Practical steps to transform a dream into a career

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Pat Horner and Joan wing want people to spend more time dreaming about the perfect career. As Ms. Horner puts it, "We box ourselves in so much, thinking we can only perform this kind of job, live in this kind of place, achieve this level of success. Instead, we should work to expand our horizons."

The two women are past and present coordinators of Alternatives Careers, a county-funded office dedicated to transforming dreams into career options. With a series of eight workshops, they guide recent high school graduates, displaced homemakers, disgruntled teachers, and many others onto their best career paths.

The planning they offer, they say, is useful to anyone who wants to get the most out of life. "Everyone should periodically assess the job they have to see if it is moving them toward their lifetime goal," Ms. Wing asserts, "and the time to make the assessment is now."

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This only works if you happen to have a lifetime goal, of course, and dreaming is just the first step of the goal's creation. Here is the full package:

* Kindle your dreams. Describe your ultimate job -- what you would wear, how you would get there, what kind of people you would work with, the type of product you would turn out and what your role would be, the salary you would receive, the hours you would work, the effect it would have on the rest of your life.

* Draw your lifeline. "You need to take a long, hard look at your life," says Joan Wing, "including all your peaks and valleys. The valleys are usually the most productive areas. These are the times when people or events backed you into making decisions, and decisions lead to growth."

The lifeline should reveal themes and patterns of your life, and help you pull your skills. Are you always put in charge of selling? Keeping the accounts? Do your hobbies let your work with your hands? Are you the one who settles the disputes, or stirs up the discussions?

Tie in these strengths with your goal setting. What are some skills you would like to learn or expand in the next five years? Are there jobs that could teach you these skills?

* Examine your motives. The office gives a chart to its clients that asks them to rate each area of past success or satisfaction according to whether it made them feel safe, left them free to do what they wanted, challenged them, made them grow, used their creativity, etc. After examining eight success areas according to these motivators, the real drives reveal themselves.

Alternative careers also holds "values auction" in which each participant is given a theoretical $500 and allowed to bid on world peace, family, money, power , respect, and so on. "People are sometimes amazed to see what they bid the highest for," says Ms. Wing.

The motives translate directly into determining both the type of job you want and the type of job atmosphere you thrive in. People who treasure predictability and security, for example, do well in more established firms, while those who long for flexibility, freedom, and a chance to try out their more creative ideas would do well to look for newer, less entrenched firms.

* Examine the work force. Once you have focused on your skills, drive, and dreams, you are ready to look through the 25,000 different jobs listed in the "Dictionary of Occupational Titles." Check those that seem to match your needs, and examine these a little more closely in the "Occupational Outlook." Both volumes should be available in your local library.

The "Outlook" can tell you more about the job itself, what kind of training is necessary, and what the prospects are for employment in this field.

If something really stands out, ask yourself what kind of training you still need and where you might get it, and whether the job will be a good one five or ten years from now. Then comes the most vital step forward employment:

* Make contacts in the field. Look up prospective employers in the phone book, check with the union, join the trade or professional association, find their lobbying group. "Go to talk with someone who actually does the job you're after," advises Ms. Horner, "and ask them about its day-to-day routine."

The contacts you make let you in on a gold mine of unwritten information: names of the "best" employers and what gives them that status, characteristics of the kinds of people who advance and realistic chances for such mobility, pitfalls of the work, and -- most of all -- advance notice of job openings.

* Write your resume. Once you know about possible jobs, you are ready to write your "calling card." Resume writing is the subject of many books and courses; your librarian should be able to pull together a package for you on this subject.

Whether you list your employment or your skills, and whether you present the information chronologically or in order of importance, try to aim each resume at the specific job you hope to land. The employer needs to be able to see where your skills match his job opening.

Use one of your contacts in the field to review the resume. Tell him what information you hope to get across and to whom you plan to send the paper. Then let him assess its chances of succes.

If the resume is rejected, Ms. Wing advises, "use the experience as an opportunity for growth. Call the employer and ask him, in a nonaggressive way, why it was rejected. The federal government is required to provide this information."

* Attend the interview. Before you go, do your homework on the firm.Look at the stockholder's report, talk to other employees, know what the company is doing, and have some idea of where it is going.

Interviewers may occasionally place you under stress "to see how well you can think on your feet," warns Ms. wing. "This is particularly true in a case of upward mobility."

To counter this, come prepared with a list of five or six questions for the personnel officer, such as "How do you feel about promotions from within?" or "how do you think the (steel) shortages will affect your operation?" Get the interviewer to talk about his own experience with the company -- how he joined the firms, where he has gone since he started.

* Start to work. If the interview succeeded, you are on your way! But beware of pitfalls inherent in starting an entirely new career, Ms. Wing cautions. "People carry trappings of their old job with them, and sometimes get irked by new responses and methods."

She cites the case of a former nun who switched from teaching high school students in a parochial school to instructing adults in a college. "The adults didn't stand up when she walked into the classroom," Wing recalls, "and she saw this as disrespect."

Ms. Horner also points out that there are tradoffs in any job. Some things just won't be perfect. So you should set a series of major objectives and assess the work constantly to see if it is moving you toward these goals.

And, the Alternative Careers people believe, you should continue to dream, periodically unboxing yourself from job limitations.

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