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Cracking the Code on Landing Cool Jobs

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, April 13, 2008

Feeling a little envious of all those people who seem to have much cooler jobs than yours?

Well, you can sit around seething in your cubicle, or you can pick up a copy of "How'd You Score That Gig?," a new book by Alexandra Levit that catalogues 60 dream jobs and what it takes to get them.

There are many cool jobs that people don't even know exist, Levit said in a recent interview. "I wanted to crack the lid off of all those elusive jobs that get all the conversation at dinner parties," she said.

Levit used to write a nationally syndicated career advice column and now runs Inspiration@Work, a career consulting firm. She's also the author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College," my favorite welcome-to-the-world-of-work guide for college grads.

Her latest book takes a different direction. Many of the jobs in "How'd You Score That Gig?" are quite un-corporate: outdoor adventure guide, fashion designer, professional organizer and wine merchant, among others.

Levit chose these jobs based on the results of an online survey in which she asked nearly 500 people in their 20s and 30s about their dream careers. She took the top 60 careers and developed profiles of the skills and personality traits it takes to succeed in each. She divides the jobs into seven broad categories, based on the personalities likely to thrive in them. From there, she offers upbeat, practical advice for breaking into each field.

Not sure if you're an "entrepreneur," a "nurturer" or a "networker"? To help you narrow your focus, Levit starts the book off with a simple, unscientific quiz that she developed with her husband, a clinical psychologist.

Most of these jobs are extremely competitive, a fact that Levit doesn't gloss over. At the same time, she's not a pessimist. After all, someone has to deliver the nightly weather report, and barriers between you and your inner Willard Scott might not be as formidable as you had assumed.

Meteorologist, in fact, is among the jobs Levit profiles, and she takes care to distinguish between two popular branches of the field: weather forecasters and television weathercasters. "Although most experts will tell you that meteorology is tough to break into because it's such a small field, the educational barriers to entry are rather low when compared with many other scientific professions," she writes.

"Entry-level forecasters working for the federal government, for example must have just a bachelor's degree. . . . As a television weathercaster, you might not even need to get a bachelor's provided you perform well on camera and know how to get the information that results in accurate forecasts."

Meteorologist falls into the category of jobs perfect for people she calls "data heads," those with a knack for gathering and organizing information. According to Levit, "these individuals prefer to work on their own and despise inefficiency and bureaucracy. The data head is happiest setting concrete goals and achieving them. . . . They don't like to be micromanaged and will pursue their plans to the point of being stubborn."

Sound like you? Perhaps you'd be happy as an environmental engineer or financial adviser, just two of the other jobs that Levit places in the data head group, along with meteorologist.

However, not everyone's temperament can be easily categorized. When I took Levit's quiz, my answers were all over the place. And flipping through the profiles, I found at least one job in each category that interested me. But the quiz isn't meant to confine you to a particular type of job. "It's just meant to open people's eyes," Levit said.

Besides, there is one trait that she encountered across the board in the hundreds of successful, creative workers she interviewed while writing the book: "All of these people have one thing in common, and that is persistence."

Hire and Switch

Have you ever been offered a job, just to have the employer change its mind? How did you react? If you're willing to share your story for a column on the topic, e-mail me at slayterme@washpost.com. Include your full name and a daytime phone number. No attachments, please.

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