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The One That Lights Up Your Passion
Look Within to Find The Best Career Match

By Rebecca R. Kahlenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Nearly 29 million U.S. workers have made a resolution to find a better job this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But how can job seekers find a career that provides not only a paycheck but also satisfaction and exhilaration?

In her new book, "Career Match: Connecting Who You Are With What You'll Love to Do" (AMACOM Books), New York-based career coach Shoya Zichy, with the help of writer Ann Bidou, explores this question. She recently talked about how to find the ideal career for your personality and interests. Here's an edited version of that conversation:

Q Do people reach an age where it's too late to find a perfectly matched career?

A Not too long ago I would have said that yes, there's a point where you cannot create a new, full-blown career. But we're in new territory today and it's now possible to make major career changes well into middle age, as long as the decision to switch comes from deep inside and you are willing to go back to school or give up your identity as a professional in one field in order to change to another, even if it's less prestigious.

I recently had a 52-year-old client who was a partner in a Wall Street law firm and decided the confrontation that she had at work was too stressful. She went back to get her master's in social work and is now a therapist with a specialty in helping lawyers -- a great match for her particular talents and interests.

How do you go about finding the right career match?

You need to look inside yourself, and ask questions such as, "If I won the lottery and money were no longer an issue to worry about, what would I do with my time?"

It can be very helpful to make a list of the peak experiences in your life, times when you felt really energized, validated by others and on top of your game. You will see a pattern in that list and gain insights into what setting you'd like to work in on a daily basis.

Outside assessments such as the Myers-Briggs personality test can also be useful in helping you find what you would like to do, as can certain career-related Web sites, such as http://www.vault.com, which has a link to "A Day in the Life" of a wide range of jobs.

Can validation from others in a particular field help you find a good career match?

Yes, definitely. Pay attention to what the world is telling you that you do well, either by promoting you in your organization, turning to you for advice or leadership on something in particular, or perhaps inviting you to form a committee of some kind. Eventually you will see a pattern in terms of what people respect and admire you for.

Why is it so hard to find a good career match?

One reason is that education is so expensive these days that people feel that they have to justify their job choices and choose jobs that pay well over ones they may actually love. Also, parents are more involved than they used to be in young grads' career decisions, and many put pressure on their kids to pick certain career paths even if it's not what the kids necessarily want. But today, as in the past, finding a good career match is difficult mostly because people are very complex beings, and it just seems to take a while for them to understand themselves and figure out what they are really looking for in a job.

How do you know when you've found the right career match?

You will feel highly energized when you've found it. You will want to associate often with people in your field and consistently put in way more time than is needed to do your job. Work won't feel like work.

How does salary play into the picture -- at the end of the day, isn't that the most important factor determining whether someone will seek or accept a particular job?

For some people, salary plays a huge role, as it not only is needed to pay bills but also represents power, influence and proof of competence. But for others it plays a much smaller role and is not in and of itself all that important. It really depends on your age and family obligations. If you're 22 you're more likely to have freedom to navigate where you want to work than if you're 50 and have college tuition bills and a mortgage to pay.

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