Don't look for a job; look for a career that fits your interests, lifestyle

Contributing columnistJuly 1, 2013 

A common mistake of job seekers is that they often are simply looking for a job.

That means that sometimes they miss the first critical step, which is to set a goal. This is common for new graduates, people who are currently out of work, or really miserable in their current job.

While financial needs can make it necessary to take on temporary work, does it really benefit you to just hop from one unhappy situation into another?

If you can afford to take the time to reflect on what you really want, not only will you be more satisfied in the long run but it may actually make your job search easier. Hiring officials are less likely to be interested in you if they think this position is not really what you want or a good fit.

Sometimes people will get stuck on one aspect of a job, such as salary or abilities. But there are a variety of factors to consider. If you want to have more satisfaction, you have to take a more holistic view of choosing your career path. This may include examining your purpose or passion, interests, abilities, personality, values, salary requirements, preferred work environments, geographic location and even the job market.

I cannot cover the scope of all these parameters, but I will give you a few suggestions and resources to get you started.

There are a variety of assessments available to help you in determining a good career fit. There are aptitude tests as well as assessments that match your personality, interests and values to career options.

One of the most common theories of career matching is the Holland Code which categorizes a person's interests and problem-solving approach into six different vocational personality types. Then, these can be matched to work environments that have the appropriate activities and challenges that best fit that style.

There are a number of books and activities that can help you determine your Holland type, but you can also take a more in depth and validated assessment, such as the Strong Interest Inventory.

Other things to consider when choosing your work environment are the work conditions, pace, the size of the company or how much support vs. autonomy you have. Think about the various places you have worked and evaluate what aspects you liked and didn't like. Did you like the work schedule and hours? Did you enjoy working under pressure in a hustle and bustle kind of environment or would you prefer a calm, peaceful environment where you can work at a slow but steady pace?

Some people have a difficult time narrowing down their options when they have very broad or varied interests. Doing a career values activity can help you prioritize what is most important to you. There are some good lists of work related values available for free online such as at

I've provided just a few examples here but once you have a list of characteristics you are looking for in your career, you can begin to explore them using some valuable and free resources online.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a resource developed by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. You can look up careers and find information about the work environment, required training or education, and salary information. Another great resource is It gives some additional information about careers and you can search for careers based on your Holland type, your values or skills.

Once you have determined the goal, you can write up your own job description of your ideal job. This will help you in creating a more focused plan of how to achieve your goal and help you target your résumé and cover letter to a specific career.

You may find that when you compare your ideal career to your current qualifications that you need to get some additional training or experience. And continue to evaluate and adjust your plan as necessary. It's good to be specific, but if you are not having any luck in finding positions that fit your parameters you may have to consider broadening them, like searching a broader geographic area or re-examining your salary requirements.

And, knowing what your priorities are will help you in the decision making process. You may also decide that you need more in depth exploration or someone to guide you through the process. There are lots of books available on the subject of finding the right career fit for you but a good career coach or counselor may also be useful, especially if you feel stuck.

Theresa Mickelwait holds a master's degree in psychology and a certificate in career coaching from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She is a senior assistant director at the University of Kentucky James W. Stuckert Career Center. Reach her at

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