Career Psychology is copyright © Dan Joseph Cavicchio. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be republished, reproduced, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author. The material in this book is provided solely for informational and educational purposes. It does not substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Information in this book does not represent clinical advice for treatment of psychological disorders.
Exploring Career Paths: The Five Questions
When career counseling clients come to me, most of them are looking for a path—a professional track to follow, a career identity to call their own. Many of them know what they don't want to do. Now they are seeking a new direction.
I often begin by saying, "Please don't feel pressure to find one single path. You'll probably walk down many roads in your career. Those roads may branch in unexpected ways."
To illustrate how multifaceted career paths can be, I often share a few anecdotes about the different types of work I've done. Or I tell them about the career paths of other people in my life.
My mother, for example, earned a master's degree in teaching. She began her career by opening a house painting business. Then she sold children's books to libraries. On the weekends she officiated at weddings. In her retirement, she became a bed and breakfast host. These days she leads book study groups and creates inspirational TikTok videos.
My father wrote one of the world's first PhD dissertations on artificial intelligence back when computer data was stored on stacks of punch cards. Instead of going into computer science, he became a management consultant. After that, he and a partner took over a failing electronics factory and turned it around. They also purchased a scientific instruments company which he continues to run in his 70s.
My mother never became a classroom teacher, despite her degree. My father never went into computer science. Their paths unfolded in unpredictable and unique ways.
So it is with many of us. I have a friend who switched from being a lawyer to working as a musical performer at children's parties and schools. Two other friends did the opposite: They were school teachers before going into the law.
My dental hygienist was a server at a sushi restaurant before moving into dentistry. She married the sushi chef, who became a district attorney. My neighbor was an adventure tour guide who became a fireman, and then went into sales. Another friend worked as a massage therapist, a caregiver for a disabled adult, an appraiser, and a real estate developer.
There once was a time when people did one thing for the whole of their careers. But that time has largely passed. The world of work is now like an ocean with many currents. In order to navigate it, adaptability is key.
"But I have no idea where to begin!" some of my clients say.
I understand how overwhelming the nearly-endless career options can appear. Therefore, one of the first steps in career development is identifying a few steps to take down a path. As you walk forward, your own unique journey will unfold.
Let me share a note before continuing. Most career books focus on exploring different types of careers. I am going to do that as well, but only for this chapter and the one that follows. The rest of this book will offer practical steps and tools to move your work life forward.
I find that for most people, careers evolve through action. Careers do not pop into place through reading or analysis. Most people do not take a career assessment or read a book and say, "OK. Now I know what I'm going to spend my life doing!"
Instead, most people try a job (or many), switch career paths (usually more than once), meet people in other fields, volunteer, explore, observe, experiment, and see what unfolds.
Career development is a highly action-based process. There is no script for what is to come. The bulk of this book is designed to help you take active steps through the world of work, as you follow an inner sense of what's right for you. Your path will emerge as you walk forward.
Having said that, choosing an immediate career path to explore—even if it turns out to be a bridge to another path, and another—is an essential step in the process.
In this chapter I'll share a five-question career exploration framework that I use in my counseling practice.
Trait Factor Matching
Let me begin with a bit of career counseling history.
Back in the 1800s, there was a man named Frank Parsons. Frank had an interesting career path himself: He was a railroad worker, then a teacher, a lawyer, a textbook writer, and eventually the father of career counseling.
Frank developed something that we call trait-factor matching, and it has dominated career counseling approaches for over a hundred years. Here's the gist of the approach:
In the trait-factor matching process, you have two sets of information.
In Column A, you have a list of a person's skills and interests.
In Column B, you have a list of careers that fit those skills and interests.
You try to "match" Column A with Column B, in a logical way. Skills and interests here, careers that fit over there. It's very cut and dried (and computer-based, these days). You can see how attractive this is in our high-efficiency world.
Let's take someone named Mr. Smith as an example.
Mr. Smith likes to work with his hands. He hates being in an office. He has good dexterity. He doesn't like "people politics." He is physically strong.
