Do What You Are, Fourth Edition Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
By Paul D. Tieger Barbara Barron-Tieger
LITTLE, BROWN Copyright © 2007 Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-316-16726-0
Chapter One Suit Yourself: The Secret of Career Satisfaction
It's important to find the right job. Despite the universal fantasies of winning the lottery, buying expensive cars and homes, and doing fascinating work with interesting people in exotic places, the sober reality is that most of us have to work, hard, for a long time. If you spend forty to fifty years-not an unlikely scenario -working at jobs you'd rather not be doing, you are in truth throwing away a large part of your life. This is unnecessary and sad, especially since a career you can love is within your reach.
What Is the Ideal Job, Anyway?
The right job enhances your life. It is personally fulfilling because it nourishes the most important aspects of your personality. It suits the way you like to do things and reflects who you are. It lets you use your innate strengths in ways that come naturally to you, and it doesn't force you to do things you don't do well (at least, not often!).
How can you tell if you're in the right job? Here are some general guidelines. If you're not employed, keep them in mind as you search for your ideal job. If you are employed, see how your present job measures up. If you're in the right job, you should:
Look forward to going to work
Feel energized (most of the time) by what you do
Feel your contribution is respected and appreciated
Feel proud when describing your work to others
Enjoy and respect the people you work with
Feel optimistic about your future
We'd like to make something clear right away. It's important to recognize that there are as many different paths to career satisfaction as there are happily employed people. There is no one "ideal job" to which everyone should aspire. But there is an ideal job for you.
There are an infinite number of variables in the workplace. To achieve career satisfaction, you need to figure out what your preferences are and then find a job that accommodates them. Some jobs provide warmth and stability; some are risky and challenging. Some are structured, some aren't. One job may require a lot of socializing, while another may require quiet concentration. Do you know exactly what kind of job suits you best? Have you ever even stopped to think about it?
It's a good thing there are so many different kinds of jobs available, since people are so different in their abilities and priorities. Some people enjoy making high-level management decisions; others simply aren't suited to making these kinds of choices. For some people, money is a top priority. They want to make lots of it! Others, however, want most to make a contribution to society; the money is less important. Some people are perfectly comfortable with facts and details and statistics, while others get a headache just trying to read a profit-and-loss statement. And so on, and so on!
When we were hired to conduct a series of personal effectiveness training workshops for job placement professionals (also known as executive recruiters or headhunters), we came face-to-face with a dramatic example of how a job that is perfect for one person can be perfectly wrong for another.
We were training several headhunters who worked for the same recruiting firm. Their job was to find applicants to fill positions at a variety of companies by calling people who were already employed and convincing them to apply for these positions. If an applicant successfully switched jobs and stayed with the new company for at least three months, the placement counselor received a generous commission. It was a highly competitive, results-oriented job that required excellent communication skills and the ability to fill as many positions as possible as quickly as possible.
One of the placement counselors we trained, Arthur, couldn't have been happier. He loved the fast pace of the job. Arthur was a high-energy person, a great talker who enjoyed meeting lots of people over the phone. He used his excellent reasoning skills to persuade other people to make a move to a new opportunity, and he got a lot of satisfaction out of meeting his goal and then some. Arthur knew and understood the formula: for every fifty calls he made, he'd get ten people who were interested, and out of these ten, he might make two or three placements. Arthur's "thick skin" helped him in the job because he often heard "no" during the day, but he never took the rejection personally. What Arthur found really energizing was closing the sale and moving on to the next challenge. He worked hard all day long and made a lot of money.
For Julie, it was a totally different story. Like Arthur, Julie enjoyed talking to lots of people all day and establishing relationships with them. However, unlike Arthur, Julie wanted to help each person find the job that would be really right for him or her. She liked to look for opportunities that would enable her applicants to grow and experience personal success and satisfaction. Julie had been cautioned repeatedly by her supervisor about spending too much time on the phone with each individual rather than quickly determining whether or not someone was interested in a position and then moving on to the next prospect. Rather than filling jobs, Julie was counseling clients. The fact that she could make a great deal of money did not motivate her. She found little reward in simply filling a job opening with a person who probably wasn't right for the position but whom she had successfully pressured into giving it a try.
When we returned six weeks later for a follow-up training session, we weren't surprised to learn that Julie had quit.
