The Sydney Morning Herald

Play to your strengths

Author: James Robertson
Date: 07/05/2012
Words: 827
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Supplement
Page: 3
Still not sure what you want to do after school? James Robertson learns how to identify interests and skills.

On the wall of Jeff Forward's former office hung a sign bearing just two words: "Do stuff."

The message reflected the former high-school career adviser's belief that choosing a career should not be an intellectual exercise but a process in which you develop a better sense of who you are.

"[Students think] 'if I do one test, or see one person, or use one resource, it'll tell me what to do'," Forward says. "It doesn't work like that. Careers develop.

"If you step aside from the decision process and offload it onto somebody or something else ... it's a way for some people to avoid the responsibility in the decision-making."

Forward, who now works at the University of Western Sydney, advises students to put themselves in new situations or learn new skills to discover which environments and working arrangements they respond to best.

"Doing something new - travelling or picking up a new hobby, rather than sitting down and thinking - is a really strong assistance in working out who you are, where you fit and what you're good at," he says.

And this need not necessarily involve leaving the house.

"You can do it sitting at a computer," Forward says.

"Quite often I find it a useful tool to tell students to go home and YouTube the occupation and come back and say what's good and what's bad about it."

After students have done some research, Forward helps them make choices that balance their aspirations with the realities of the labour market.

He tells students not to view an occupation as something that necessarily comes at the expense of a passion. Rather, he advises them to look for a job that complements their passion, by finding a job that incorporates some aspects of their passion or gives them time to pursue it outside office hours.

John Taccori, a high-school careers adviser for more than 15 years who now has his own private practice, agrees that understanding your personality is a good starting point.

He uses psychological profiling to define a student's interests, asking "What motivates you?", "What would get you up out of bed?" and "What sort of environment do you want to work in?"

"You have to relate to the students and try to work with them at that time," he says. "You can only work with their frame of mind at that time."

Taccori then uses charts that list and divide potential occupations according to the personality attributes required to perform them - such as analytical, artistic, creative and so on.

This is a starting point for students' own research.

"The aim is to narrow the list down from 12 to four or five," he says. "Once they've done that, we can be more specific."

The next step is often the tricky part. Taccori says many students fall at the hurdle of researching the courses and training that will both lead to their dream career and be attainable with their HSC results.

"Not all universities are the best," he says. "A lot of kids just want to go to Sydney University because it's prestigious.

"I try to guide students to the appropriate institutions for their course, for their goals."

Entering into further training and education too hastily and without proper research explains why the rate of first-year university dropouts is as high as 20 per cent, Taccori says.

Aimee Smith, one of Taccori's clients, did just that.

She enrolled in a bachelor of forensic biology in biomedical sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney, after graduating from high school in 2010 but dropped out after her first year.

Smith says becoming a forensic pathologist was a long-held ambition - inspired, in part, by her favourite television shows - but she became disillusioned with her classes and the thought of spending a life in a lab without human contact.

"It was just too much of the practical side," she says.

After some career-guidance sessions, she explored a range of possible careers and decided to focus on accounting with a specialisation in auditing.

"The part of accounting I wanted to go into was really people-based," she says. She has since taken a job as a trainee in an accounting firm's audit division and plans to enrol midyear in a commerce degree at Macquarie University.

And Smith's new direction is not so different from forensic pathology. "You get to do lots of detective work," she says.

Useful websites

My Future Website (

The government's exhaustive career-development site with quizzes and occupational profiles.

The Job Guide ( Compiled by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, the job guide is a comprehensive list of potential careers and includes information on required training and personal attributes.


Children go through three stages in choosing occupations:

1. Fantasy choices (under 11 years)

2. Tentative choices (11-17 years)

3. Realistic choices (17 to young adulthood)

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