Now that we have Mr. Smith's information in Column A, let's look at the list of careers in Column B, and…what does the computer say…ah, yes. Here is his list of matches.
Mr. Smith's "traits" are a fit for a plumber, an electrician, a car mechanic, or an assembler in a factory. There are four matches for him to think about.
Likes working with hands
No office environment
Has good dexterity
√ Car Mechanic
No people politics
√ Factory Assembler
The process seems so simple and clear. But needless to say, modern life is very rarely clean-cut like that. Perhaps it was in the 1800s when the world of work was far less complex. Not anymore.
Most plumbers don't simply bang on pipes these days. Instead, they spend hours explaining complex concepts to clients, balancing aesthetic needs with technical ones, and training apprentices. They are creative problem-solvers, educators, and salespeople.
I've recruited factory assemblers who work in teams with extremely complex technology, interfacing with other divisions in the company. They use microscopes to align components, make calculations in spreadsheets, and help to create reports. Their teamwork skills are crucial.
My car mechanic spends a good part of his day dealing with frustrated or worried customers, and he's a master at soothing and de-escalation. The electricians I've come across range from high-voltage line workers to commercial installers to handymen, each requiring a plethora of related skills.
Will plumbing, assembly work, mechanical, or electrical work be a good fit for Mr. Smith? And if so, what type?
Mr. Smith will need to actively explore what's out there, trying out various roles and seeing what feels like a fit to him. No computer-based assessment will do that for him. And his career path will continually evolve as the world does, even if his core interests and skills remain somewhat stable.
With all respect to Frank Parsons, selecting a career path is rarely as simply as matching "traits" with careers that value those traits. And yet, much of career counseling these days involves this type of matching based an approach from over a hundred years ago.
I share this because I am going to take a different approach in this book. If the trait-factor matching approach appeals to you, I highly recommend a few sessions with a career counselor. Most counselors have access to various computer-based matching systems.
I myself use those tools at times. They can certainly be helpful, especially for recent graduates. However, in this book I will be taking a more creative, exploratory approach.
Let's begin the exploration of your work by talking about...a vacation from work.
Imagine that you just won a vacation to anywhere in the world.
You can go anywhere you wish, all expenses paid. You can visit Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America—even Antarctica. The world is your playground. It can be fun to consider the possibilities,
Where should you go?
You might begin your planning process by asking yourself a "focusing" question.
For example: Would you like to visit a big city? Or would you prefer to be in a more natural setting? Which of those two feels more interesting to you?
That's a very path-focusing question. Perhaps both environments have an appeal. For now, though—just for this one trip—you'll need to focus on one of those adventure types.
City or nature? Which of those places do you feel a pull?
A city setting like Tokyo, Paris, or Sydney? Or a natural site like the beaches of Hawaii, the snowy Alps, or the deserts of the Sahara?
You can go to the other type of environment on a future trip. This isn't the only vacation you'll take. But just for this one trip, which of those feels more interesting to you—city or nature?
Nature, you decide. At least for this trip.
Then another focusing question: Warm or cold? Something tropical and soothing, or something brisk and crisp? Where do you feel a pull?
Warm, you decide.
OK, warm it is. Now, would you like a warm place by the ocean? Or a rainforest? Or a desert retreat? Or a tropical cruise? What intrigues you? Where do you feel drawn?
Rainforest. That sounds fascinating.
And there we have it: By answering a few focusing questions, and following the "pull" that arose at each step, you were drawn to a destination.
You'll likely end up going to South America or Africa on your warm, nature-filled, rainforest vacation. We've defined a focused target for you to explore further.
That, in essence, is the type of approach I use in career counseling. To find your vacation spot, we didn't plug a bunch of data into a computer-based system to see what it spit out.
Instead, we asked some focusing questions and allowed your interests to guide you at each step. We still ended up with a destination, just as the trait-factor system does. But we followed your inner sense through the process, and didn't rely on algorithms.
Your exploration of careers can take the same approach. You can ask yourself a focusing question, notice where you feel pulled, and then move on to another focusing question. Your sense of what interests you will guide you further.
