Vocation vacations: Job-auditing firm turns career switch dreams into reality
Our reporter takes a short stint with a perfumer. What this man 'nose,' you can learn.
I have always believed that I secretly possess inordinately acute olfactory senses. So when the opportunity to test this theory presented itself, I hopped on a ferry to the island of Nantucket. If it turned out that my sense of smell was as good as I suspected, perhaps I would exchange my pen and pad for a pipette and a future as a perfumer.Skip to next paragraph
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John Harding, owner of Nantucket Natural Oils and master perfumer, would be my guide. He is one of more than 300 mentors contracted by a company called Vocation Vacations (www.vocationvacations.com) to help people discover whether they might actually want to swap their current career for a life dabbing perfume on customers' forearms – or catering to a celebrity's every whim (celebrity personal assistant), or carving guitars out of wood (luthier).
A few of the other options that caught my eye: alpaca rancher, stained-glass artist, sled-dog trainer. There are also the more popular choices: doggie-day-care owner or sports announcer.
According to founder Brian Kurth, about 75 percent of Vocation Vacations participants fall on the side of vocationers – people seriously considering a career change who want to test the waters. The other 25 percent could be characterized as vacationers – retirees looking for a more directed holiday, people curious about what might have been had they earned a master's in architecture, or dreamers for whom the idea of raising alpacas should probably remain a dream.
The packages, which last from one to three days and cost between $549 and $2,000 (two days with Mr. Harding is $949), include an optional before and after consultation with a career coach and a Myers-Briggs personality test. I opted for the whole package, including the coaching and the test, but with an abbreviated half-day vocation vacation.
A less expensive alternative is Mr. Kurth's new book, "Test-Drive Your Dream Job" ($16.99, Business Plus), which offers tips on arranging a do-it-yourself job-testing trip.
Set off Nantucket's rough cobblestoned Main Street, Nantucket Natural Oils has the feel of a store that is part apothecary, part bath section of Victoria's Secret. In addition to a line of edible powders and oils – Harding says he has to have something to keep husbands busy – there are an array of bath products, handblown glass perfume bottles (some with tiny glass dogs for stoppers), and petroleum-free candles.
Harding is stationed at his 15-ft., glass-topped perfume bar. Behind him are the shelves that he constructed from two old fireplace mantles, lined with 1,200 colorful bottles of oil. He wears blue-tinted glasses, his reddish hair gelled into tight curls.
"I am a Nose," he says by way of introduction.
In the lexicon of perfumery, a Nose is someone who can sniff a bottle of perfume and distinguish all its different notes, or scents, as many as 25 discrete smells in the average perfume. According to Harding, Noses are one in a million.
Harding specializes in replicating name-brand fragrances without the alcohol or additives and at a fraction of the price. Although perfume houses don't advertise their ingredients, they aren't patented either. That means anyone can make Chanel No. 5 if they have olfactory senses good enough to pick out the ingredients. Harding makes this and 724 other men's and women's commercial fragrances – all with the word "Resemblé" on the label to avoid copyright infringement.
The way Harding talks about discovering his own nose is almost mystical.