Career Key

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Poking a Hole in Blogger Seth Grodin’s Higher Ed Melt Down Idea

In the Pacific Northwest this morning, I woke up to a storm of Tweets about Seth Grodin’s catastrophic blog post on higher education’s future. While I like some of Seth’s work and agree with many of his points in this post, I disagree with his view that:
“4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect..The solutions are obvious....[t]hings like gap years, research internships and entrepreneurial or social ventures...”
Gap years, internships & entrepreneurial ventures are great options or alternatives for some students (particularly single people with access to parents’ money), but to say that the link between traditional education and success is suspect is just plain wrong. I’d like to know what “data [he’s] seeing” that supports his view; I know there are statistics showing the opposite.

Some might say I’m biased because I work for a company that provides career guidance resources to students and schools.  But the science and data don’t lie.  Not everyone is entrepreneurial and social - as over 30 years of research with Holland’s Theory of Career Choice has shown. And many satisfying, well-paying jobs require a college degree, certificate or formal training. Is there anything wrong with being an engineer instead of a self-made entrepreneur or blogger? (I don’t think so).

The real problem is that many people go to college and choose a college major with little to no career planning.  What do you want to get out of your education? What areas of study interest you the most? If you don’t know or are not ready to decide, wait to go to school until you do. The obvious solution to this problem is to make a series of good career decisions throughout your life.

Hasty, directionless education choices are not all the fault of school counselors or parents.  Individuals need to take control of their own destiny, even though it’s more difficult for young people more easily swayed by peers, parents, and marketing. We need to create a more open, honest discussion of all career options people have - and to help people do the work (and yes, have the fun) necessary to explore them. Sometimes that means college, a gap year, job shadowing, or a Road Trip

If more students made high-quality, creative career and education decisions, with the help and support of parents, counselors, and even peers, more people would enjoy success from a college education.

Let’s focus on supporting creative, well-researched career decisions for everyone instead of overemphasizing entrepreneurial, non-traditional career paths. Choosing to be an entrepreneur is no better or worse than someone choosing to be an engineer - the important thing is to choose a series of career paths throughout your life that fit your interests and your passions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Want to graduate on time? Choose a college major or training program that matches your Holland personality.

Scientific studies show that if a student chooses a college major or program that matches their Holland interests, they are:
  • Less likely to switch college majors (Allen & Robbins, 2008), and
  • More likely to graduate on time (Allen & Robbins, 2010).
In a study involving over 3,000 students at 15 four-year colleges and 13 two-year institutions, the authors found that this interest-major match or “interest-major congruence” has a direct effect on students’ timely graduation for both 4-year and 2-year institutions. The study's findings appeared in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology (see full citations below).

To learn more about how to measure your 6 Holland personality types using the scientifically valid Career Key test and match the test results to careers and all 1,300+ college majors in the U.S. and Canada using our new, affordable e-Book, The Education Key, please read our article “Choose a College Major or Training Program.” In the article we describe the 4 step process to making a good educational decision.

Copies of these articles are available online and from your school or local library:

Allen, J. , & Robbins, S. (2010). Effects of Interest-Major Congruence, Motivation, and Academic Performance on Timely Degree Attainment. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol. 57, No. 1, 23-35.

Allen, J., & Robbins, S. (2008) Prediction of college major persistence based on vocational interests and first-year academic performance. Research in Higher Education, 62-79.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Career Guidance from Dr. Mehmet Oz's Father

Are we sometimes too soft on ourselves or our children when it comes to our career decision status and career development? What do you think about the story I quote from below about Dr. Mehmet Oz, the popular and talented doctor you see on Oprah who now has his own TV show. Here it is from page 3 of Frank Bruni's Sunday NYT Magazine article, "Dr. Does-It-All":
"Reared in Wilmington, Del., he [Mehmet Oz] decided to become a doctor at age 7, in line in an ice-cream parlor. “I remember it like yesterday,” he said. “There was a kid in front of me who was 10. My dad, just to pass the time, said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ The kid said, ‘I don’t know, I’m 10.’ My father waited until he was out of earshot and said: ‘I never want you to tell me that if I ask you that question. I never want you tell me you don’t know. It’s O.K. if you change your mind. But I never want you not to have a vision of what you want to be.

“I told him that day that I wanted to be a doctor,” Oz added. “And I never changed my mind.” (emphasis added).

What's your reaction to that story? Was Dr. Oz's father, a Turkish cardiothoracic surgeon who was born in poverty in the Depression, being too harsh or pushy with his son? Or is it right sometimes to push ourselves and our children into action?