"Dan," some people say to me, "you don't like analytical approaches, do you?"
Actually, I'm quite analytical for a counselor. Plus I'm still a computer guy after all these years. But I am a firm, devoted believer that your inner sense of what is right for you is the most important compass to follow.
We actually took a very structured, precise approach in the vacation-choosing process: We asked one specific focusing question after another. But we didn't let outside data or computer systems guide your decision.
Instead, we trusted your inner compass—your inner sense of what appeals to you. We blended structure with intuition.
Clarifying the Compass
I've had some clients who listen to this and say, "Dan, I never have a good ‘sense' of things. I find it almost impossible to choose a vacation place—much less a career path. Perhaps my inner compass is broken."
I tell them, "I don't believe your inner compass is broken. There is probably just some interference in the way."
To demonstrate the inner compass pull, I sometimes resort to humorous extremes. For example, I might say:
"I bet I can guess where you don't want to go on your next vacation."
"Yeah? Where is that?"
"Well, you said you're a big New York Yankees fan. I bet you wouldn't want to spend your vacation visiting Fenway Park in Boston. Cheer for the Red Sox and maybe get an autograph. Then you could head down to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets."
I get a look of horror from my client. "Oh, no! That sounds like the worst vacation ever! Anything but that."
"OK," I say, "it sounds like your compass is working just fine on that one. It's pointing you in the opposite direction of that. Let's now see what it is pointing you toward."
And then we return to our questions and exploration.
If you feel that it's difficult to get a sense of what interests or pulls you, feel free to read the Q&A chapter that follows this one. In that section, I'll share some "inner compass clarifying" techniques that I use with clients, including a hot-or-cold approach.
For now, though, let me run through five questions that I often ask my clients who are exploring new career paths. These questions are just a beginning, but I find that they can be very helpful in pointing toward next steps.
As you read through this, I invite you to consider how you might personally respond to each of these questions.
Every session I do with a client is unique. I try to follow my own inner sense about how to proceed, and there is no strict formula for what I am about to share.
Having said that, I often begin the career exploration process with the following basic questions. They help me to get a read on my client's interests, values, and orientations.
The first question I often ask people who are exploring career paths is this:
"Are you interested in working for an established organization,
or would you prefer to be self-employed?"
Just like our city and nature vacation decision, this is a path focusing question.
As many as a third of all workers in the United States are at least partially self-employed. The other two-thirds work exclusively for an established company. So this question is important.
Many people jump at the self-employment option when I ask. At least, they do until I describe some of the elements that are very common in self-employment: a frequent emphasis on sales and business development, the need to handle a wide variety of roles, cash flow challenges.
I "pressure test" the answer when someone says that they want to be self-employed. I ask how comfortable the person will be with ebb-and-flow income cycles. I check to see if they feel capable doing their own accounting, taxes, and legal filings—or finding and paying a skilled accountant or lawyer. Above all, I ask if they are prepared to be in sales mode frequently, especially in the early stages of their business.
It usually becomes clear whether a person is truly feeling pulled toward the self-employment path. Those clients might say, "Dan, that sounds like a blast. I'm up for all the bumps and ups and downs. I love the idea of doing it all. I can't wait."
Or they might say, "Self-employment sounds scary, but it makes me feel alive. I want to at least give it a shot. I'd regret not trying. It's always something I wanted to do."
Other people quickly lose enthusiasm. They say, "Well, I figured I'd hire other people to do sales and all that." And they might—but likely, not at first.
At first, entrepreneurs usually need to do it all: sales and marketing, production, facilities management. For some people, self-employment begins to feel far less attractive as they consider managing all those various roles.
Let me ask you: Are you interested in working for an established company at this point in your career?
Working for a company, you will (hopefully) have a steady paycheck. Perhaps benefits, including paid vacation time. You'll have a team to work with, even if the team is tiny. You won't be asked to do everything. You'll have a supervisor to guide you, coworkers to chat with, and the company will not rest entirely on your shoulders.
Or does self-employment feel like a pull?
