I Want to Be An Astronaut When I Grow Up

“So, what are you going to be when you grow up?” How many times have we asked children this question and smiled when we heard “astronaut,” “teacher,” “chef,” “major league baseball player,” or “scientist”? Perhaps you also wanted to enter one or more of these fields. Children develop career interests based on a number of factors, including messages delivered by parents and role models (“you would be a good lawyer”), jobs they observe in the media (think “Master Chef”), and tasks they successfully complete (such as art or math). Occasionally children actually end up in these careers as adults, but often career interests change as children grow and learn about new and exciting work possibilities.

Now, fast forward to the high school and college years when career choice is supposed to be more planned and directed. Adolescents and young adults are expected to make decisions about careers that will likely carry over into early adulthood. How do we make these career choices? What factors come into play when choosing high school electives and college majors?

In this series of blogs, I will talk about four important components of who we are that affect our career choices: Values, Interests, Personality, and Skills (affectionately referred to as the “VIPS.”) In short, values are aspects of a job that satisfy needs and lead to desired outcomes, interests include activities and work settings you enjoy, personality traits guide preferences and behaviors, and skills are the ability to do things well. Of course, there are many other factors at play in the career development process, such as access to educational and extracurricular resources, gender and cultural variables, and self-confidence, but these will be covered down the road.

The study of values in careers gained momentum in the early 1970s, but the difficulty in defining and measuring values led to challenges in the application of values to the career development process. In a book chapter I wrote for The Role of Values in Careers (Pope, Flores, & Rottinghaus, 2014), I define work values as “aspects of a job that are important to the individual, motivate the individual to seek out and commit to particular work environments and tasks, promote a sense of career direction, and contribute to work-life satisfaction” (Schaub, 2014, pp. 200-201). There are many work values that may be important to individuals. Donald Super’s Work Values Inventory (1970) describes a number of values including altruism, creativity, intellectual stimulation, achievement, independence, prestige, economic returns, and variety. The Minnesota Importance Questionnaire (Rounds, Henley, Dawis, Lofquist, & Weiss, 1981) looks at 20 work needs including advancement, ability utilization, authority, coworkers, moral values, recognition, social status, and working conditions. Do any of these values seem especially relevant to you?

Two key questions to ask are “what aspects of a job are important to me?” and “to what extent does a particular job or career field correspond to my values?” Career counselors help you explore your work values by using a variety of tools including checklists, online assessments, group exercises (I describe a group workshop experience in my book chapter), and card sorts. I often use card sorts when working with career clients. A card sort consists of a stack of cards that list many different work values. Together, we sort these values in meaningful ways to stimulate insight and help you to clarify the values that are important to you in work. Which of your top values are being fulfilled in your current job? Which values are not being satisfied at work? Some clients say that the card sort exercise is the first time they placed names to things that are important to them in work.

The next step is to match your work values to your current or potential job. One excellent resource to match personal values to jobs is the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET database. O*NET classifies hundreds of jobs according to corresponding global work values and provides a wealth of occupational information for almost any job you can imagine. Other ways to learn about work values for particular jobs is through informational interviews, volunteer experiences, and internships. The career counselor and client work together to match the client’s values, clustered through various assessment tools, to specific jobs or career fields. Hopefully, this exercise narrows down your career options, or opens up new possibilities.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many factors that help to inform career choice. In my next blog, I will discuss the assessment of career interests–the second step in the VIPS career decision making process. At the conclusion of career counseling, the client will have a solid understanding of her values, interests, personality, and skills, along with a list of VIPS jobs for further exploration.

If you would like to explore your career values, I invite you to contact me at schaub@drmikeschaub.com, or check out my website at http://drmikeschaub.com/.

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