People are different in their needs, desires, interests, skills, values, and personalities. Unless you and I have similar personality types, work that you find intrinsically enjoyable is likely to have a different, even opposite, effect on me. Different jobs and even different aspects of jobs satisfy different types of people, a fundamental truth which has, in our view, not been fully appreciated by career advisers or career manuals -until now.
To Suit Yourself, You Must Know Yourself
As we said earlier, the secret of career satisfaction lies in doing what you enjoy most. A few lucky people discover this secret early in life, but most of us are caught in a kind of psychological wrestling match, torn between what we think we can do, what we (or others) feel we ought to do, and what we think we want to do. Our advice? Concentrate instead on who you are, and the rest will fall into place.
Not long ago, a friend called us. She calls all the time -there's a phone in practically every room of her home - but this was more than a social call. Ellen was mad. A co-worker of hers whom she regarded as "more boring than a turnip" had been given a prime assignment designing a complex computer system for a growing retail chain. Ellen, who had been hired just six months before to do exactly this kind of work, was stunned. Obviously something was wrong - but what?
Ellen had evaluated her new job with the utmost care before accepting it. She had both the analytical ability and the background experience the job required. She was well liked and found the technical aspects of the job challenging. She'd had a series of unsatisfying jobs before, but this one was going to be different. So why was her golden opportunity turning to brass? Worse ... why was the turnip doing better than she?
We thought we knew the answer. Ellen's co-worker, as she described him, was absolutely content to work long hours in relative isolation, quietly but steadily getting the job done. He wasn't a lot of fun around the office, but he was intelligent and dependable, and he never made waves. He was, in fact, the perfect person for the job -and he was happy doing it.
Ellen, on the other hand, loved the stimulation of rallying her staff for an urgent deadline and enjoyed talking to clients about their needs. She was terrific at explaining the intricacies of computer systems and could charm people into doing remarkable things. She liked going to industry conferences, and she didn't mind spending all day in meetings. Unfortunately, none of these activities were a significant part of her new position.
It was clear to us that even though Ellen could handle her responsibilities adequately, the job required more solitude, concentration, and what we call "task focus" than she liked. As she talked things through (and some people are like that -they like to think out loud), she began to recognize that in all her careful planning she had overlooked just one thing ... her own personality!
At this point in our conversation, Ellen panicked. She was afraid she had spent eight years in the wrong career. No wonder she'd found her previous jobs less than thrilling! However, she wasn't actually in the wrong field-she was just working in the wrong end of it. Ellen moved over into the sales division of the same company, and today she is thriving in her new position.
Perhaps a little experiment will clarify what we're talking about. On a piece of paper, or even in the margin, write your signature. Done? OK. Now do the same thing, using your opposite hand. (If you just groaned, you are not alone; most people have a similar reaction.) How did it feel when you used your preferred hand? Most people use words like "natural," "easy," "quick," "effortless." How did it feel when you used the opposite hand? Some typical responses: "slow," "awkward," "hard," "draining," "tiring," "it took much longer," "it required more energy and concentration."
We think that handedness is a good way to think about using your natural strengths in your work. The use of your preferred hand is comfortable and assured. If you were forced to use your other hand, you could no doubt develop your abilities- but using that hand would never be as effortless as using your preferred hand, and the finished product would never be as skillfully executed.
The Traditional Approach - and Why It Doesn't Work
Career professionals have long been aware that certain kinds of people are better at certain types of jobs, and that it's important to find as good a match as possible between the person you are and the kind of job you choose. The problem is that the traditional approach doesn't take enough considerations into account. The conventional analysis looks at only the "big three": your abilities, interests, and values.
As career counselors ourselves, we recognize the importance of these factors. Certainly you need the right skills to perform a job well. It also helps if you're interested in your work. And it's important to feel good about what you do. But this is far from the whole picture! Your personality has additional dimensions that also need to be recognized. As a general rule, the more aspects of your personality you match to your work, the more satisfied you'll be on the job.
