Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finding Your Career: An excerpt from my book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school

This is an excerpt from my new book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school. This one's on how to pick a career. It distills into 500 words what I've learned from having worked with 4,000 clients.

Because some people prefer reading text while others are more visual, here is both a video of me reading it aloud. Below that is the text.

Finding Your Career
"What in the world am I good at?"

Even if you're a "grown up," it's probably not your fault if you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up. Reasonably, you assumed school would help you figure it out.

Alas, teachers and especially professors live in an ivory tower, so most are ill-suited to helping you find a career. And even if you used your school's career services, you still may be unsure of what career to pursue.

The conventional approach to finding a career is to find a career that matches your skills and interests. That often fails because:
§        None of your abilities and interests stand out from the rest.
§        Your abilities can be used on many jobs, like "people skills."
§        You identify an ability or interest unlikely to yield a decent living, for example, singing or fine-art painting.
§        A career fits your abilities and interests but somehow feels wrong.

Often, there is a better approach to finding your career:

Step 1. Scan annotated lists of careers in such guides as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or my book, Cool Careers for Dummies

For even more under-the-radar and currently in-demand careers, use indeed.com. It lists millions of job openings, keyword-searchable. Search it using keywords you'd like to use in your work, for example, writing, analyzing, organizing, selling, or programming. Pick out the one, two, or three careers you find most intriguing.

Step 2. Google the name of that career and the word "careers," for example, "geologist careers." or "writing careers." Read a few articles that seem on-point.

Step 3. For any career that still seems interesting, search Amazon for a book on that career. In the best such books, each chapter is a different person's report on what that career is like.

Step 4. For any career that's still of interest, interview or job shadow three people in the field. (Just contacting one or two might give unrepresentative perspectives.) Find such people in the Yellow Pages, your alumni association,  on the website of the profession's professional association, for example, The American Optometric Association, or simply ask your in-person or LinkedIn and Facebook network for referrals.

Ask the person questions such as, "What's your typical day like?" "What ends up being most important for success in this career?" "Why might someone leave this career?" and "What's the best way to get training so you're excellent in this career?" 

Step 5. Not-obvious nugget: If a career still sounds good, choose it even if you're not 100 percent sure it's right. Otherwise, you're likely to be waiting for Godot. Usually, career contentment comes only after you've entered the career and, like a great-looking suit, tailored and accessorized it to fit you.

For example, career and personal coaching fit me only moderately but I now love it, largely because I adapted it to fit me: I made nonnegotiable that I'd work from home and that I'd be a more active participant in sessions than is the typical counselor who mainly just listens. Also, I stayed committed to getting better and better rather than giving up after a couple of years of mediocre performance.

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