What is a Career

A career is more than a job. It is consistent participation on a chosen vocation or field of work, such a social work, office administration, law or horticulture, and includes all levels of participation. A career refers to a person’s whole work-related life, and therefore it encompasses both the person’s occupation (perhaps as a landscaper) and the field of work in which they have been primarily involved (such as horticulture).

Many people simply ‘fall’ into a career by gaining a job in a particular area, then staying in that area because of the experience they have acquired and the familiarity of that kind of work. Other people choose a career on impulse, or because their friend is in that career, or their father or mother was, or a job opportunity arose in that career. This can work very well with some people, and lead to satisfying careers.

However, the pervasiveness of job dissatisfaction, depression and disinterest among employed persons indicates that it might not be wise to let the job market or external influences determine a career. The most consistently effective route to career building is to plan for a career that allows the individual to utilise his or her particular skills, interests and aptitudes, and that they feel good about. A successful career is one that nurtures the person’s self-esteem and sense of worth while providing for their living needs, and corresponds with their values.

Because a career does not just happen but is developed over a period of time, it requires a level of commitment and persistence in one field that go far beyond simple job-seeking. Therefore, the careers counsellor needs first to determine whether the client wants help just looking for a job or wants guidance and support in building a career. Clients who want or are compelled to make a career change may actually look for a new job and are not really interested in developing long-term career goals in a new field. In general, however, both paths are built upon the same principles of identifying goals, deciding on a field or job that will allow the individual to achieve those goals, and determining how to go about getting work in that job or field. These principles are described in the following section of these lesson notes, Elements of Career Building and Job Seeking.

Job-seeking, career-building and career or job change may occur at any time in a person’s working life. People can experience job dissatisfaction and difficulties or unemployment at any stage of their working lives. Also, age and experience do not determine whether an individual needs help just to get a job, or needs careful career planning. Therefore, the life coach must be careful not to make assumptions about a client’s needs because of their age, experience, or profession, and must remember that no one approach to career planning and achievement is appropriate for every job seeker or person seeking to build a career.


ELEMENTS OF CAREER BUILDING AND JOB SEEKING
The most common job-seeking system is to apply for vacant and/or advertised jobs. Because thousands of other people are using exactly the same system, and are applying for the same advertised jobs, the chances of success may be quite low, depending on the current job market. Even when people find jobs this way, those jobs can offer little promise for the future, and people can end up in jobs that are wrong for them. More likely, job-seekers will become frustrated and disillusioned after many rejections.

The reality of the labour market is that many job seekers are competing for too few desirable positions, which means that even the most determined job seeker might not gain a desirable position and may end up in a job well below his or her capacities, and in which he or she has little interest other than as a source of income.

A more thoughtful and planned approach to job seeking is to plan to establish and build a career. Rather than applying for every job, the career builder focuses his or her attention and energies on field of work, such as horticulture, or animal care, or sales. Focusing on one area will encourage individuals to work on strengthening their skills and knowledge in that area to develop a sound understanding of what is required and what is happening in that area. Even when a person is looking for and will accept any job to meet their financial needs, having a career plan will increase their awareness of, and responsiveness to any opportunities that will support their long-term goals. In formulating that career plan, both client and careers counsellor should ask three questions:

What (what do I have to offer)?
Where (where do I want to end up)?
How (how do I get there)?

Career planning begins with deciding exactly what a person has to work with. This includes existing abilities, special skills, transferable skills (that can be applied in different areas. See lesson 6), talents, interests, experience and desire to learn. These are the basic blocks of a career, and will allow a person to identify a field of work in which they can thrive and achieve satisfaction. The more the person knows what they want to do, the more energy and enthusiasm they will bring to their job-seeking and career building in that field.

The next step is to find where that person can best use their abilities, develop their interests, and find stimulation and satisfaction. This involves identifying a field of work that calls for or will develop those skills and interests, a location or locations, (country, town, urban or rural etc), and the kind of working environment that person wants. At this stage, the client should be undertaking considerable research into possible careers, and the life coach should be prepared to support the client’s investigations in several ways, such as discussing possible sources of information, planning information-gathering interviews with employers or practitioners in that field, helping clients develop their interview and telephone skills, and helping them analyse the information to reach some conclusions.


During this stage, the individual will accumulate knowledge about career prospects in the chosen field and will develop an understanding of that is and is not realistically possible. The research and analysis of the information in collaboration with the life coach should help the client separate wishful thinking from possibility to formulate clear, realistic and precise goals. With those goals in mind, the individual is able to make better short term choices, such as finding a job right now, or entering a course of study, while working towards larger career objectives.

The third step in career planning is the determine how to get a job in the field that you have chosen. This is where a life coach must be creative in helping clients devise strategies for finding or creating desirable jobs. This is also the stage at which the client’s research into can be turned into action. For instance, the client who has identified key organisations in that field and even key personnel can focus on obtaining an interview, can use the contacts made previously to get an appointment, and can use his/her knowledge of an organisation’s goals and vision to promote him or herself to that employer. Another aspect of this stage could be undertaking study to gain the requirements for work in that field (having previously learned, of course, exactly what course of study is desired by the employer).

To illustrate how these three steps might work, consider the case of a young woman interested in working with animals because she likes and has a ‘way’ with them. At the first stage, she might determine that she doesn’t like study and is thorough disgusted at the idea of watching a surgery. She does enjoy petting animals and being around them; she likes making things pretty; and she is a careful, attentive person with a fairly easy-going personality. So she eventually determines that she wants to work in the area of pet grooming. Checking around, she learns that most pet groomers are self-employed in either small salons or with mobile services. This suits her because she likes working in a small, friendly workplace, and she can work in any city, which she prefers. She decides to take a pet grooming course while looking for any job with pets, even at a pet shop, with the long-term goal of setting up her own pet grooming business. She approaches the pet shops, grooming places and vets that she talked to during her earlier research, telling them she is available for any kind of work as she completes her course, and discussing with them how they might use her pet grooming service, thus building and reinforcing her professional network.