Finding Your Way to the Right Career/Job

Many new graduates have trouble figuring out the right career direction to take. Sometimes parents’ wishes can influence the decision and sometimes the career choices of friends are influential, but most important in a career choice should be YOU! Who are you? And what do you want and need from your career? If new graduates will take some time to do some basic assessment work, it can save them from a lot of unhappiness down the road. The straightforward assessment that works well with many of my clients is something I call an AIMS assessment. You think through your Aptitudes, Interests, the Market need, and the Skills you need to have: AIMS. If you do that, it helps you to identify the right career path.

business womanStart with aptitudes. What do you do well? What are your innate abilities? People excel at work when they are performing work and activities that play to their strengths. To figure out your strengths, think about your natural talents. For example, some people are very good at math or science, others have strong verbal skills, others are sensitive to nuances in human behavior, still other people are good at artistic expression. By the time you have gone through high school you should have good indicators of your natural talents and abilities. These are your aptitudes. Often your friends and family or your teachers know what you do well and if you ask them, they can tell you. You have to be careful that your career direction is not hijacked by someone else’s agenda for you. Just because your mother wants you to be a doctor or your father wished he had become a lawyer does not mean that being a doctor or a lawyer is the right path for you. Your innate abilities are the ones you care about when you do this assessment. Write a list of your natural talents. Ask friends, family and teachers to contribute to this list.

Next, what are you interested in? People who are interested in a topic or in the content of the work they do for a living get into the “flow” of the work. They describe the feeling of “flow” as one of being in another zone. While in this zone, they are focused and eager and engaged. When people are interested in the work they do, they excel at the job. You want to be interested in the content of the work you will think about all day for day after day of your work-life! I am working with someone now who is trying to define his career direction and he is deeply interested in games. When he is decoding a puzzle he is in his element. His career should have some element of gaming, puzzle solving, and de-coding in it. He might enjoy the gamesmanship of trial work if he becomes a lawyer. If he gets into the field of engineering, he will be interested in aspects of that work that involve de-coding and possibly creating gaming software. For someone who enjoys visual arts, that interest can lead the way to fields that include architectural design, photography, videography, software design and more. People who are interested in helping others have better lives are often happy doing not-for-profit work, counseling, coaching, advising, and educating, and gravitate to the fields of psychology and social work or coaching sports teams, for example. The way to identify what you are interested in is to think about what you would want to look at, read, or do if you had the chance to read anything in a magazine or on the Internet, or spend your time doing something of intense interest. What are you drawn to doing? Identifying your interests is usually not as hard as figuring out where your interests fit into the work world. Start with the interests and then do your homework by first speculating about what might incorporate your interests, and then check your educated guesses out by doing good informational interviews – talk with people doing the work you think you want to do. What do software designers actually do all day? Do they really get to use their design skills? Who gets to do the design job at an engineering company? You can also check some of this out using the Internet to inform you about real world activities people do on the job.

Next, is market demand. You want to be sure that the field or industry you are targeting has work and is busy and growing. This information is available online and by using Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. There are numerous articles these days about where the best prospects for jobs are currently and predictions for the future. The market demand should be robust if you want to insure that you will have adequate job prospects now and in the future. Market demand has been shifting rapidly in the past decade partly because of global economic changes and partly because there have been many innovations that affect the marketplace as well as population changes including a larger demographic of seniors. Right now the hot fields appear to be: the health care industry, information technology, alternative energy, marketing, engineering, and financial analysis, as well as some global areas connected to fields such as the law, real estate, energy, and other industries. Check out blogs and articles to find the hot careers that match up with your strong aptitudes and interests.

Next, get the skills that make you valuable to a potential employer. Without current skills, your marketplace value is weaker and you want to be at the top when it comes to competing with others. A four year liberal arts college or university degree is very useful because it can open up the way you think and provide more information about who you are as well as expand your world view. However, these days some people cannot afford that four year college degree and a technical school might be the right answer for them. It might make the most sense to go to a technical school that will provide training in skills such as computer science, information technology, engineering, nursing, and so on. If you plan to go from high school directly into a technical school it is still important to match up your aptitudes, interests, and market need with the career you choose to pursue.

Follow your aptitudes, interests, the needs of the market, and be sure to gain the skills that make you valuable; if you do you will be in the sweet spot for your career.