If so, can you create a daily schedule and structure for yourself, and stay on track even if no one is helping you? Are you comfortable living frugally if payments for your work are delayed or there is a seasonal lull? Are you excited about the hustle and hunt for customers, at least while you get started? Do you relish the chance to play multiple roles every day?
If your answer to these questions is yes, then self-employment may be for you.
There is a third option as well, although it's less common: a partnership. Do you have a friend or group of friends who might like to start a business with you? If so, do you share similar values, expectations, and goals? Will you and your partner(s) be able to split day-to-day responsibilities? Will you be able to resolve conflicts?
Try to get a sense of these paths as you consider the options. Does employment with an established company feel right? Or do you feel pulled toward self-employment? Or perhaps a partnership?
As you consider these, remember that we're focusing only on your immediate steps. No matter which path you choose, you can choose a different one in a month or a year. The road can always fork, branch, and turn. But just for now, at this point in your life, does one of these paths beckon to you?
If you're interested in self-employment and freelance paths, you're welcome to bounce ahead to chapter ten in this book. In my counseling practice, I frequently work with entrepreneurs, and I am delighted to support you. My self-employment chapter will probably be most relevant for your interests.
If you prefer to work with an established company, the next series of chapters are for you. You're in good company. The majority of people work for organizations rather than for themselves.
And of course, you can do both. I personally have spent most of my life employed part-time with a company (sometimes as a long-term contractor) and simultaneously running my own counseling, recruiting, and other businesses. You can aim for a blend if that feels ideal to you. In these days of the "side hustle," this combo approach is quite common.
The next few questions are geared toward people seeking employment with established companies and organizations. Again, if self-employment is appealing to you, feel free to move right ahead to chapter ten.
Second Question: The Continuum
I usually draw a diagram for the next question. The diagram looks like this (though far messier on my white board):
I show this to my clients, and ask them:
"Do you feel attracted to the for-profit world?
Or the non-profit world?
Or perhaps something in the middle,
like a school, a hospital, or a government group?"
I call those last few "middle way organizations," because while some of them might technically be incorporated as for-profit and some as non-profit, they rest somewhere in the center of this diagram.
People who work in middle-way organizations like schools, hospitals, and government groups are in a unique place. They are not primarily focused on turning a profit. They're also not in the realm of the typical non-profit agency, with its emphasis on fundraising and low/no-fee service to the community. They have their own unique place in the world of work.
Of course, this is a broad continuum. There are organizations all along the spectrum that I outlined.
As an example, there's a type of company called a "community foundation," which is something like a bank for non-profits. Community foundations typically manage millions of dollars, and make financial grants to smaller organizations. You might place them somewhere in between the non-profit and middle-way sections of my diagram.
Certified "B Corps" which pledge to support social good are a type of for-profit company that also leans between sections. These companies aim to be profitable, but are committed to goals like environmental preservation and poverty alleviation. Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Patagonia clothing company are two of the most famous B Corps.
There are companies all along the spectrum. Let me give some examples of organizations that you might find at various points.
Middle Way Organizations
Police and Fire Departments
Health Care Companies
The Postal Service
Certified "B Corps" (for-profit)
Community Foundations (non-profit)
Social Service Agencies
Environmental Protection Groups
Animal Welfare Organizations
Group Homes for People with Disabilities
Take a look at the diagram above, or read through some of these samples, and try to get a sense of where you might like to be. See what attracts you at this stage of your life.
Does the thrill of helping to grow a business and develop a customer base appeal to you?
Or are you more interested in providing direct service to people and communities at low or zero cost?
Or does something in the middle seem appealing—working for an educational, health care, or government-funded group, for example?
Each of these has its own culture. As you may recall from my opening chapter, my first few jobs were at a computer store (for-profit), a road-paving company (for-profit, though serving local governments), an urban planning company (non-profit), and a manufacturer (for-profit). The missions, cultures, and styles at each of these companies were wildly different.
Try to get a sense of where you might like to explore. You can always explore something else in the future; we're just focusing on your immediate steps. But see if there's a place on this continuum that feels interesting to you.
