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Festive Career Lessons from Elf

By uczjsdd, on 16 December 2019

Written by Dr Sophia Donaldson, Senior Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

[WARNING: This post contains spoilers. But, like, surely you’ve seen Elf before, right?!?!!]

Oh man I love Elf. Laughing as a grown man screams with excitement at the prospect of meeting Santa allows me to pretend that’s not exactly how I feel when I see the lights and trees and sparkles go up at this time of year. But you and I both know Elf isn’t just fun and japes. As with all Christmas classics (see our 2018 analysis of Home Alone), Elf carries some serious career lessons. Like stocking fillers you never asked for but now realise you can’t live without, here are just three of them:

There are different ways to work towards the same cause

Buddy grew up assuming he’d have a glowing career as an elf. Then he discovered he’s not an elf. He’s a massive clumsy human and he’s rubbish at making toys. But all was not lost! As with any sector – the healthcare biz, the music biz, the art biz – there are plenty of ways to work towards the Christmas cause. Buddy turned out to be a talented shop decorator, sleigh power-er, and story-weaver, and he used these talents to contribute to his main field of interest: Christmas.

This story resonates with a lot of people. Not the growing-up-in-the-North-Pole-thinking-you’re-an-elf-when-you’re-actually-a-human bit. But the realising-you-may-not-be-the-best-fit-for-your-long-imagined-career bit. If you’re in a Buddy-fix, analysing what attracts you to your “dream” career can help generate alternative options. If it’s the field, subject, or cause that attracts you, our sector themed weeks of career events provide info on a range of paths within the same field (if you missed anything there are recordings and blogs online). Sites like Prospects give a broad overview of roles within various sectors, as well as a handy “alternative” careers list for any job they profile. And you can also go straight to the organisations you admire, and explore all the possible ways you could use your strengths and experiences to help them achieve their goals.

Your work isn’t the only thing that matters 

Buddy’s biological father Walter is a workaholic, placing his job above the needs of his family. But when Buddy runs away, Walter realises his family is more important, and he leaves a crucial meeting to ensure his son is ok.

It’s a classic Christmas trope, and it’s classic because it’s true: work isn’t the only or the most important thing in life. And you know what, even when it comes to actual career-thinking, work itself isn’t everything. Career decisions are influenced by all sorts of factors, not just the types of tasks you’ll be doing day-to-day. Your career happiness will be influenced by the people you work with, the location you live in, the lifestyle your job affords you etc. etc. etc. And the importance of each factor can vary over the years, as you and your circumstances change. So take time to decide what your priorities are, and don’t be afraid to factor them into career decisions, as they can be just as important as the nature of the work you’ll be doing.

Positivity is contagious

Despite suffering a fair few disappointments, Buddy just likes to smile. Smiling’s his favourite. And (rabid raccoons excepted) most who encounter Buddy can’t help but eventually be inspired by the strength of his positivity.

This movie magic happens in real life too. Positivity, as well as negativity, are catching. There’s even plenty of actual real life proper science behind it, involving mirror neurons and stuff. It’s important to remember this during your jobhunt, as a positive attitude will not only keep you pushing onwards during the inevitable disappointments we all experience at times, it will also impact the attitudes of others around you.

No one (not even Buddy) can be positive all the time, but the tiny snapshot of you employers see during an application process needs to leave them with a good feeling. So try to keep your applications and interview answers positive. Tell employers what you do have that’s relevant to the role, not what you’re missing. Talk about the positive reasons you want this new job, not negative reasons you’re leaving your old one. And even when an interview question forces you to be a bit negative – like asking you to describe what you’ll find most challenging about a role – be open and honest, but spend the majority of your answer on positive things, like sharing what you’re already doing to overcome this challenge, and how you plan to continue overcoming it. If you have a real interview coming up you can book a mock interview to get feedback on how you’re coming across.

Happy Holidays and a Merry 2020 to you all. If you’re finding any of this careers malarky tricky, book into a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant, to chat about it.

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