Transition to your New Career – Two Predictors of Success

I work with many people who are ambivalent about their careers. They say they want to leave their careers but don’t have a clue about how to take the next step. It can be hard to know how to get to your second act.

There are people who picked the wrong field altogether, but could they stay in a related part of the field and find happiness? There are people who would not like any kind of work and probably need to keep that Nike ad in mind – “Just Do It,” or the popular saying: “That’s why they call it work and pay you to do it.”

Like a tangled ball of yarn, it can be very hard to untangle the confusion we experience when we do not like what we are doing for a living. How to start to untangle the yarn?

14202199100_c1d8c57e35Every person’s situation is unique and needs to be assessed carefully. However, I have learned over the years that there are two important predictors that will tell me if clients are likely to leave their current career and move on to something else. These predictors are: 1) the motivators and 2) the obstacles.

Motivation includes something you could call a “carrot” or even more than one “carrot.”  People who are strongly drawn to something else because they are very interested, excited, or even passionate about the topic or the activity are more likely to take the steps that will get them out the door of the old and into something new. They often have the drive to try to break with the status quo and achieve something different in their lives.  The act of going towards something that offers rewards and promises enjoyment can be powerful. For example, people who really enjoy thinking about fashion or love to design restaurants or want to figure out how to code are excited about the prospect of spending time doing what they love. People may be excited about a particular mission, such as remedying homelessness or improving the education system or putting a stop to human trafficking, and that eagerness to support a mission propels them forward. Another motivator can be economic. If you need to make more money because you have a new baby in your family, you are going to look for something that will get you what you need and that will improve your sense of security.

Motivation also includes something you could call “sticks.” What you hate about your current work situation can motivate you to work hard to get away from whatever you cannot stand. A bad boss, a lack of aptitude or interest in the work itself, insufficient challenge, inadequate pay, long hours, and a lack of work-life balance are just a few of the negatives that can motivate people to dig in and push to get to their next act. One of the biggest sticks can be a lack of interest in the content area you think about or activities you do at the current job/career.

And then there are the obstacles. Even when motivation exists, if the obstacles are too great, my clients are unlikely to achieve success. Obstacles are like weights and the more weight you have piled on you, the harder it is to move. Weights such as student debt, lack of energy to stay the course, fearfulness and second guessing yourself, unsupportive parents or spouses, as well as other obstacles can multiply the difficulty of a career move and will inhibit change.

Getting to your next act can be a challenge, but if you are motivated and do not have too many obstacles, you can get there.

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Redefining Success in Work and Life

What is success in life? More to the point, what does it mean to YOU to be successful in YOUR life? This is a question many of my clients grapple with when we work together to define their career goals. Most people develop a definition of personal success early in life. Often we are influenced in our ideas of success by our parents and other relations, the people in our communities, our teachers, and our national culture. For many people the goal of being a high-powered professional seems to be the road to success. Striving to achieve this goal sets many of us up to work hard and can motivate us to overcome life’s challenges. For some, that works just fine. But for many people, the effort to satisfy the expectations of overly demanding workplaces can set us up for trouble. These days the effort to be the high-powered professional can be a double-edged sword.

Over and over again when my clients articulate the building blocks of personal happiness and define the life they truly want, there are remarkably consistent, even universal themes. People want work that they find personally interesting and engaging and that adds some value in the world. People want to be trusted to do the work but get guidance when they ask for it. People want bosses who are emotionally mature, who do not yell at them or micromanage them, and provide constructive feedback and support. People want co-workers who are collegial, helpful, and team players. They want the chance to get ahead and become more expert over time. They want enough money to feel secure.

happy familyAnd almost everyone yearns for a job that allows them time for a full, vibrant life outside of work so that they can enjoy friends, family, and experiences that enrich their lives such as travel, classes, sports events, working with a not-for-profit, and physical fitness. This is the fairly consistent profile of a life that works, or would work, if only people could find a way to get it. For many professionals, that goal has been elusive or unattainable lately.

