Finding the right career is crucial. We spend most of our waking moments and productive years working, therefore pursuing a career that is in line with one’s personality promotes the greatest sense of well-being. One of my favorite analogies of matching personality and work is from a former supervisor in a higher education setting. As an introduction to a lecture on personality type and careers, he would ask students to write their names with their dominant hand, then switch to the non-dominant one and notice the difference in effort and quality of writing. He would then explain that doing a job not suited to one’s personality was like writing with the non-dominant hand, requiring a lot more effort with mediocre results.
Today, far too many people still fall into careers that have them use their non-dominant hands, figuratively speaking. They make important career decisions based on external factors such as influence from family, friends, and the media without careful consideration of how their strengths fit the career. A recent study sponsored by the National Career Development Association (NCDA) found that only 37% of those surveyed got their current careers/jobs through conscious deliberation and planning. Almost a third of respondents took the only job that was available or looked interesting.
This trend clearly needs to change. Considering the high cost of higher education and the productivity demands of many occupations, it is important for individuals to make well informed career decisions, right from the start. The journey towards choosing the right career path starts with knowing who you are. Frank Parsons, considered to be the founder of the profession of career counseling, wrote, “A thorough study of yourself is the foundation of a true plan of life.”
So how does one go about doing this “self-study” as Parsons called it? There are many concepts to consider and corresponding career assessments, usually administered by career counselors. Some of these are values, interests, and personality style. Examples of work values are independence, integrity, high earnings and flexibility. Interests refer to how people strive to fulfill their needs such as a preference for working with people or ideas or things. A related concept is personality type/preference. Personality type tells us for example where we derive our energy; for introverts this comes from time alone and the opposite is true for extroverts. In addition some people prefer to gather information through intuition while others use their senses.
The results of a thorough self-study form the first step in the career decision making process.
Kitson, H. D. (1942). Creating vocational interests. Occupations, Vocational Guidance Magazine, 20, 567-571.
National career Development Association (2011). National Survey of Working America 2011.
Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Zunker, V.G. (2002) (6th edition) Career Counseling: Applied Concepts of Life Planning, Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole