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Time for a Career Assessment?

Time for a Career Assessment?
After a few years in which jobs seemed at best tenuous and at worst just plain gone, more people than ever are reexamining their career choices, making career assessment big news. 

According to a December 2009 poll by CBS News and the New York Times, 70 percent of people looking for work have considered changing careers. The poll shows that 44 percent of unemployed job seekers have pursued job retraining programs or other educational opportunities as a result of being unemployed.

Anyone Can Benefit from a Career Assessment

Two camps of people brave the process of career assessment. In one, the pursuers hope to expeditiously transfer their skills to new industries. Amid layoffs and cutbacks, they’re motivated to reevaluate their work in order to pay the bills. In the other camp are individuals intent on grabbing the brass ring of employment: work that not only feeds household coffers but also their sense of satisfaction.

The good news is that you’re closer to finding the answers than you may think. There are plenty of free or affordable services to guide you, and experts say a modest investment of your time can yield sharp insights into a new career.

Career Change Answers Are Close at Hand

So how do you assess your career, exactly? “The best assessment tool you can get is an honest one-on-one feedback session with a colleague or close friend,” says Marci Alboher, senior fellow for Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on assisting 50- and 60-something professionals into second careers. Ask in which areas you excel, and where you need to improve. Are your skills sought out by colleagues? Would your skills be put to better use in a different department? A frank discussion will underscore your strengths and deficits.

So will a long look in the mirror. Barbara Safani of Manhattan-based Career Solvers suggests creating a list of the qualities you need and want from a job, and then prioritizing the list. What’s the most important aspect of work for you? Is it income? Is it giving back to the community? “All of those things need to be explored,” says Safani.

“A big part of what’s going on in this economy is being honest with ourselves,” observes Alboher. If you’re not where you want to be in your career, she suggests taking stock by posing a few questions:
  • What can you do to beef up your skills? Is there training or skills you’re lacking? 
  • You’ve probably heard about social networking in your industry, but are you doing anything creative about it? Is it time to start a blog or an online profile page and begin promoting your expertise?
  • Are there books written by thought leaders in your field that you should be reading?
Where to Find Outside Career Assessment Tools

Free online tools like CoachCompass and the University of Waterloo Career Services can help you with the process of identifying your skills, motivations and preferences. For a more social and local aspect to your evaluation, plenty of community colleges, alumni centers, libraries and churches offer no-cost drop-in career assessment and counseling services. And if you prefer a more personalized approach, career counselors and consultants typically charge hourly rates from $50 to $150.

Do You Really Need a New Career?

Sometimes frustrations that appear to indicate a needed career change are really indicators of job dissatisfaction. In a tight job market, that’s a key distinction. Safani recalls a director of operations who disliked his function’s round-the-clock nature and hoped to find a new career.

“But the job tasks -- working with vendors, managing staff and finances, dealing with customers -- were all things he liked,” she says. His job search included examining other operations roles that offered similar responsibilities yet more predictable work hours. In the end, he accepted a position as a financial advisor in which he could apply his skills in finance and customer service.

What to Do with Career Assessment Results

Successful career switches are about making connections. How does any new career you’re contemplating relate to the skills you already possess? When you begin your job search, be prepared to help a potential employer connect the dots.

In today’s job market, employers care about tangible results, and that’s a dramatic break from the past, when candidates could sunnily promote their ability to learn on the job. “Understand your own value and accomplishments and be able to articulate them to the new employer,” says Ford Myers, president of Career Potential, a Haverford, Pennsylvania-based career assessment and consulting firm. “The new employer has to see a direct connection between what you did in your old jobs and how that will be successful for you in the future with them. It’s a profound difference.”

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