27 y/o looking for career advice

Hi everyone :slight_smile:

I’ve been reading and occasionally commenting for quite some time but never got myself to write this post.
This post is inspired by the dread I feel when I use a FIRE calculator (or do any compound interest calculation, really :wink: ).

I’m a 27 yo swiss university student and this is some background information about me:

  • I have a bachelor’s degree in an useless (career-wise) field with a minor in economics. It took me quite a long time to finish, since I was quite indecisive about a lot of aspects in my life.
  • I’m currently studying a master’s degree in economics with about 1-1.5 years left. I’m pretty set on this path and enjoying my studies.
  • My grades are just about average. I’m working on improving them but will likely never be high above the average student.
  • I practically have no (relevant) work experience. I worked as a server for some years and did one short and unimpressive internship.
  • I applied to quite a few undergraduate internships but never got anything but a standard rejection (likely because of average grades and lack of work experience).
  • I tried to get somewhat relevant student jobs but never got any offer (except one, where they wanted me to assure them that I would be staying for at least 2 years…).
  • I basically have no assets.

One career path I’m currently exploring is research work in DevEcon. I’m doing a voluntary research assistance for a month right now. I give this career path a low chance of suceeding but since I’m really interested in the field I wanted to test it nevertheless.

Otherwise I’m pretty much clueless what I want to do with my studies. I find it incredibly hard to gauge what industry jobs are actually like and all my social contacts are pretty unknowledgable about jobs outside academia too.
My experience from the short internships and work experiences however is that I find quite a wide range of work enjoyable and am also fairly good at it.

The questions I’m struggling with the most at the moment:

  • Where do I actually stand?
    My bachelor’s degree took me far too long and trying to get internships/student jobs has proved frustrating. I feel like I have no sense of what I could realistically strive for.

  • Should I focus more on grades or on finishing my degree quickly?
    I think I could bump my grade average from around 4.75 to around 5.1 by adding an additional semester of studying. This obviously has a large financial opportunity cost and is somewhat unappealing as I’m already studying for far too long. However, I got the impression that it’s really hard to get a good starting job/trainee position with a grade average like mine.

  • Should I search for a student job for the next year?
    I have been living on savings for a while and could sustain this by working odd jobs for the next year. This would allow me to focus on my studies and potentially finish faster or with better grades.
    Having a job on the side would be a welcome change for me and would allow me to start investing (although not a lot). This would be especially appealing if it was a student job that was somewhat relevant to economics (working for a financial firm or as a research assistant). Finding such a job has proved difficult during the last years. And I’m much less sure if working as a server or something similar is a good idea for me at the moment.

  • What steps can I take to ensure that I have more opportunities after my studies?
    At the moment I’m doing the voluntary research assistance and trying to take as many quantitative classes as possible. I already built some coding experience but am thinking of learning a language (e.g. python) on the side. Other than that, I’m not sure what the right steps could be and would be very happy about any suggestions.

I’d be incredibly thankful for any feedback, answers or advice. :slight_smile:

Best regards

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Hi trotro

What kind of Bachelor degree do you have? A combination of a rare Bachelordegree and an MSc in Business Administration is sometimes an interesting combination.

Regards

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man, when i look back, i felt the same alot. i think there is no one big solution. what did it for me was to first quit my old job and to make up my mind about what i wanted to do next, based on what i enjoyed doing so far.
it took me 2-3 months plus lots of coffee descussion before, but finally i found a path for me that got me quite confident.

from today’s perspective i’d argue against adding another semester. half a year of work experience is going to earn you much more that a 0.4 increase in marks.

sorry i cannot provide more :man_shrugging:

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Don‘t think about money, career, social status etc. It won‘t bring you far and most likely you just end up in spinning a hamster wheel. If you ask any succesful person (CTO, CEO, Professor) they all will tell you that they had a lot of luck and did not plan any of it (of course there are always some egoman exceptions).

You need to answer for yourself some questions:
What do you want to do in your life?
You will spend most of your precious time at work, what task should fill your day? Do you like interacting with people, create ideas? Do you like executing ideas and receive clear working directions? Do you like to spend hours on solving problems, rethinking the status quo?

How do you want to do it? What working environment do you enjoy? Big company, internal competition or a SMB? How do you want to be treated at work? How important should your job be? Or is it just to provide salary and all the joy of your life will come from friends and family?

And then you think, about what should the company do? What products/service should they deliver so you will work as motivated as possible and not just sit out your hours. How should the company do it? Should the company have similar values to yours? Or are you okay to work for any company regardless of what and how they are doing it?

