Career Key

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

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.

1 comment:

Laura E. Sanchez-Gonzalez said...

This is a very good article about what is happening in the workplace today, for example, in the high tech companies, there are always very specific trends that companies are always looking for, but they are sometimes extremely specific, and for that reason companies have positions open for years because they can't find someone with those skills. I think the key is learning the bases and being able to adapt to other circumstances, and maintain on top of every new trend of your profession.