Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Angela DeFreitas Presents Conference Paper

On October 11, 2007 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Caribbean Career Key (CK) publisher Ms. Angela DeFreitas presented a paper on the Caribbean CK at the annual conference of the Caribbean Area Network for Quality Assurance in Tertiary Education. Please let me know if you're interested in obtaining a copy and I can send it to you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Career Choice a Process?

Should making a career choice be a process? A series of actions or steps you take? Most experts I know would say, "Yes, for most people." And, we have designed our website with this in mind. We encourage users to see it as a process, to follow the steps in the self-help articles that apply. Most will agree that the breadth, depth, and quality of our articles are unrivaled. But, with a few exceptions, the percent of people who look at them is quite small.

For example, on our home page we say, "Learn to use the Career Key website guided by these three principles: 1. Know yourself, 2. Know your options, 3. Make a good decision." But, fewer than ten percent of our visitors click the button, "Learn More". The same is true for most of the other articles on our website.

The authors of an article in the Journal of Career Assessment (2003) recommended three criteria for evaluating online self-help career assessments; one is "Emphasis on Process": The material communicates to the user that career planning and development are ongoing processes . . . Clear steps in that process are identified so that the user can understand where she or he is in the process and what the next steps might be."

We describe those steps, but most Career Key visitors do not seem interested. Why? Do we need to do more at our website to encourage users to do this? Is it that they do not have to pay and, thus, do not see them as valuable? People want a quick answer? What do you think?

Does college pay?

I've recently seen in the Seattle Times an article questioning whether college pays, citing's figures that it takes 14 years for a college graduate's salary, net of loan payments, to equal that of a high-school graduate. I've seen other concerns raised about the high costs of going to college, but I don't think that changes the fact that college graduates have access to higher-paying jobs over a lifetime.

The only downside I see to getting a college degree is if you make a poorly researched career choice and spend the money for a type of degree that becomes practically useless when you want to change careers later. So for example, if you complete an Investigative major like engineering and later want to become a museum curator (or vice versa), you may have to start from scratch with taking classes. Reading Dr. Jones's ePublication, Choosing Your College Major will help you make a good decision that avoids this trap.

I've also seen criticisms of parents who leave the traditional workforce to take care of children, which some view as a "waste" of the degree. But I reject that conclusion because (a) skills and knowledge gained from a degree help to raise a child and run a household, (b) many of these parents start businesses, and (c) the degree serves as a safety net so that if circumstance (divorce, financial, or kids leaving home) necessitates a return to work, that parent will have better job opportunities.

An alternative to an expensive college degree is technical training in a particular field where you can learn valuable, transferable job skills in a well-paid job. For example, an apprenticeship program with a public utility or with a corporation like Boeing. Shortages of highly skilled workers in fields like health care and technology have been predicted as baby boomers retire. The key is to keep people not destined for college from becoming "techno-peasants" as one expert calls them - left behind by the need for technology skills.

All this recent emphasis on whether college is financially worth it stems from the rapidly rising costs of college tuition, even for public, state-run institutions. The danger of rising costs excluding people from getting a college education is a legitimate concern. However, responding to high cost by giving up on a college education needs to be weighed against the opportunities available to high-school diploma/GED holders. If you're a Realistic personality type and mechanical skilled apprenticeship programs look attractive, then maybe it would make sense for you to forgo hefty college loans. All the more reason to use our tips on how to make a good decision up front.

What is the purpose of a college education?

For those of you considering higher ed, or advising students who are, you're probably aware of the recent debate over whether the high costs of a college education are worth it, and if you do go to college, for what is that time best used? Self-exploration? Career preparation? One or both? My opinion is that it should be both - they do not need to be mutually exclusive.

In a recent NYT interview, the new president of Harvard University, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, took issue with the federal government's emphasis on higher education's training a globally competitive workforce. She paraphrased W. E. B. DuBois: “Education is not to make men carpenters so much as to make carpenters men.” Dr. Faust was reacting to a September 2006 federal Commission's recommendation that college use more standardized testing (a la No Child Left Behind) to raise student standards. Here's another critique of that report.

I think both Dr. Faust and Margaret Spelling's Commission on Higher Education raise good points. Having gone to an expensive private university myself and having witnessed a few fellow students wasting 4-5 years "finding themselves" through hours of video games and partying, there is some merit to the Commission's position that college should be a training ground to enter a competitive workforce and accordingly tough. Our website addresses the reality of the Free Agent workforce.

But many students, some of whom use The Career Key test, need some time to learn about themselves and to explore different majors and different career paths. And that takes freedom and time to take different classes, which some science majors like pre-Med and engineering may limit. Writing skills, for example, may be neglected in some science focused curricula. So exploration outside one's chosen field would be wise.

I think students should take advantage of the freedom to explore, while keeping in mind the end game. After graduation, you need a job, preferably one that you enjoy or at least is a step on a ladder in a career that matches your personality. Or you need to enter a graduate school that is a prerequisite to the same path. The reality of our global economy is that the job market for good, high paying jobs is competitive. You might as well choose a satisfying career at the beginning.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dr. Jones Publishes Article on Harmful Tests

The American School Counselor Association magazine School Counselor will publish in its November/December 2007 career development issue Dr. Jones's article, "Harming Students by Using an Invalid Career Test." It is an expansion on the article he wrote here drawing attention to the widespread use of invalid career tests. In 2003, The Journal of Career Assessment devoted several articles to the use of internet career tests and the poor quality and lack of validity of many of them; and yet people continue to use, recommend and link to these invalid tests.