And then don‘t think too much about the first job, this is an ongoing process. You constantly evaluate your current state against what you want to do and how you want to do. If you work hard on this, and you bring some talent and intelligence (I assume you have that as you are going to obtain a master degree) the opportunities will show up. Then, you can call yourself a lucky guy if it worked out for you.
Some youtube videos that I found helpful:


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Hi newhere

I studied philosophy. There is basically no information out there, who could be interested in that.
(Fun fact: Philosophy students seem to earn quite well mid-career, compared to other humanities. I was never quite sure why this is but it might have something to do with having to choose a job in the private sector or maybe it’s just selection bias. :slight_smile: )

I’m biased, but for FI/RE just go into tech, if you’re any good with computers or math. Easy 6 figure jobs, FI/RE has never been easier, especialy if you can get into one of US tech giants or hedge funds - those can pay mid 6 figures. Degree not strictly necessary, it has not much connection with day to day job anyway. A quick master in CS wouldn’t hurt for credibility and visa purposes, which you could totally do in 1-1.5y full time, while brushing up on your tech and interview skills

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Some hard skills are always useful, I think knowing how to code and script is essential now a days because there is so much data aggregating for anything. You should maybe think in what field you could combine your philosophy bachelor with data analysis. DevEcon sounds good. Also, I expect that because of technology advancement a lot of change is needed in our society (autonomous driving, renewable energy). This change will need political decisions and acceptance in the society, many of these issues (aversion against change) cannot be solved by engineers. We (engineers) are technology drivers and I would expect from someone with a degree in philosophy to have ideas how to drive society to adopt new technology in the best possible way.

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Hi Nugget

Thanks for your advice.
I’m wondering how you went about “planning” or structuring these three months. Do you seek professional advice, talk to friends, read books? :slight_smile:
In the past such a reflective time would always fly by and I wouldn’t be much smarter. (But I was also quite a bit younger back then.)

Hi arjuno

Thank you, you raise some important points!

I agree that salary is not the only important aspect but also what you do and where. My problem is that getting good information on company culture or how an actual work day looks like is harder than getting information about salaries or prestige of a specific job. (Especially because I don’t have a lot of friends/family working in the private sector, and most job search events are not very helpful.)

My thinking is therefore, that maybe at the beginning of the career it is ok to focus more on prestige and salary of a job, if you don’t know what you’re doing anyway. This could give me a head start career-wise/financially and I could later on focus on getting a meaningful job I enjoy.
But maybe this is naive?

You should maybe think in what field you could combine your philosophy bachelor with data analysis.

Maybe I’m not thinking about this correctly but I assumed that my bachelor was not useful beyond having a bachelor’s degree.

I do see, that there could be some jobs (such as the ones you describe), where an philosophical-analytical way of thinking could be useful. But how one would get them, except through becoming an academic or “public intellectual” I don’t know.

Hi pandas

Thanks for your tips :slight_smile:

I would say that I’m not really talented in coding (bottom half of class type of situation, when I took a computer science course). Would you still think that it could make sense to seek some education in that area? Or would I be better off spending my time learning some specific skills like python (or stata/R for economics).

Are you talking about about US-domiciled jobs or tech- giants located in switzerland?
I’m kind off unsure whether the tech salaries we see today are really sustainable. You can often train for 1-2 years and get paid insanely well. The economist in me thinks that this is likely because tech firms have incredible marginal returns at the moment, which need not be the case forever. So I’d expect some “regression towards the mean” in the long run.
But this is quite speculative. I still think CS jobs are probably a very good bet but maybe not quite as great as they seem today. :slight_smile:

[Maybe something I should have clarified is that FI is much more important to me than RE. I’m basically cool with the idea of working till I’m 70 if it’s a job I enjoy and I’m not working myself to death.]

Always useful to pick up some coding, technology is getting increasingly valued in most industries. R is on decline, I’d stick with python. If you can also pick up some javascript on a bootcamp level you can always get yourself employed as a web monkey to pull at least some 60-70k+. Beats serving tables and flipping burgers at mcd.

US of course. Here it’s only google that has big presence, the rest are small shops primarily hunting ML/AI PhDs.

What kind of jobs do you think is a better bet? Other traditionally high paying jobs - law and medicine - have much higher barriers to entry. $/effort ratio in tech is incredible right now.

One qucik question : where are you living ?

My problem is that getting good information on company culture or how an actual work day looks like is harder than getting information about salaries or prestige of a specific job.

Of course, you cannot think this through. What I mean is that it is your responsibility to make sure that your job and tasks align with what you want to do, and how you want to do it. You cannot hand over this responsibility to your employer/manager because they do not know what you truely want. If you have no relevant work experience, you also don’t know it, that’s why you need to constantly rethink this and take actions if you are not happy. You don’t need to quit your job, but you should discuss with your manager the changes you want to implement. If there is no opportunity for change that you want to implement - quit or change position within the company. Therefore, there is no reason to think too much about your first job, chances that it will completely satisfy you is probably zero, but it’s in your hands to change your situation.

My thinking is therefore, that maybe at the beginning of the career it is ok to focus more on prestige and salary of a job, if you don’t know what you’re doing anyway. This could give me a head start career-wise/financially and I could later on focus on getting a meaningful job I enjoy

I think there is nothing wrong to go for prestige and salary for your job, but you will fool yourself when you think you could later focus on getting a meaningful job that you enjoy. If you don’t do this from the beginning, you might quickly end up in a hamster wheel. I have friends in their early 30s, with a master degree in engineering or economics that are only happy with their job because it pays a good salary and has some prestige. One friend just switched recently to a big reinsurance company, and said that he was not really busy in the first few weeks, or that he would go and work (pure presence time) a day between Christmas and New Year to not loose a holiday day. Confronting your manager and dare to change your work environment needs energy, if you already think now that you focus later on getting a meaningful job, you won’t do it - don’t fool yourself.