I have mixed feelings, leaning more toward pushing yourself or your child into action. Although age 7 seems a little young to demand a career direction for someone. For me, the key phrase is"it's okay if you change your mind." Time and time again we are told (and we know to be true) that setting goals gets results. (see step 4 "Plan" of our High Quality Decisions article) If you have no career goals, it's safe to say your results will reflect your lack of direction.

What do you think?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Work From Home Jobs and Careers That Match Your Holland Personality Type

Inspired by my recent interview, I decided to take a look at "work from home" jobs and how you can use the best science and practices of career counseling found on the Career Key’s website to help you choose one. After a little explanation, I organized a number of work at home jobs by personality type using Holland’s Theory of Career Choice. My goal is to help you choose a home-based career that is most likely to lead to job satisfaction.

Having often worked in a home office throughout my career, I know the benefits (and challenges) of working at home. Working at home is especially attractive to parents and caregivers, people with disabilities, and anyone else who values flexibility in time and location of work. The challenge is to find a satisfying career path that fits how you want and need to live your life.

As an overall approach, I recommend evaluating your career options using The Career Key website’s 3 step career choice process:
1. Know Yourself.
2. Know Your Options.
3. Make a High-Quality Decision.

For a crash course on work at home jobs, I recommend reading Alison Doyle’s series of “Work from Home Jobs” articles at the Job Search website. She does an excellent job of explaining what’s involved and how to filter out scams.

Using Holland’s Theory of Career Choice to “Know Yourself”
Step 1: In addition to many other self-exploration activities, we recommend taking a scientifically valid interest inventory based on Holland’s Theory like The Career Key test.

As an alternative, you may want to consider taking the special version of The Career Key called The Self-Employment Key, which focuses specifically on occupations where at least 10% of the workers are self-employed. Test-takers also receive scores for two “Big 5” personality dimensions research shows linked to self-employed success.  There are also special sections on women entrepreneurs and young entrepreneurs.  You can also use your Self-Employment Key scores at The Career Key to see more careers that match your personality.

Step 2: After you’ve measured your top two or three Holland personality types and selected occupations that interest you, the next step is to look at whether there are “work at home” options that match your personality.

To do that, it’s important to actually understand what Holland’s Theory means and how your personality relates to careers.  So even if you see a job title or business activity that is not listed as one of the 250+ on The Career Key or on The Self-Employment Key, you will know how it may or may not be compatible with your personality.

For example, if you see “Online Tutor” and it is not listed on The Career Key test and website’s list of matching careers, you can look at the job duties and see that teaching is the main component; enjoyment of teaching is a characteristic of people with a “Social personality type.” Therefore, someone scoring high in the Social personality type would likely find this job compatible and satisfying.

To jump start the process, I’ve organized by Holland personality type the unique Career Key “work groups” of careers, along with job title examples found in home-based work. This is not an exhaustive list; consultants who work at home could be based on many occupations not listed below.

The Career Key test and our “Match Your Personality with Careers” article not only list matching occupations but also link each one to accurate, comprehensive career information at the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

A Selection of "Work at Home" job titles (in Red) organized by Career Key Work Groups and Holland Personality Type

Crafts-Metal, Wood, Plastic, Fabric (Jeweler, Upholsterer)
Food Preparation (Baker, Chef)
Manufacturing & Production (Woodworker, Textile/Apparel/Furnishings Worker)

Computer Science & Technology (Computer Programmer, Computer Specialist)

Literary Arts (Writer)
Visual Arts (Artist, Graphic Designer)
Communications (Editor, Technical Writer)

Nursing, Therapy & Health Promotion (Registered Nurse, Dietitian or Nutritionist)
Education & Library Services (Teacher, various types)

Sales & Purchasing (Sales Agent)
Business Administration (Chief Executive Officer - think “self-employed” or business owner)
Promotion (Copy Writer, Public Relations Specialist)

Mathematical Detail (Bill & Account Collector)
Oral Communications (Customer Service Representative, Receptionist, Telephone Operator)
Materials & Records Processing (Medical Transcriptionist, Word Processor)

Don’t try to be someone you’re not: Do what you enjoy and the money will follow
There is strong sales and entrepreneurial aspect to most self-employed work at home jobs. So make sure that if your Holland scores are low for Enterprising, that you seriously rethink whether self-employment, particularly in sales, is right for you. Don’t be seduced by the promise of making large sums of money. The people who are successful are the ones that enjoy selling, who score high in the Enterprising personality type.

If Enterprising is not one of your top two personality types, working for someone else doing work that fits your personality types is a better option than direct sales.  You’ll save money by not purchasing inventory you never sell, and you’ll save yourself heartache and stress from doing work you don’t enjoy.

