Career Testing vs. Career Counseling for Twentysomethings

Career choice is often made with less deliberation than one would imagine. Certainly that’s true of initial career choice. Twenty somethings’ are very much swayed by the opinions of family, peers, and popular culture, and their career choices often reflect (I would say excessively) those influences. 

A vitally important step in narrowing down a career path is to make an effort to filter out the "noise" of these outside influences. The book Roadmap (in my opinion the single best book dealing with career guidance) offers some useful exercises to help you do just that.

But if you want to avoid making the wrong choice, what exactly should you take into account? Strengths (e.g. “I’m a natural when it comes to technology”)?  Likes (“I enjoy rap music, animals, travel, Pokemon Go, and gardening”)? Personality (I’m kind of shy and like to spend time by myself”)? Values (“I really want to help women in the third world achieve their potential”)? Passions (“I feel most alive when I’m defending the goal, or when I’m singing”)? Aspiration (“When I watch “Downton Abby or “Entourage” I dream of being incredibly rich”)? Aptitudes (I always do better on verbal measurements than math”)? Interests “(I love to read about politics)? Expertise (“Friends always ask me for help when there’s something wrong with their computers”)? Heritage (“My grandfather was a doctor, as is my Dad - it’s kind of in my blood I guess”)? Spirituality (“I know I’ve been put on this earth for a reason, and I believe I can find the answer through prayer”)? Hero Worship (“The Jason Bourne movies make me want to work for the CIA”)?

Then there are more “diffuse” factors: such as being right, winning, or using one’s imagination. The process of “figuring out*” the right career path needs to be informed at least to some degree by ALL of the above. 

Most career tests attempt to factor many of these elements into pointing you towards the best career. The problem is that they don’t do a very good job of factoring, and therefore of pointing. I can’t tell you how many people walk into my office with their Myers-Briggs or their StrengthsFinder reports only to acknowledge that the analyses don’t tell them anything they don’t already know, or fail to really ring true.

Good career counseling offers you the opportunity to explore in depth the factors that are most salient for you, something a career test simply cannot do. It also serves the invaluable purpose of eliminating paths that a “one-size-fits-all” career test can’t. A couple of examples: A test may assess you as being an ideal candidate to become a doctor, but suppose you faint at the sight of blood? Or you may appear to have a promising path forward in advertising, but you don't like to live in big cities (where most advertising jobs are concentrated).

In fact there is room in your career planning for counseling and for testing, but please don't make the mistake of relying solely on the latter.

* I asterisk the phrase “”figure out” because it’s a term that I feel is generally unhelpful. “Figuring out” is a mental process; career choice certainly involves mental processes but even more importantly it involves exploration and experimentation. Please see my blog post titled:



Analogies to Help You Plan Your Career


I've been working for a few sessions now with a bright young client who is exploring his career options. He majored in engineering and landed his first job in computer programming, a technical field that plays to his quantitative strengths but isn't giving him much satisfaction or fulfillment. In talking with him about the things he DOES find fulfilling he mentioned cooking. As our discussion progressed he came up with what I think is a brilliant way of characterizing two fundamentally different approaches to career planning, based on his familiarity with preparing food, contrasting baking with cooking.

One approach, he said, is similar to how he does baking. He finds a pastry or other kind of baked good he would like to create and then meticulously follows the recipe, using the precise types and quantities of ingredients called for, baked at the requisite temperature for the amount of time specified. To vary from the plan is to wind up with what will most probably be a sub-optimal result, but following the recipe with precision is quite certain to lead to a successful result. 

The other approach is the one he tends to follow in cooking. Let's say he wants to prepare a meal for a dinner party. He will go to the market to find out what's fresh and abundant. He will combine those main components at home with the ingredients he has on hand, improvising as he goes along. Not an approach that works very well when baking. True, there's a chance that his improvised main course will turn out to be a bomb. The baked item has a higher probability of being "just fine." But the improvised dish has a much stronger creative component and thus offers him more satisfaction in preparation, even if the final product falls short.

An even more apt and detailed analogy is proposed by a senior official of the Department of Justice, Brittan Heller, in the wonderful career guidance book titled ROADMAP.