Maybe I’m not thinking about this correctly but I assumed that my bachelor was not useful beyond having a bachelor’s degree.

It’s wrong to think that. I see this degree as a big asset, it shows that you have different interests and see the world from another point than someone who has a linear education in economics, computer science or engineering. ETH created about 5 years ago a new masters degree called Science, Technology and Policy with the aim to educate engineers, scientists on political analysis and evaluation and economic, social and political processes. There are companies that are highly interested in employees with such a background, else they would not have created this masters degree. Probably there are even more companies that are not aware that they need such employees. I didn’t study philosophy but from what I had in high school I think at it’s core it is the study of exactly these topics.

I do see, that there could be some jobs (such as the ones you describe), where an philosophical-analytical way of thinking could be useful. But how one would get them, except through becoming an academic or “public intellectual” I don’t know.

The perfect job for you does not exist. I agree that it is maybe easier to create such a job in academia (I am staying there for the moment because of the freedom and flexibility). However, I still think with enough energy, initiative and motivation and a good manager/company culture you are able to create a position that suits your interest and background also in industry. But you cannot expect that this job description will pop up on any platform and if it was there you would not know if you actually like it.

I agree with the others: learn python! You can start by analyzing your finances with beancount and fava and try to create an importer for your account statements.

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I live in Bern. But this is somewhat flexible, almost completely flexible within switzerland. :slight_smile:

This is a bit off topic, but I want to motivate you to take your bachelor degree as a serious education that is needed also in future. Below some practical examples, where I believe a person with knowledge in ethics and moral aspects and what is correct and what is useful for the society was clearly missing in a high rank position and the WRONG DECISIONS were made because the whole decision process was purely based on economic numbers and public relations (satisfying shareholders and stakeholders).

So you make better use of your bachelor degree if you are ever going to make decisions based on your master degree.

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Hi Arjuno

This is a great point.
I really didn’t want to negate the usefulness of my bachelor for my life.
I learned a lot about reasoning and how to think about ethical questions that I think will be useful for my personal and professional life.

Well, at least one advantage of having done a bachelor is that you can now do master degree on (almost) any other topic, nor necessarily related to your BSc. A chance to pivot your career into something more practical and better paying, use it wisely.

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If you are interested in banking or audit industry, have a look in big 4 firms in switzerland. They hire sometimes for few months on specific project which allow you to gain experience and have a nice entry on your CV !

For example internship in risk and compliance for 6 months in ZH : https://jobs.kpmg.ch/job-vacancies/internship-internal-audit-risk-compliance/fb47642d-3447-4b21-a447-12843ccc3610

Or in Geneva if you speak french ! https://jobs.kpmg.ch/job-vacancies/stagiaire-ou-junior-consultant-forensic/89726237-ee2b-41dc-b873-b755040b630a

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Philosophy and BA - I dont think its such a bad combination. From a guy working at EY I know that they hired Phil. graduates.

There are many people with a Business degree out there. You are one of some guys with a phil Bsc and a business MSc, this is good for getting attention. But only if you are interested in using your Philosophy knowledge.

I would suggest that you find what fields of work could be interesting for you. Does your MSc have any specialisation? Is there a company for which you would like to work for?

For your first job I wouldnt think to much about how the work environment would be and how much prestige you have. You should do something that you like. If you are not sure what that could be, just try it.

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that’s a good question, and a can tell you by my case how i went about it. To me it was super worth it. and on the bottom line, off-month worked well for me if i had the finances sorted out and a packed daily agenda.

Anticipating already in March last year that I would want to quit at some point and take some months off to figure out what to come next, i stopped investing and kept all my income on my giro.

at the same time I started to systematically meet all my private and professional contacts to talk about jobs, perspective, their idea on how things do. I kept doing this until very recently. I also met a career coach for two expensive hours. Buying beer from that money would have been a better investment, but that might not apply to everyone.

when my work contract ended in september, i already knew that i wanted to go for something with “data science” (careful with buzzwords…). I first took care about what-I-always-wanted-to-do-but-never-had-time-for-projects, and in the mean time signed up for any (free) techy events I could find, especially via meetup.ch and other organisations that i had some contact with. there is plenty! Talks, hackathons, even IBM day courses on WATSON, which was great.

I was pretty much all day busy until end of November, when I started actively to apply.

In retrospect I find it is super important for me to fill up my agenda with stuff to to, because when I don’t (as i now know…) time indeed flies by with no benefit:

  • events of all sorts
  • private projects of all sorts, but well time-managed
  • meeting friends & contacts
  • sports
  • setting up beancount as a unix-noob (not recommended :partying_face:)
  • cultural stuff, i.e. visit museums or concerts, cinema
  • moving to a new place

i hope this gives you some idea :slight_smile:

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