As we saw with Ellen, a vital consideration - often overlooked - is how much stimulation from other people you need in your work. Are you more energized by being around lots of people most of the time, or are you more comfortable in small groups, talking one-on-one, or maybe working alone? You can see what a profound impact this preference can have upon your choice of a job. Other important factors include the kind of information you naturally notice, the way you make decisions, and whether you prefer to live in a more structured or a more spontaneous way. These preferences reflect mental processes that are basic to every human being but that clearly differ from one personality type to another. Trying to find the best job for you without taking these preferences into account is like trying to find a tiny island in the vast ocean without a chart. With luck, you might get there- but you might not!
Joanne was a client of ours who came to us in a career crisis. At the age of thirty, she was at the end of her rope. After seven years of teaching math at the elementary school level she was completely burned out and was wondering if she was in the right career.
Being a teacher had seemed the most natural thing in the world for Joanne. The eldest of four, she had grown up taking care of children. She had excelled in math throughout school and was interested in education. Joanne had received some career counseling early on, and all the signs had seemed to point in the same direction. In high school, and again in college, Joanne had taken the standard career aptitude tests and assessment instruments to determine her skills, her interests, and her values. Each time, career counselors had encouraged her to obtain a teaching degree and to teach math to young kids. Everything seemed perfect.
After her first challenging year, Joanne became increasingly frustrated with the rigid structure of the public elementary school setting. She disliked the endless rules both she and the students had to live by as well as many of the rules she had to enforce. She hated having to prepare lesson plans six weeks in advance that left her unable to respond to the interests of the children and to her own creative inspirations. She found the standard workbooks inane, and the busywork that both she and her students were required to do left her drained and irritated. Joanne felt very isolated because her colleagues all seemed to have interests and values that were not like hers, and she began to discover that she missed the intellectual stimulation of working on challenging projects with her intellectual equals. She had tried switching grades and even changing schools, but nothing seemed to help.
After talking with us, Joanne was relieved to discover that she wasn't crazy; she was just in the wrong career. As her early counselors had determined, Joanne had many of the right qualifications for teaching. However, the things she found most stimulating- intellectual challenge, opportunities to raise her level of competence, and creative innovation-were totally lacking in her job. Moreover, the public school setting forced her to work in a highly structured and detailed way, which was not at all the way she liked to operate.
Luckily, the solution quickly became clear. We suggested that Joanne return to school and obtain a master's degree in order to teach math- still a thriving interest of hers - in higher education. In a college setting, she would be able to enjoy much more flexibility in her work schedule and obligations, teach more complicated courses, and be part of an intellectual environment.
Joanne did get a master's degree, and shortly thereafter she accepted a position in the math department of a small college. Today she teaches graduate-level math courses while continuing her studies toward obtaining a Ph.D.
There's also another reason why the traditional approach to career counseling is inadequate. The "big three"- your abilities, interests, and values- all change with age. As you gain work experience, you gain new skills. As you live longer, you may pick up new interests and discard old ones. And often your goals are different later in life than they were earlier. You can keep changing your career according to where you find yourself at a particular point in time, or you can base your choice from the beginning on a deeper understanding of who you are(and who you'll always be!).
Alex is a thirty-nine-year-old internist with a successful practice in a Chicago suburb. While he was growing up it was always assumed that he would follow in the family tradition and become a doctor. Through twelve years of college, medical school, internship, and residency, he never allowed himself to question his decision. After practicing medicine for five years, he has come to a painful conclusion with far-reaching implications for himself and his family: he doesn't want to be a doctor any more. What's more, he realizes he probably never did. Alex's predicament is not unusual. If you doubt this, pick any ten people you know and ask them, "If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be?" Our experience as career counselors suggests that at least half would rather be doing something else.
Most of us make our most important career decisions when we are least prepared to do so. The decisions we make early in life set into motion a chain of events that will influence our entire lives. Yet when we're young we have little or no experience making job choices, and we tend to have an overabundance of idealistic enthusiasm, plus a reckless lack of concern for future consequences. We haven't lived long enough to see ourselves tested in a variety of situations, and we're highly susceptible to bad advice from well-intentioned parents, teachers, counselors, or friends. No wonder so many people get off to a poor start. The solution? To achieve as great a degree of self-awareness as you can before making any decision with long-lasting career consequences. Happily, "finding yourself" does not require a guru, a lot of money, or any period of experimentation.
Excerpted from Do What You Are, Fourth Edition by Paul D. Tieger Barbara Barron-Tieger Copyright © 2007 by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.