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Career Make-Over

Vague Goals Hurt Quest for Fulfilling Job


Every year, the same burning question drives legions of Americans to career counselors: What should I be doing with the rest of my life?

This was what compelled El Segundo resident Norma-Jean Strickland to consult Rockville, Md.-based counselor Nicholas Lore, author of "The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success" (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Strickland, 48, had sought Lore's services because, she said, she was creatively unfulfilled on the job. As a technical trainer for disabled individuals at a Westchester-based nonprofit, Strickland said she doesn't have the chance for much right-brained activity.

This was not the case years ago, when she had worked for a San Diego animation production company and a developer of children's educational software and had run her own marketing/consulting concern.

But in the early '90s things started to go bad for Strickland, personally and professionally. She filed for bankruptcy. Her mother died. Strickland ended up taking three years off from work.

When she moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and tried to break into the entertainment industry, she was unsuccessful.

"The problem is, everyone in L.A. wants to know, 'What have you done lately?' but I haven't done anything [entertainment-related]," she said. Strickland added that she has not been able to make the insider contacts necessary to help her land a Hollywood job.

Lore had Strickland take a battery of assessment tests and submit detailed biographical materials to him so he could learn more about her skills, personality and interests. The tests showed Strickland to be a "generalist/tribal personality" who would be most satisfied working in groups on multifaceted projects. Strickland also scored highly in "non-spatial orientation" (abstract thinking), design memory (recall of visual imagery) and manual dexterity.

But difficulties arose when it came time for Lore and Strickland to decide which vocational positions would best suit her. This was because, while perusing Strickland's writings, Lore discovered several unresolved conflicts in her aspirations. For example, Strickland had indicated that she wished to pursue entrepreneurship and corporate employment. She also said she wished to work independently and in groups.

Most hindering, though, was the vagueness of Strickland's job ideals (e.g., "flexibility," "variety," "creativity"), Lore explained. He suggested that before Strickland considers her career options, she needs to pinpoint her most marketable--and best-loved--skills and abilities.

"There's enormous diversity in your past experiences and interests," Lore said. "So the important thing will be for you to look for common elements recurring in them" that can be applied to a new career.

To begin the task, Strickland could review her work-history highlights and look for activities and responsibilities that were meaningful and pleasurable to her, Lore said.

Strickland also might want to reflect upon her childhood interests; there may be some early pursuits still enjoyable to her that could be incorporated into a new vocation, Lore said.

A few weeks after their first conversation, Strickland requested a follow-up session with Lore. She told him that she'd given thought to his advice. She was considering finding work with an advertising agency or computer company or perhaps serving as an aide to a music professional.

She also realized that, in a company setting, she would be happiest "working independently on projects but also being part of a team. These are the things that make me happy," Strickland said. Could Lore suggest some specific vocations with this new information? she asked.

Lore said no. Strickland still hadn't defined her goals, interests and career preferences narrowly enough for him to fulfill her request. He encouraged her to become her own "information broker" by researching vocations of interest to her. She could do her fact-finding through friends and business associates, via her local library and the Internet and by attending trade shows.

To find meaningful work, Strickland and other career-searchers must not only consider a vocation's subject matter, but also closely scrutinize its functions and responsibilities--which might not be as exciting as they fantasize, Lore noted in his book.

"Telltale signs of a career that doesn't fit your personality include: the necessity to assume a different personality at work, restricted self-expression [and] activities that conflict with your values," he wrote.

Richard Nelson Bolles, author of "What Color Is Your Parachute 2000," outlined five steps in his book that might help individuals like Strickland clarify their career paths:

* List favorite subjects and interests. These are the topics you chat about with friends, learn about via television and the Internet, and read about.

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