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YOUR MONEY

Charting your way into a career you really want

A passion for the job is essential to finding fulfilling work.

January 06, 2008|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

First of two parts

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If one of your New Year's resolutions was to find a better job -- or just find a job -- you have lots of company right now.

January is historically a peak hiring month. Many businesses operate on a calendar year budgeting cycle, so now is when they have money to fill long-standing vacancies or expand.

And now could also be the time for you to land your dream job. But first you have to know where to look and exactly what you're looking for.

Is that too obvious to bother printing? The country's legions of job-finding experts say it isn't.

"There's a huge disconnect in society when it comes to thinking about careers," says Elliott Brown, founder of Springboard Forward, a Belmont, Calif., nonprofit that provides career planning services to low-income workers.

"Our parents were told that you went to school and then you made a career choice," he says, and that was it. And in fact, for generations an American could expect to be hired and retired by the same employer.

The economy -- not to mention individuals' attention spans and expectations -- has changed. Now, someone will go job hunting at least eight times in his life, writes Richard Bolles in his classic career-seekers guide, "What Color Is Your Parachute?"

The disconnect is that many Americans don't understand that or don't want to believe it. The truth is that it's not only a good idea to periodically reassess your skills, interests and goals, but it's also imperative to stay marketable. You should think of your career-search process as a long-term journey, Brown advises, with sojourns along the way.

Read on for tips on how to discover a passion that pays. And stay tuned: Next Sunday we'll help you land your next job.

What to do first

There's little mystery here, experts agree.

All you have to do is be honest with yourself -- about your skills, what you like to do and (perhaps most important) what you don't like to do.

Susan W. Miller, the founder of California Career Services, likes to ask employed clients a seemingly simple question: When you think to yourself that you're having a good day at work, what exactly are you doing? She follows up with: Among all the things that you do every day at work, what is it that you do best?

Ponder that a minute, and then take the Triple I test:

* Interview people who know you well. Friends, relatives and colleagues can help you sort out what truly engages you and turns you off. They may have insights about vocations you never imagined, and they could remind you of some important truths about yourself. If you struggle with percentages or the concept of compound interest flummoxes you, a career in high finance is probably not your best bet no matter how deeply passionate you are in making a lot of money.

* Investigate jobs you think would suit you. Don't imagine that you would enjoy being a paralegal; talk to a paralegal.

* Intern or volunteer to test your conclusions. Internships aren't only for the young, and if those positions aren't available companies are sometimes happy to take on unpaid workers for special assignments. Or the paralegal you called might let you shadow her for a day.

This can not only help validate your research but also give you experience and contacts to "pivot into a new occupation," says Mark Oldman, co-founder of Vault, a business information firm. He recalls a banker who dreamed of a radio career, interned as a disc jockey and loved it so much that she quit banking for a full-time job on the air.

All of that said, perhaps the most important tip of all: Set realistic expectations. Finding the career path that's right for you could easily take six months.

Books

Bookstores stack shelf after shelf of self-help career-planning volumes, and new ones come out all the time. "What Color Is Your Parachute?," first published in 1970, remains a bestseller, and author Bolles has spun off a number other titles, including volumes aimed at teens and about-to-be retirees. Other strong sellers include "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Changing Careers," "The Vault Guide to Schmoozing," "Why You Can't Be Anything You Want to Be" and "Passion and Purpose: How to Identify and Leverage the Powerful Patterns that Shape Your Work/Life."

There are guides for young adults, mid-career workers, women and people with disabilities, for people interested in healthcare, event planning or finance, for fashionistas, bookworms, film buffs or people who care deeply about the environment. There are volumes for English majors, sociology majors, math geeks and on and on.

Should you read all of them? Or any of them?

Don't feel overwhelmed. The best counsel is to browse and pick and choose. When you're on the road to self-discovery, detours can be valuable -- and free of charge with a library card.

Most of the books include exercises designed to tease out your strongest interests, like these from "What Color Is Your Parachute?"

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