irst steps on the career path "Not making a decision IS a decision," says a friend. He should know. After graduating from a fine law school he lounged for two months on a sofa in his parents' basement watching Oprah, Ricki Lake and all forms of daytime TV in his bathrobe. Was he afraid of work? No, he was avoiding the inevitable decision of what to do with his law degree. Not making a decision about a job meant he didn't have to face the fact that he didn't want to work for the traditional large law firm.

No time is more uncertain for college or professional school graduates than the summer they're about to enter. Fortunately, recent career books offer valuable advice for making a smooth transition from school to work. Most experts recognize that step one in getting a job is defining what you really want to do with your career.

What's Your Type of Career? Unlock the Secrets of Your Personality to Find Your Perfect Career Path by Donna Dunning utilizes a personality approach to finding the perfect career for you. Worksheets help you determine your personality type (analyzer? visionary? explorer?), then Dunning guides the novice through the options for each type. Don't be embarrassed if you're an introvert. Dunning highlights the usefulness of that personality type in the healing arts (not to mention writing) and outlines why some outgoing people may be drawn to certain careers. No Parachute Required: Translating Your Passion into a Paycheck and a Career by Jeff Gunhus is a soup-to-nuts career book with a twist. Hip and aware, Gunhus offers the traditional "How to Prepare for Your Job Search" stuff, but also starts and ends his book with the unconventional caveat that "it makes sense to do your soul-searching now, at the beginning of your career, and start on the right path the first time out of the gate." A chapter on your inevitable and upcoming "Prelife Crisis" is priceless. Gunhus, 28, has experienced these feelings of angst and doubt up-close and personally, not to mention, recently. I loved his exercises to help weed parental expectations from your garden of experience ("My Tommy has always wanted to be a Doctor!") and wish I had read this book before I filled my college course load with chemistry classes.

Rick Nelles, author of Proof of Performance: How to Build a Career Portfolio to Land a Great New Job, is a professional recruiter with 20 years of experience, but his book is about the times, right after college, when he made all his mistakes. Looking back, he says he waited until the last quarter of college to job search, winged it going into interviews ("thinking they would hire me on my good looks and great personality") and didn't even know what he wanted to do. In this book, he shows recent grads how to land a job by documenting their job skills and showing proof of their performance. Build Your Own Life Brand! by Stedman Graham is an atypical career book. The long-time companion of Oprah Winfrey, Graham owns a successful management and marketing consulting company. He shares his philosophy that "each of us has a unique blend of talents, knowledge and other personal assets" called a Life Brand. Borrowing from marketing strategy, Graham says "you create a method for sharing your gifts and putting them to their highest use" when you build the brand that is You. Above all, Graham advises, remember that transforming your talents, values and passions into your career will help to ensure that your work will be meaningful.

So how did my friend fare? He finally got off the couch and became a public defender. Later he took a job as the child advocate for a five-county court system. Recently, after soul-searching, he moved to a small law firm he loves. Life Brand, perfect personality matching, whatever you call it, with careful planning the right career choice lies just ahead.

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