"There are two ways you can think about your career. One is a paint-by-the-numbers approach. In that way you're trying to create this picture, you have this toolbox of all the different colors. And you go about it systematically knowing all along what the picture is going to be. That's the path of least resistance. I like the other way. The 'connect-the-dots' approach, where you start off with one idea, or a conviction, something that really grabs you. Then you take the next logical step. You learn more about it, you learn more about yourself, and then you take the next logical    step. You're not sure what the picture is going to look like when you're at the beginning phases, but as you proceed you gain speed and you see suddenly that it's a circus seal with a ball. You may not have known where you're ending up, but you're confidant that it's a good place, and that the final picture will be right." 

Finally, ROADMAP offers another analogy for career planning:

"A career is a container, nothing more. We are each too dynamic and unique to cram into a one-size- fits-all mold. Choosing a career forces you to make a decision about something when you have limited experience about what that something really is. But those who've climbed out of the career ladder* tend to find exciting, unexpected ways to connect personal satisfaction to financial stability and success."

* "Climbing out of the career ladder" means opening up your vision of career to embrace a more flexible and broader-than-traditional view. This can perhaps take the form of what I call the "potpourri career" which may have numerous components (e.g. one could spend 15 hours a week doing career consulting, five hours tutoring English, five hours trading on eBay, and five hours every Sunday at the local farmers market selling home grown flowers or vegetables). Or, ideally, it may allow for the integration of several core interests and strengths, as for example does my career as a life consultant, allowing me help others while earning an excellent income, to combine my interpersonal strengths with those in language and ideation to both teach and to learn, and to promote both creative expansiveness and regimented organization.



The Influence of Gender on Parental Expectations of Your Career


Please excuse the academic-sounding title of this post!

Just the other day I received an email from a concerned mom who was worried that her son, recently graduated from an excellent university, was floundering in his job/career search. She wanted to talk with me about the possibility of working with her son to “put him on the right path.”

I get emails and phone calls like this several times (or more) a month, and what strikes me is that the parents who contact me (yes, dads reach out to me too, but more so moms) is that the overwhelming majority are requesting assistance for their SONS. At least ten times more frequently than requests to help their daughters. 

I can’t help but wonder why this is so, and have come up with several hypotheses:

1.  As a man I am a relatively rare bird in the career consulting field. The vast majority of career coaches are women; perhaps parents feel that a man will have a better chance of helping their sons than will a woman (although out of hundreds of contacts I have only heard this rationale used once by a parent). In fact I do believe that young men can relate more comfortably with another man around issues of "success," which despite tremendous societal changes is still an issue that appears somewhat more salient to men than to women.

2.  It may be that the changes in career possibilities and expectations for women and men (mainly the expansion of possibilities for women) have led to diminished confidence on the part of young males as it relates to work. Popular culture (TV, movies, books, and of course social media) features women pushing the boundaries of what was previously "acceptable" for them as workers and in career choice. As young men see more competition from capable women, might that lead to greater insecurity?

3.  The parents who contact me, all of whom are Baby Boomers, might be stuck a bit in the past, expecting their sons to be the primary breadwinners and therefore feeling that they need to get an early and confident start out of the gate. Of course they want their daughters to also have good careers, but to many Baby Boomer parents the possibility of marrying into success seems larger for their daughters than for their sons. This is particularly true of parents who contact me who are immigrants from traditionally male-dominated cultures in Asia (South and East, not to mention the Middle East). There is surprisingly little information on this subject online, and it apparently has not been researched to any significant degree. I am curious to hear from my readers any other ideas they may have to explain this phenomenon. It seems to me that uneven career success expectations based on gender are not only unfair but also seem to be having a depressing effect on quite a few of the young men with whom I work, an effect I work hard to counter.


Work Life Balance Part II - Realigning Energy


Having the proper kind of energy is essential to realigning your work/life balance. I’m not just talking about “energy” in the sense we usually mean: “get up and go,” or “fire in the belly,”  but more about a positive attitude from which energy is generated, an “anything is possible” (or more modestly “anything might be possible) attitude.

