If you asked a handful of under-10s what they want to be when they grow up, chances are at least one of them is going to say astronaut. You might get a few more who’d come out with YouTube slime reviewer or professional Fortnite dancer, but space explorer is a timeless classic.
We’d be lying if we said it doesn’t still sound like one of the coolest careers out there.
But out of everyone who’s ever dreamed of piloting their own rocket, how many people actually ever wind up with the elusive job? Not many – but maybe not for the reasons you might expect.
You might think that astronauts are selected because they’re the smartest of the smart (which they are!) or because they’re at peak physical fitness (not wrong!) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Or comet.
Actually, an interview from The Independent with national treasure, Tim Peake, revealed the truth about astronauts and the European Space Agency’s hiring process. Unsurprisingly hard skills, or specialised knowledge and skills, rank pretty highly:
“On day one, candidates assemble in Hamburg for six rounds of tests … designed to expose weaknesses in people’s “hard skills”: their mental arithmetic, visual perception, working memory, pattern recognition, concentration, and more. Most are abilities that cannot be taught.”
That’s not all they’re looking for though. According to Tim Peake, soft skills, or the things that can be moulded to fit different roles, are just as important.
“No one wants an astronaut who can work out in seconds how swiftly a fire will consume the International Space Station’s air supply if they cannot agree with the crew what to do about it.”
We’re not saying it’s written in the stars, but… it makes sense, right?
“At the end of the day, somebody is potentially going to have to make some very difficult decisions on a journey to Mars without the benefit of liaising with ground and the rest of the crew is going to have to respect that decision,” says Peake. “Team skills are going to be absolutely essential.”
Yeah, we know that most of us aren’t going to try their hand at a career with NASA. Not that you shouldn’t. But what Tim Peake has to say about the astronaut interview process is just as relevant for loads of other jobs.
Bottom line: it doesn’t matter how brainy or how much of an expert you are in a certain subject. You need the flexibility of key soft skills like communication, good judgement, teamwork, leadership and decisiveness to be the best you can be within your dream job.
Sure, these can be developed alongside your studies at school, college or uni. But you’ve been building on them your whole life, and you might not even have noticed.
From playing team sports to talking to and working with different types of people, responsibility from your part-time job, family obligations, whatever it may be. These are the types of skills that will help you wherever your path may lead.
Still not sure what that dream job might be? Head over to our No Idea section for a little guidance from the universe.
LUCY HARDING is the Editorial manager for Push. She is an English Literature grad and an MA Publishing student at UCL. She is passionate about international relations and cultural diversity, having worked closely with her university’s Erasmus society to support European students. She also spent a year abroad studying at California State University: Long Beach
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