Career Key

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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fewer Jobs? Readjust How You Reach Your Career Goals

The most recent jobs forecast for graduating college seniors shows that fewer management track /trainee jobs are being offered and that top students at top colleges will get most of the "spoils." As a result, more graduates are taking internships or entering graduate school to pass the time.

This climate is similar to the one I experienced in 1993 when I graduated from college. Just like fashion, job opportunities for most people (who are not top of their class, top school) are part of a cycle; people who are not "elite" candidates get squeezed out during times of economic uncertainty and recession.

That being said, I don't believe more selective college recruitment should mean a mass exodus to graduate school or worldwide travel. There are other, better options. Like I said in an earlier post, attending unnecessary or the wrong type of graduate school is a very expensive mistake - one you will regret in lost time and money. By all means, go if you're sure you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or university professor. But if you're not sure, don't go.

A tighter job market just means as you go through the process of choosing a career, and put together a plan to reach your goals, you need to be more creative. Some suggestions on how to beat the market:
  • List the training and skills your chosen career requires. You research this list not only online using help from your college career center, but by talking to people who do the type of work that interests you.
  • If you have certain skills but have never used them outside the classroom, it's better to get some experience in the working world. For example, you (hopefully) should have clear writing skills from your college classes. Look for opportunities to apply them outside the classroom.
  • If you lack certain skills, apply for internships, jobs, unpaid or paid that will teach you these skills, even if the position is not directly in your chosen career.
  • If you have no alternative to an unpaid internship to learn new skills, then see if you can do it part-time while you work in a paid job to pay your bills.
If you do well in an internship or entry level job, even if you have to volunteer your time to do it (with a part-time paying job on the side), it will lead to a paid position longer term, even if it is with a different organization. All you need is your foot in the door somewhere.

Friday, May 30, 2008

New Career Test Article Warns About Harmful Online Tests

The Washington Counseletter, a well-known and respected publication for education professionals since 1963, has just published an article about evaluating career tests by Dr. Lawrence K. Jones called "Testing the Test: Harming Students by Using an Invalid Career Test."

Along with useful, practical advice about how to select a valid career test, it contains a much needed and long overdue critique of the invalid Department of Labor O*Net Interest Profiler (IP). While the IP is popular with many educators because it is free and distributed by the government, implying credibility, it is not a valid measure of the Holland personality types. The little research the Department of Labor has done with the IP proves this point; more about this important issue on our website.

The article appears in the May 2008 edition of the Counseletter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Confidence in New Skills Leads to Career Success

If you feel confident you can do something well, you are more likely to do it, value it, and actually do it well. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Psychologists may call it "self-efficacy" or cite the "expectancy-value theory." Whatever you call it, we know from experience that when you feel you've mastered a skill, you tend to do it more, and therefore improve.

It makes sense then that the #1 top rated job expectation people look for is in the type of work they will do; the kind of work that best fits one's abilities and gives one a feeling of accomplishment. See the all 10 top expectations here. After you inventory your interests, abilities, identify your skills, and find out what skills the career you want requires but you don't have, what do you do next?

How do you improve a skill you've never done before, or done poorly in the past, but need it to get a particular job or enter a new career? Here are 3 tips:
  • Get some entry level experience doing a required skill, even if you have to volunteer to do it. Yes, many employers will not pay to train you. But that doesn't stop you from volunteering or working somewhere else for low pay, then moving up to a better position as quickly as you can.
  • Ideally start by observing someone, job shadowing, or at least having an experienced person nearby for questions.
  • And then "buck up" and just do it; project confidence even if you don't feel it. Nothing makes people more nervous than if you yourself are nervous. Everyone expects new people to fumble a little, but they do expect you to handle these fumbles well. And be smart about it - accept suggestions and criticisms but don't wallow in it. Move on.
My personal example was beginning the practice of law. I had done clerkships, internships, and summer jobs in law offices. But until you get your "bar card," you do not sit alone in an office with a needy person who is often paying dearly for your expert advice. The skills and abilities that I needed to learn were:
  • Knowing the law: knowing the answers to the legal questions I was asked, thinking quickly on my feet.
  • Admitting ignorance: knowing how and when to say "I don't know but I will find out, and give you a call tomorrow." You don't have to say everything you don't know, but sometimes faking it is a bad idea, especially when it's obvious. Most people respect you for not trying to overreach your abilities - it makes them more confident that what you are telling them is correct.
  • Diplomacy: knowing how to tell people they do not have a case, but validating their concerns in a respectful way.
  • Handling angry people: knowing how to deescalate and end conversations in a respectful way, even if someone is not showing you the same courtesy. Clients are in your office involuntarily - nobody wants a problem that needs a lawyer so cut a little slack.
And the list goes on. But after you do things for a week, a month, and longer, the ball just starts rolling until 6 months later, in my case, I felt like I had a basic mastery of these people skills - at least enough to sleep at night and feel like I had a future. And to this day, I use these same skills, although in a different role, over and over again.

