Career Key

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Money and Career Choice: 5 Questions You Must Ask

A career you enjoy and a career that meets your financial goals are not mutually exclusive if you look before you leap. When making a career change or choosing your first career, consider your personal finance goals. After narrowing your career choices to those likely to lead to job satisfaction based on your interests and personality, ask these 5 money questions about each career option:
  1. Is this career in demand? Get the geeky answers and the real world answers. Find out how many job openings are forecast by the economists, and talk to people working in the career where you live. Also do the exercises recommended in our article Learn More About Occupations.
  2. What flexibility does this career path offer? How transferable will your education and skills be to a variety of jobs? If you don't like being a corporate lawyer, what else can you do with a law degree that would cover your bills? Think skills, not job titles.
  3. Is the starting salary sufficient to meet my current financial needs? To answer this, you need to know what your current household budget is – add student loan debt repayments, if any (see below). Notice I said “starting” salary not hoped for/dreamed of salary. Again, information you learn from people working in your target career may be much more reliable than estimates on websites.
  4. What education or training is necessary for this career and how much would it cost? Don't assume certain degrees are required; do your research and talk to people doing the jobs that interest you. Maybe a $100,000 MBA is unnecessary – choosing jobs strategically to gain specific experience might substitute for it – and you'll be making money instead of spending/borrowing it.
  5. How would I pay for it? Look at your financial aid options. Don't forget to consider how you'll pay for living expenses along with tuition.
Many people go with their gut feelings, hoping that “do what you love and the money will follow” will hold true. That phrase should say, “...and the money may follow.” By narrowing your choices based on the best science of career counseling and asking hard financial questions before making a career choice, you'll evaluate money concerns in a mindful, knowledgeable way – not hoping money will follow you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Getting the best career information: Meet new people

Doing a lot of research about your career options is one of the most important steps to making the best career decision. When starting out in your career or making a career change, you probably won't know as many people in the careers you are considering for the future. Otherwise you wouldn't call it a career change or start, right? And why limit your options to only those careers you know well? I have some tips on how to increase what you know about careers. While LinkedIn deservedly gets a lot of attention for helping people find jobs, the better source for career information will be people you meet in career-specific networking groups, particularly in your geographic area.

I suggest finding groups online and then meeting people in person; just like online dating, there is no substitute for personal connection. I like's philosophy: "use the internet to get off the internet." You also don't need the education or training required for a career to meet people working in that career. In fact, talking with people about how to choose the right education option before you do it, would be ideal. Maybe a B.A., professional degree like an MBA, or higher degree isn't necessary for what you want to do – if not, save yourself money and time! And most people will like to talk about themselves and the career they've chosen.

For example, Seattle has an excellent web portal for finding networks in different careers, called the Seattle Networking Guide. If I was interested in graphic design, under the “Arts and Culture” section I would find a link there to the Seattle Graphic Artists Guild, which holds monthly networking lunches. I would go to one, meet people and start doing casual informational interviews. I might get some business cards for potential future job search contacts if I ultimately choose this career path.

How do you find these groups? Here are four tips:
  • Do an online search for a directory of networking groups located where you live. For example, try “seattle networking groups”
  • Narrow your search to the career you are targeting for research (e.g. graphic artist). Be specific in your search terms. For example, “seattle graphic design networking” turns up “seattle web design organizations” and other interesting options. Similarly, a “chicago graphic design networking group” search will lead you to an active Meetup group.
  • Try other sources for career specific groups: Meetup, Craigslist (narrowed to your city), Yahoo, MSN or Google groups, The Riley Guide, etc.
  • Attend at least one group event and get more suggestions of other groups. If you're not able to find more than one group related to your career option or you don't like the people at one group, ask for other suggestions and recommendations.
I think you'll find this type of career research very rewarding - and frankly more fun depending on your personality type (Realistic types may find it harder to do but no less helpful). Developing your networking skills in this way will help you later with your job search - career specific networks and job search go hand in hand. Website information about a career path's job duties, salaries, and education are a great place to start for research. But meeting people is the best way to refine your research and get real insight. The more people you meet, the better your chances of a well-rounded perspective of a career option.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Learn from Olympians - Keeping the Business Alive

Now that his life is under a microscope, I just about choked on my diet pudding snack reading that in competition, Olympic champion Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day. And he eats omelets and pizza, not nasty energy bars that melt in your car and taste vaguely like chemicals. I don't know about you, but that kind of caloric intake seems unreal - and enviable. Having a sedentary job and being a woman, I'm supposed to eat less than 2000 calories a day. Pizza is a luxury not a staple. Granted, Mr. Phelps works off his behind - literally - for a living. Not that I've been looking...

