We have worked with many people who are trying to decide on a career path: from young adults setting off in life after college or high school to older adults returning to work after a long break or planning for a new direction in the second half of life. For all of these folks we have found that a good starting place are the tools contained in the classic book, What Color is Your Parachute Workbook.
If you have bought this book, and are working with one of the clinicians at Gateway Psychiatric, these instructions will walk you through a process of exploration that many people find to be life changing.
At the end of this page you will find the link to the forms that, along with the workbook, will allow you to create a simple list of factors to consider when selecting a career.
The Traits Exercise
We start with a simple checklist of traits. The list is pretty long so a word of advice… try to only choose those traits that you think of as most characteristic of your personality. You should end up selecting between 5 and 10 traits… If you choose more please go back over the list and remove a few. Note that, as with every other page of this survey, you have the option of saving your results and then resuming later (you will get an email with a link that takes you back to where you were when you saved the results).
Skills or Abilities
The next exercise is one that is likely going to take a bit of time, but it rewards the effort. When you are done with it you will be well on the way to completing the survey.
- Think of 4 or 5 projects or tasks that you did at school, or at work, or even after hours on your own time, that you felt really satisfied doing. The notion here is that we feel best when we are using as many as possible of the special abilities that we possess. It is not particularly important whether the outcome of the project was successful. We are looking for a feeling that has been described as “flow.” Flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time. In other words, you are not really aware of the passage of time because what you are doing calls for you to do your very best work.
Once you have chosen 4 or 5 projects, write a two or three line description of the project. The description is really there to serve as a reminder of the project when you later go through and analyze the projects.
With that done, you are now going to go through and select the specific skills or abilities that you used in each of the 4 or 5 projects.
Have the description you wrote of the project, the “story” in mind as you go through this list of abilities. If you have done this carefully, you should end up finding some communalities across the stories: skills or abilities that show up more than once in the list. These are the ones to focus on when your are trying to decide on a new career.
If you ever took a test to help you choose a career, it is very likely a test based on affinities. The idea behind this test is that you will be happiest doing something if people who you like to spend time with tend to choose that career. Many tests based on affinities use the Holland Codes to sort people into different groups.
The Holland Codes are a six-letter code that represents your personality type and interests. They can be used to help you choose a career that is a good fit for you. The codes are:
- Realistic (R): People with an R code are practical and hands-on. They enjoy working with tools and machines, and they are often good at solving problems.
- Investigative (I): People with an I code are curious and analytical. They enjoy learning new things and solving problems.
- Artistic (A): People with an A code are creative and expressive. They enjoy working with art, music, and writing.
- Social (S): People with an S code are outgoing and helpful. They enjoy working with people, and they are often good at communicating.
- Enterprising (E): People with an E code are ambitious and competitive. They enjoy working independently, and they are often good at persuading others.
- Conventional (C): People with a C code are organized and detail-oriented. They enjoy working in a structured environment, and they are often good at following rules.
Most people have a combination of two or three Holland Codes. For example, someone with an RIA code might be interested in a career in architecture, engineering, or graphic design.
There are two ways of assigning Holland Codes in this set of tools.
One way is to take a Holland Code assessment. This assessment will ask you a series of questions about your interests and personality. The results of the assessment will give you your Holland Code.
The other way is to imagine that you were at a social event and answer the question, what type of people would you best most interested in spending time with.
Once you know your Holland Code, you can start to research careers that are a good fit. You can use career websites, books, and counselors to learn more about different careers. You can also talk to people who work in careers that you are interested in.
The US Department of Labor paid for the development of a website (O*Net) that allows you to see which types of careers align best with a given Holland Code that we strongly recommend.
Values and Goals
In this section of the evaluation we are going to focus on your values and goals for your life. Here we want to find out what are the things that you feel most deeply about. What accomplishments would matter to you the most? There are no right and no wrong answers. What is most important in this exercise is for you to be honest. Even if you feel that you “should” care most about a certain issue, if working on that problem has not brought you a sense of fulfillment think seriously about what you have felt brought you a deep sense of satisfaction.
You may already be familiar with the Myers Briggs system for categorizing personalities. If so you may just want to review the description of the categories in order to confirm that your recollection is correct. If not we include a link to a survey that can help you decide what your Myers Briggs Type corresponds best to your personality.
By the way, if you are curious about why we use this system, it is mostly because, since it is one of the oldest systems, there are a lot of resources that can help you think about how your personality type might translate into career satisfaction.
This is the last section of the survey. If all has gone well you should receive emails that summarize some of the findings, as should your therapist. Be prepared for a detailed conversation with your therapist about the results the next time you get together.