independence.

The early nineties can better be described as the era of Mandal and Kamandal agitations. However in the period of these agitations, the nation’s economy was facing its own challenges. The economic challenges faced by the nation forced it to open the economy. Thus, in the nineties, the initiation of liberalization started transforming the Indian economy. The trickledown effects of these changes were not only economical in nature but also psychological and behavioral. With globalization at its peak, more and more global companies investing in India, the demand for management professional started increasing. In the same period, the policy of increased job reservation in government services and educational institutions reduced the chances of many to get into government educational institutions and bureaucracy.

The changes within the socio-political and economic scenario of the nation brought dynamic changes in the psychological mindset of Indian middle class. With reducing opportunity in bureaucracy and other traditional fields, Indian youth started migrating to other fields like management. The first Indian Institute of Management (IIM) was established in Kolkata in 1961. Many others followed. However management as a profession in India started becoming fascination for the average Indian middle class youth in the 90’s. Gradually, in the coming decade getting into IIMs became the symbol of youth achievement. So much so that people started leaving senior bureaucratic, medical and engineering professions to become management professionals in MNC’s.

During the same period, another revolution was taking place in the field of software technology. With the increasing demand of software professionals, more and more engineering colleges started blooming in the country. However unlike earlier times, this time engineering was all about IT and computer science. Even people who had pursued other disciplines of engineering opted for software field when given an opportunity. Software engineering and management had become the ultimate fascination for Indian youth. The reasons were obvious. The salary package that they could get with few years of experience, their parents in their young age could never imagine. With MNC’s they could travel to different parts of the world. In fact taking care of family members is considered cardinal in collectivist cultures. Here a young software professional could earn so much that he/she could take his parents to foreign destinations which was not possible in the known past with any other traditional profession. A software professional with strong domain knowledge could start earning just after completing his bachelor’s degree. Whereas a medical student before becoming a full time established professional doctor had to spent years earning his degree, completing specialization, field experience, building brand etc.

The era of globalization and liberalization led to revolution in the fields of software and management. There was also another cascading effect of globalization. This was in the field of media particularly news media. Earlier, the TV news channels were controlled by government. But changes in policies led to an explosion of 24 x 7 private news channels. Now-a-days, online news portals are also available in abundance. Again for the demanding youth this presented an opportunity. To become a reporter/journalist and be visible to the masses caught the imagination of Indian youth. For the Indian youth who wanted to be heard and wanted to have an impact on the current state of affairs of the nation, becoming a journalist was an achievement. For a brief period biotechnology also was field of interest to Indian youth. However today, ‘start-up’ has become the buzz word. More and more youth want to become job creators and not job-seekers.

Journey of Career Selection

In India, the first step towards career selection happens just after tenth standard exams. The student has to select the stream which he wants to pursue, for e.g. science, commerce or arts. In next two years, he/she will be in college. So these two years are of immense importance to students. Most of the students after completion of their twelfth standard exams move on to pursue their professional or academic degrees. For making these decisions which will have lifelong impact on their personal and professional lives, students and parents always search for guidance. A lot of career counselling facilities are available in our country. But somehow it is not accessible to all due to numerous reasons. A lot of psychometric instruments are also available which can guide the nascent mind. But understanding those instruments require expertise. Sometimes people spend large sum of money but remain confused afterwards.

So what should be done?

Although there are many psychological factors governing career choices but understanding two basic psychological concepts can enable us to introspect effectively to make better career choices at any point of life. Ones capability to execute various tasks and personality are paramount for deciding which career to pursue. In order to know ones capacity or capability, Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences is quite innovative and revolutionary. Similarly Holland’s concept of personality can enable us to understand and introspect about our preferences and choices in life. These concepts have a direct impact on the day to day functioning of any individual, particularly with respect to career/job performance.

Gardner’s work in human cognition and human potential led to the development of his theory of multiple intelligences. He mentioned that capability or intelligence within an individual is not unitary in nature but is actually multifaceted. Human beings possess different types of intelligences. So we can have different capabilities within an individual but one may be predominant. So here are the capabilities or intelligence that we all possess.

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence: Have you ever wondered how Munshi Premchand could write those mesmerizing stories and Pandit Ramdhari Singh Dhinkar could inspire millions of Indians through his inspiring poetry. It’s true they were multi talented individuals in their own rights. However the capacity which enabled them to think and write was propelled by Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence. Individual possessing this intelligence will have good skills for reading, speaking, and writing. The understanding of sounds, meanings and rhythms of words consists of their cardinal strength. Skill to use language is predominant among them. They can easily learn new languages. They can be good at word games, oration, debating, poetry and even telling stories innovatively.

