Columns Opinion — 01 May 2014
The Business Plan: It’s never too late to find the right career path

By Bill Reagan

What do I want to do when I grow up?

It’s a question that is often asked by adults in jest, but the reality is that relatively few adults approach career choices methodically. The average adult changes jobs 11 times and may switch careers as many as seven times.

It’s rare when an individual’s college major leads directly into a career, particularly a lifelong professional path. We all know people who have followed a path that has left them feeling professionally unfulfilled. Perhaps they frequently change jobs — searching for a better fit — or always seem burned-out and unhappy.

Other people may experience the proverbial mid-life crisis when they realize that they are well into their careers but not doing work they really enjoy. Perhaps most tellingly many of us, when asked to describe what we want to do professionally, struggle because we’ve never taken the time to ponder it carefully.

There are many assessment tools and resources available that can help us understand more about our abilities and ourselves. At first glance, a few of these evaluations seem strange — full of peculiar questions and exercises. Interestingly though, almost everyone who has taken one or a battery of such tests confirms — occasionally reluctantly — that the results seem on target, even if unexpected.

Each of these evaluations is different. Some focus on aptitude while others highlight skills, interests or personality types. A few tests even suggest professions based on your answers. The best part is that there are no wrong answers or bad scores.

People use this information in a variety of ways. In the hands of professionals, diagnostics can point an individual in one or more career directions they might not have considered. If you prefer to undertake an assessment without help, I would recommend trying several different tests to better inform any decisions you might make based upon the results.

Now that you have this information, what’s next? If you’re interested in a different field or a new career, find a mentor in that area and speak with them about that industry. Set up informational interviews to learn more about a particular profession. Volunteer with an organization to learn or hone skills and to make connections with other professionals.

You also may determine that you need to pursue educational courses or additional training. Several local universities have graduate certificates in a variety of fields. There also are excellent online resources and classes available from several different sources. Professional certifications may be another way to demonstrate skills and abilities.

While the Alexandria Small Business Development Center does not offer professional or career assessments, we recognize that, many times, this type of self-evaluation can lead one down the road to entrepreneurship. Once you have a clear vision of your goals, the center can help with your business planning.

- The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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