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Is it Time for a Career Makeover?  Part I – Planning Your Working Future

Whether you’re still on-the-job or in a job search, here are career change first steps.

Are you in a no-growth job?  Are you worried for your job because your firm is making efficiency changes?  Do you feel unfulfilled at the job?  Or, did you lose the job you never liked to begin with? 

There are many reasons for a career makeover.  It's up to you.  You are the one who must keep a watchful eye, recognizing when it’s time to make the leap, to embrace a new vision, a changed career.

If you’ve nodded as you read this, if you know it’s time for a change and you are fortunate enough to have a job, keep that job!  Until you have defined your new job category and you are qualified for jobs in that category, making a hasty leap is a surefire road to failure.  If you are searching for a job, this may be the time for reinvention.

Start with a close look at yourself.

Let’s call the work you’re about to do My Working Future.  Here you’ll begin to define the possibilities for your future by first taking a look at yourself.

As you complete the following self-assessment, remember, there are no right or wrong answers, only your answers.   Remember, too, that some entries will open doors to possibilities while other entries will close doors. 

With plenty of paper so you can make long, complete lists, divide your pages into two columns. 

  • Strengths and weaknesses.  With strengths heading one column and weaknesses heading the other, write down each of your strengths and weaknesses – even those that don’t appear to have a relationship to a job.  If you are a good singer or a strong soccer player, put them on the list.  While you may not become a professional singer or athlete, strengths of all sorts can be woven into career choices.
  • Likes and dislikes.  Again, with likes heading one column and dislikes heading the other, review your personal preferences.
  • Requirements and limitations. Finally, with each heading a column, consider the conditions under which you will accept a job and the limitations you impose on your job search.

Now is the time to be brutally honest.  If your math skills are strong, that is a strength.  If you think you don’t like jobs that use your math skills, that is a dislike – and also a limitation.  The strength, the dislike and the limitation need to be recognized on your lists. 

Do you want to bring your dog to work?  That is a requirement and a limitation – only certain kinds of firms allow dogs.  It’s also a like, you like to work in the kind of firm that allows pets at work.

Are you willing to consider opportunities in another part of the country?  That is a strength.  Are there circumstances that prevent you from moving to another part of the country?  That is both a requirement and a limitation.  It’s a limitation because there may be perfect opportunities in other regions. 

As you create your lists, consider the consequence of each entry.  If, under requirements, you seek a green firm, you are purposefully limiting the number of firms for which you will work.  That’s not a bad thing, that is your choice to make.

As you create your lists, highlight all the things you feel most strongly – the good feelings in one color and the bad feelings in another color.  Finding work about which you are passionate makes for great success.  Finding work where you experience negativity is a painful path to follow.

Ask your peers, friends and family for their thoughts.

Outside input is valuable.  It’s sometimes difficult to see all our plusses and minuses.  Ask what they see as your greatest strengths, your greatest challenges and what they think is your most unique asset or skill.

A word of caution.  Before you ask your office-mate or another co-worker, only do so in confidence.  You are at the start of your reinvention; it might not be understood at your firm.  Instead, consider approaching colleagues and even bosses from previous employment.  Also, ask a few close friends and family members. 

Another word of caution, consider the source of the input.  Might there be ulterior motives for their input?  If a comment surprises you, ask your source how they came to their opinion.  If you remain surprised, ask another for their thoughts on the subject. 

Take some personal and career assessment tests.

Where will I find testing? 

  • Most colleges offer career testing.  Check your local colleges, both four-year institutions and community colleges.  In addition, don’t forget to check the college you attended – they likely offer career testing.
  • Career coaches are another testing resource.  If you’ve a contact who was successful with a career coach, ask for a referral.  Otherwise, you’ll find certified coach referrals at International Coach Federation.  Be aware, coaches charge a fee for their work.
  • Testing can also be found at online services such as Personality Desk which offers career interest,leadership and personality assessment tests at a cost. 
  • Regional non-profit job and career organizations such as the Career Transitions Center of Chicago provide professional assistance to individuals in employment transition.  Many non-profit job and career organizations offer their services for a modest fee or at no cost.  To find regional organizations, check your network or Google “career center” along with the name of your town or region. Check also at your library or through your state’s department of employment security.
  • Churches can be a terrific resource.  Many churches now have employment councils serving local residents.  Often, one church becomes the “go-to” resource in their area – ask around to find the church in your area.  In urban areas, some churches pool their efforts in support of low-cost or no-cost career assistance.

Personal strengths testing.  Some testing assesses your strongest personal characteristics. 

  • If you use a college or career coach for testing, it is likely you’ll encounter personality and style testing.
  • If you are doing this on your own, consider the VIA Character Strengths, a no-cost, online assessment of your core character strengths at VIA Character Strengths or Authentic Happiness. VIA’s character strengths are based on extensive worldwide research. Gallup, the research organization that has studied human nature and behavior for over 75 years, offers a strengths test you can do on your own though it requires the purchase of their book, Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath.

