The number of snowflakes covering my front lawn on a wintry day is roughly equivalent to the number of people who have, over the past 25 years, asked me for help in choosing their career path. My heart goes out to these folks, whether they are mid-career and feeling unfulfilled, or are twenty-somethings sputtering about in dead-end jobs and yearning to pursue careers aligned with their true talents.
My advice for career-flounderers varies, but I generally suggest they start by reading a time-tested career-advice book such as the latest edition of “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles (2014; Ten Speed Press) or “I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It” by Barbara Sher with Barbara Smith (Dell; 1995).
I’m adding to that list another classic career-advice book that I happened to just finish reading, “Career Match: Connecting Who You Are with What You’ll Love to Do” by Shoya Zichy with Ann Bidou (AMACOM; 2007), because it provides exceedingly quick yet highly effective career guidance. If you are bogged down in your quest to determine your ideal career path, this is a book that will speed you along nicely. You take a ten-minute self-assessment quiz to identify your personality style, then simply turn to the chapter relating to it. There you will read dozens of ideas on the kind of work you are likely to find fulfilling. As a bonus, you will learn how you tend to behave as a leader or in a team, your ideal work environment and ideal boss, and your blind spots. The chapter provides personality-specific interview advice. In this busy world, such laser-focus is apropos.
Along with reading a good career-advice book, I recommend analyzing one’s childhood to look for clues about things that fascinated them. I use examples from my own past to amplify what I mean, such as: I remember as a little girl overhearing my mother telling my dad stories about her interactions while working in the “personnel” department of a local retailer. Hearing those stories about workplace behavior, hirings and firings was, for me, more fascinating than any good movie.
I remember sitting in the front pew of my church, staring at all the people walking up for communion. I was too young to partake myself, so instead, I studied people’s facial expressions and body language, and speculated about their lives.
In my career path, I have married these odd memories, because I not only counsel people in their careers and job search, but coach them to change behaviors on the job in order to maximize their potential. If you are struggling to find your ideal career path, scrutinize a few memorable examples from your early years, and you may be surprised at the job or career you can make just by connecting the dots.
Another way to find ideas on your best career path is to ask for suggestions from people who know you. Sometimes an outside perspective or even someone’s intuitive guess can open you up to something you might never have considered. If someone suggests their own career, ask if you can shadow them for a day.
Online career testing—both free and for a nominal cost—is a speedy way to come up with ideas. Some of the most popular include CareerLink Inventory, Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, Holland’s Self-Directed Search, O*Net Online, and ISEEK Skills Assessment.
Ultimately, the career path you choose should resonate with you and fully deploy your unique talents and interests.