I got my first job by offering to volunteer, and them probably feeling sorry for me and offering me a job with low pay - but enough for me to live on. I grabbed it and felt lucky - I still appreciate my first employer for giving me a chance. I've found that asking people for chances and taking advantage of them when offered are the key to personal growth and building new skills for career success.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

International Partnerships in Career Guidance: Career Key Leads the Way

We believe career guidance programs can help improve economic conditions for people in other countries. The U.S. is looked to as a good example for career guidance and here at Career Key we welcome opportunities to share our career guidance knowledge with others. We recently had that opportunity when in late April we attended and gave a presentation at the International Congress of Counseling, "Counseling in International Perspective: Global Demands and Local Needs," organized by Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey and NBCC International.

In the photo are our Turkish colleagues from the conference as well as our Career Key presenters. From left: Hasan Bozgeyikli, Tareq Ragaban (Arabic Career Key) and his wife Fawquia, Nguyen Dang Tuan Minh (Vietnamese Career Key), Feride Bacanli, Juliet Wehr Jones (me) (front), Dr. Jones's wife Jeanine Wehr Jones, Susran Erkan Eroglu, and Career Key author, Dr. Lawrence K. Jones.

Dr. Jones and I were able to meet in person our partners from the Arabic Career Key and Vietnamese Career Key, Tareq Ragaban and Nguyen Dang Tuan Minh, both of whom hold Masters Degrees from the University of Westminster in London. We are so lucky to have such wonderful people to work with, in addition to Ms. Angela DeFreitas, our Caribbean Career Key partner. At the ICC conference, Dr. Jones, Mr. Rageban and Ms. Minh gave a successful and well attended presentation on "Using The Career Key in Different Countries Worldwide."

In addition, we enjoyed attending a symposium by Romanian counselors and we had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Nicoleta Litoiu and Dr. Andreea Szilagyi afterwards. The Career Key has been professionally translated into Romanian, so we look forward to working on meeting the needs of Romanian career counselors. I am married to a Romanian computer scientist/programmer and enjoyed a wonderful visit to that country so I have a bit of bias in their favor. Much has happened since the fall of Communism in that beautiful country and they are one of the fastest growing economies in Eastern Europe, for good reason.

We have written an article about the conference that will be published next month in Counseling Today, published by the American Counseling Association. Once it goes up, we'll publish the link here with more information.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Practical Career Advice for College Graduates

Graduation time is fast approaching and with it, the need for good, practical career advice. This time of year reminds me of my own jump into the wilderness of "real life." My 15th college reunion is taking place in a few weeks and oddly enough, in some ways I feel like the same person I was then. But I am different. I learned the following about career and financial aid choices:
  • Your first job out of college is unlikely to be the same type of work you do 15 years later. So don't fret too much about how unsatisfying it is - just do something about it when choosing your next job. If it's your dream job and you're happily still in the same field 15 years later, good for you. I know few people who are in the same job track now that they started out doing after college.
  • What you think is important in choosing a career now, will change. I used to think making good money, in order to pay off student loans and to have a nice standard of living, was a top concern. I later learned that paying off student loans more quickly, but being miserable at the same time, was not a good tradeoff. Try to objectively view your assumptions.
  • Graduate or professional school is not a good "fallback" position if you are unsure of what to do. Choosing the wrong education is a very expensive mistake to make. At least if you are going to "find yourself," do it cheaply - like staying in youth hostels. It becomes mind numbingly easy to sign loan forms. I should know, I attended private college and grad schools (and didn't regret either). But don't sign unless you are sure.
  • If you do go to grad school, don't use your financial aid to live the lifestyle you have always aspired to. In other words, don't use the maximum they will loan you unless you truly need it (and daily Starbucks lattes are not a necessity). Making education loans is a business, just like credit cards - the more money you use, the more the loan companies make. Just because you can use the maximum, doesn't mean you should.
  • Mentors you acquire along the way will have a deep and lasting impact on your career, even if you change fields - a likely possibility in this economy. A good job reference and mentor is the gift that keep on giving, even over 5 years later - a long time in today's careers. So write your thank you notes for time people spend having coffee with you, or for someone being a good boss - you will not regret it.
  • Don't get discouraged if your career and whole life picture isn't what you hoped right away. Choosing career paths over the years is a process, and an economic reality - you might as well enjoy the excitement of change. A close girlfriend of mine once said, "you can have a good man [or partner], a job you love, and be financially secure, but not all at the same time." Up until recently I found that to be true. Maybe the sun, moon and stars are in alignment from the beginning for a few lucky people, but for most of us it takes time to calibrate our lives.
Hopefully this doesn't sound too preachy, especially the caution about using money. But I'm not your parents - these come from my personal experience and listening to my friends and colleagues over the years. I'm not perfect and you won't be either, but at least I don't have any regrets about my career path and education choices.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Starting a Business Using Holland's Theory

In starting a business, you need to consider many important questions like what business idea to choose, how to implement it, and how to pay for it. But what about your personality's compatibility with starting a business - and its compatibility with certain types of businesses?

