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Searching for a Career - Jennifer's Tale

By Marty Nemko

The following excerpt is from the book "Cool Careers for Dummies: Second Edition" by Dr. Marty Nemko.

Chapter 1:
Searching for a Career -
Jennifer's Tale

In This Chapter: A little morality tale on career planning.

Sure, some people come out of the womb knowing what they want to be when they grow up the 5-year-old violin prodigy comes to mind. But most of us aren't so lucky and we don't get much help.

Some parents tell you, "It's your life. You decide." Other parents go to the other extreme, expecting you to follow in their footsteps: "Hazardous waste disposal is a great career." Before you even learn how to tie your shoes, they're pushing: "Come on, let's visit Daddy's toxic waste dump."

In high school, you take a career test that asks what you're interested in. How the heck are you supposed to know? If you're like most teens, you spend most of your school life studying such career irrelevancies as the symbolism in Romeo & Juliet, quadratic equations, and the slave ships of 1628. After school, you play soccer, and you're forced to take piano lessons (a skill for which only your mother thinks you have talent). You spend summers at Camp Kowabonga, during which your career exploration consists of observing your counselor go postal. How in the world are you supposed to validly answer test questions about your career interests? It's little surprise that many high school students laugh at their career test results: funeral director, clergy, or "the utterly useless, "You could pursue a wide range of careers."

Many students remain undaunted. They figure that career clarity will come in college. Trouble is, most colleges proudly proclaim that their courses are not for career preparation but for general education. Worse, college courses are taught by professors people who have deliberately opted out of the real world. So, many college students' career sights are limited.

As college graduation approaches, panic often sets in and the same students who procrastinated endlessly trying to ensure that they made the perfect career decision, suddenly force themselves into a choice, often based on very little. Their entire reasoning often fits on a bumper sticker:

  • "I want to help people, so I'll be a doctor."
  • "I'm lousy in science and I like to argue, so I'll go to law school."
  • "I want to make a lot of money, so I'll go into business."
  • "I don't know what I want to do, so I'll get a master's in something."

None of the above would work for Jennifer. She was sick of school. So she headed to the college's career center where she was pointed to a career library and encouraged to "explore." That's inadequate guidance for most of us. She did, however, fall into a job. Her cousin was the janitor at Western Widget Waxing, Inc. and put in a good word for Jennifer: "She has always been interested in widgets." Jennifer wrote a letter to Western Widget Waxing, Inc. that began, "I believe I'm well-suited for a career in the widget waxing industry." She got an interview. She wore that conservative suit she swore she'd never wear and told old WWW, Inc., that ever since childhood, she spent much of her spare time waxing widgets. She got the job.

Within days of starting at WWW, Jennifer realized that widget waxing wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Now what? WWW's human resources manager told Jennifer only about options in widget waxing. "Well, Jennifer, you are on track to becoming a widget waxing supervisor, and down the road, I think you have the potential to become a waxing director." On seeing Jennifer's face go flat, the manager tried, "Well, you could join our sales department. Would you like to sell widget waxing? How about the accounting department? Shipping? Well, what do you want, Jennifer?" That was the problem. Jennifer didn't know.

In desperation, Jennifer decided to seek help from a professional even though it used up the money she'd been saving for that vacation. "What's a thousand bucks if it can land me a cool career?"

Alas, when Jennifer showed up at her appointment with the career counselor, there were those tests again.

Counselor: Well, Jennifer, on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you're an INFP. That means you're an intraverted, intuitive, feeling perceiver.

Jennifer: So what should I do for a career?

Counselor: Jennifer, you can't rush this. That would be premature foreclosure. We need to review the results of the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey. You're an RIC. That stands for realistic-investigative-conventional. Let's interpret that.

Jennifer: So what should I do for a career?

Counselor: Well, Jennifer, use the information you've learned about yourself from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and from the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey, by exploring in the career library.

Jennifer: Noooooooh, not again!

Instead, Jennifer returned to Western Widget Waxing, Inc.

Too often, career counseling is like psychoanalysis: You gain insight into yourself, but your life is no better.

One day, Jennifer heard about a book called, Find Your Career Joy While Doing What You Love and the Money Will Come While Your Flower Opens. So off Jennifer trotted to the bookstore, and although daunted by the book's thickness and its 66 worksheets, she figured it was only $16.99 the cost of two movie tickets. Such a deal. Jennifer bit.

Five years later, our hero was still on worksheet #4. Her mother, her friends, even her haircutter, were asking her, "Well, Jennifer, what are you going to be when you grow up?" Jennifer decided to get serious. She pulled out her aging copy of Find Your Career Joy While Doing What You Love and the Money Will Come While Your Flower Opens and actually managed to complete all 66 worksheets. This gave her a complete inventory of her skills, interests, values, job requirements, personality attributes, and inter-ocular focal length.

But doing all that still didn't tell Jennifer how to figure out which career fits best.

I swear I am not exaggerating. Even the best-selling career guides do not take you through that crucial next step: showing you which careers fit your skills, interests, and values. The guides state or imply that if you do all their worksheets, you will somehow divine your dream career.

Jennifer cried, and Jennifer stayed on at Western Widget Waxing, Inc. "Maybe I am meant to be in widget waxing," she told herself. She worked hard, and indeed the human resources manager's prediction came to pass. Jennifer became director of Widget Waxing. But she still wasn't happy.

Then Jennifer was sure she found a solution: the computer. WWW, Inc., benevolent firm that it is, bought a career-finding software program, and made it available to its employees. Jennifer was first in line. A couple of hours and voilà, 15 best-fit careers popped out. Some of the careers made sense but didn't excite her enough to make her quit her now-comfortable job at WWW to go back and get retrained for a profession she wasn't even sure she end up liking better. After all, Jennifer had become a director and was fully vested in WWW's retirement plan. A few of the generated careers did excite Jennifer, but they were careers that excite too many people TV broadcasting, for example. So what if Jennifer would love to anchor the nightly news? So would half the continent.

Although Jennifer didn't know it, many computer programs often fail for another reason. They eliminate careers if the career seeker lacks even one ostensibly necessary skill or personality trait. In the real world, many careers don't have such rigid skill and personality requirements. Take book editors, for example. Some succeed primarily because of their aesthetic sense, others because of their feel for the bottom line. And aren't some editors introverts, others extroverts? Even if Jennifer was lacking a key attribute, if she found a career that excited her, she may well have been willing and able to put the energy into compensating for her weakness. But the computer program never gave her the chance.

Krishna Rama (nee Jennifer) now resides at the Harmonic Transcendent Monastery in Berkeley, California, hoping to find career nirvana through meditation.

All jokes aside (at least for the moment), despite taking career tests, plowing through fat career guides, and/or meditation, many people end up falling into their careers more by chance than by choice. Not a good way to ensure career happiness. There has to be a better way.

There is. Read on.

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