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Gena Gorlin
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January 11, 2004

The average American born from 1957 to 1964 changed jobs more than nine times from age 18 to 36, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This turnover sounds staggering -- but what does it actually mean?

Jack Schmit, former executive director of the Indiana Career and Post-Secondary Advancement Center in Bloomington, points out an important distinction between a job and a career. Throughout his 16 years at the center, he found that while individuals may change jobs as often as the data indicate, most job changes occur within the same career area.

This area of professional interest, or cluster, as ICPAC calls it, generally tends to stay with a person from as early as the freshman year of high school, Schmit said. Indeed, in a study conducted by ICPAC over nine years, students were generally found to remain interested in the same career cluster from their freshman year of high school through their senior year of college.

Yet Schmit's own career path veered sharply. He entered South Dakota State University as an engineering major "and almost flunked out of college because of that year," he said.

"I didn't want to work that hard and didn't really like all the stuff they did there."

One thing Schmit did like was working with people, so he changed his major to psychology, getting his undergraduate degree in that area and a master's in counseling. He worked as a counselor for five years before he landed several positions on college campuses. He found he enjoyed working with college students and decided to pursue a doctorate in education at Indiana University.

"If you look at the jobs that changed, you really find that the last six or so are in the same career area -- college administration," he said.

Schmit thinks the first step in choosing a career area is to carefully examine your interests. Some questions to ask yourself, he suggests: "What do you really enjoy doing? Do you enjoy music? Do you enjoy drama? Do you enjoy working with things, tearing stuff apart, putting it back together? Do you enjoy talking with people? Do you enjoy working with computers or working with numbers?"

The next step is finding out what you are good at. A fulfilling career choice, said Schmit, would have to incorporate both interests and aptitudes. Luckily, though, the two tend to correlate. "When you're more interested in something, you do it more. When you do it more, you're better at it," he said.

Then, after figuring out your general area of interest and expertise, you can proceed to pick a college major -- and explore the job options from there.

The good news, according to Schmit, is that there is not one "right job" for a given individual; within the 14 career clusters identified on the ICPAC site, there are about 20,000 different job titles.

Trying to choose a major without first figuring out what you like to do can lead to trouble. Caroline Hermes is a junior majoring in human development and family studies at Indiana University, but she started her college career in IU's Kelley School of Business.

"The reason I chose it," she says, "was IU has a strong business school. I thought that'd be the way to go, since I really wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do."

Hermes was originally drawn to IU because both of her parents had graduated from there, and because IU had a field hockey team, which she joined her freshman year. But before long, she found that the classes in her major weren't keeping her attention.

"If one class doesn't strike an interest in you," she said, "it's hard to get motivated then within that particular area of study."

In seeking a second major that would better suit her, Hermes thought about "things that already are in my life that make me happy." She realized that she enjoys children and working with people, and she changed her major to education, in hopes of becoming a teacher.

However, the fit still wasn't right. After sampling her classes in education, Hermes realized that she would not do well in a structured environment. As a teacher she would be bound by a confining setting, seeing the same kids and classrooms every day and abiding by a strict set of policies, she said.

So, she switched majors again -- this time considering both her interest in working with people and her desire for a less-rigid atmosphere. Now, as a human development and family studies major, Hermes is fairly certain she is pointed in the right direction.

Both Hermes and Schmit cautioned against giving financial considerations priority over personal interests and aptitudes.

Hermes, whose father is a corporate lawyer, says he would perhaps like to see her in a more lucrative career than social work, but she values personal fulfillment more. "I would say personal happiness and liking what I do was more important than money," she said.

Schmit, who recently left ICPAC, would agree.

"Don't look at the dollars first. Look at what you're interested in first."


More about ICPAC

ICPAC is Indiana's free education and career resource center. For information about planning your future, contact the center at or 1-800-992-2076.


Assistant editor : Valeri Simmons, 14.

Reporters : Allison Gardner, 13; Mary Hannon, 12; Emily Kasnak, 12.

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