Are You in the Wrong Job?

by Chris Dupin

Do you find your job fulfilling? Are you able to summon seemingly boundless reserves of energy and creativity at a moment's notice? Does your time at work fly? If so, chances are you're in the right job. But that isn't the case for many people. Increasing numbers of professionals are having second thoughts about their careers, says Nella Barkley, president of the New York-based job counseling center Crystal-Barkley Corp. Many workers, she says, "particularly in high-energy, very demanding fields like trading, are feeling, 'Is this right for me long term?'" She also notes that more and more younger professionals are seeking career advice. "The predominant age of our clients has dropped from the low or mid-40s to high to mid-30s. People are giving themselves permission much earlier to question where they are."

Job satisfaction is admittedly an elusive concept - difficult to describe in concrete terms, and apt to change as a person grows older. Salary and job location play a major role, but an entire industry has grown up around efforts to quantify the "fuzzier" issues: aptitudes, skills, values and goals, as they relate to choice of career. Today's comprehensive testing methods can not only guide you toward work you can do well, but help you determine what kind of work will likely work best for you.

The undisputed pioneer in the field of "aptitude testing" was Johnson O'Connor, an industrial engineer who worked for General Electric in the 1920's. O'Connor believed that aptitudes are hard-wired, inherited like eye color. He developed a battery of tests to discern aptitudes, and then studied men and women who were happy in their jobs in order to identify their strong suits. His theory, according to Rob Panasik, director of the New York office of the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, was "most people will find fulfilling and satisfying work that makes use of their aptitudes." A job will be unrewarding if it requires you to perform tasks for which you have little aptitude, or if you are unable to employ your natural gifts on the job.

The Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation tests clients for 20 different aptitudes, such as inductive and analytical reasoning, spatial relationships, memory for design and flow of ideas. Another hallmark of their method is the distinction between "objective" and "subjective" personalities. Most people have objective personalities. They prefer working with and through other people. Subjective individuals are more "task-oriented" and prefer working as individuals, in fields were success depends on their knowledge or expertise.

In the financial industry a subjective individual might do well in a research department, where the studious acquisition of specific kinds of knowledge allows him to advance and prosper. Inductive reasoning skills are also important. Just as a doctor makes his diagnosis by scrutinizing a complex web of symptoms, a good analyst enjoys predicting the future course of a market by pulling together diverse clues. An objective personality, by comparison, might be more comfortable in management or as a broker - areas where "people skills" are top priority. A broker needs the same aptitudes as a salesman in any line, including what Johnson O'Connor calls "ideaphoria," the ability to come up with new ideas and ways to explain things to a client. If the potential buyer resists a pitch, the high-ideaphoria individual may be able to persuade him by trying a different tack.

This doesn't mean subjective people can't succeed in sales. But they might be advised to develop themselves more as niche experts, selling repeatedly to the same clients and avoiding a lot of cold calling. Numerical skills and clerical speed are important in many trading jobs, as is auditory memory, says Peg Hendershot, a director of career planning, tests and services at the Ball Foundation in Chicago. A worker who is unhappy with his job can frequently "tweak" it, she suggests, if he knows what his aptitudes are. Making adjustments doesn't have to mean switching to a totally different industry. It's also important to note that the skills demanded for certain jobs may change over time. For example, while a trader still needs above-average numerical reasoning skill, computers have largely eliminated the need to do lightning computation in one's head.

The current, wide selection of "aptitude tests" makes them as flexible as they are reliable. Some interest inventories and personality tests can be taken at home, while others - like the Ball and O'Connor tests - are administered through psychologists, career counselors or test administrators. The Johnson O'Connor tests must be taken at one of the Foundation's eleven centers in the United States. But whatever the methodology, aptitude tests offer the primary benefit of objectivity: they may steer you down career paths you had never even considered.

reprinted with permission from Markets magazine