Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Job-Hunting Tactics to Match Your Personality, Part 2

In my previous blog, I explained how your personality type can be the key to job-hunting tactics that will be effective for you. I gave examples of tactics appropriate for Realistic, Investigative, and Artistic types. This time, I’d like to consider the other three types in the Holland taxonomy.

If you’re a Social type, you want to make the most out of personal interactions, because you’re good at them and enjoy them. It’s clear that you should join one or more organizations related to your job target. Find a role that is not being filled; communications roles are particularly valuable, because they put you in touch with the largest cross-section of members. For example, you might offer to start a Twitter feed for the organization and encourage members to come to you with news. Also, be sure to leverage your existing social contacts. Make sure that all of them know about your job hunt and have several copies of your JIST card.

Enterprising types may find it useful to start a small business related to the career goal. For example, find out what low-price consumables your targeted industry uses and start selling them on eBay. A sandwich route can get you past the front door of a business and into the offices of people who will be useful contacts. Develop a brief business plan for a small project related to your targeted industry and be ready to explain it. Along with your resume, carry this plan with you, so people who are interested in the former can learn more about your skills from the latter.

Conventional jobs often depend on demonstrating a particular competence, such as typing speed or accuracy with figures. Volunteer work, such as keeping the books for a club, can give you opportunities to develop and document your competencies. Also consider that Conventional types tend to be highly organized and methodical, so you should bring these strengths to your job hunt. Study and follow techniques that are recommended for scheduling your job-seeking efforts, compiling lists of contacts, tracking the progress of the job hunt, and following up on contacts. Conventional-minded people in your network will be impressed with your organizational skills.

Keep in mind that Holland himself emphasized that most of us are not purely of one personality type. Your job-hunting efforts should not and probably cannot conform to the skills and work habits of any one personality type. Artistic types need to impose some organization on their tasks, Enterprising types need to use creativity in their tactics, and Realistic types need to use social skills to build their network. Nevertheless, by paying special attention to the tactics that are best suited to your personality type, you can mount a job-hunting campaign that minimizes discouraging situations and is more effective.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Job-Hunting Tactics to Match Your Personality, Part 1

People making career decisions often find it useful to think in terms of personality types. I have written two books about this: 50 Best Jobs for Your Personality and 10 Best College Majors for Your Personality. In additional to these two, several of my other books also use the Holland taxonomy of personality types (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional) as an introduction to career exploration.

But personality types are helpful for more than just making a career decision. They can also guide you much later in the career development process, by suggesting strategies for the job hunt.

One reason your personality type is relevant to your job hunt techniques is that you probably are looking for a job in an occupation that is related to your personality type, and different kinds of jobs demand different job-hunting strategies. For example, in a job-hunting process with an Artistic job as the target, a portfolio showing examples of creative work is almost always required. Although portfolios are being employed in job campaigns aimed at other kinds of jobs, such as Enterprising jobs, the people who do the hiring for those jobs tend not to expect them.

There’s something to be said for running counter to expectations—for example, using a portfolio when seeking an Enterprising job precisely because it will set you apart from other job-seekers. However, your job-hunting activities should be the kinds of tasks that best suit your personality. If you’re a Social type, you’ll be more skilled at using strategies that maximize your personal contacts with others. If you’re an Investigative type, you’ll be more comfortable emphasizing research techniques that uncover job openings.

Here are some ideas for how to match your job-hunting tactics to your personality. At their foundation, all of them share the highly effective strategy of networking, but they go about the network-building process in different ways.

If you’re a Realistic personality type, you like hands-on involvement. You should visit workplaces related to your career goal or perhaps an eatery where the workers can be found, so you can interact firsthand. Dress accordingly; you may not need to wear steel-toed boots, but you should avoid wearing an expensive suit. You may want to bring a model or sketch or photograph of an idea you have for how to do the work better or how you have done it in a previous job or school project. Use this as a prop when you start up a conversation with a worker. A related strategy is to do volunteer work of a kind that is related to your career goal and that, ideally, allows you to work alongside people who do that kind of work for a living.

If you’re an Investigative type, you probably have good research skills. Use them to identify important employers for your career goal and compile a list of people who work there with whom you can make contact through intermediaries. Savvy users of LinkedIn and Twitter can search these databases to identify potential contacts. Another tactic is to find the blog where people in your targeted industry exchange news and ideas. (Every industry has at least one.) Become a conspicuous presence there; if you can’t contribute useful comments, at least ask intelligent questions. When you eventually get a chance to meet with a useful contact, bring a chart or diagram that analyzes an industry issue or a plan for solving a problem.

