An Exercise In Career Exploration

One of my favourite workshops that I facilitate centers on the topic of career exploration. It’s designed for people who either haven’t got a clue what they’d like to do or be well suited to do, and as well for those who need to change careers and are stuck.

Just as sitting down to write a resume without knowing what job you are applying to is a bad decision, it’s equally a poor decision to think about jobs and careers without first really knowing who you are. In other words, until you know your skills, strengths, areas needing improvement and think about what matters to you, it’s going to be difficult to find a good match. Is it any wonder then why so many people who think this first step is a waste of time end up continually taking jobs that are poor fits and go through the job searching process frequently?

One exercise or activity I do with my clients gives them a chance to think about careers and jobs which they would otherwise entirely dismiss. For the person or people who will tell you they’ll do anything, it’s a great exercise in showing them that,’anything’ perhaps needs a re-think.

Now my workshop happens to be five days in length, and it follows a typical pattern of doing 16 self-assessments essentially taking a self-inventory of who you are right now in 2014. It’s more than just defining strengths and weakness, it also includes work values, the kind of supervisor you’d perform best under, your problem-solving style, transferable skills, preferred learning style etc. By first learning really more about yourself, you can then in the latter half of the week turn to examining careers and jobs where people with your general characteristics are best suited to thrive.

Can you already see the difference in this approach instead of just running to a job board, throwing a dart and applying for a job with a generalized resume?

But to the activity I mentioned. On the morning of the second day, participants walk in the room to find 40 large envelopes on the 4 walls all around them. Some are quite close to where people sit, and others naturally on the other side of the room. Some right at eye level, and some near the floor or the ceiling. In other words, randomly placed. There is no rhyme or reason to this placement, but participants definitely notice them and start talking among themselves and guessing what they are all about.

In each envelope is large colour photograph of a person with a career. They are dressed in their work clothes, sometimes photographed in their surroundings performing their job, and above each photograph is the name of the occupation. However, I say nothing whatsoever about what’s inside the envelopes, only saying that we’ll be using them later and please don’t peek inside any of them.

Well, nothing more happens with them on day 2. Usually what happens at some point someone asks when we are going to use them, or if no one says anything, I’ll bring it up perhaps just after lunch. “No one has looked in the envelopes I hope.” And that’s it. During the next day, the middle day of the week, I finally announce we are going to use the envelopes. Funny how a little anticipation gets them to buy-in, pay attention, get their curiosity answered, and as a facilitator, that’s exactly what I want.

One by one, each person is selected to reach inside and pick a career. They have to announce it to the group, show the picture, and they’ve got a career. Some are glad with their choice, some disappointed, some shrug and have little reaction and some – like the Pest Control Technician holding the dead rats are revolted and shudder. (But they laugh too!)

When everyone has a profession or job, I hand them a sheet of paper with a number of questions on it. Some relate to annual salary, educational requirements, required training, what is appealing and unappealing about the job, potential growth, the skills required. Also included is a section for the person to then say what skills the job requires that they themselves have. Listening skills, communication skills and other transferable skills in addition to job – specific skills.

Once the sheet is filled out, a discussion ensues. It’s interesting to ask how many randomly selected the perfect job; one they’d actually be happy in and have the requirements for. And of course the next question is how many are dissatisfied and have a job or career that isn’t of interest to them or they are totally unqualified for. By in large, some are happy, most are not. And this reflects the reality of picking a job without first doing much research. Suddenly most get what they’ve been doing and why the results have been less than satisfactory.

After this I fire everybody. I collect all the pictures and give them a second blank sheet to fill in and they repeat the random picking. We talk about how some jobs appear lofty (top of the ceiling), some are easier to get than others (right behind their seat), and some seem beneath us (nearest the floor). However, all jobs have merit and are perfect for some people. The real key is to find the job you are most happy with because it fits your interests and abilities.

Or, they could continue to just choose anything.

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