In our country and particularly since the downturn in the economy starting around 2008, with the loss of so many jobs, the priority for many workplaces has been productivity, namely, getting more hours out of the people who are in the workplace. And let’s face it, many people are afraid to lose their jobs and feel they have to suck it up or risk being fired. Overworked professionals often lose out on good times with friends and family, and sometimes damage relationships with the people closest to them even though spending time with friends and family is usually one of their highest priorities. Workplaces have become more than jealous mistresses – they have become demanding dictators that overrule our better instincts about what we need in our lives.

Many professionals who feel overworked and burned out are ambivalent about leaving their high powered jobs. They tell me they feel trapped. And a big part of the trap has to do with their strong beliefs about what constitutes success in life. When they finally come for career counseling it is often because the pressure is overwhelming. When the balance of work and life outside of work is so seriously tilted towards work, many cannot get their inner gyroscope upright anymore. To make matters worse, pressure can come not only from unremitting overwork, it can also come from life’s curve balls and problems that overload an already fragile system in uncertain balance. Added stresses can be sudden or subtle: the loss of someone you love kick-starting a depression; a child with a serious mental or physical challenge, deteriorating parents, a personal injury, or the loss of a job. These and many other problems can and do befall most people at one time or another as they go through life. They add to the stress of the already over-stressed professional.

However, it is at these times of great difficulty and pressure that many people are capable of changing their minds. The high-powered job that seemed to be the shiny trophy may suddenly look more like a gaudy trinket. The real prize may suddenly be recognized to be a simpler, low-key life that works.

When I hear a client say, “What good is it to have a job that pays six figures when I never have time to enjoy my life?” or: “They can’t pay me enough to have a life that makes me this miserable,” I feel pretty hopeful. These are the words of someone who is ready to rethink old beliefs, reframe his definition of success and might actually be motivated to reshape his career.

What Deflate-gate Has to Tell You about Your Professional Reputation

Deflate-gate is all over the news. Patriots’ Coach Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are being grilled by the media about what they knew about underinflated footballs used in the play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts. Whether they knew or did not know and what was known when has become the daily churn for social media and main stream media alike. It is likely that Belichick’s former violation of the rules for videotaping sideline signals used by the Jets (“Spygate” 2007) affected the way people have viewed the current controversy. When your reputation is already suspect, there will be greater skepticism about your honesty. What is going on with the Patriots has a lot to tell us about how valuable reputation is and how fragile it can be.

deflated footballEveryone who has a career also has an image, reputation and brand. Once you realize how important your image is, you also realize how much it matters that you take charge of it, build it and maintain a positive reputation in your workplace, your industry, and in your life in general. Even before you officially start a career, back in high school and college, people form opinions about you that will follow you into your professional life. Are you honest? Are you ethical? Do you take responsibility for the mistakes you make? You want opinions about you to be positive throughout your career. A reputation for honesty and integrity is valuable and it is earned over time. People who interact with you and are treated fairly will remember that. Cheating on exams, cheating at cards, cheating when you play golf, creating fake IDs for classmates so they can buy alcohol- all of your behavior affects the way people see you. Even relatively minor infractions or stupid mistakes can be remarkably hard to overcome.

I am working with a very earnest, socially with it, smart, engaging woman in my counseling practice who is a new graduate from a top law school. She did very well academically at her university and had a good reputation until she decided to take textbooks out of the school library she thought no one would miss and sell them on the side to make a few bucks. She was caught. She confessed. And the local prosecutor brought charges. As a result, she has a record. And when the committee on ethics and fitness to practice law learned about that, she was denied the opportunity to practice law – at least for now. The difference this has made in her life is immense. She cannot get a job as a lawyer even though she graduated from law school with excellent grades and has every other qualification to practice law and become successful. She has to keep explaining what happened and keep trying to reassure people that she has changed.

When I worked as a prosecutor in the official misconduct unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and then as an Assistant United States Attorney, I was amazed at the number of smart people in high places who committed crimes even though the downside was very high and the upside seemed minimal. Time and time again leaders we respect and celebrities we admire are revealed to have lost their moral compass and we witness the train wreck that follows. President Clinton, Martha Stewart, Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer … the list is long. Rebuilding reputation is a hard road.

Many crimes are committed when a person faced with a choice thinks to himself or herself: “no one will find out.” That is the wrong thought. The highest priority needs to be authentic honesty – honesty with yourself. In moments of temptation to get an advantage by doing something dishonest, the cost is always higher than the benefit because it can cost you your reputation.

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