Artistic types, as I noted earlier, will certainly want to develop a portfolio and bring it to any meeting with a contact. You may want to brainstorm and develop an original, media-based way of representing the industry or an industry-related issue, such as an animation, a collage, or a Web page. This representation of your ideas may be easier to distribute than a traditional portfolio. The kind of job you’re aiming for may be more open than most to gimmicky methods of making cold contacts, such as printing your resume on a piece of paper shaped like a shoe and sending it attached to a sticky note saying that you’re trying to get your foot in the door.

In my next blog, I’ll cover the remaining three Holland types.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

STEM Careers--and STEM Skills in Other Careers

One indication that an idea is catching on is that the President of the United States refers to it frequently. In recent remarks by President Obama, I’ve been pleased to hear mentions of STEM careers and STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Two recent articles have pointed out the rewards of STEM careers and the barriers to them.

Last month, my former ETS colleague Anthony Carnevale and his research team at Georgetown University released a report about the career experiences of people who majored in STEM subjects. Analyzing Census data, they found that, on average, 65 percent of those holding a bachelor’s degree in a STEM subject out-earn those with a master’s degree in a non-STEM subject. And an associate degree in a STEM subject brings in a higher income than a non-STEM bachelor’s for 63 percent of those surveyed.

The Georgetown researchers also found that STEM degrees are excellent on-ramps for careers in medicine and in management, career changes that can lead to higher income than staying in a STEM work role. They note that although the traditional STEM career fields employ only 5 percent of the workforce, the need for STEM competencies keeps increasing in other fields. For example, along with the rapid growth in the number of technology products, there’s a growing need for an appropriately skilled sales workforce. So, even though the STEM career field is growing at a pace exceeded only by health-care careers, the careers that are competing for STEM-competent workers (including many health-care occupations) are among the fastest-growing and highest-paid in the economy.

Given this growing need for STEM-skilled workers in a broad range of occupations, it is not necessarily alarming that (as Carnevale et al. found) 43 percent of STEM grads immediately go off to work in non-STEM careers. To be sure, I’d rather see engineering graduates go on to engineer bridges instead of financial derivatives. Nevertheless, market forces will divert STEM talent to many non-STEM work roles, and many of those roles will benefit our economy.

What is alarming, however, is how many young people don’t even get as far as the initial STEM degree. Carnevale and his team estimate that our K–12 educational system turns out enough students with initial STEM skills to fill the labor market’s need for STEM-skilled workers, but more than 75 percent of them do not go on to develop their potential by majoring in STEM subjects. Furthermore, of those who do major in STEM subjects, 38 percent switch to another subject or drop out of college. This is twice the combined attrition rate for all other subjects.

An article last week in The New York Times investigated the reasons for this massive leak in the collegiate STEM pipeline. The main reason seems to be the inherent difficulty of the STEM curriculums. This is not helped by the high level of competition often found there. It’s significant that the highly selective colleges, which get the best students, also have higher STEM attrition rates. Evidently, the problem is not that the students are poorly prepared or lack good work habits.

GPAs tend to be lower in the STEM majors, and grade inflation in the non-STEM majors may be part of the reason. Another factor discouraging STEM majors may be the emphasis on theory, especially in the lower-division courses. Some STEM faculty members are experimenting with using project-centered curriculums to sustain the interest of the students. The traditional engineering major leads to a senior design thesis, but for many students this opportunity to turn STEM skills to practical applications comes too late.

It’s important to understand that a specific college degree, while it provides useful quantitative evidence for researchers, does not tell the whole story about the skills a young person acquires. A friend of mine dropped out of the engineering curriculum at a highly competitive engineering school and graduated with a degree in a humanities field. He would be considered a STEM dropout, but the STEM skills he acquired in high school and during the two years of engineering curriculum that he completed served as the foundation for a very successful career in technical sales.

You may also consider me a STEM dropout. Although I gave up on a STEM career goal well before entering college, I have had a lifelong interest in science and managed to acquire enough STEM skills to hold my present job, in which I spend a lot of time (sometimes days on end) working in databases and spreadsheets, even occasionally writing programs.

As Carnevale and his team found, the need for STEM skills in non-STEM occupations (even writing!) keeps growing. Educational policymakers need to do more than just encourage students to get STEM degrees. They need to ensure that the curriculum of everyone in high school and college includes STEM subjects and imparts STEM skills.