Four steps to zeroing in on who you are and discovering how that relates to your passion for work.
As any job seeker knows, a wealth of information exists about how to write a resume, how to network, how to interview. But a component of the job search process not so well-documented is how to find out what you want to do in the first place. If you’re not born knowing you simply must be an architect or will always be a teacher at heart, the road to finding your work passion (or passions—there’s often more than one) can be long and circuitous.
The key is matching your personality with your career. Here are four steps to try to zero in on who you are and discover how that relates to your passion for work.
Read Books and Do Exercises
Venerable volumes such as What Color Is Your Parachute? and Do What You Are, and exercises like the Five Lenses Framework and Seven Stories, can help you clarify and define the aspects of your personality that are the most important to keep in mind as you search for your dream job. For example, personality type testing can reveal whether you are more introverted or extroverted (introverts derive their energy largely from inside, and can feel drained by too much social interaction; by contrast, extroverts gather energy from others and feel stimulated by lots of social time). An extrovert might love trees and conservation, but is not as likely to be satisfied in solitary, quiet jobs like forest ranger that could make a great match for an introvert with a similar love of the woods. Solid personal understandings like this are the cornerstone of gleaning your work passion.
Conduct Informational Interviews
Aside from the connections you stand to make, it’s illuminating what you can learn about yourself by asking other people about what they do. After interviewing a psychologist, you might feel affirmation that the communicative and helpful nature of the work really does appeal to you, but that taking on the entrepreneurial responsibilities of running your own private practice does not. Reflecting on a conversation with a foundation program officer, you might be even more excited than you thought about the academic tenacity needed to thoughtfully read grant proposal after grant proposal. After talking with an urban planner, you might determine that the work itself still sounds interesting, but that the politics of dealing with elected officials and city agencies is off-putting. And on and on.
Enlist Professional Help
If you want to take your personal research game to the next level, ask around and see if your friends or family can recommend a career counselor to you. If not, the National Career Development Association’s "find a counselor" resource explains why career counseling is helpful to many people, and how to go about finding one you like in your neck of the woods. Though many people find it very worthwhile, counseling can be expensive, so if you’re on a budget, shop around for counselors who offer sliding-scale rates based on your income, discounts for students or the currently unemployed, or who will meet with you the first time free of charge, so you can at least get a sense of your compatibility before plunking down any dough. Colleges and universities with counseling programs can be great for this—like the Center for Educational and Psychological Services at Columbia University in New York—and, happily, some practitioners make offering affordable services part of their spiel.
In line with the holistic approach, look for a counselor whose aim is not so much to help you refine your resume or polish up your LinkedIn profile as it is to help you bring to the fore the aspects of your unique personality that will be most critical to match to your work.
An Ongoing Journey
A job-self finding odyssey can last awhile and feel like a job in itself—lots of reading, lots of note-taking, lots of reflection. And it’s an ongoing process, in the never-stop-learning sense. But the knowledge you stand to uncover as you plug along, about the ways you operate best and what you really value, will stay with you for a long time after, and will help you make job (and other life) decisions more quickly and accurately than before.