For lack of conversation topics, grown-ups often ask Carol, a nine-year old girl: what do you want to become when you grow up? Over time, she has learnt the answers that satisfy and silence grown-ups: pilot, engineer, lawyer, architect and neurosurgeon.
The latter from the influence of Ben Carson and his book Gifted Hands from the teenage years of her parents and their peers. Secretly, she would really like to be a house-help or a nurse based on her positive experience with her caregivers.
When to start
High school is where Carol will begin to make career choices in earnest, over subject choices. This will inform university or professional study paths. Thereafter she will join a career stream that will define her life substantially for the better part of 40 years.
The truth of the matter is that a person can choose career at any age. I have seen people as old as 50 start a new career as a totally new step, a long held passion or in commercialisation of a well mastered hobby.
Let us now look at some factors that would help Carol consider in choosing a career.
Ways in which a person thinks, feels and behaves. There are different personality types and each is distinctly suited for certain jobs and tasks. We will return to it.
Refers to characteristics that affect how well one can do something. These may be natural or learnt. If Carol is introduced to several disciplines early, then potential may be discovered and there will be plenty of time to learn as she grows up.
In terms of career, an interest may grow or change over time. Keen observers at home or school are able to spot interest early.
This involves determining what one’s heart really likes. A person can draw lifelong fulfilment by choosing a career of their passion or calling. A perfect fit is when a person chooses a career of his/her passion. One might even be surprised for being paid to have fun. It is advisable to choose a career in which there are training opportunities.
Career is an avenue to earn a living. It is important to choose one that has potential to provide. Relevance and growth potential are important factors to consider. In East Africa, we are still stuck about degrees and white-collar jobs.
Recently I learnt that a plumber, with community college training and a few years’ experience, can earn as much as $150,000 (Shs500m) a year in New York. Even here in Kenya holders of technical and vocational (TVET) diplomas find jobs fairly easily and their earnings are quite decent.
As promised, let us now spend a little time on personality, which is formed early in life. According to the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, personality is fully formed by the age of three. In making a career choice, it helps to understand one’s personality type and preferences. People with high levels of self-awareness and insight are able to understand their unique gifting and talents and make suitable choices for lifelong careers.
Many others, however, often need guidance. I will illustrate such guidance using the example of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality assessment tool.
Carol may take an assessment either online or using pen and paper which is scored and a four-letter personality type indicated.
This is based on four preference scales that are determined by how one is energised (Extroversion/Introversion), gathers information (Sensing/Intuition), makes decisions (Thinking/Feeling) and is oriented to the world (Judging/Perceiving). This results in 16 distinct personality types. Studies show that certain personality types tend to choose and thrive in certain professions. For example, ISTJ type people are serious, dependable, precise, factual and traditional.
They tend to choose and thrive in careers that call for precision, accuracy and well defined processes such as administration, auditing and project management.
What if an ISTJ is interested in a different field or has already embarked on a different path?
Well, personality awareness would help one to seek application of those strengths, gifts and talents within their chosen line of study or work. For instance, if one is in the medical field, surgery may be a suitable choice for the precise ISTJ.
A second example is ENFJ, a type that connects well with people and seeks to nurture and stimulate others to reach their potential. Many ENFJs select into nurturing, teaching or people development careers.
If a person is in, say engineering, on becoming aware they may then deliberately take options that lead to people catalyst or development roles such as teaching, training or coaching within their chosen field.
A good understanding of career choice factors and self-awareness from a personality assessment will help Carol choose well and succeed in career.