Third Question: Size
The next question I ask my clients is one that I have rarely seen on a career assessment—although I find it important.
It is a simple question, but one that can make a world of difference on your journey through the world of work. It is this:
"How large of an organization would you like to work for?"
The difference between a 5-person company, a 500-person company, and a 5000-person company is enormous.
At small companies, there is often much more chaos than at large companies. There usually aren't established systems in place. Most employees wear "multiple hats"—they do more than one job every day. There are frequently staffing and cash flow challenges. Speed is essential, and when speed conflicts with quality, speed generally wins.
Personally, I love small companies. I enjoy the rough-and-tumble, order-from-chaos challenges. I love the entrepreneurial feel of things. I enjoy making a direct, immediate impact on the company direction. But I know many people who can't stand this type of environment.
Very large companies, by contrast, usually have a completely different culture. Large companies generally have established systems. Professionality is one of the most valued qualities. Each employee is generally an expert in her or his realm; you can settle on "one hat" to wear, and you can wear that proudly. Quality is more important than speed.
Many people enjoy the stability and established structure of large corporations. They appreciate having systems to protect the integrity of the workplace. They don't mind the bureaucracy, because they understand that it's designed to catch and protect against errors. They enjoy not having to worry about the financial viability of the organization. I've spoken to many people who only want to work for large corporations.
Here's an interesting statistic about company size: 99% of companies in the United States are "small" businesses (less than 500 employees). And yet, the other 1% of "large" businesses actually employ half of all people.
So essentially, there's a 50-50 split between people working for large and small companies. Many of the large businesses have thousands of employees spread across the world. Some of the small companies only have one or two employees. The culture, speed, values, and goals are vastly different in small and large organizations.
So let me ask you: What size company might you be interested in working for?
Does a scrappy, speedy, sometimes-chaotic small organization appeal to you?
Or do you like the order and stability of a large organization?
Most non-profit companies are small, though there are some large national ones as well. For-profit companies range from tiny to huge. Middle-way organizations—schools, hospitals, government groups, and so forth—are similarly diverse in size.
No matter where you are on the profit/non-profit continuum, you can find large or small organizations to join. The choice is up to you.
Fourth Question: Environment
The next question that I often ask my clients is about work environment.
Let me return to my own job examples. My first job was at a store, where I roamed around the building during my shift. I then worked on a road crew, outside, driving a truck on occasion. My next two jobs were "desk jobs," where I sat at a computer all day in an air-conditioned office.
Even though I'm a computer guy, I actually disliked the desk-job format. I prefer to be moving around. Even today, I'll go from bouncing on an exercise ball at my desk, to working at a coffee shop for hours, to walking while taking calls on my headset. I personally like the flow of motion.
Other people are different. Some prefer to have a stable workstation in a comfortable environment. Others like to be outdoors all day. There are those who enjoy driving vehicles. Some people prefer working from home.
There are people who love to work on academic campuses, at airports, or in warehouses. Some people enjoy field-based work. There are folks who like to travel extensively, and then there are others who will do almost anything to avoid travel of any sort.
I invite you to think about this question:
"What type of work environment appeals to you?"
Let me share two examples of folks who explored very different environments.
One of my favorite plumbers started his career as an IBM mainframe computer programmer. But he didn't like sitting at a computer all day, so he took a new job working with a highway construction company. He eventually switched from that to plumbing, and now his job is to train new plumbers in the trade. He found a work environment that he liked, through experimentation.
A friend whom I referenced earlier graduated from law school and set up a criminal defense practice in California. He ran a successful business until there came a day when he "couldn't stand the sight of his carpet." He had grown tired of the work, the environment, and everything else. He soon developed a new career as a musical performer at libraries, schools, and children's parties. He found a creative new work-environment fit.
You too can choose among a nearly limitless array of work environments: offices, schools, hospitals, stores, trucks, docks, homes. The list is almost endless.
Let me ask you: What type of work environment appeals to you? Mostly indoor or mostly outdoor? Desk-based or in motion? Do you prefer a single work site, or might you like being at a different place each day? Try to get a sense of what attracts you.