But to link this to career choice and self-employment (you knew that link was coming), this Wall Street Journal article on Phelps' business prospects reminds us of the "flash in the pan" danger that confronts many would-be entrepreneurs like this champion. You receive some press or momentary attention for your product or personal brand and then it fades. How do you prevent that from happening? According to his agent, by being patient (long term goals) and strategic; he described the marketing efforts in the lead up to Beijing with an uncertain payoff.

And as pointed out in this New York Times article, resilience and flexibility in the face of change are some of the best methods past Olympic champions like Bruce Jenner have dealt with the silence after the gold dust settles. And where have we heard this before? The top two personality dimensions that correlate most with entrepreneurial success are openness to experience and conscientiousness defined as:
  • Conscientiousness "indicates an individual's degree of organization, persistence, hard work, and motivation in the pursuit of goal accomplishment;" and
  • Openness to Experience is seen in a person "who is intellectually curious and tends to seek new experiences and explore novel ideas."
I would make a risk-free guess that Mr. Phelps is high in Conscientiousness. And in adopting the new advances in swimming technology, I'm thinking he can stretch that search for innovation into business ideas. My bet is on Michael Phelps to do what he puts his mind to: be a long term commercial success and to elevate swimming's visibility. 14 gold medals can't be wrong.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In considering self-employment, think of flames ... and artists.

Would-be business owners can decide whether to be discouraged or educated by crash and burn stories about other entrepreneurs. What do you do when you suffer a major business flameout – like when your name, a fashion business you've built over 24 years, and the ability to do something you love are all taken away from you – at least until your non-compete agreement expires in 2010? This morning I felt myself cringe as I read about the entrepreneur and fashion designer Sigrid Olsen's business demise. All I know about this situation is what I read in this NYT article “Forced Retirement,” but it seems like both a cautionary tale and an uplifting example of restructuring and optimism. I can't imagine how stressful it must be for her. But Ms. Olsen appears to be picking herself up and choosing new business directions.

In restructuring her career, Ms. Olsen serves as an example to would-be business owners and the self-employed. Be tough, optimistic, and keep going. Even experienced, talented artists like Ms. Olsen must make a living and how best to exercise your creativity than by being your own boss? In deciding whether or not to start a business and become self-employed, it's helpful to read others' stories and consider how they relate to the industry they are in.

Artists, like Ms. Olsen, are mostly (62%) self-employed. In fact, you'll find many artists, like my late grandfather Julian Wehr, who do not like others' limits on their creativity. Mr. Wehr was a sculptor and “father of the American moveable book,” a self-employed artist and paper engineer whose children's books were popular in the 1940s and highly collectible today. While his passion was sculpture, he designed these books as a way of supporting his family. A disdain for commercial art, and by extension working/designing for others, was embedded in his NYC alma mater Art Students League's education in the 1920s. And looking at the Department of Labor's numbers, this artistic view of one's employer is still alive and well.

So if you're considering self-employment, include in your decision-making process the cautionary tales of others' experiences, like Ms. Olsen's, while researching the industry you may enter. With the right industry, you may find a home for yourself with like-minded people with a similar personality – and an ability to face adversity and continue their success. Artists are more resilient than you may think.

Monday, August 11, 2008

3 Easy Tips for Using Job Outlook in Choosing a Career

Knowing the job outlook for careers that match your personality and interest you is critical to making a good career choice. While job salary is very important, it's not much use if there are only 50 job openings in the U.S. with that salary (think “supermodel.”) From job outlook and growth projections, you can learn how many jobs there will be in your chosen career and where they'll likely be located. But you don't need to be a math whiz to understand these numbers. Here are three easy ways to include this important information in choosing a career:

1. Choose the best, unbiased source of job outlook numbers – the U.S. Government. Shortcut your research by using the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) for career exploration – it provides easy to read analysis and links to job outlook data for each occupation you research. The Career Key website organizes OOH occupational information by matching Holland personality type so once you match your personality to careers, you can easily access a job's outlook via our links to the OOH. Rely on original, government sources for job growth statistics because just like politicians, other sources may quote them out of context to sensationalize a point or sell an education/training program.

2. Learn what basic job growth terms mean and how they relate to one another. The OOH makes this easier because they do the analysis for you. Take, for example, the OOH entry for “Teachers – Preschool, Kindergarten, and Secondary.” Click on the heading at the top of the page called “Job Outlook.” The first sentence under “Employment change” reads:
"Employment of school teachers is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, because of the size of the occupations in this group, this growth will create 479,000 additional teacher positions, more than all but a few occupations." (emphasis added)
I italicized important terms. Employment growth is how many teacher positions are being created in comparison to other jobs. Additional positions are how many total new jobs are projected for creation (in the time period 2006 to 2016). The best part is that the OOH puts it all into context. An occupation can have higher than average growth but fewer job openings nationwide overall. Employment or job growth takes on a different meaning when you consider how many jobs are being created and other factors like geography (see next tip).

