Choose your career

1. Why do some people find it so hard to pick a career?

People work for a number of reasons and sometimes it is difficult to sort out what is most important. For example, most people need to work for financial reasons, but that doesn't necessarily mean the best paying kind of work will be ideal for them. To make a good career choice people need to consider many personal factors such as personality, skills, education, interests, values, lifestyle, and constraints.

2. Your book uses the famous Myers-Briggs test for self assessment in your book. (For our members: Myers Briggs is one of the few standard tests that retains its reputation in the employment industry and in psychology as a truly reliable personality test, after decades. The tests are fun to do, and some have even used their Myers Briggs results as a reference on dating sites. You can take the test here: ) You use Myers-Briggs as a classifier. Would you explain to our members how a Myers Briggs test works?

Taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (R) (MBTI (R)) assessment helps you identify where you prefer to focus your time and energy (in the inner or outer world), how you prefer to take in information, make decisions, and respond to the world around you. By understanding your preferences, you can find work that allows you to 'be yourself'. The on-line personality tests you mention are not the official MBTI (R) instrument. Administration of the MBTI (R) instrument is always combined with an interpretation. Filling out an assessment without taking the time to make sure your results are accurate may provide misleading results. For example, you may respond to questions by describing what you can do (skills) rather than what you prefer to do. Or you may choose answers to please others or describe what you think you 'should' be like. Because of this, it is not a good idea to base your career choice on any tool without taking the time to think about and make sure your results are accurate.

3. Your website link personality types gives a useful overview of how you translate those types into work preferences, starting with the basic Myers Briggs Introvert/Extrovert classifications.

Introversion and Extraversion are quite different in personality type theory than in most other personality theories. In other theories people are more or less Extroverted, with a lack of Extroversion being defined as Introversion. This is not the case in personality type theory. In personality theory, everyone extraverts (talks and acts) and everyone introverts (reflects and observes). A person prefers one of these modes to the other. Introverts are not shy and socially uncomfortable, rather they are people who prefer to reflect on and process information internally before sharing it in the world around them. They are often attracted to work that provides time and space to reflect and prefer interactions that are one-to-one or not highly paced or pressured. However, this doesn't mean people who prefer Introversion cannot do work that requires lots of action or interactions with others. It simply means they may be less energized in these situations and that they may become tired or stressed if they are constantly required to extravert for long periods of time without a chance to regenerate.

4. Personality Types derived from the test are your first analytical tool in the book. Can you explain how personality and careers interact with each other?

Personality type helps us understand how people prefer to approach life and tasks. When we understand our preferences we can seek work that matches who we are. For example, if a person who prefers to brainstorm ideas and imagine possibilities has a job where he or she is expected to focus on facts and details all day, this work will not energize them.

5. We do, frequently, get posts on our Forum from people wanting to change career because of incompatibility and disillusionment, after years or decades. In some cases they actually loathe the career. What can they do about that, and how do they do it?

I sometimes use the term 'golden hand-cuffs' to describe situations where people feel trapped in jobs. This can happen for a number of reasons. People often need ongoing, reliable work in order to meet their financial responsibilities or provide healthcare benefits. Also, people who work in one field may become highly skilled in that area and may feel they lack skills to shift into a new kind of work. One helpful strategy for change is to very clearly define and separate financial needs from wants. Sometimes people get stuck working to finance a lifestyle that is more extravagant than it needs to be. It is also helpful to look carefully at the skills you have and identify how to transfer your skills to other kinds of work. Find ways to develop new skills; volunteer, take short courses, take on new responsibilities at work, read, or attend seminars.

6. We also have a lot of people at entry level who are now facing the very tough task of picking a career. How do they make an informed decision, and avoid picking a career which is likely to backfire on them?

Taking the time to do a self-assessment can help people make better career decisions. When people think about what they like to do and how they like to work, they are more likely to find suitable work. People can use their work experiences to learn more about themselves by asking questions about their work… What do I like about this job? What don't I like? When people think of a career as a path rather than an end point, they can plan to learn skills and move into more satisfying work over time.

7. Your book includes terms to describe personality types, like Explorer and Visionary. Obviously, these are developing the personality types into functional roles. Is it fair to say there's a need to find careers where personalities can function naturally?

It is ideal when people can use their natural preferences at work. Of course, most kinds of work have some parts that are less preferred, but people don't want to get stuck doing things they don't prefer all day. For example, a Responder likes to be active, adaptive, and respond to immediate situations. Depending on their interests, the roles of a firefighter, police officer, tour guide, or computer trouble-shooter might attract them. A Responder would likely find a job where they were stuck at a desk attending to routine details very stressful.

8. Some people seem to fit specialist roles, at expert level, having developed careers over many years. In career selection terms, is that a matter of luck, planning, affinity with the work, or good understanding of a career path?

I think people can end up in a good match for any of the above reasons. There is always a bit of 'happenstance' in careers. An opportunity might come up and a person might 'luck' into work that fits. However, people who have a good idea about what kind of work suits them and who take or make opportunities to move toward their goals tend to have more successful career paths.

9. Other people seem to hit a brick wall early, making no progress in their careers, and get trapped in a job where they can't really do what they want to do. How do they get out of that situation?

The first thing to do is take responsibility for your own career. Decide what it is that you want to do and then find ways to move toward your goals. Be aware that changing careers often has financial consequences and it is helpful to have a realistic budget in place. Make a job search plan and develop skills to become more marketable.

10. Picking a career is still, somehow, seen as picking a career based on the image of that career, like a doctor or a lawyer, rather than preferences. The image quite often has nothing in common with the fact. How does anyone separate the myth from the reality, at entry level? Is there a way to make sure you can work on your preferences?

There are a number of ways to learn what a certain kind of work is really like. Talking to family, friends, or anyone else in your personal network can help you connect to someone who works in a field you are interested in. Once you have a contact, you can engage him or her in an information-gathering interview to find out more about day-to-day job activities. You can also look on-line for detailed job descriptions. Some people find volunteering helps them understand the different kinds of work in the field. Volunteering can often provide work opportunities, references, and valuable experience.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a trademark or registered trademark of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries.