Career Key

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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My First Internship Day From Heck

I recently came across an essay I wrote for a college course about my first real job - an internship with a small newspaper in Maine. Given my recent post about the value of internships, I thought I should share a crazy first day moment from my first internship. And the newspaper shall remain nameless to protect their reputation from me...

On my first day of my first real job as an intern/desktop publishing assistant, I was asked by my publisher boss to take a load of scrap lumber to the town dump. Yes, an open pit of stinky garbage. He magnanimously gave me the keys to the company 20 yr old Impala wagon (think Gremlin wagon but flatter) and we loaded it up practically to the ceiling with some 2x4s. Having never driven a car other than our family 1978 VW bus, I had never experienced power brakes.

On the final curve to the dump, I began to brake - only to realize that brake in this car meant touch the pedal slightly and BRAKE! And in slow motion, I screeched to a halt in the middle of the turn and watched 2x4s slide into the windshield forming a spiderweb of glass. Being an eventual Princeton graduate, I had not stacked lumber behind my head so I was physically fine. But mentally I was not fine. At 17 years old, I was screwing up royally in my first job on the very first day. What a confidence killer! And this was a small town so there was no way I could hide my stupidity for long.

So in tears, after unloading the lumber (the windshield was still driveable), I returned to the office, fearing the worst - getting fired. But no, something worse would happen. My boss, a notorious cheapskate, came out and looked at the car and said, "if you were going to wreck the car, couldn't you have at least totaled it so insurance would pay for it?" I was relieved/horrified/disbelieving at his reaction. And later we all laughed.

There were other unpleasant tasks ahead in my future in this job, but they were doable when balanced with the higher-skilled responsibility I was later given.

And still later, my boss wrote me a wonderful recommendation for college and to this day, I continue to use the desktop publishing skills I learned from that job. I also learned about other menial tasks, sticking clip art on straight, and what it was like to work with great people.

I did not take the job because I knew for sure I wanted to go into newspaper production. I applied for the job because I had computer skills, enjoyed creative pursuits, and wanted to find out what it was like to work for someone. I was just lucky I kept the job after that first day; the funny thing is, my boss fixed that windshield and I saw it driving around for at least another 10 years. Do you have any funny internship experiences to share?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Start a Business with People Like You

As you should know by now, our companion websites The Career Key and The Self-Employment Key both rely on the well known and researched Holland's Theory of Career Choice as the basis for making good decisions about careers and starting a business. I recently enjoyed this post from Mark Cuban's popular blog that contains among other smart tips for startups, advice related to Holland's Theory (probably without him knowing it):

"hire people who you think will love working there [your startup]."

This fits in perfectly with Holland's Theory that people like to be around others who have similar personalities. In choosing a career or business, it means that people choose jobs where they can be around other people who are like them. Has this been your experience?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Top 5 Ways to Use Your Public Library as a Career Exploration Tool

I feel like an expert on this topic, raised by a librarian and living as I do in the newly annointed book reading capital of America: Seattle, at least according to this New York Times article. I use my library card a lot and enjoy Seattle Public Library's (SPL) new, Koolhaas-designed downtown Central branch pictured at left.

My top 5 suggestions (no particular order) for using your public library as an online career exploration tool:
  1. Take advantage of online career information databases and resources made free to you with a library card. Most states have a career information system, but make sure their career test is scientifically valid before taking it. The O*Net Interest Profiler, offered by many services, is NOT valid.
  2. Find job hunting prospects in specialized databases about regional industries, like high-tech, medical providers, and nonprofits.
  3. Choose books on careers that interest you and have them delivered to your local branch for pickup. Don't forget biographies of people in your prospective career path - "self help" books can get repetitive after awhile. For careers organized by Holland personality type, I recommend Laurence Shatkin's and J. Michael Farr's 50 Best Jobs for Your Personality.
  4. Listen to podcasts by people in careers that interest you. For example, I found a podcast (listen here) about a cartoonist's career path billed as, "Comixtravaganza: 'Getting Into Comics' panel: In this Q & A panel, held January 26 at the Central Library, local lights of the comics world discuss what they love about comics, their experiences in the comics industry, and more." Google it for more options.
  5. Check out digital or print books about skills needed in careers of interest. An example for information technology geek wannabes, in addition to books on the "shelves," SPL offers the Safari Books Database described as "Access digital books on computing, databases, programming, Web design and more. The collection includes over 1,000 titles for the three most current years from publishers such as O'Reilly, Addison Wesley, Que and Sam's Publishing."
Do you have other suggestions for using your library to explore careers?

