1. At what stage in a person’s life do you think career planning should start?
Ideally, career awareness should begin in elementary school and career exploration in middle school. By helping your child learn about what family members or other people do for work (especially emphasizing work people enjoy doing) is a good start. Visiting the workplace helps kids see what it might be like to do that job. It also helps for parents to be self-aware of sex stereotyping. In talking to my son, I find that I occasionally refer to mail carriers as the "mailman" even though our own carrier is a woman. I don't try to be politically correct all the time but I do mix it up like saying "mail lady" instead of mailman. Many promising careers are in health and technology fields where sex stereotyping have strong roots. So just be aware of your own biases and proactively open your kids' eyes to different possibilities - even those that do not require a professional (law, medicine) or a four-year degree.
Career and education planning are now lifelong - the vast majority of people have multiple careers so reinforcing with your older kids that career decisions made early are just the start of a longer road can help relieve some stress about "permanent" or "life" decisions.
2. Is taking a career test often reliable? Shouldn’t a person do what his or her heart desires?
Fortunately, the two (science-based career tests and identifying your passions) work best together, instead of canceling each other out. Taking several different high quality career assessments are a necessary part of the career planning process because they are tools to help you learn about yourself, proven to help people make a decision (for tips on choosing a scientifically valid test, visit The Career Key website). Measuring what interests you is just another way of approaching your "heart's desire."
What I find is that when people take the time to sit down and write or type out answers to the activities we recommend in our website article, "Learn More About Yourself," self-assessment and your passions really do come together. It's amazing the career planning progress you can make with very little money and time.
3. Essentially, what sort of advice do you provide about making good decisions regarding career choices?
It helps to have a process to follow, particularly a practical one that is based on the best science of career counseling. Our "High Quality Decisions" website article guides you through four steps (including a free downloadable worksheet) of decision-making we refer to as "ACIP:" Alternatives, Consequences, Information, and Planning.
You look at all your Alternatives, the Consequences to yourself and significant others of each option, search for new Information about each option, and then make Plans for acting on your choice. Again, it doesn't take any money but just a little bit of your time to sit down and write out your thoughts. Using this process will help you take productive steps towards making a decision you won't regret. I used it when trying to decide whether to leave the practice of law for my current job at the Career Key. And this process can be used for any major life decision - not just career planning.
4. What advice can you give our young readers on making the right college major choices for their intended career?
Remember that you will have many different careers over your lifetime, so don't get hung up on whether your post high school training program or college major will determine the rest of your life. As Daniel Pink's book "Johnny Bunko" says, it's the journey. And four-year college is not for everyone. There are great, high-skilled careers in demand that may fit your personality that do not require a four year degree or a lot of student loans. But they do require training programs or apprenticeships - just be open to all your options.
Choosing a major or training program is definitely an important, serious decision. Large scientific studies show that choosing a major or training program that matches your Holland interests leads to higher grades and for some, a higher graduation rate. So it helps to do self-assessment and career exploration early, instead of waiting until graduation when you want to find a job.
The good news is that if you spend a little time on the three steps to choosing a career:
1. Learn about yourself,
2. Explore your options, and
3. Make a good decision, you're more likely to choose an educational program that fits you best.
5. What sort of advice can you give to people who want to change their careers mid way in their lives?
I would start with creating a career portfolio, a collection of documents and mementos that showcase your past career paths and achievements to date, both as part of your work history and your "extra-curricular" activities. It can include anything you think is relevant to identifying your skills, passions, and abilities like:
• self-assessment test results,
• cover letters,
• training certifications,
• work achievements,
• and even photos.
I think this is particularly valuable for any moms who have been out of the workplace (either part or full time) or if your education credentials are incomplete or limited. If you've done any volunteer work with a school, church, or parents group - you've used and showcased your skills.
You can use this portfolio to jump-start your three-step process to making your next career choice:
1. Learn about yourself,
2. Explore your options, and
3. Make a good decision. Our website shares tips and activities in each of these steps.
I recently did this "career portfolio" exercise (physician heal thyself!) and found it very helpful and rewarding. I had forgotten some skills and achievements and found interests I want to explore in the future - after my toddler is in school.
6. What sort of people do you think are ideal to be self-employed?
Having been self-employed myself as a lawyer, I know both the joys and challenges of being self-employed. First, I would follow the three-step process mentioned above for making a decision about self-employment. The Self-Employment Key website, www.self-employmentkey.org has more detail about this process.
Second, try to match your interests and personality to a type of self-employed business. Don't sacrifice by doing something that you would not enjoy just because you want to work at home or be self-employed. If you are not an enterprising, sales and people-oriented person - do not choose a business to sell things directly to people (like cosmetics or jewelry). It is possible to combine what you love to do with self-employment - you just need to be creative and invest time in self-assessment and exploration. The Internet gives you a lot more self-employment options.
And regardless of what you choose to do in self-employment, hire an accountant to do your taxes. You can find talented, affordable professionals to help you (maybe even a self-employed woman). You will save yourself a lot of grief and frustration.
7. How lucrative is the self-employment field?
It really depends on the type of self-employment you choose. Sales focused self-employment can be lucrative for people that enjoy selling and persuading people, who score high for the Enterprising Holland personality type. But common sense says that if you don't enjoy sales, you won't do well in convincing people to buy a product - so people may actually lose money (unpaid loans, unsold inventory) instead of make money.
The key to choosing self-employment that makes money to meet your financial goals is to choose a business where you are using skills you enjoy using and doing work that interests you. The money will follow. I know that may sound trite but it's true (and proven by scientific studies).