Ever had that nagging feeling you’re not in the right career?
You aren’t alone. The University of Minnesota’s Career Counseling and Assessment Clinic, in existence since the mid-1970s, has helped hundreds of people switch to more rewarding careers.
Amy Conlon, an adjunct faculty member who co-directs the clinic with professor Jo-Ida Hansen, says that many people end up in a career or position and, at some point, realize they aren’t happy in it.
“Yet they stay with something that isn’t a good fit,” says Conlon. “And many people don’t go through a deliberate choice of the career they want. Often they wind up with something through luck, and it isn’t really the best fit for them in the world of work.”
The clinic serves workers in all phases of the career cycle:
- Students and people new to the workforce can learn what environments are most conducive to their skills and preferences.
- Mid-career adults can sort out whether they should find a more suitable environment or seek expressive outlets that complement their work.
- And those nearing retirement can learn how to redirect their energy.
Research-based career decisions
A typical engagement with the clinic costs $600 and runs five to six sessions. Counseling includes four hours of assessment, three sessions in which the results of the assessment are interpreted, and one or two sessions in which the results are integrated and the client considers next steps.
A psychometrist administers and scores the various inventories used to assess career options and skills. Advanced students in the U of M’s counseling psychology program, working under the supervision of the co-directors, assist clients in understanding their inventories and developing plans for next steps.
The clinic typically serves 50 to 70 individuals annually, though Conlon notes that they’ve had waiting lists as the recession has unfolded.
The assessment is grounded in current research and the “Theory of Work Adjustment,” much of which was developed at the University of Minnesota in the ’70s under emeritus professor René Dawis and the Department of Psychology.
As Conlon explains, the theory posits that “if a person knows his or her abilities and values and can find a job in which these fit — as well as a work environment that reinforces them — then both the individual and the employer will be satisfied.”
Adapting to a changing workforce
Conlon, who has been with the clinic since her graduate days in the mid-1990s, has seen a wide variety of clients.
“I’m surprised at the number of late career changes. This is a good portion of our caseload. I’m surprised by how much change people are willing to make. For example, I met with an attorney who left the legal field to become a playwright.”
The clinic has also seen a lot of younger clients lately, says Conlon. Typically, such clients “have been focused on getting their degrees without thinking where it would lead them career-wise.”
With the recession has come more forced transition and another type of client: older workers who had been nearing retirement but now financially can’t retire. The changing work environment is a major trend that makes career planning more complex.
“There’s more project-based work and less commitment to and from employers,” Conlon explains. “Employees need to develop their skill sets in ways that help them get projects in a project-based economy. So we see more people who do consulting.”
The challenge, says Conlon, is that “it’s easier to look at someone’s test data and say, ‘Here’s the position your data point to.’ But it’s harder to say, ‘Here are the skills and attributes you have and here’s how to develop them for future projects.’”
It’s hard work to stay on top of these trends in the workforce, but Conlon says it’s also a treat.
“Our clinic incorporates three important things: helping people develop good decisions; training graduate students in new skills; and the research piece — basing our work on empirical, validated studies. That’s what makes our work a lot of fun.”
The Career Counseling and Assessment Clinic is open to everyone. For more information, call 612-625-1519, email the coordinator, or visit the website. U of M alumni are eligible for a 15 percent discount.
Post by Vincent Hyman, a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.