There's another dimension to work environment that I invite you to consider: social contact level. Do you like having a lot of people around you—customers, coworkers, and the general public? Or do you prefer to be left alone to do your work?
You can combine any of these environmental factors as you wish.
A small farmer, for example, is generally working outdoors without a lot of social contact.
A policewoman might be outdoors like the farmer, but with almost endless interpersonal contact.
A computer programmer will be indoors, often with limited interruptions from other people.
A retail store worker will be indoors with a great deal of social interaction.
"I'm really not sure about any of this!" some people say.
If you're feeling that way, it's completely understandable. The many options can be daunting. That's why it's so important to actively explore different environments. Feel free to chat with friends who work in different settings, and ask them how they spend their days. Volunteer or ask to "shadow" workers in a non-profit setting.
Above all, keep your eyes open as you go through your life—when you're at a restaurant, getting your car serviced, renewing your driver's license, or anything else. Look around at what people are doing. What is the environment like? Is there energetic motion, or calm stability? Is there a lot of social interaction, or little? How might it feel to work in that type of setting?
As I mentioned earlier, I used to study What Do People Do All Day? until the book binding broke. I still like to peek around work environments. What is going on in the kitchen of that cafe? What do those clerks do when they're on break? How much time does that tow truck driver have between jobs? It's fascinating to observe.
Our economy is constantly changing; I find myself continually exposed to unique jobs that I never knew existed. A preflight printing specialist. A chemometrician. A UI/UX designer. A takeoff construction estimator.
Even career counselors can't keep track of all the new career paths arising each year. Because of that, a good strategy is to follow your inner pull toward general areas that interest you, and then observe and ask people in those fields questions.
Most people will be delighted to share insights about their work. I've personally had numerous people—including children in school—email me with questions about what it's like to be a counselor and psychotherapist. I've also had people ask me what a recruiter does. I'm always happy to answer questions, especially brief ones via email.
Let me wrap up this section with one last question that I ask my clients.
Fifth Question: Work Investment
This last question ties in to issues of work-life balance, family, finances, and many other personal goals. It is this:
"How much of your day-to-day life do you want to give to your work?"
I've received the widest variety of answers to this question.
Some people say, "I want to give hardly any of my life to my work, of course!"
Other people say, "My work is my life. I don't know what to do with myself when I'm not working."
Most people say something like, "Work is important to me, but so are my family and hobbies and other things. I want a balance."
There is no right answer to this question. But it's an important one to think about.
Returning to my first question, about self-employment: If someone tells me that they want to pursue self-employment, but then on this fifth question they tell me that they want to give as little as possible to their work, that's a bit of a red flag.
A few people do start a business, "get rich quick," and exit. But that's rare.
Instead, most self-employed people are devoted to their work. They invest their hearts in their offerings, and often they're engaged with their businesses around the clock.
The same is true for many teachers, doctors, social workers, and other helping professionals. Managers and executives are often "on the clock" constantly. Artists, musicians, writers, and other creative types tend to put a great deal of themselves into their work.
Technical people can be the same. One of the first software programmers I placed in my recruiting work would go to the office, put in his eight hours developing software, and then go home and develop even more software for a side business of his. He lived in the world of software. It was the focal point of his life. He loved it, and immersed himself in software development from morning until night.
"That sounds ridiculous!" you might be thinking. "Who wants to work around the clock?"
If that's how you feel, you're in good company. Most people appreciate their work, and enjoy the contributions they make. But their real focus in life may be time spent with their families or communities. Volunteer opportunities may be important to them. They are seeking a balance between work and personal life.
I've talked to other people who are eager to stop working completely. These people are usually passionate about non-work activities, including sports, personal growth, or hobbies. Many of them are saving money in the present in order to retire early. Some are skilled investors and are planning to transition out of the work world as soon as their finances allow.
None of these are good or bad. I myself have been in all three of these modes at various points in my life. All three of these types can have extremely fulfilling careers.
So let me ask you: At least at the present time, how much of your day-to-day life would you like to invest in your work?