Additional Work at Home Resources*:
Alison Doyle’s “Work at Home Jobs by Company Directory’s “Top 40” Business Ideas

*My links to or imply no endorsement of either site or the jobs/companies linked to from those sites. Although these sites link to us, we do not get any financial benefit from external links and as a policy do no reciprocal linking. If we think a web page is helpful and contributes to our mission, we link to it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Career Key Blog Named a Top Blogger by

has recognized me as a
Top Blogger
Interview on
Good Career Choices
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Jobs and Careers
Thank you to for the honor of making me one of their Top Bloggers.  They just posted an interview with me on "Good Career Choices" (click on the graphic above). Since 1997, has been a top resource to moms interested in working at home and entrepreneurship.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

5 Tips for Handling Internships in Career Exploration & Career Development

Along with suggesting specific career exploration activities, we advise people who want to learn more about a particular career to do volunteer work or take an internship.  Recent controversy about the legality of unpaid internships gives me a timely opportunity to offer some personal perspective and advice to would-be interns.

5 Tips for Handling Internships  
(to read more about my personal experience and for more elaboration on these tips, scroll below)
  1. Talk with previous interns before accepting the internship.
  2. Be distrustful of industries or employers with a cutthroat reputation.
  3. Have reasonable expectations of the internship.
  4. Get out early if it is not working out.
  5. Try very, very hard to find a paid internship. People do not value what they do not pay for.
My own desperate offer to work for free
In a desperate moment, in a different recession, at the beginning of my legal career, I offered to work for free for an employment discrimination law firm. I offered to “follow your paralegal around and do whatever she tells me to do...”

As a recent law school graduate, still waiting to hear whether I passed the bar, I had little valuable, practical experience practicing law - just the usual required research, writing, and some administrative hearing pro bono work. I was truthfully worth less than a good paralegal at that point.  Getting hired straight out of law school for a plaintiff’s (employee-side) firm is pretty difficult - they do not want to put a lot of time or money into training someone, especially one without a bar card. And after knocking on a lot of doors, I was a little stressed out and discouraged. So I can understand would-be interns’ desperation in the current economic situation.

Fortunately for me, my future mentor declined and offered a full-time time, “at will” job with a modest but liveable wage for a thrifty, single gal like me. Not only was he being nice, but smart (and legal) to do so. And in paying for my services, they expected me to do something meaningful in return - so I was given meaningful work that trained me for my profession. I will be forever grateful for that first job opportunity.

But before that offer, I had dozens of dead ends and unreturned phone calls, letters, and emails. I got my future boss’s name from another lawyer with whom I conducted an informational interview - I had no special favors or connections other than my school alumni organizations. Just persistence in the face of rejection.

5 Tips for Handling Internships
I suggest that students approach internships (paid or unpaid) from a cost/benefit standpoint. What skills would you be gaining? See "Identify Your Skills" for ideas. If there is no practical or educational benefit to you other than having a certain company appear on your resume and uncertain networking contacts, just say no.  The government’s definition of a legal unpaid internship (see their PDF with the 6 criteria) basically says that you, the intern, should be the main beneficiary.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just by being an intern you will have the keys to the Magic Networking & Hiring Kingdom. You’ll need an an opportunity, through meaningful work, to demonstrate your value and potential to make people want to help you in the future.
  1. Ask to talk with previous interns before accepting the internship. You should be able to find out whether photocopying and sweeping out bathrooms as part of the unspoken job description. In addition to asking whether they learned something valuable, ask whether they made useful networking contacts - if not, what’s the point? And if past interns don’t call you back or are reluctant to speak to you, maybe there’s a reason.
  2. Be distrustful of industries or employers with a cutthroat reputation. I know this sounds a little obvious but some places like law firms, financial institutions and some IT companies have a well-developed reputation for “eating their young.” Chances are that if workers are themselves “eaten,” you will be too - for free. You should be networking and doing informational interviews in your field anyway - ask around about a company or department’s reputation.
  3. Have reasonable expectations of the internship.  Just because it’s educational doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to make coffee on rare occasion. That’s real life for most people (unless you’re Donald Trump)- we pitch in and make coffee.  But if you’re making coffee every morning and you’re spending more time on menial tasks than educational ones, that’s a problem.
  4. Get out early if it is not working out. If you see that you’re being taken advantage of, talk nicely with your supervisor about doing more educational work. If that doesn’t work, leave. Your “free” time is better spent elsewhere. And unless there was illegality involved, you may want to keep your negative experience to yourself (unless a future prospective intern calls you - in that case, talk to them in a factual way on the phone - not email).  Blogging/tweeting/complaining in some permanent, "written" form will not benefit you in any way.
  5. Try very, very hard to find a paid internship. People don’t value what they don’t pay for, which is why I think this unpaid internship abuse issue is coming up. Old-fashioned networking through your school’s alumni association or community organizations (think Lion’s Club, Toastmasters, etc.) takes a lot of time and effort, but it does pay off. No well-connected daddy or mommy needed.
Desperation in a poor job market or enthusiasm for a particular company or career field are just part of career development.  Just don’t sell yourself short in pursuit of your career goals.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Afraid to Choose a Career with a Narrow Focus? 6 Thoughts on Highly Specialized Career Choices

