by Maureen Crawford Hentz
Whenever I talk about personality in relation to choosing a career type, invariably someone groans and tells me a story like this: Those tests are so stupid. When I was in the sixth grade, I took one of them and it said that I should be a farmer. I think I also took the same test with the same results, and while I don't think I would be a very good farmer, the results are probably a lot more accurate than I'd like to admit. At the time, it seemed ridiculous -- I hated the outdoors and physical exertion, and was particularly averse to being dirty or sweaty. Now, though, as I think in terms of personality, it might have had some elements that appeal to my personality: I like long-range planning (good for planning how to rotate crops), working by myself (for those long days on a tractor), sometimes working on a team (for harvest time), and being the master of my own destiny (if I don't plant the corn, I can't grow the corn).
Personality tests abound, and some are sheer nonsense. Be wary of any personality test that claims to be able to tell you what your dream job is by the type of animal you'd like to be, or by your favorite breakfast cereal as a child. While there are many personality assessments that are statistically valid and tremendously accurate, I'd venture to say that they are a second (and often expensive) step. The best personality inventory is self-reflection and self-awareness.
Before delving into the ways to examine your work preferences, it's important to make a clear distinction between liking a topic and liking the work. As the director of volunteers at a large aquarium, I often talk to people who have "loved the ocean their whole lives" and want to dedicate themselves to marine biology. Many people have no concept of the work and skills involved in a chosen career. It is very important to understand the difference between liking the topic and liking the work. I once had an applicant who was a third-year marine biology student at a large state school in Ohio. He applied for and was placed into the Whale Watch internship program, where he found out that he became violently seasick on any kind of boat -- a big drawback for a student who thought he wanted to study whales in the wild.
The best match is a career in which the major tasks of the work are the tasks you most enjoy doing and the topic is one of interest. If that career is unavailable, or not feasible, my advice would be to take the position where there is a skill match. In this way, you will succeed at the essential tasks of your position and perhaps become interested in the topic.
A self-examination is the best way to begin thinking about career and personality. Conduct your self-assessment in a thoughtful and focused manner. Try these exercises to help you focus:
- Make a List. Write down everything you enjoy. That's right -- make a list of everything you enjoy doing. Reading, spending time with friends, organizing closets, listening to music, balancing your checkbook. Allot 10 minutes, and make yourself keep writing things until your time is up. Don't limit yourself in what you write. Put this list away for a day or two and review it later.
- Black and White and Read All Over. Get out your resume and look it over. Every resume book you've ever read has told you to use active words. Skim them, and circle the ones that appeal to you most, or those that remind you of good times in your past job situations. Make a list of those words, and add others describing skills you would have enjoyed using. Now, take out today's help-wanted ads. Read every position description, and circle those that use similar skill words to those on your list. Don't look at the job titles, just the descriptions!
- Walk Down Memory Lane. Many of our formative personality characteristics have been clear since childhood. In your free time, what did you play? School? Cops and Robbers? When you played, did you organize the games, motivate others, call everyone to get together? When it came time for the school's candy drive, did you go door to door gladly, or beg your mom to take the candy to work for you?
- Watch the Tube. Be conscious of the television shows that are of interest. Are they fact-based shows, are they comedies, are they cliffhanger whodunits? The kind of shows we watch can be a good indicator of the kinds of information processing that are most appealing.
- Look at your calendar. Everyone needs time on the weekends to recharge. It's how people recharge that varies. Do you long for the weekend so that you can cut loose with friends and go out, or do you hoard free time on weekends so you can read a book, watch TV, and get organized for the week ahead?
- Get a little help from your friends. Tell a non-work friend that you are trying to approach your job search from a different angle, and that you need help. Ask him/her to send you a list of 20 words or phrases that describe how you are at work. What our friends imagine us to be like at work is sometimes completely different from how we actually are outside of it.
As you complete these exercises, you should develop greater self-knowledge of your personality. The next step is to research careers that match that personality.
Go to the Career Exploration Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.