Logical-Mathematical intelligence: We all have heard about the great Indian Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan who without any formal training in mathematics could make huge contribution to the domain of Mathematics. In contemporary world, the Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman fascinates the world of mathematics not only through his accomplishments but also refusal to accept awards and honours. These individuals may be primarily governed by logico-mathematico intelligence. This intelligence enables an individual to think analytically. They are also good at finding relationships between concepts and patterns. Individuals with this intelligence are good at working with numbers. They live like an experimenter. Their ability to think conceptually and abstractly enables them to form hypothesis to test.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence: Sometimes when we enter a building, we are amazed how beautifully the interiors have been visualized and created. This skill to deal with shapes, patterns, designs, colour, texture etc to form mental images to create things or solve problems is visual-spatial intelligence. The individuals with these intelligence are really good at solving puzzles like rubric cubes, mazes etc. They can also read maps better than others.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence; When we see a classical dancer dancing, the rhythmic movements fascinates us. The foot work of legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar enabled him to deal with most potent bowlers of his generation. What is important is individual’s capability to control body movements to communicate, create products or solve problems. This capability symbolizes bodily kinesthetic intelligence. They achieve this ‘by doing’ or by practice. Acting, mimicking, playing sports epitomize this intelligence.

Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence: Imagine how A.R. Rehman could compose and Lata Mangeshkar could sing melodious songs. Their capability evolves from the musical intelligence they possess. Individuals high on this intelligence have ability to understand and appreciate rhythmic patterns. Individuals with this capability can reproduce a melody or song just after hearing it once. They easily recognize and differentiate the sounds of musical instruments in a musical composition. Similarly they are quite apt in recognizing the sounds of birds.

Interpersonal Intelligence: The success of a salesman to sell his products depends on his ability to empathetically connect himself and his product with the customer and their needs. This capacity to form bonds quickly with others is called as interpersonal intelligence. The individuals with this intelligence are better equipped to deal with conflicts. The empathy within them gives power to understand the motivation, emotion, mood, interest and needs of others which in turn enables them to connect and convince others effectively. Overall they can better recognize and judge the hidden intentions and emotions of others.

Intrapersonal Intelligence: Generally people approach gurus, sages and mentors for guidance. During his lifetime, Swami Sri Ramana Maharshi was visited by people from all over the world for guidance. Understanding oneself is very challenging. Individuals with intrapersonal intelligence have the capacity to understand one’s own emotions, fears and desires. These attributes makes oneself confident, resilient and in tune with their inner feelings. Basically they have a high degree of self awareness which enables them to be at peace with themselves. Overall they are good at introspection and work as self sufficient systems.

Naturalist Intelligence: Individuals high on this intelligence have a natural tendency to appreciate natural environment. They have the ability to recognize and classify plants and animals. From an early age they will be interested in growing plants, playing with animals and may be fascinated by changing seasons. Sometimes they like to collect leaves, seashells etc.

Holland’s Six Personality Types

Holland’s personality model describes six personality types. Knowing ones personality is important. Within this model, any individual can show traits or characteristics of more than one personality type but usually any one of them may be dominating.

Realistic (R): The individuals with this type of personality are characterized as natural, conforming, frank, genuine, modest, hard-headed, persistent, practical but shy, careful and materialistic. They prefer to work with machines, tools and things rather than ideas and people. They generally like outdoor and physical activities. They are natural and genuine but shy away from social groups. Overall they are traditional in nature but sometimes inflexible also.

Investigative (I): Investigative individuals are characterized as analytical, independent, modest, curious, cautious, methodical, precise, rational, intellectual but pessimistic, reserved, complex, and critical. Overall they like to be observant and enjoy research, scientific or mathematical activities. They are highly independent and not swayed by emotions making them suitable to work in ambiguous environment. However they generally don’t like to persuade others or sell things.

Artistic (A): They are imaginative, open, original, intuitive, independent, idealist, expressive, introspective but complicated, emotional, disorderly, impulsive, nonconformist and impractical in nature. They value creative ideas; self expression and beauty which makes them always seek for opportunities for self-expression through artistic creation. Due to their characteristics they are better at creative works but not comfortable with office or clerical activities.

Social (S): They are friendly, empathetic, idealist, generous, helpful, sympathetic, warm, understanding, cooperative, responsible, tactful and persuasive. Social individuals enjoy social activities and value social service.  Solving interpersonal problems is their strength. They like helping, training, teaching, healing, counselling, developing or serving others. However they generally are not comfortable with mechanical and technical activities.

Enterprising (E): Enterprising individuals are energetic, ambitious, sociable, outgoing, adventurous, self-confident, inspiring but acquisitive, impulsive, exhibitionist and dominating. They value loyalty, risk taking, financial and social success. They enjoy activities that require them to persuade others, such as sales, and seek out leadership roles.  However they are not comfortable with scientific, intellectual, or complicated topics.

Conventional (C): They are careful, conforming, efficient, obedient, persistent, and practical but unimaginative and inhibited.  In life, they value accuracy, making money, and power in business or social affairs. They don’t prefer ambiguity as they don’t like to do things in which clear directions are not present. Basically, they prefer to follow set standards and routine.

Overall if we can know our dominant intelligence and dominant personality, we can introspect to select the appropriate career path. For e.g. if an individual has logico-mathematico intelligence and Investigative personality, then the professions of doctors, Engineers (Electrical, Electronics, computer, Chemical), System Analyst, etc are suitable for them. However if an individual has logico-mathematico intelligence and enterprising personality, then the professions of traders, businessmen, consultants, bankers, stock broker, insurance brokers, arbitrators,  entrepreneurs, Military Officer (Special and Tactical Operations Leader) etc may suit them.

Thus, understanding psychological attributes governing career decision is important for building future of any individual and in turn nation. For transforming the nation, each individual’s full potential has to be nurtured.