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Career Advice 16 to 60+

By Marty Nemko

Through the lifespan, there are pivotal career issues. Here is how I’d address them.

I’m 16 and career clueless. First, ask yourself, “Which am I: a word person, people person, numbers person, ideas person, artistic person, make-it person, fix-it person, and/or procedures-following person?”

Then go to a career library at your high school or at a college, and hunt for a career that fits and excites you. Next, job shadow one or more people in that career. Don’t be scared to ask. Many people who are good at what they do, like to be watched or at least are willing to tell you about their career. How to find someone to job shadow? See if your parents, relatives or friends’ parents know someone. If not, use the Yellow Pages, Google, or ask a librarian in the business section of a large public library.

If a career requires a specific major, find a college with a strong program in that major. If not, and you want to go to college, major in something fun. Many people love the theater major, and participating in plays is a terrific way to build your reading, writing, thinking, and public speaking skills.

No matter what your potential career, acquire leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Those will keep your income high and your job offshore-resistant.

Join your college’s alumni association while still in college. It’s a good networking vehicle.

Get summer internships at places you’d like to work after graduation. I believe government will be the last bastion of moderate-workload, well paying, secure jobs, so consider a government-sponsored student internship program. (See Those programs are a pipeline into good government careers. Note: Most of those programs explicitly give preference to minorities or even require that you be a minority.

I’m 35, an artist (or performer) and am not making enough money. What should I do? Is that because you haven’t exposed your talents broadly enough? If you haven’t, get busy. If you have shown your wares more often than a hooker has yet have had few bites, your talent isn’t commercial enough. Could you make it so? If you doubt it, cut your losses. Consider under-the-radar artsy careers such as exhibit designer, store merchandiser, or costumer.

I’m 40, been working for high-tech companies for years, and want out. Often, the problem is that field’s relentless pace. You can use your experience in a less frenetic environment in an IT job in a government agency, for example, a school district. Or, self-employed, help small old-line businesses set up or upgrade their computer systems. Or handhold cybernovices--but you must be able to patiently explain and reexplain in English, not GeekSpeak.

I’m 45, been a stay-at-home mom, and now want to get back into the workforce. You can’t count on a stranger to employ you well, even if you highlight all the important things you did as a homemaker and volunteer. If possible, ask friends and family for leads. If necessary, take a launchpad job: an entry-level position that offers opportunities for you to rise. An alternative: many stay-at-home moms start businesses such as tutoring, child care, music teaching, or editing.

I’m a 50--year-old manager and worry about being downsized. First, find out how well you are perceived: Request a 360-degree evaluation: an appraisal by your superiors, peers, and supervisees. Consider criticisms open-mindedly. For those criticisms that seem legitimate, tell your evaluators (and yourself) that you’re eager to work on improving. If you suspect your job is in danger, consider moving to health care administration. Demand is high.

I'm 60, getting tired, but am not sure I have enough money to retire. If you’re worried about outliving your savings, can you cut expenses? And regarding your fatigue, it may stem from something other than aging: Should you lose 20 pounds? Drink less? Sleep more? Exercise moderately? If you’re still low on energy, try to get your job description altered so you do less stressful work and more mentoring. Even if you’re in a low-level position, your lifetime of experience can be valuable to young turks: for example, how to manage a difficult boss, tame the paper flow tiger, give good phone, etc.

No matter what your age, my most important career advice, indeed life advice, boils down to two words: be good.

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