Would you like a career path where you have the freedom to climb mountains or go surfing whenever you like?
Or would you like your work to fuse with the rest of your life so fully that you can't tell where one ends and the other begins?
Or is there a balance that appeals to you? Perhaps a career where you can work for four or eight hours a day, and then put work aside completely in order to spend time with your loved ones?
Again, there is no right answer to this. But it is an essential question, and it can be an important determiner of a good career match.
You'll notice that my five questions didn't include, "How much money do you want to earn?"
I do get around to that question with my clients, but only after getting a sense of their deeper interests, values, and goals.
Here's why I don't prioritize income discussions: In almost every field, there are roles that earn a great deal of money and roles that earn far less.
For example, let's take the banking industry. The difference in income between a commercial bank teller and a director at an investment bank is enormous. One may make hundreds of times as much as the other. Both roles are in banking, but the income difference is significant.
Similarly, wages for manufacturing assemblers and technicians can range from minimum-wage to six-figure incomes. I've met folks in the skilled trades who are earning an enormous amount, and those who are just scraping by.
There are some career paths, including many in sales, where you start out earning a very modest amount and then quickly progress to robust compensation packages.
So no matter what career path you choose, there will likely be many ways to pursue your income goals—goals that may change over the course of your life. I encourage you not to over-weight that factor when you're choosing a field to explore.
At this stage, the goal is simply to follow your inner compass to seek out directions that interest you.
So having considered these five questions, what now?
Now begins the active exploration process. As I mentioned earlier, this is not something that can be done by reading a book or taking an assessment. Career exploration is a highly action-based process.
To return to the vacation example at the start of this chapter: Our person decided to go to a rainforest for her vacation. That helped her to narrow the options significantly. But now she can begin to explore. What rainforests are there, in which countries? What are the lodging options? What are the key sights to see?
She will have fun investigating things. She might read reviews. She might look at videos. She might reach out to people who have visited the areas she's considering, and ask them about their experience. The focusing questions pointed her to an area that she can actively dive into further.
So it is with career exploration. Perhaps you answered the five questions, and decided that you'd like to explore the non-profit world. Or small, entrepreneurial companies. Or jobs at universities. Or work at an airport. Now is the time to actively investigate those possibilities. The investigation can take place through research, conversations, and real-life observations.
In addition, it may be helpful to read through lists of jobs in your areas of interest to get the wheels turning.
I find that job lists are the most interesting thing about career assessments. It's fun to go through them with my clients, simply to see what their reactions are.
A forest service ranger? A videographer? An excavator operator? An occupational therapist? Do any of those catch your interest, and why?
To help you with this, I've included a series of career and job lists at the back of this book organized into groups. Feel free to browse through those and see if any catch your eye.
I have included hands-on jobs, and jobs that can be done remotely; jobs for people who like words, and others for those who like numbers; jobs that involve travel and jobs that involve food. As you read through those, see which evoke a pull to explore further.
Let me also recommend an excellent free resource. The O*NET OnLine website at www.onetonline.org is run by the U.S. Department of Labor, and lists thousands of jobs organized by field.
If you browse through the "Government & Public Administration" section, for example, you'll find everything from agricultural inspectors to infantry soldiers to court clerks to tax examiners. I will discuss the O*NET OnLine resources further in the Q&A section that follows this chapter. I highly recommend using it.
Beyond lists, consider asking people about their work. Let them know that you're considering a move into their field and are curious about what it's like. Ask them if it's OK to pose a few questions. Social network sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can be great places to find folks to reach out to (some of whom might be connected to friends of yours.)
As I mentioned, I've had numerous people ask me what it's like to do the work that I do. I've always been happy to give some answers. Other people are very likely to answer questions for you as well.
Recap and An Example
To conclude this chapter, let me recap the five questions I've outlined. I'll then share an example of how I use these in conversations with clients.
In the next chapter, I'll take a deeper look at the process of career exploration, and offer some additional techniques and approaches. These five questions are just a start; I encourage you to dive deeper after you've considered them.
The five questions are:
Let me now share a brief example of how I might use these in a counseling session.