How do you choose a career when some occupations are so narrowly focused or specialized? What if a recession or technology change renders your career choice obsolete or less attractive?  It’s hard enough to decide on a career path, even if you know it is just one choice of many you’ll make throughout your life. Add to that the fear of being stuck with a degree or training that is no longer needed or has few job openings - it’s intimidating.

Education is becoming more specialized
Specialization is on my mind because we just finished matching the Career Key to all the new majors, training & instructional programs added in 2010 to the U.S. and Canadian government’s database of post-secondary programs. (Our Education Key e-Book will be updated this summer) This is the first update since 2000, and the specialization trend in education is striking. Here are a few examples:
  • Medicine and Health Care fields, both for professionals and technicians, are continuing to become more specialized. 
    • For example, Nursing is now subdivided into four categories (registered nursing, administration, research & clinical nursing, and practical nursing) with multiple programs for each.
  • Interdisciplinary studies are growing. You need to be an expert in more than one field - which may make it more interesting for you, but more challenging. 
Careers are becoming more specialized
My software engineer husband and I were talking recently about how in his field, job openings are often driven by one particular language and one platform.  Windows or Linux? C++ or Ruby on Rails? (whatever that means - you get the picture) Companies may say they want a “jack [programmer] of all trades [languages]” but really they want someone to know exactly the specific language and code they’ve got and what to do with it. And there are a lot of languages - more being invented all the time (like the new D language at DigitalMars).

Anecdotal evidence aside, 2010 changes in the U.S. government’s organization system for occupations (the Standard Occupational Classification or SOC) reflect many more focused career paths in technology and health care. The number of occupations in some industries are shrinking (like printing and photograph processing) while others are expanding (information technology and nursing).

So what does all this mean for choosing a career right now?

Here are my 6 thoughts on making a more specialized career choice:
  1. Remind yourself that your current career choice, whether it’s your first or you think it’s your last, is probably not your permanent, final one. Embrace the cliche that “change is the only constant.” See #6 below.
  2. Focus on what you have control over. You can control and improve your adaptability to change, by:
    • building your support system (family, friends), 
    • paying attention to the health and progress of your newly chosen field, 
    • staying up to date with your certifications and education, and networking with other people.  
    • You can’t control (among other things) technology advances (unless you’re an inventor), economic recessions, or age discrimination. 
  3. Learn about Holland’s Theory of Career Choice and how to use it to narrow your options to compatible groups of careers. Take a close look at the careers and education programs that match your top two personality types. If you’re interested in a career field with a lot of narrowly focused, specialized jobs, like medicine (Investigative), therapy (Social), and engineering technicians (Realistic), use what you know about your personality types through Holland’s Theory to combine your interests in one field.  
    • For example, if you score high in Social and your second highest score is Enterprising, you can see how choosing a Social occupation that may allow you to operate your own business (like physical therapy or clinical psychology) would be a compatible choice. You’d want to do informational interviews with self-employed practitioners to learn more about those options. See other suggested ways to learn more about the careers that interest you.
  4. Take the time to identify and write out a list of your motivated skills, skills you enjoy using, are good at, and are proud of. Our article “Identify Your Skills” will help you do that, along with the other activities in “Learn More About Yourself.” You can use these exercises to develop a list of transferable skills, which can help you find related, compatible careers if you need to.
  5. Specialization does not necessarily mean more risky career choices. Some well-paid, rewarding and specialized jobs are not going to disappear unless robots from The Terminator take over the planet. (And then career choice will be the least of your problems). Maintaining and installing utility lines (utility company lineworkers), helping people through knee replacement rehabilitation (physical therapy), and gatekeepers (financial auditors) are not going away anytime soon. Careers that work directly with computer hardware or software? Be prepared for big changes as devices become more mobile and smaller.
  6. Follow the 6 principles of the Free Agent Worker described at The Career Key website. I also wrote a series of blog posts on them.
The beauty of relying your Holland personality types and interests as a career compass is that you should have little trouble staying up to date on a career field that interests you. Apply a little thoughtful creativity and your goal of being adaptable to changes in the world of work will be within your grasp.