Guidance for women on how to succeed in business -- by really trying

* Cara graduated from college in June. Although she loved her four years studying political science, she hasn't the faintest idea of what to do next. * Janet has a decent job as a business office manager, but she wants to advance further and doesn't know where to go.

* Toni has worked as a sales clerk in a high-fashion store since she graduated from school, but she is more interested in advertising and is ready to look for a job in that field.

These women are a target for a new book by the staff of Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit organization seeking to help women enter corporate and professional life and to reconcile the needs of the workplace and the family.

"What to Do With the Rest of Your Life" is a manual for women who are ready to make hard career choices. It is for women who are serious minded and highly educated, and who seek a career and not just work.

More than a catalog of career information, "What to Do With the Rest of Your Life" is a do-it-yourself book. The beginning of the book encourages the reader to start a notebook with personal biography and to add to it the "discoveries" made about herself and her potential careers. These are quizzes and exercises to facilitate this exploration.

For some readers, all this outlining and self-discovery may seem a bit too contrived.

Not all people need to go through the process of writing down skills, values, and goals, says Felice N. Schwartz, president of Catalyst, who was in Boston recently. Some people have already "clicked" in their career direction.

"For others it is very important to system-atically list their interests and assess what they want to do." She rejects the notion that men get more career advice in college, and thus are better ready for career choices afterward.

"Maybe the women are not seeking the advice," she says. "Women are trained to be more passive and they have accepted it. Men are more sure that they need to be aggressive. But this difference [between men and women] is becoming rarer and rarer."

The second part of "What to Do With the Rest of Your Life" explores career areas its authors say will offer the best opportunities for women in the 1980s, including business, government, law, science, engineering, health and skilled trades. In each area it gives detailed, practical information on such topics as the future of the field, attitudes toward women, the spectrum of positions, resources and job requirements, and job hazzards. And there are entertaining and heartening sketches of women who have succeeded in various fields.

In the section on law and government, the book covers such topics as how to advance in a federal job, working for a federal or appointed official, possible directions in political careers, getting in and moving up as a lawyer, and a quiz on women in law and government.

Ms. Schwartz is convinced that this is a good time for women who seek careers. She is not dismayed by the small numbers of women in executive positions, but looks instead at the broad picture.

"We shouldn't be overabsorbed with the numbers of women in certain jobs , but we should look at the emerging changes," she says. "The number of women in top-level management is not large, but the number of women under them has increases fivefold. Business programs are being inundated with women."

Twenty-five years from now, if women are not succeeding in business, it will not be for lack of opportunity, Ms. Schwartz says. Business is interested in women, she maintains.

"With the decrease in the population of the future leadership, they must be hiring first-class women," she says.

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