Imagine that a client named Nathan comes to see me. He's seeking a more fulfilling career path.
"So Nathan," I say, "you're looking for something more fulfilling than what you've been doing. Do I understand that correctly?"
"Yeah," he says. "My jobs have been sort of meaningless. I want to do something that matters."
I ask him, "Are you thinking about working for an established organization, or is self-employment something you're considering?" [Q1]
"Self-employment? Wow. That would be great. Do you think that's possible?"
"Sure," I say, "but let me ask a couple questions about self-employment. Would you be OK being in sales mode a lot of the time—at least at the beginning?"
"Oh goodness. I hate sales."
"OK. What about income that ebbs and flows? Would you be comfortable if you didn't have much income flowing at the beginning?"
"I really need something stable," he says.
"OK, my guess is that self-employment might not be the ideal path for now. We can return to that in a bit, but let's assume that you need a steady paycheck."
"Yeah, that sounds good."
"From your resume, it looks like you've only worked at for-profit companies. Are you thinking about non-profit work? Or perhaps something in the middle like education, health care, or government organizations?" [Q2]
"That last one sounds interesting. What would it be like to work for the government?"
"Well, there are different levels of the government from federal to state to local, and each of those has many groups. There's everything from national parks to the state department of revenue to local police and fire."
"I think I'd really like working for a government group. Probably more than working for a standard non-profit."
"Great, we can discuss that further. Now, I see that you've worked for some big companies. Do you prefer a large organization or a small one?" [Q3]
"I'm pretty neutral. I can go either way on that."
"Great. How about work environment. Do you like working indoors or outdoors? At a desk or moving around? And how much social interaction do you like?" [Q4]
"I'm pretty social. In fact, my last few jobs felt isolating. Indoors at a desk is fine, but I can also be out of the office. In fact, a blend might be nice."
"OK. Big last question. How much of your day-to-day life do you want to invest in your work? How much of your time and your heart do you want to give?" [Q5]
"I'd like to find something that will really grab me. Something that's an important part of my life. That's why I came to talk to you. I don't want a job where I just punch-in, punch-out on the clock. I want something really meaningful."
And now we have a fairly clear vision of where Nathan can explore further. I'm guessing that a government agency like child protection services might be worth discussing. Perhaps a county mental health organization will appeal to him. Or perhaps he'd like to work at a state employment agency, helping people to find jobs!
That conversation with Nathan only took a few minutes. But it helped to focus areas for further exploration. That is the goal of the five questions.
Now, there is something important I'll discuss with Nathan that I want to highlight here. It is one of the most essential ideas about careers that I share with my clients. It is this:
We bring meaning to our careers. Our careers do not bring meaning to us.
Nathan said that he's looking for "something that matters." But it's important for him to realize that he himself brings what matters to his work. Simply working for a government agency will not automatically give him a sense of meaning.
I have spoken to a large number of people who went into non-profit, social service, teaching, or health care careers who feel that their work is nothing but "a bunch of red tape," "a broken system," "a group of egocentric jerks," or any number of other colorful descriptors. I also know people who work for ordinary for-profit businesses and find deep meaning in their work.
Your career is a canvass upon which you paint. It is a stage upon which you act. It is a studio you fill with your creative activity. Your career is simply an avenue of expression.
That is why choosing a specific career is less important than choosing what you want offer the world through your career. I will discuss this dynamic in greater detail in the chapters to come.
For now, I'd like to underscore that no matter what you do for work, you can offer your gifts. No matter what your specific job is, you can bring helpfulness, wisdom, problem-solving abilities, and other offerings. As you offer your gifts through your work, you will very likely increase your sense of career fulfillment—no matter what you do.
Now, are there some careers in which your gifts will flow more easily? Certainly there are, and we want to find those.
But sometimes the best career development step is to focus on giving your gifts right where you are. That can open wonderful new paths. I'll return to this idea throughout this book.
For now, let me take a deeper dive into some of the themes in this chapter by offering a series of Q&As about the process of exploring careers. Many of these are common questions I've received from clients.