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In a society where one's job is often tied with identity, status and security, values relating to these concepts become the norms. Consequently, there are certain assumptions we have made about ourselves and our careers: all individuals go through a lockstep sequence of education/work/retirement during the three major stages of life; when we are young, we assume that we have endless time and unlimited opportunities; when we are middle-aged, we believe that we have little time and few or no options; when we become older we accept the disengagement that society forces on us because we assume it is natural and logical. These assumptions, in turn, have led to some general myths about the world of work:
  • Everyone has innumerable opportunities.
  • Everyone has unlimited options.
  • Everyone needs to work and if a person works hard, he will be successful.
  • Anyone can be successful.
  • More education means more capability.
  • The stages of life are distinct from each other.

A look at today's economic conditions and prevailing job opportunities should dispel both the assumptions and the ensuing myths. Some people are finding that, after working 20 years for the same company, they are suddenly obsolete; others, that the quality of their work performance means nothing when it's brought face-to-face with the seniority system. How, then, can a person go about making a career choice?

First, accept the realities of today's world. Most of us will have more than one career/type of job and will work for more than one employer. Therefore, it is vital that we keep our options open by preparing ourselves for a broad range of possible careers. The courses we choose to take in high school should look ahead to future careers and should also reflect our abilities and interests. The more sequences a high-school student completes successfully, the more options he or she will have when making a career choice.

Second, high-school students need to look at themselves objectively and need to take time for self-analysis. Since the way we see ourselves is not always the way that others see us, our parents, siblings and guidance counselors can help with these tasks which are an essential part of formulating a career life plan. It's a good idea to write down our ideas about ourselves, but keep in mind that self-analysis is an on-going process which undergoes continual change; as we change, our ideas about ourselves change and our plans change. So... write in pencil.

The following information should be included in a self-analysis:
  • Things I do well
  • Things I do poorly
  • Things I'd like to learn to do well
  • Things I'd like to stop doing
  • Peak experiences
  • Things I believe in (values).
Each item included in the analysis should be as specific as possible. For each item, we also need to include a short-term goal (one year or less), a long-term goal (two to five years), the preparation necessary to reach our goals, the obstacles we need to overcome, and the dates we expect to reach our goals. Setting goals is very important; having goals helps us to understand why we choose to take a particular course or to participate in a particular activity. After completing this task and discussing it with our parents and guidance counselors, we should have some idea of where we are heading and what we want.

Third, see the guidance counselor. It is now essential to gather as much information as possible about careers. Most schools use computerized college search and career assessment programs which provide information about careers, trade schools, two-year colleges, four-year colleges, financial aid and the military. After answering a variety of questions regarding likes, dislikes, interests, strengths, current activities and future goals, the program will provide a list of careers that correspond to the student?s interests and abilities. Depending on the program used, it may also provide detailed job descriptions, required training or education, median salary, chances for advancement, (locations) states offering the best opportunities in that field and related career information. The guidance counselor can be a valuable resource in helping interpret this information.

Fourth, explore the careers the computer has provided by reading available information, by talking with people employed in the careers and by researching related careers. People who are well informed usually make wise decisions; being highly knowledgeable about careers is therefore crucial to making a satisfying career choice. After all available information has been studied and discussed with parents and guidance counselors, it is time to make a choice of a "job family." Note that we are not deciding on one particular job, but are looking at a series of jobs with similar preparation. Thus, we can keep our job options open a little longer and will be qualified to work in several positions, rather than in one specialized job.

Once a decision is made, it is not necessarily carved in stone. We need to update information in order to reflect any changes in the self-analysis or in our goals. It's also a good idea to keep track of careers in which we are interested on a yearly basis so that any decisions or changes in decisions will be based upon the most current information available. This process may be followed at any time in our lives when we may need or may want to make career changes. No one is immune from unemployment. It is therefore essential that we be willing to adapt to change and that we be able to evaluate our skills and talents in order to set goals and to plan how to reach those goals.

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