March 18, 2006

Nine Steps to a Perfect Career Fit

By Susan Pines, Jist Publishing

James Leahy, 39, of Cincinnati has held and resigned from more than 20 jobs. "I've built fences, inspected property, worked in sales and done home remodeling, to name a few." Currently he works in distribution and warehousing.

Did unhappiness cause him to leave most of the jobs?

"Definitely," Leahy says. He added that he's never found just the right job or had a true career focus.

Career Satisfaction Elusive for Many

While most people have not worked in 20 different jobs, Leahy is not alone in his career dissatisfaction. Half of all Americans are unhappy in their jobs, according to findings by the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group. In addition, most people can expect three to five career changes and 10 or more job changes in their working years, reports the U.S. Department of Labor.

"Many people spend years unhappy in their careers," says Michael Farr, author of "Overnight Career Choice" (JIST Publishing).

"Some move from job to job, searching for more-fulfilling or better-paying work. Others say they fell into a career without asking it if suited them. Still others follow in the footsteps of a parent or pursue a hot field."

Career indecision and unhappiness have high stakes, both in pay and personal satisfaction.

"You are more likely to enjoy, stay with and be successful in a career that suits your interests and skills. For these reasons, you would be wise to spend some time considering what you want out of your work," Farr says.

Nine Steps to Your Best Career Fit

A large body of research gives nine predictors for career satisfaction and success, according to Farr's book. By thinking about these factors in an organized way, you can make the right career choice in a short time.

Farr suggests you take a few hours to consider the following nine most important components of an ideal career before thinking about specific job titles:

1. What are you good at?
List your top skills and abilities. Think about your personality traits, such as honesty and enthusiasm; your general skills that are useful in many jobs, such as writing clearly or an ability to prioritize; and your job-related skills learned through education, training and experience.

2. What interests you?
Write down your top interests. Are you good with computers? Do you have a knack for repairing engines or furniture? Do you enjoy photography? Do you have a flair for numbers? Do you like to help people solve their problems? Consider all of your interests.

3. What motivates you and is most important to you?
Prioritize the values you would like to include in a career. Do you want to help society and others? Would you like to have authority? Do you want creative or exciting work? How important is variety, independence, recognition, good pay and security to you? Think about what you really want from your career.

4. How much money would you realistically like to earn?
Mull over the money issue now so you can make a good decision when you receive a job offer. If you found the perfect job in all other respects, what would be the least pay you would accept? What is the reasonable lower end and upper end of pay you can expect on your next job?

5. What level of responsibility do you want?
Decide how much responsibility you are willing to accept in your ideal career. Do you like to be in charge? Are you good at supervising others? Do you want to be accountable for the performance of others, of a department, or of a territory?

6. Where do you want your ideal job to be located?
Consider where you would like your work to be located geographically. Are you willing to move? What kind of a commute do you want? Do you want to be near relatives or public transportation? As you add criteria, you will have fewer places to look for your job, but you may end up with what you want.

7. What special knowledge would you like to include in your career?
List knowledge that you have gained from school, hobbies, family experiences and other formal and informal sources. Are you a good cook? Are you talented at home decorating? Do you like to work with kids? Do you have a good understanding of investments? As you fine-tune your career choice, include one or two of your special knowledges. They could make you a unique applicant in the right setting. For example, a public relations specialist who knows a great deal about bicycle racing would be an ideal candidate at a bicycling association.

8. What kind of work environment do you prefer?
Define what you did and did not like in past work settings to create your ideal work environment picture. For example, do you like to work outdoors? Do you prefer a small or large organization? Does a quiet work space appeal to you?

9. What types of people do you like to work for and with?
Identify the types of co-workers you prefer. If you have ever had a rotten boss or worked with a group of losers, you know why this is important. Do you prefer creative types? People who are friendly or who keep your relationship very professional? Do you want a boss who interacts with you all day or one who lets you work independently?

After you define these nine ideal career factors, Farr suggests that you use them to research specific job titles and employers and keep the factors in mind during job interviews.

"Although you may need to compromise, getting as close as possible to your ideal career choice will likely pay off in success and satisfaction for years to come."

Susan Pines is the Associate Publisher of JIST Publishing and is responsible for managing some of JIST's best-selling reference products, including Overnight Career Choice, Best Jobs for the 21st Century, and College Majors Handbook. She has dedicated her career to helping people by making complicated labor market and career information understandable, accessible and beneficial.