How to Make Trades a Sexy Career Choice

Recently I've seen several articles like this one in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer bemoaning the lack of young people's interest in high-paying, somewhat secure jobs in the trades. I also read through the many comments this article generated and here is a summary of what people believe is the problem:
  • Young people are lazy and do not have the work ethic for these jobs.
  • Trades have an image problem (beer gut, bearded, Nascar loving plumber), and a social stigma attached to "blue-collar" work.
  • Too much emphasis is placed on 4 year college as the goal, even for people for whom that's not the best option.
  • Cuts in shop programs in high schools.
But what I found most interesting was the number of commenters that said something similar to this fellow "Sizzle":
I'm a guy who did the college thing, but shoulda done did the trade thing.....Sittin in a cube, pushin email and paper for 40 hours a week, pullin down a paycheck...every spare moment i have I'm thinking about wrenching on something, fixing something, figuring out how to put something together, wondering 'why was that thing built that way?'. I'm great with tools, strong as i'd need to be for any trade, and have no problem dealing with all kinds of people. Yep, its a social thing as much as anything -- parents puttin the fear in ya that if you don't go to college you might as well be sippin on a 40 under a bridge somewhere, plannin' yer next kidnappin'... The happiest, most well-adjusted, best paid friends of mine are in the trades...
This point of view shows why knowing yourself and your interests before making career choices is important. As perhaps in Sizzle's case, if your highest scoring Holland personality type is "Realistic," research shows you will be more satisfied working in a Realistic working environment.

In our decision-making article, we talk about analyzing the "consequences" of one's career choice, like parental disapproval (as Sizzle refers to above). If you follow the principles of good decision-making, you'll be more likely to assess, overcome and deal with these consequences when you decide on a career that fits your personality, but may not be your parents' or friends' choice for you. They are not the ones who have to go to your job every day.

Getting back to "how to make trades the sexy career choice," I suggest that we continue to improve and fund career and technical education for all students, and to include more options outside of a four year college. Allowing young people to see how these jobs work, including the physical aspect, and the financial benefits would help.

As for the "prestige factor," aside from George Clooney quitting his job as a Hollywood actor and becoming a lineman, I think the only way young people will see trades as an option is to actually see where tradespeople work and how they live, through mentorship, job shadowing, and field trips. As many commenters from the Seattle P-I article correctly pointed out, most tradespeople do not fit the negative stereotype I referred to earlier. And even if they do fit it, every profession has unattractive, unloveable people - including doctors, lawyers, etc.

Internships as Career Exploration

Some college students make the mistake of assuming internships are for people who know what they want to do with the rest of their life. The CareerDiva blog this week had an interesting post about internships for college students and why students are not taking advantage of this avenue to career exploration. One student interviewed "is putting off taking the intern plunge 'because I don't really have any direction. It's easier for people who know what they want to do.'"

While that's true for some people, many use internships and summer jobs to find out whether a particular career path fits them. As Dr. Jones pointed out in a post yesterday,

"A lot really depends your openness to experience, being an active learner and explorer -- and using your values and interests as your career compass."

Pursuing an internship in an area you find interesting, but don't necessarily believe is the only career path for you, is a smart career exploration exercise. I interned with law firm one summer, and in between my junior and senior years, with an affordable housing and community gardening program through Project '55, a wonderful public service internship organization. I learned a lot about myself, working with other people, and community.

I know it takes a lot of time and effort to write a resume, cover letter, and to "pitch" yourself for an internship, especially when you're not sure it will be a success. On the other hand, it is better to find out what you're not suited for, so you spend time later on other more compatible fields. I remember from college several people who did internships with investment banks and hated it (but liked the money and being in NYC) - while others loved it. All these people learned something useful and for those who hated it and went on to do other things, it didn't ruin their ultimate career path.

My suspicion is that some students don't want to do the work to get the internship - more laziness than purposeful decision. Procrastination is an art form in college - I admit I occasionally suffered from it!

What kind of internship experience(s) have you had?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Choosing a career really depends on your openness...

I was reading an interview with one of NASA's top Antarctic scientists, Robert Bindschadler. His team was the first to set foot on Antarctica's global warming hotspot -- Pine Island Glacier, one of the most dangerous places on Earth. He was asked, "What made you want to be a glaciologist in the first place."

He answered, "I was trained as a physicist at the University of Michigan but didn't have the fire to work in the basements of physics labs. Then I discovered that I really enjoyed books on mountains, especially ones with snow and ice on them. I came across a book called The Physics of Glaciers by Stan Paterson which I read in one night. Once I realized that there was a field glaciology . . . I haven't looked back since."

His answer made me think of my own career development, a similar situation when I was teaching in Turkey.

I was 25 years old, recently married, and searching for a career that might better fit me. A friend loaned me a book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy by Carl Rogers -- I was fascinated and excited! Counseling made sense; felt right; and I began my career in the field . . .