Although this issue may seem self-serving for The Career Key and Dr. Jones, a test developer, to raise, anyone who knows Dr. Jones knows that much of his professional career has been devoted to measuring results in the career guidance area. Also, The Career Key was started as a philanthropy - free of charge for almost ten years until the costs of programming and web hosting made charging for the test a necessity. Now, Dr. Jones continues to provide most of the website content for free while providing heavy group purchase discounts to counselors.

I am sure and I hope there will be many more posts and discussion on this topic.

The Self-Employment Key Nears Completion

We're excited that the programming for our new test, The Self-Employment Key, is almost complete. It is now being tested. This unique test will help people decide whether self-employment is right for them and what type of business best fits their personality.

Work Life Balance? Be prepared to make your own rules

Using my own experience as a guide, I think many young people may underestimate the impact of having a family on their career. Given the amount of books, articles, and blogs I see about "work/life" balance, the same issue appears over and over again. How can I maintain a good career and enjoy a healthy family life? Here's my answer: get the best, most valuable skills you can in whatever career you choose, so that you can move jobs or become self-employed and make your own rules. Otherwise you will be forced onto someone else's treadmill.

I graduated from high school in 1989. Feminism of the 1970s and 1980s was supposed to have stamped out sexism and opened up job opportunities for women; in many respects it did. I can't recall ever thinking that there was any job/career not open to me. This was a gift - and I thank my parents and the women's movement for it. Having it all (great work, great family) seemed truly possible. And thankfully, the desire to spend time with family while having a good career has expanded to include more men. On average, fathers now spend more time with their children than their own fathers did. Good news for everyone.

But the reality is that the workplace, and particularly now in the U.S. with such long work hours expected in most jobs, is not family friendly. This isn't necessarily sexist, although it disproportionately impacts women since women continue to do the bulk of domestic work. But it impacts parents. Good childcare is hard to find and expensive, and some parents do not want to outsource 100% of their childcare. Flexible schedules are hard to negotiate and find.

To find part-time work, flexible schedules, or a work day that allows you to get home by 6:30 p.m. most nights, you must find the right employer. And some careers lend themselves to better work hours than others. So when you're looking at a career, work schedule and availability of contract work or self-employment may be important. See informational interviewing. I know researching that issue was important for me when I chose law. I knew I could "hang a shingle" and become self-employed if I needed to - and sure enough, I needed to and it worked out well.

Adapt to Reality

Just prior to my son's birth last April, I was cleaning out our garage to make room for baby stuff. I found my test results for several career tests I took in college, including The Career Key, and they pointed me in the direction of law. I enjoyed drama, debate, public speaking and politics. My RIASEC profile is Social, Enterprising and Artistic, although I'm more Enterprising now than I used to be. So employment and labor law was the right choice, and looking back on it I don't regret it. But I made large changes within my legal career to accommodate the reality of working in it, which was often unpleasant.

Like many lawyers, I underestimated how much I would dislike the business side of practicing law. Billable hours (at its worst, billing clients for time you think about their case in the shower), unless you work for government, is how you're measured. I learned about this in the abstract during law school in law firm jobs. But in order to pay off student loans, government jobs are not ideal unless you want to spend 20-30 years paying them off. So billable hours as part of a private firm become your life.

So after gaining experience and the help of a couple of great mentors, I started my own law firm. Self-employment gave me the flexibility to travel and have a personal life, although I made roughly the same amount of money as an entry level attorney. After several years of scrambling for work (the most unpleasant part of my practice), I decided to return to working for someone else, and to pay off my student loans. I found my dream legal job as the Legal Officer for the Washington State Patrol. My job was measured by results, not billable hours - a perfect medium for me. Then to make a long story short, it was time for me to have a family so I looked for other opportunities that would make use of my skills while providing flexibility for having a child. And I found The Career Key (more about this transition later).

My story about disillusionment with the business side of the law, and about adapting one's career to match the reality of the job market is not unusual, particularly for lawyers. And it's not unusual for people now to switch careers several times during their working life. I'd be interested in hearing other people's stories about making changes within their chosen career.

Getting skills while choosing a career

Does a McDonald's job lead to lifelong career ruin? Probably not - but a more valuable skills oriented job would be a smarter stepping stone to a better career.

Like most people, in my work life I've worked a number of different jobs that eventually led to my career choices. While after college I chose law as a career, before graduation I worked as a desktop publishing assistant for a small town newspaper, a law clerk for a law firm (a quasi-receptionist/file clerk job) and a desktop publishing intern for a non-profit organization.

These jobs, low paid and unglamorous, enabled me to see how lawyers work and also how small organizations are run. I learned how to serve customers with a smile and work a cash register, while learning about personality clashes at the office (watching others handle them well or badly) and the basic flow of office work. All of this prepared me for my ten years of practicing law.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wikipedia & Exploring Occupations

In looking at how technology is expanding our ability to explore career options, I came across Wikipedia's category of Occupations. It contains hundreds of subcategories of occupations from fashion to computer science.

And these subcategories often lead to more interesting links, such as the list of notable programmers under the computer science listing. One way to learn about a career is to find out about the path other people in your target field took to get where they are now. You can find that through biographies posted online in Wikipedia - such as the list of programmers. You may even come up with some possible informational interviewees.

Of course you have to keep in mind the information is created and edited by many people, some of whom may be biased or unknowledgeable about the subject. Welcome to the internet. You should be familiar enough by now with the Web to exercise a little caution.