By Joan Runnheim Olson
Choosing a career is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. Rather than limiting your career choice on what is "traditional" for your gender, a thorough self-assessment helps to identify your skills, interests, personality style, and work values. A nontraditional career just may be a better fit for you, your students, or your clients. Taking the time for this self-discovery process is often an exciting and rewarding journey.
Self-Assessment Exercises. There is a plethora of tools to help individuals identify and explore different career options. Below I have listed a few that I recommend:
Career Clusters (https://www.careertech.org/career-clusters). This interest inventory helps students navigate their way to greater success in college and career and is used in many schools throughout the country. The tool includes six broad career fields, 16 career clusters in each field, and 81 career pathways. A pathway is a group of related career specialties within the career cluster. With 36,729 possible careers in North America today, and over 284 academic majors, Career Clusters will help students identify a career that is a good fit for them. It also helps schools develop curriculum and instruction for students to transition successfully from secondary to post-secondary and to the world of work.
Career Lift-Off (http://www.careerliftoff.com). This interest inventory is for both students thinking about a college major or mid-life career changers looking for a new career. This tool provides a foundation to explore jobs that fit you! This inventory is a stepping stone and is not a stand-alone tool. You will want to consider the other pieces of the puzzle as well.
Values Card Sort (http://media.capella.edu/CourseMedia/CPLU1100_CPL5100/WorkValuesCardSort/workValues.html). This "card sort" exercise is designed to help you discover and prioritize the work and environmental factors or values that will contribute to a satisfying career. Career satisfaction is often affected by whether or not your work values are being met.
Kiersey Temperament Sorter (http://www.keirsey.com/sorter/register.aspx). This assessment will identify your temperament or personality style and suggest career options that may be a good fit for your “style.” It doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful in a career that doesn’t show up on the list the assessment produces. Again, this is just one piece of the puzzle.
O*NET (http://www.onetcenter.org/overview.html). This online tool allows students and workers to explore a range of career directions, based on their interests, work values, and abilities. Below is a snapshot of what O*NET can help assess: Skills (35 skills); Basic Skills (Mathematics, Writing, Reading Comprehension, etc.); Cross-Functional Skills (Equipment Selection, Quality Control Analysis, etc.); Generalized Work Activities — 41 general types of job behaviors (Organizing, Planning and Prioritizing Work, Interacting with Computers, etc.) occurring on multiple jobs. Interests — Six occupational types that can be connected with a worker's personal interests to indicate which occupations would be most fulfilling. Work Styles — 16 work style characteristics that can connect what is important to a worker with occupations that reflect or develop those values, such as Initiative, Persistence, Cooperation, etc. Work Context — 57 physical and social factors that influence the nature of work, such as physical and structural work characteristics. Experience and Training — Five "Job Zones" that distinguish the levels of education and training connected to occupations.
Informational Interviews. Once you have identified some career options, the next step is conducting informational interviews to hear from folks working in a particular career. Ask questions such as: 1) What made you decide to pursue this career? 2) What do you like best about your career? 3) What type of educational background was required? 4) What do you like best/worst about your job? 5) What is the salary range for someone just entering this field? 6) What words of wisdom would you share with someone considering this field? 7) Do you know anyone else in your field that I could talk to? If any of the options are considered a nontraditional career, i.e., male or female dominated, a conversation with someone in a nontraditional career could shed some valuable insight into what it's like to work in that career and help you decide if it's right for you. Spending time on identifying your interests, skills, values, personality style, etc. can help you identify career options and then determine if they fit you based on the results of your different assessments.