A brief hiatus

Hi all! You may be wondering where I’ve been. I’m happy to share that my family recently welcomed a new little person into our lives. I had a baby several weeks ago and, as you can see, I have not had the opportunity to post regularly since that exciting event. I hope to resume posting soon, once my schedule becomes a tad more predictable. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter @jacksoncareer or like our Facebook page to continue finding interesting links to career-related articles and resources.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share an article that I recently read that relates to a career (?) that we don’t often talk about: motherhood. As all mothers know, being a stay-at-home mom is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs out there. But it is also a privilege to be able to raise children and spend quality time with them every day.

The article highlights one woman’s regret regarding her decision to abandon a very successful career and become a stay-at-home mom. Admittedly, it’s controversial, and fails to fully outline the “other side” of the argument, or the (likely) very logical and well thought out reasons why this woman made this choice in the first place. However, it is worth a read for both mothers and fathers alike who grapple with finding the right balance between managing their careers and enjoying precious moments with their families.

Luckily I’m fortunate to have a wonderful career that affords me balance and flexibility. However, the author of this article found herself in a highly demanding career that left her without much energy to devote to her family at the end of the day. In the end, she explained that she wished she would have kept one foot in the door of her office so to speak. In other words, if she could turn back time, she would find a way to keep developing and enhancing her career on a part time basis during those early years with young children.

What do you think? What sacrifices are you prepared to make for your career and family?

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What are your Career Influencers?

Several months back, a reader asked the following question (thanks Andrea!):

Are there any longitudinal studies being performed on different influences imposed on young children that affect career choice?

I had intended to answer this question right away, but it proved to be a bit more complicated than I had first thought. I had initially assumed that there would be tons of research out there on factors that influence career pathing and decision making for young people.

But surprisingly, I didn’t find much.  I did find a helpful review by Duffy and Dik (2009) Beyond the Self: External Influences in the Career Development Process. They grouped external career influences into 4 broad categories: family expectations and needs, life circumstances, spiritual and religious factors, and social service motivation.

For example, an individual’s career influencers could stem from sociocultural factors such as parents who have a pre-determined career plan for them, life circumstances such as an injury or job loss that affects the planned career course dramatically, spiritual and religious factors that can lead to a belief in a “calling”, or social service motivation reflecting a need to identify a career that can help them make a difference in society.

But this type of research wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So I tried to conceptualize the question in different ways and think about it from different angles. I thought of my own experience and influencers and looked at data from respondents to career interest assessments.

When looking at the data, something jumped out at me. Career interests with the highest mean score seemed to consistently point to teaching. In other words, the most common top job group for this career interest assessment, across all students who have taken the assessment, was teaching.

And I thought: could this be due to the fact that the respondents are high school and college students who are and have been exposed to the job role of a teacher for as long as they can remember?

For this reason, I became interested in studying this concept of job exposure and job familiarity in more depth, and hope to be able to share results from a study I’m working on with our research team later this year.

In the meantime, it might be helpful for us to think about our own career influencers to try to brainstorm and help me explore further to see if research can guide a better answer to Andrea’s initial question.

Perhaps one complication is that career influences are multiply determined, which could be difficult to study and pinpoint with any consistency, or absolute accuracy. We can probably all recall a “turning point” in our career plans and we would be remiss to think that we won’t continue to experience these “turning points” as our careers unfurl and blossom.

For me personally, I thought I always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was young, the prestige of the career, coupled with a good salary, the reliance on strong writing and researching skills, and of course its portrayal in the popular media were probably strong drivers for me. I always had an interest in English and writing, and didn’t find careers associated with these subjects to be very abundant or lucrative, so I naturally thought that law might be a good way to play out my interests in these areas.

My next set of influencers probably came in high school when I had a relatively engaging and somewhat scandalous teacher for law and sociology. He helped reinforce my interest in these two areas.

Next stage: university and a whole host of career influencers. This is arguably the most influential time of one’s life in that the educational decisions you make are irreversible. You can obviously add to your set of skills and build on your knowledge throughout the span of your life, but your accumulated educational knowledge or formal training certainly should have the potential to set you on a certain path.

