Dear J.T. & Dale: I am a 47-year-old homemaker and mother. I have begun applying for entry-level positions. I honestly do not have the best work history, having worked as an administrative assistant, a real estate title examiner, court clerk and have sold advertising. What can I do to gain the notice of a potential employer? - Olivia

J.T.: I'm going to be completely honest here, and I hope the following isn't too direct: You are not attractive to potential employers. Why? Because your past is shouting you lack focus. I realize that doesn't seem fair, but in a competitive environment, hiring managers use all sorts of criteria to eliminate candidates. So, right now, the best thing you can do is stop looking for a job and start looking for a career.

Dale: Which sounds simple enough, given that there are hundreds of books and websites with career self-assessment tools. However, please don't expect a career-interests test to solve your problem. The only times I hear successful people mention such tools are in lighthearted recollections of paths not taken - for instance, the NBA basketball coach Phil Jackson has written that one of the careers suggested for him by an assessment tool was park ranger.

J.T.: I, on the other hand, have met plenty of people helped by assessment tools. But they are merely the first step. You then have to do the research necessary to focus on a field, then take concrete steps to develop contacts.

Dale: A big yes to research. But Olivia, please don't think that means reading career books and surfing the Web. The most important research you can do is to single out the people in your life whom you admire. Meet with them informally and get them reminiscing about their career decisions and turning points. What I predict you will discover - and discovering it yourself makes all the difference - is that your past holds the clues to what talents you should be evolving, and, knowing those, then luck/coincidence/synchronicity are invited into your life. Heightened awareness of your own skills, combined with the energizing work of meeting interesting people, will yield more job success than a thousand online job applications.

J.T.: Once you choose a career focus, you will be able to use your past experience, skills and knowledge to get yourself on a fast track to success. I hope you will invest in finding something that impresses you, and soon you'll be impressing your family with your new success.

About the Author:

Jeanine J.T. Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm,, and of the blog, Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with