There are a few quizzes and tests on the internet that try to assess your entrepreneurial personality, but only one test, The Self-Employment Key, relies on science in using Holland's theory of career choice and the Big Five Personality Dimensions, two of the most studied and popular personality theories. Now I admit this is a shameless marketing post, however, I find people are so used to the same advice over and over again from mass media, that new, unique, scientific ideas sometimes get buried - people stop thinking to even ask unique questions. Like how the science of personality is relevant to your success in entrepreneurship.

So if you're tired of superficial advice about starting a business that is repeated over and over on the internet, you should try visiting our website and taking The Self-Employment Key. Like the folks at The Riley Guide, I think you'll find it worthwhile. Please learn more about our research online here and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Telling the Truth about Careers of the Future

When will our leaders, Republican and Democrat, focus on solving our economic problems here at home with greater emphasis on career and technical education and workforce development? Reading this week's New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, "[w]ho will tell the people?" got me fired up again on this issue. Who is going to tell the truth about America's diminishing economic power due to increasingly subpar workforce development, and fix it?

I just got back from an international counseling conference in Istanbul (post about this is coming) where I was reminded that other countries look to the U.S. as a role model for excellence in career guidance. Federally funded national treasures like the Occupational Outlook Handbook are looked upon by developing countries as the "gold standard." Not even the U.K. has an online equivalent. And yet, our government continues to cut the funding and support for our national systems for workforce development and occupation information. For example, America's Career Resource Network website reports:
"No funding has however been appropriated for sponsoring occupational and employment information related activities. This program [Perkins] had earlier provided funding to each state and territory to "support academic and career guidance."
I understand and agree with wise, efficient use of my tax dollars - big government is not necessarily smart government. But smart government means planning for the future, not exactly a priority in 1 year federal budget cycles. Apparently "Bridges to Nowhere" are more important than our future economic growth. So hopefully it will not be too late, before the U.S. has squandered its superiority in its innovative and productive workforce, for us to rebuild and keep our reputation for career guidance excellence. Some leadership in this direction would be helpful.

Career Key Canada Test & Website Has Been Launched!

I'm proud to announce the launch of our new website for Canadians looking for the best career choice advice and Canadian career test, Career Key Canada. After receiving many requests for it, hearing from Canadian professional counsellors, and seeing large numbers of Canadian visitors, we created this special version of The Career Key test that provides users with Canadian information about careers, the labour market, and education options.

Career Key Canada offers the only scientifically valid career test for Canadians that:
  • is based on the most popular and studied theory of career choice, Holland's Theory, AND
  • directly links to the most complete, accurate and up to date Canadian information about occupations, education options, labour market information, and career counselling.
Please let us know you think about it; we welcome any suggestions you have.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Getting Startup Money is a Pain in the ...

Having talked with a few people "in the know," I hear this feeling is not unusual among would-be entrepreneurs or self-employed with that hot new business idea. It is also true. So how do you get the money to get started as self-employed or an entrepreneur?

I know there are websites, blogs, and books devoted to answering this question. Some of these advice sources also contain a lot of "rah rah," pie in the sky, worshipping at the altar of the idea of entrepreneurship without addressing the practical difficulty of raising money.

When doing research myself for a business idea, the answer was pretty straightforward and I'm happy to share it:
  • You need to fund it yourself, either through savings, borrowing against assets, or contract/paid work you do while starting the business. And if you can't work at the same time as startup due to conflicts of interest or time constraints, or you don't have savings, then you need to try other options.
  • You need to find "angel" investors, either family or friends or business contacts, to give or loan you the money. Forget bank loans unless you've started businesses in the past (successfully).
  • Venture capitalists want to see a prototype of your idea. If it takes money to develop that prototype, you need to rely on yourself or your angel investors for it. No prototype, you can forget VC funding.
  • Getting VC funding is difficult, takes a lot of time and effort, is risky (of your idea being hijacked if it is good), and you give up a significant amount of control of your business if you are successful. And you need to know people to start the process - have trustworthy business contacts.
  • If you do have access to money, whether you are blessed to receive a gift from family or can borrow from a retirement asset (God forbid), make a good decision about whether and how to use it.
  • Bottom line, you need to fund the beginning stage of developing the prototype yourself or borrowing money from friends or family. If you can't muster that initial funding, then you can't act on your idea.
And I won't charge you $24.95 for this advice - which I know seems pretty bleak. It was a little depressing to me until I realized that it is nothing more than saying, you need to be creative, realistic and keep your "eyes open" in this process. However, there are plenty of success stories out there, so people figure it out. We've developed a list of website resources (NOT put together through reciprocal linking or paid sponsorship) that can help. Nobody ever said it would be easy - but it's worth it.