3. Narrow your job outlook research to the geographic area you want to live in. Don't stop your research at just the overall job growth numbers. The number of job openings for software engineers in metropolitan Boston will be very different from those in Tuscon, Arizona. In addition to linking directly to state websites for labor market information, look again at OOH's “Job outlook” entry for teacher you'll see under “Employment Change”:
"Fast-growing States in the South and West—led by Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Georgia—will experience the largest enrollment increases. Enrollments in the Midwest are expected to hold relatively steady, while those in the Northeast are expected to decline. Teachers who are geographically mobile and who obtain licensure in more than one subject should have a distinct advantage in finding a job."
You can link to even more useful geographic information from the OOH by clicking on “Earnings,” and going further for state information by clicking on “For the Latest Wage Information” by teacher category (i.e. preschool) that will show, among other helpful information, the top 5 states with the highest numbers of preschool teachers and the top 5 states with the highest-paid ones.

So as you can see, finding out how your career options measure up for future job growth is pretty easy: you just need to know where to find it, consider how it fits into the “big picture,” and apply it to your specific geographic location.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Supporting the Celebration of 100 years of Career Guidance

To end this week's focus on "big picture" political issues affecting our nation's career choices, I'd like to publicize, celebrating 100 years of career guidance and education. This consortium of organizations, including the National Career Development Association, recently issued a "Statement of Beliefs" listing important goals in the business of helping people choosing careers. I quote two beliefs that we support with the resources at Career Key's public service websites:
"1. Every student and adult shall have access to useful information and effective guidance in setting personal and career goals that align with their unique interests, talents, strengths, aspirations, and values.
2. Every student graduates high school with lifelong career decision making and management skills that are necessary to succeed in postsecondary education, training, and the workplace."
The next step is to give people the practical, affordable, and science-based tools to make these happen, which is part of Career Key's mission. We're proud to be a part of this effort to enrich people's working lives.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thinking about debt and your career choices

In doing some "light" reading this summer, I read Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to Be Young, by Anya Kamenetz. I think her book, Yahoo! Finance column, and blog are of ongoing relevance to all people choosing or changing a career, regardless of age. Whether or not you agree with her, it stimulates debate and thought about your financial decisions as they relate to your work. You can learn more about the book at the author's blog The Narrow Bridge, which is on our blog roll.

The 2006 book is a call to action to improve financial conditions for young people and I found her advice on point - particularly the concerns about reduced student financial aid, credit card marketing to the young, and the suggestions about personal responsibility. In this Free Agent Worker environment full of debt traps, getting ahead takes a lot of individual initiative and watchfulness.

Her solutions sometimes rely more on government funding than I'd personally like - I'd like to see more public/private/NGO partnerships to address some of these issues. But there is no doubt she is correct that increasing affordable access to education should be a national priority of the federal government - and that political action by all of us is necessary to make it so. There are many other interesting, timely topics covered in her book, which I highly recommend and that I will blog about in the future as they relate to career choice.

As part of your career decision, you will consider your expectations and desires for your future salary and working conditions, as well as the costs of your training and education. Will it be financially worth it? Have you thought of other alternatives that do not require lengthy, expensive schooling? Have you talked with people who did what you're planning to do, and have the desired financial payoffs come true?

No one, I think, would discourage people from taking on certain types of education/training debt to support a career objective - as long as you have thought all your options through and done your research and homework before signing a student loan agreement.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Talk about our country's "Skills Gap" with your friends

You've seen me fired up before in this career blog about the lack of useful attention U.S. politicians (and yes, the rest of us American taxpayers) pay to career education, workforce development, and education in general. Columnist David Brooks of the New York Times hits the nail on the head with his column yesterday about the "Skills Gap." The header sums it up: "A Lack of Educational Progress Threatens Economic and Sociologic Prospects." By the way, this is not new news - Microsoft has been working for years to address this issue. See this article here.

I think it's up to the rest of us to support local career education initiatives, related NGOs, and lobby local politicians to include reversing the growing skills gap in our country's top political priorities; how else are you going to get enough taxes to foot the future Social Security bill? Creation of more low wage service jobs like those at fast food restaurants is just not going to cut it - no offense to MickeyDs. Those jobs do not mean "economic prosperity" for anyone. The more money people make, the more taxes they pay. Seems like a simple incentive for politicians to me.

Even if we don't agree with one another about the causes of this "skills slowdown" as Mr. Brooks refers to it, it nevertheless should be in the public debate. It's only when people start talking about an issue that politicians pay attention to it.

I doubt many people reading this blog are in the growing low-skilled category of workers. There may be a few people online googling "career blogs" who know how to navigate social networking sites but lack the writing and digital literacy skills to file a Home Depot application online. But I doubt there are many. So I feel like I'm preaching to the choir - am I? Do you agree these issues are this important?