Jewish World Review April 30, 2003 / 28 Nisan, 5763

Marty Nemko

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Consumer Reports

What Are You Good At, Really? | Bernard Haldane, a pioneer in career counseling, died recently at the age of 95. One of his core beliefs was that most people who don't like their career are unhappy because they're not using their best abilities. I have found this to be true.

Many of my clients say, "But I don't know my best abilities?" I'll now try to help you to identify them, much as I do with my clients.

1. For you to be happy and successful, which one or two of these abilities should your job emphasize:

Speaking one-on-one
Speaking to groups
Working with data, numbers, or computer code
Learning new things quickly
Supervising people
Being entrepreneurial
Helping people
Handling details
Convincing people
Making something artistic with your hands
Making or fixing something
Perhaps most important: Other? _________________

2. Some abilities, such as writing or computer programming, generally require a focused, hard-working person. Other abilities, however, are more forgiving. Do you have any of these easier-to-use abilities:

  • Talking: Useful, for example, in sales and in teaching.

  • Observing: Useful, for example, in supervising, mystery shopping, appraising, and law enforcement (including airport screeners, customs agents).

  • Organizing: Useful, for example, in administrative assisting, bookkeeping, archiving, and research.

3. Do you have specific expertise you know you want to use in your career? For example, a degree in molecular biology, ability to program in Java, three years of import-export experience.

3a. Do you have a more generic ability that you know you want to use in your career? For example, Edgar had a knack for calming people down, and easily landed a job as a customer service rep. Another client had a knack for developing tests and surveys. He found a job with a polling organization. I have a knack for thinking quickly, so I write on deadline, host a radio show, and counsel people.

4. What do you find easy that many other people find difficult or stressful? For example, would you find it easy to learn a new computer language? Frame a door? Write a press release? Make 100 cold calls?

5. Write a paragraph about each of your five favorite accomplishments and projects? What abilities have you used again and again?

6. What have people praised about you?

So now, you've identified one or two key abilities that you know you'd like to use in your next job. Now what? Here are some ways to figure out what sort of job you'd like:

  • Is there a particular place you'd like to use your core ability: a university, a non-profit, a downtown office building, in your own business, outdoors, etc?

  • Are there certain kinds of people with whom you'd like to use your core ability? For example, children, poor people, brilliant people, by yourself, etc?

  • Would you like to use your core ability in the service of a particular cause? Healing people? Saving the environment? Making megabucks?

  • Plug your core ability into a computer program such as Eureka, Discover, or Sigi-Plus, which are available to the public at many colleges and even at some high schools.

  • Call or e-mail 100 people in your personal network (everyone from your neighbor to your college buddies, to your parent's friends, to your haircutter) and ask, "I'm looking for a job that would allow me to use my ability to XXXXX. Might you know of anyone in a position to hire me?"

  • Go to a directory of careers such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which profiles the 250 most common careers, or for quirkier ones, my book, Cool Careers for Dummies Might any of those careers utilize your core ability?

Amy, you're pretty darn good at just about anything that requires a good mind. So don't worry so much about finding a job that uses a core ability. Instead, focus on finding a job that allows you to keep learning, seems like fun, and which pays well. A wide range of jobs could fit that bill. Since you're not entrepreneurial, look in the government sector. These days, that's where most of the good jobs are. lists thousands of government job openings. When you find an opening that sounds exciting, before applying, call the office that's hiring, and try to convince the receptionist to let you talk with someone who might give you advice on how best to apply.

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JWR contributor Dr. Marty Nemko is a career and education counselor in Oakland, California and hosts "Work With Marty Nemko," Sundays 11 to noon on KALW, 91.7FM. He is co-author of Cool Careers for Dummies and available for private consultation. Comment by clicking here.


04/10/02: Career advice I'd give my child
03/04/02: Under the radar: The One-Week Job Search
02/11/02: The World's Shortest Course on Managing Diversity
02/03/02: The Good Employer
01/29/03: What do you want to be when you grow up?
01/15/02: Passion Finder
12/18/02: Curing procrastination
12/12/02: The World's Shortest Course on Self-Employment
12/05/02: Men as Beasts of Burden
11/21/02: Beware of going back to school

© 2003, Dr. Marty Nemko