“I am in the wrong job and I want to figure out what the right one would be.” She had a great smile and capable manner but she was clearly upset. Sara was off to a good start in her understanding about her problem because at least she knew she was in the wrong job. Many people I work with start off our work by saying, “I am really unhappy but I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my job. Maybe it’s something else.” Often they have been trying to figure out this problem for years and have been wearing out their friends and family trying to solve the mystery.

Sara had a job in public relations in the health care sector. She had been excited about the field, and while in college she had worked hard to build skills that she had learned would be valued by employers in the field of PR. She took classes in communications, marketing, and writing, and wrote for the school paper.   She also created relationships and did summer jobs that positioned her for the field. She researched the leading companies and set her sights on one of the top global players in the industry. In her senior year she planned to attend a job fair in a nearby town that she heard would have a recruiter for the company she was interested in working for some day. Before meeting with the recruiter at the job fair, she learned about her through her LinkedIn profile and also talked with professors who helped her to locate someone who knew this recruiter and could put in a good word about her as well as mentioning that she would be at the job fair. The recruiter planned a short in-person meeting with her to take place at the job fair which was, in essence, an interview. In short, she did everything right to land a job with this very competitive company and it paid off. She landed a six month internship that was the on-ramp to a full time job with the company of her dreams. She excelled at the internship and out of a group of thirty, was one of only five to land a full-time job.

But then, she started the job and almost immediately she was miserable. The work was stressful and intense with very long hours and very early mornings, late nights and weekends. Her boss was critical but had no time to mentor her and Sara could not find anyone else with the time or inclination to teach her. She made mistakes and ran into trouble with the client on one occasion not because she spoke up but because she did not speak up about something she was not aware was important to tell this client. When she looked at the jobs she could have in the future in the field of public relations, she did not want them. Sara was experiencing a personality mismatch with her chosen career.

Finding a way out of the woods is not always simple and clear. There are books and articles and blogs about careers and jobs but how can you tell what will work for you? A big part of the answer is that you have to know about yourself first. You need to know your personality enough to make educated guesses that you support with informational interviews to predict where you will find a personality match with your career.

To help my clients create a road map to a career that will be satisfying, we evaluate four key factors: Aptitude, Interest, Lifestyle and Self-Actualization. It helps if the person has already had some jobs in the past whether they were paid or unpaid. From that experience we can learn a lot about what is most likely to work well.

Aptitude means you are good at it. These skills and abilities come easily to you. You do not have to work too hard to “get it.” People often compliment you on your abilities in this area. For Sara, her strongest suit included people skills, communication skills, conveying information in written form, organization, focus, and emotional intelligence.

Interest means you love thinking or doing this activity. There is natural engagement. Spending time doing this job will not feel as much like work when you gravitate to this activity and enjoy it. This includes the content area or what you are spending time thinking about all day. Sara was strongly interested in a mission of helping people. She had hoped that helping companies tell their story would suffice, but it was not an underlying mission she liked at all once she began her job. In fact she began to feel upset about supporting a company that at times was trying to hide the truth from consumers or sugar coat the bad news about their latest drug with horrible side effects. She felt that instead of being part of the solution she was part of the problem. This was contributing to her intense dislike of her job.

Lifestyle refers to the way you want to live your life and how the job impedes or helps with that goal. Lifestyle encompasses such factors as compensation, hours, commute time, travel for work, work-pace, and stress. It includes work-life balance and quality of life outside of work. In Sara’s case she yearned for more time with friends and family, hated the long hours required of anyone doing this high powered job, and reacted poorly to the stress and pace. This was another serious mismatch for her. She was a type-B personality in a type-A personality job.

Self-Actualization refers to the way you are evolving and developing as a person. What is this job doing to you? Are you feeling fulfilled? Do you like the person you are becoming as well as the person you will need to be to do the job well and be successful? Our workplaces can help to grow us or stunt our personal growth. Can you be the person that you want to be if you stay with this job? Are you becoming someone you do not respect? Sara was constantly stressed out and nervous about her work product. She could see that she should be more driven and engaged than she was if she hoped to be successful at this career. But she did not feel excited about that and was instead losing sleep and needing to take anti-anxiety meds. She did not respect the gossipy nature of the people who gravitated to this workplace and was upset when co-workers claimed credit for the original ideas of others or talked in a negative way about the client; these activities were routine at this workplace. This workplace culture was not what she wanted.

A clear-eyed assessment of Sara’s job in public relations as it matched up with her needs revealed that three of the four AILS elements were not satisfied. She probably had the aptitude for this job but the interest, lifestyle and self-actualization elements were not there. We could see that Sara should look for another job and possibly for another career path. If you are dissatisfied with your job, check these four elements to determine what is missing. If you are missing any one of the four elements you should consider a career or job move. The next blog post will focus on how Sara uncovered a better career path that fit her unique needs and some ideas that could help you too.