Clients often come to me with feelings of being ground down, of pessimism, fear, anger, resentment, victimhood…..They all suck energy out of one’s sense of agency, of self-confidence, and make the possibility of change seem out of reach, or so difficult to attain that it’s not even worth contemplating.

Recognize that change IS possible. Begin to implement some of the suggestions I made in Part I ( http://jimwein09.squarespace.com/blog/2013/9/12/improving-your-worklife-balance-part-i.html )

A somewhat different approach to the path forward consists of a shift in perspective. Rather than looking at the glass as half (or more likely 95%) empty, consider what benefits are offered (or potentially offered) by the challenging situation you’re in. An opportunity to improve your efficiency, for example? An opportunity to mellow out on perfectionism? An opportunity to develop systems and processes to help you perform at your best?  An opportunity to finally tackle procrastination? An opportunity to place hiring an assistant or enlisting an intern at the top of your priority list?

Also, it can be helpful to recognize that the imbalance need not persist as far into the future as you can see; the situation should be viewed as a temporary one, and that with the proper amount of effort you will be able to effect change for the better.

Your energy (in the sense I'm talking about it here) can also be greatly enhanced by doing anything that feeds your inner sense of calm and of "rightness." This can vary from attending church/synagogue/mosque/temple services, to reading an inspirational author (Wayne Dyer? Tony Robbins? Stephen Covey? Dale Carnegie? - as long as you then deal with any guilt that may come up around your not being inb the place they're urging you to go), attending an AA or AlAnon meeting, or connecting with nature in any one of a hundred ways.

Finally, rather than aiming exclusively for readjusting your work/life balance, begin thinking of and then working towards the possibility of creating a worklife, as outlined in the outstanding career book “Roadmap” by Roadtrip Nation. Worklife is about integrating work and the interests currently in your life that lie outside of work. When that integration occurs the whole issue of balance shrinks markedly.


Reluctant to Ask for Career Help through Networking?


Arguably the single most effective means of advancing one’s career - whether that takes the shape of choosing a career, switching careers, getting hired, or getting promoted - is networking (I’m using networking in a general sense here; a broader and more inclusively accurate term might be “creating and leveraging relationships to help move ahead”). After all, often career success is determined less by what one knows than by who one knows. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that a surprising number of people are anxious, reluctant, or even outright refuse, to utilize this means of advancement.

Why? Some people are painfully shy and find it virtually impossible to reach out for fear that they will somehow look silly, weak, a failure, or inept. Others (a greater number it seems to me) are reluctant to “impose” on others. To them it feels like they’re “using” relationships in a selfish manner for their own advancement.

Well, yes. The ultimate aim of networking is to help one advance. And it is true that some prime networkers out there are definitely “users,” who would lie, cheat, steal, or casually throw a colleague under the bus to get ahead. But most people are not like that. Furthermore, what is often overlooked is the fact that mutual benefits are incurred in most cases - to the networker and to the “networkee” (if I may coin a term).

The benefits to the networkers are obvious: information, introductions, personal recommendations. To the networkees? Feeling good that they’ve extended a helping hand, of course. But also the possibility of looking good or gaining credit because they chose to help advance a worthy individual who can add value.

Of course if the networkee feels the networker won’t add value, or if it feels like too much trouble, or if there’s a reluctance to expend “networking capital” on that person, it is easy to turn down the request or duck out. There is no obligation on the networkee’s part to “play ball.” For example, if I ask someone I’ve met at a cocktail party or business event to have coffee, it’s easy for the person to agree (“Sure! Give me a call next week and we’ll set it up”) and then not respond to the email.

Finally, networking is now a cultural norm. Perhaps 50 years ago what we call networking today might have seemed selfish, pushy or inappropriate. But most people today (particularly here in Washington) are perfectly fine with being asked for a networking kind of favor, in no small part because they themselves have probably asked others for the same kinds of favors, or anticipate needing to do so in the future, and feel that “what goes around comes around”.

So if you’re reluctant to reach out to someone for a career-related favor, remember that it’s invaluable, and more acceptable and less intrusive, than you think!