Professional career counselors see this a lot and are trained to help you. Our websites give you give you solid advice and exercises, based on the best practices and science of the field.

A lot really depends your openness to experience, being an active learner and explorer -- and using your values and interests as your career compass.

Does this statement ring true to you?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beached: The paralyzed decision-maker

I've posted recently about practical ways to handle career indecision because I see a lot of blog posts, news articles, and books encouraging people to make big changes, but not much about how to deal with the paralysis we sometimes encounter in making such a big decision. A recent encounter on a beach reminded me of how I've felt in those situations.

This is a baby seal I saw yesterday, just put up on the rocks to rest by the mother while she fished.

I like the beached seal analogy because it includes a satisfactory conclusion, the tide comes back in and you're on the move again. Likewise, in my own career decision-making, I experienced periods of paralysis due to:
  • fear of the unknown,
  • financial pressure,
  • information overload, and/or
  • perceived, insurmountable barriers.
But like the tides, the paralysis recedes, either by my own initiative or being forced by finances or other unavoidable forces. I "got off the dime" and moved forward. How do you deal with decision-making paralysis?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Can't decide on a career? How to break through...

Career indecision is a common problem so if you're having difficulty making a career choice, you're not alone. Some common reasons are:
  • If you're young (in your teens and early 20's), your personality and interests are still developing. You may not know yourself well enough.
  • You lack important information about the occupations you're considering.
  • You're overwhelmed by the amount of information you have and do not know how to narrow down your choices or make the final step of a decision.
  • You have other barriers to making a decision (financial, personal biases, etc.).
If you're undecided about a career, take the following steps to break through the wall:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Best Career Options for the "Leisure Economy"

Reading a recent Shifting Careers column by Marci Alboher, I learned about the coming "leisure economy." Whether this will come true or is just an economist's dream is for you to decide. But a trip to any bookstore shelf on personal finance shows an unabashed worship of the millionaire, leisurely you. So this desire to be a part of the leisure economy is real.

How does choosing your best career option fit in with this desire for leisure? You could make your career a part of the industries likely to benefit from the leisure economy (according to the above column and cited book, "education, crafts and hobbies, fitness and sports, gambling and travel") or incorporate leisure as a part of your work/life balance career goals. If your interests do not lie in the former, then I recommend the latter strategy. While I enjoy scrapbooking pictures of my young son, my interests do not lie in becoming a scrapbook consultant no matter how great the demand may be.

Leisure is part of work/life balance - how much do you need?
And what does leisure mean for you? Lying on a beach? Researching your family tree? Spending time with aging parents or your children? Racing cars? Freedom to volunteer for occasional projects? Leisure does not need to mean laziness, and leisure can be done part-time - say, on the weekend. You don't have to have the same vision of leisure as Paris Hilton does.

As you go through the decision-making process of choosing a career, work/life balance is an important factor to consider. Information interviewing, actually talking with people who are in your career of interest, is critical to finding out whether a particular career path is compatible with your needs. You cannot, by only reading job descriptions or watching career videos, know how much leisure time you will have. Or the realistic salary projection that will get you to a "work-free" leisure state. The only way to get unvarnished information is from talking to multiple people in a career path.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hot New Business and Self-Employment Options

Recently I educated myself about new trends in self-employment. I took my son to the Barnes & Noble train set to play, and while there, I browsed's spring 2008 Hot List: Best Businesses, Markets, Trends & Ideas. Among the top business areas they recommended were eco-friendly clothing, IT consulting, and handbag design. A lot of the categories made sense, given what you read online and in the media - certain themes keep coming up: "going green," the need for tech-savvy advice, and our consumer culture's obsession with all things celebrity: handbags, little dogs, and rehab.

Some of these businesses involve retail and the sale of products, as opposed to services - an area I am more familiar with based on my personal experience. To learn more about retail, I just finished reading an excellent book by Kim Lavine, Mommy Millionaire, where the rough and tumble world of selling gift items was described in all its glory; trade shows, mall kiosks (I always wondered how that worked), packaging, inventory, etc. Unlike many entrepreneur books that focus on the "rah rah, you can do it" theme and the magic formula for the right idea with a brief mix of business plan advice, Ms. Lavine gives a detailed account starting her million dollar business - and it was not easy. I've not seen such an interesting, and realistic (as far as I can tell) account of getting angel financing.

Because my startup experience has been with a service based business, this book was an eye opener about businesses that involve inventory, which is why I bought it. So before you join the ranks of handbag or specialty lingerie vendors, check out this book and books like it with a more realistic (although still optimistic) account of entrepreneurship. Reading this book was a perfect part of the "Know Your Options" step of decisionmaking we recommend.