While attending university, I first ruled out law due to a slightly disappointing mark in first year English and a good mark in first year psychology. That was it. No other factors really came into play in my decision, which is interesting since the point spread between marks was probably only 6 or so, which is really not that large in the grand scheme of things. I can confidently say that at this important junction, I should have sought out career counselling.

But instead I pursued psychology and let one piece of advice (?) or information guide my path. I placed a little too much weight in the words of my 2nd year clinical psych prof and placed too little faith in my own abilities at the time. My prof told her class that, among the group of 100 of us (give or take) only 4 of us would make it to grad school. I have to admit I don’t remember the exact number she threw at us, but it doesn’t really matter. This was what I took away from it, and it dissuaded me from entering the field. This was a regret for awhile but since then I’ve come to realize that this change of course was not a bad thing, and could have been the best thing for my career, in a sense.

I ultimately chose to pursue Industrial/Organizational psychology because it sounded like a practical application of the field that could lead to a career, and the rest is history (with a few wonderful mentors to guide me along the way).

I can summarize by highlighting my key influencers as teachers, with substantial support from my parents to pursue my areas of interest (not without some prodding from my dad to enter computer science)…

I’d like to open up the discussion to find out what influenced all of you. Please share your own career influencers!

Is it ever too early to start career planning?

Think high school is a fun time to hang out with friends and not have a care in the world? Well, turns out you should get it out of your system in primary school. High school is all business now, big business.

I’m being facetious but only slightly. Of course high school should still be a relatively fun and carefree time in your life, but it’s also the time to start seriously thinking about a career.

In fact, it may even be starting earlier. Which begs the question: Is it ever too early to start?

Probably. Finding that sweet spot is likely important. You wouldn’t want to burn out, lose steam, peak too soon…

Even still, the realities of today’s job market demand an alert, savvy player, not a sideline sitter. The successful career seeker has likely had his or her eye on the prize for years. If you fall asleep at the wheel, even for a second, you might find yourself having to catch up later in life.

This topic was prompted by an article I read via CAREEREALISM (a site with some great content for young people), which shared tips on how to get kids to start networking in secondary school.

Is this a bit too much? Parents reviewing emails, pushing students to join networking groups? Is this realistic? Most teens would rebel or begin to develop a real aversion to networking. Of course there are always a select few who have the drive to pursue these kinds of initiatives on their own. But they are the exception rather than the rule.

For some students, maybe a more moderate approach is better. Here are a few ideas:

  • Help them develop the social skills to interact professionally with people. Teach them social graces: make eye contact, firm handshake, good conversational skills. Remind them to put the phone or tablet down and engage with people.
  • Help them develop a career plan and show them resources to start exploring. Start slow, don’t push. If they show interest in a career related topic or current event, use it as fodder for mealtime discussion.
  • Talk shop around them. Discuss your work and that of close family, friends, and relatives. Even if they don’t appear to be paying attention, over time the content will filter through. This subtle exposure helps them learn the language of these industries.
  • Make a point to expose them to some unfamiliar careers, too. Take advantage of their captivity on family trips and outings. They can’t escape so you can take the opportunity to tour a museum or brewery or anything that would teach you all something new about a certain career or industry.
  • Encourage them to sign up for public speaking courses or other workshops to help them develop skills that meet an interest and will serve them well in the future. But if, for example, public speaking makes you nervous, whatever you do, don’t project this onto them. No need to rehash that horror story from your first school speech. It’s not helping anyone.
  • Introduce them to LinkedIn and help them build a profile. Encourage them to leverage Twitter for career development. Point out a few effective career sites to follow such as @CAREEREALISM, @myFootpath, @WetFeet_Career, @Doostang, @career_explorer, @TalentEgg
  • Model professional behaviour. There are simple things you can do to give them a head start in life. Be on time, dress professionally for work, demonstrate courtesy, fulfill your obligations to people.

For the parents who are reading this – do you have any tips and tricks to share to get your kids attuned to networking and building professional relationships at an early age? For the students – would you do any of these things? Let me know your thoughts!