Career Key

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reality vs. Opportunity in Careers: Find a Mentor

Recently I was reading a book about TV watching and children and I came across a chapter on the unrealistic portrayal of "real life" by TV shows. Shows like "Friends," "Seinfeld," and so-called reality shows are all guilty of this distortion; who hangs out socializing in a coffeeshop all day (and makes a living)? Who can afford an apartment in NYC and appear unemployed (Kramer), etc.?

TV is often an escapist fantasy for many of us, myself included. I admit to an occasional hit of "Seinfeld" reruns. If I want to be educated, I watch PBS or the Discovery Channel. But for many of us growing up, I do think there was and is a temptation to avoid the reality that in order to make a living, you must exchange your work for money. Let's face it - fun, pleasure seeking and instant gratification win out over the concept of "work."

To offset these distortions, we should hold up as examples work that is fun and rewarding, while recognizing that few if any people love every single task of their career. Even a movie star has to meet with lawyers to go over fine print in a contract. Or be asked the same questions about their new release over and over by reporters. The trick is to minimize those distasteful tasks; choosing a career that matches your personality and career path will help achieve that goal. Your overall enjoyment of the job will outweigh the occasional unpleasant task.

The other reality is that you need to work hard to achieve your career goals, meaning education or training of some kind and an entry level position - whether it's in your own start-up company or someone else's. Even professional athletes need to work out and start over with their fitness level after an injury.

Why do people resist accepting these realities? Shouldn't they see them instead as opportunities? Viewing the path from school to career as a journey of opportunity instead of a march to boredom might help - by showing more links between what is learned in school to actual jobs people might enjoy, and matching their career with their personality. By helping people see themselves fit into a career path that they control and own.

While clamoring for TV producers to create more positive, realistic shows will have little impact, serving as or finding mentors and role models will do much to dispel the negative or unrealistic portrayals of the working world. For me personally, mentors and role models were critical to my overcoming obstacles and unpleasant work in the course of my career. You have to see and identify with successful, happy people in a job to believe it can happen for you.

We have less security and more work hours but more freedom of choice and flexibility in our careers than our parents did. Perhaps if the world of work was framed in this more positive way, instead of a slog to obscurity and staleness, people might be more excited and motivated about their future.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pros and Cons of Self-Employment

On the occasion of our launch of the Self-Employment Key, I thought I might reminisce about my 5 years as a self-employed lawyer, how the Self-Employment Key could have helped - and the pros and cons of self-employment I experienced.

For me, my own practice was both a fantastic escape and scary jump out of a plane, feelings I'm sure others can sympathize with. I wish that at the time I left my first law firm job to go solo, that I could have taken something like the Self-Employment Key. I would have had more confidence about my decision. I would have known how compatible my personality was with law practice as a self-employed career and I would have known my scores for two personality dimensions, Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness, linked to successful self-employment. Perhaps I could have avoided some errors by knowing earlier how to compensate for my weak areas and concentrate on my strengths. But after several years, I did get along just fine and this is what I found:

  • More flexibility in work hours (being my own boss)
  • Sole responsibility for generating revenue
  • More control over client selection
  • Better retirement investment options
  • Sole responsibility for generating revenue and getting clients
  • Doing boring administrative tasks

Smartest things I did in running my own small business
  • Hired an excellent accountant
  • Networked with other solo practitioners of different fields
  • Used credit cards wisely
  • Did contract work to supplement other income
  • Got healthcare and malpractice insurance coverage through my local bar association
  • Found good mentors, both from my previous job and other solo practitioners

Having my own practice allowed me to do things like travel to an international women's lawyers' conference in London, and sit 50 feet away from Kofi Annan as a delegate at the UN International Labour Organization's World Employment Forum in Geneva. While I made less money than I could have, I enjoyed the flip side of worrying about where your paycheck will come from - the freedom.

What's your idea of freedom in a career? How would starting your own business accomplish that?

Expert Advice on Self-Employment & Starting a Small Business

After over two years of research and work, yesterday we launched the Self-Employment Key test. This unique test, based on the popular Career Key, helps people decide whether self-employment is right for them, and which businesses fit their personality type.

The Self-Employment Key website also provides practical, high-quality advice for those interested in entrepreneurship as a career. Special sections focus on women and young entrepreneurs, life-work balance, and recommended resources.

If you see topics you want to learn more about or want to suggest new topics, please email me. I welcome any feedback. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Choosing the right career? You'll need technology skills.

I was honored to be invited to last week's Workforce Readiness Forum at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. The forum focused on the shortage of technology skilled workers in the next ten to twenty years and the partnerships needed to address it. Workforce development leaders from across the U.S. gathered at the forum - from government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector.

I learned a lot from this 2 day conference, which included a tour of the Microsoft Center for the Information Worker as well as an address from Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

Among the forum's discussion topics:
  • We have a serious problem in a shortage of technology skilled workers for not just employers like Microsoft, but those in manufacturing and services. And it's growing.
    • Another, more positive way of saying this is: there are now and will be great opportunities for workers with technology skills.
  • The digital divide between Americans is also growing - between people who have basic technology skills and those who do not. And those who do not have limited access to training so they stuck in low-wage jobs indefinitely.
  • To fix it is complicated: reform schools, increase training programs for adults, etc. But there are other ways to approach this issue than simply asking for more government involvement (unlikely to happen anytime soon): partnerships between the public and private sector. More about this later...
  • Funding for workforce development from the federal government has continually been cut since the primary legislation was passed in 1998. Whether or not you support it, funding for the Iraq war ($225 million per day, according to the National Priorities Project) has diverted a lot of money from domestic needs. Prior to 1998, similar federal investments in improving the U.S. workforce were also cut.
So what does this have to do with Career Key?

For ten years, we've been the only website to comprehensively offer affordable, high quality, scientifically valid tools to help people make the best career choices. That's our mission. We have expertise and our website resources to offer - it's just a matter of deciding how we can best collaborate with other partners to help the U.S. (and global) workforce meet this technology skills shortage.