Cool job: Helping people find meaningful jobs

When Alexandra Levit graduated from Northwestern University in the late '90s, she just didn't click with corporate culture, despite having a degree in psychology. Levit, who worked in communications for a major software company and later moved into management for a top public relations firm, knew something had to change after it took two years to earn her first promotion.

"I started taking personal development classes and learning about the importance of first impressions, stellar communication and diplomacy," she recalls.

Then came a personal "ah-ha" moment that would alter the course of her career. "A light bulb went off that someone should really tell high-achieving college students what they needed to be successful," Levit says.

With that idea in mind, Levit penned her first book, "They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A TwentySomething's Guide to the Business World," and discovered her niche as a consultant, coach, speaker and writer. The worker who didn't take to the corporate life would help others learn how to (really) succeed in business -- and life.

What today's employers want

In less than a decade, Levit has written five more books, including "Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success" and "New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career," while working as a trainer and consultant for Microsoft, American Express, Intuit and other Fortune 500 firms and the federal government. Levit also gives lectures and seminars to college students, women's organizations and other groups.

Through her regular interactions with marketing managers and human resources departments, Levit has developed a strong sense of what employers want: The post-recession business world has evolved from the "dog-eat-dog" of the '80s and '90s into a more collegial place emphasizing collaboration and teamwork.

"Inside the business world, employers are looking inward and seeking a return to traditional human values like honesty, trust, moderation, open communication, and one-on-one relationship building," she explains. "They want to hire people with Puritan work ethics, people who want to do their jobs well without rocking the boat too much and who are strong representatives of the organization's culture."

Virtual tools for real careers

For college students needing a crash course in getting ready for the challenges of today's corporate culture, