He recently took to the American Express OPEN Forum blog to answer this question, posed by a reader who "doesn't have a post-college plan." After recounting his own beginnings in business (a tale well worth reading if you're unfamiliar with it), Branson gets to the meat of the question, offering this advice:
Today, you and many other young people face the problem of choosing which career path to pursue in a changing world, where the traditional models of business and government are in flux. The rise of the Internet is still constantly opening up new opportunities, and where the West once dominated global markets, a new order is taking shape with the emergence of China, India and Brazil. These changes mean a lot of uncertainty.Reveling in the journey and accepting you have no idea where you're going isn't advice exclusive to Branson. BNET's Penelope Trunk offered grads similar guidance, saying "the great thing about adult life today is that there are no more rules, no more paths.... There is no way to find yourself before you accept that you're lost."
Rather than try to position yourself for this changing future, use your remaining years at college to assess where your true interests and passions lie, and to look for opportunities to further develop your knowledge and talents. If you love music but can't carry a tune, use your knowledge of music to promote your favorite band or bring them to your city for a concert.
Do not worry if your path ahead is still not clear when you graduate--careers take many different directions, with unexpected twists and turns along the way. As you enter the workforce, remember to stay alert to all opportunities while remaining focused on your interests, and your passion and knowledge will help you to find your way--and succeed. It may take some time, but what a great adventure!
What may be more interesting about Branson's advice is his focus on the fast changing nature of the economy. With tech evolving at breakneck speed, who knows that specific skills will be in demand in a few years time. Rather than trying to play futurist and predict what specialties will serve you well in a decade (who could have predicted social media expertise or iPhone app development ten years out), focus on developing your innate strengths and broad thinking and problem-solving skills.
It's an approach echoed by Jim Ware, executive director of The Future of Work . . . unlimited, who recently spoke on growing talent for tomorrow's industries at an IEDC conference, concluding that focusing on core skills like information search and tolerating ambiguity beats specific skills training that may be soon rendered obsolete.
Read More on BNET:
- 5 Life Lessons from Richard Branson
- The Cure for Career Indecision
- VC to Grads: Forget the Future, Have Fun Now