Career testing.

  • Colleges and career coaches are a good resource for career testing. 
  • If you decide, instead, to try an online product, be certain you understand whether a cost or a commitment is required.  Also, be sure the test result career categories have been updated to reflect contemporary job classifications.
  • Women Employed, an organization working to improve the economic status of women and eliminate barriers to economic equity, provides an online career coach and career assessment tools.  Results can be sorted according to the amount of preparation each career category requires – from no preparation all the way up to advanced degrees.
Take a look at the many types of jobs in today’s market. 

It’s now time for online research.  Fortunately, there’s a terrific resource where you can view the pay scale, job requirements and the long term outlook for a seemingly endless roster of career possibilities from able seaman to aeronautical drafter, from biomedical engineer to cartoonist, from landscape architect to medical technologist.  It’s the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook

Remember to consider the other job categories at your current firm.  Is it possible that there are jobs at your firm that would satisfy your choice to reinvent?  Also, don’t forget the job categories at your firm’s suppliers or customers.  Keeping your self-reinvention to a job category or opportunity within your network of contacts can simplify your change.

Review the job possibilities and ask yourself some questions.

Quite literally, go through the list of jobs.  For those that interest you, stop a moment and imagine you in that role.  Ask yourself:

  • What would I do while at work? Do I think I could do it well?  Do I like what I’m imagining?
  • What specifically makes me excited about this job? Can I find those same specifics in other jobs?  Which jobs are similar?
  • Which jobs use the skills I already have? 
  • Which job types require added study or coursework? 
  • Which job types require I complete a degree program?
  • Which jobs are almost right? Keep a list of the jobs that might not be your first choice but are maybes. 

Be sure to consider the “related occupations” at the end of each article – you may find a surprising idea or two from this section.

For your first and second choice jobs, keep these notes.

  • What excites me?  What parts do I not like as much?
  • What are the qualifications for the job?  What would I need to do to become qualified?  What would that cost?
  • What kinds of organizations employ people who do these jobs?
  • How many jobs of this type are there in the US?  Is it a growing category?
  • Are there jobs in my region?
  • What is the pay range?                  

Aside from your interest factor and pay range, it’s important to also consider the number of jobs and the outlook for jobs.  For example, there are currently 14,600 jobs for economists in the entire country and by 2018, there will be 15,500 jobs.  While that shows a 6% growth rate; in fact, there will only be 900 additional jobs for economists.  On the other hand, there are 694,900 electrician jobs in the US; 12% growth is expected, bringing the total number of electrician jobs to 777,900 by 2018 – 83,000 additional jobs.   

Also keep an eye on the regions with the most number of jobs in the areas you find interesting. Would a move be necessary to pursue a chosen field?  For monthly updates of the number of actual jobs within major job classifications, by region, go to Help Wanted OnLine.

If added education is necessary, consider the amount of time you’ll need to invest to qualify for the intended job.  Also, consider the cost of that added education or training.  Figure out the exact costs and spread them out over the amount of time it will take to complete the work.  Finally, be sure the school you are considering is reputable.  If the school you are considering is private and operates at a profit, there are added considerations – you’ll find the questions to ask in the FTC Facts for Consumers: Choosing a Career or Vocational School.

What have you learned?

Draw up a summary page showing the results of your research.  This summary page will allow you to compare the various jobs that interest you along with the job you already have.  Your summary page will be a table with columns extending across the top of the page.  The far left column will be Job Type, to its right as you go across the page, add these column headings, the best things, the worst things, the qualifications, how much training I need, how long the training will take, how much the training will cost, where the jobs are, how many jobs there are, and the pay range.

It’s now time for your judicious eye to carefully sort the list.  If you need to gain a specific degree to qualify for a job choice and you are working, consider using your employer’s education benefit to get that degree.  While not easy, millions have gained their degrees while working full-time jobs.  Only you know the demands on your time and your willingness to go that demanding extra mile.

If you are not working and you need added education or training to qualify for that special job, consider immediately starting the program while you search for work.  If you find work, you can continue your education in the evening.  If your search takes longer, it will be easier to keep your spirits high because you are taking important action for your own well-being.  Unfortunately, a job search can sometimes take 6 months or longer.  You can make a lot of progress in that time.

Back to the judicious eye on the results of your research.  You are your own personal expert.  Sort each job according to your personal preferences, your unique set of skills and also the requirements and limitations you imposed at the start.  Is the pay adequate?  Is it a growth area of employment?  Keep sorting until you’ve narrowed your list to a few strong choices. 

Finally, seek out people already employed in your chosen field(s).  Speak with them, ask them about their positive and negative experiences. 

Once you’ve done the research, take a week or two to let the information settle.  Over that time, questions will arise, new ideas will formulate.  Gather the answers to whatever comes up during that time.  Then, make your decision.  What will you decide for your working future?