First job or looking for work?

What you’re trying to do is as hard as making a lateral shift in mid-career. Here are some resources that might help:

First job (or returning to work after a long break)

The wealth of choices looks dazzling. But when everything is apparently possible, sometimes nothing seems reachable. Don’t slip into a guilt trip that it’s somehow your fault. It isn’t.

My suggestion: focus on getting a foot in the door somewhere where the purpose of the organisation reasonably matters to you or interests you, and which is known for doing that work to high standards. The most portable, irreplaceable skill is working to a high standard with capable colleagues. If the purpose of the organisation seems to you dull or irrelevant, you’re unlikely to care enough to take the knocks involved in learning high standards (even if you get in, you’ll probably be thrown out). But it doesn’t have to be the most interesting work you can imagine, or anywhere near it: two-thirds of the reason why most work is interesting or worthwhile to those who do it can only be discovered by doing it.

So how do you guess from the outside? Here are two possible tools:

The Campbell™ Interest and Skill Inventory is a long-established career advice tool which measures how appealing a very wide range of occupations seem to you. It then compares this pattern with the responses given by people who are working and happy in a wide range of jobs. It also has some self-assessed skill tools, although these are less relevant if you don’t yet have much work experience. This instrument is offered online in a number of places – here’s one example – for around US$20. I recommend it. But bear in mind that it’s effective because it’s well researched. Which means that it’s less good for occupations which have only emerged in the last few years, such as website designing.

Do you know your Myers-Briggs (MBTI) type? If so, you might want to look in your library or career library for Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2007). Richard Bolles (see below) described this as ‘one of the most popular career books in the world’. For each four-letter MBTI type, the authors offer about 15 pages of sample individuals of that type enjoying particular types of work, and lists of other types of work which might be relevant. Do bear in mind that your MBTI type is not like your DNA, unique and unchanging; so take a look at a couple of chapters for types which seem somewhat like you. If you don’t know your MBTI type, you might like to take the authors’ free website quiz

Looking for work more generally?

The classic book to read is that great big American bear-hug What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, updated annually). The Library of Congress listed it as one of 25 books that have shaped readers’ lives.

I've bought it and read it myself, it's a classic for a good reason. There's a companion website, but this is very much geared to the American marketplace.

If you prefer something more like an English handshake than an American bear-hug but practical, creative and based on not dissimilar principles - i recommend How to Get a Job You'll Love by John Lees (McGraw-Hill Professional, Maidenhead, updated annually).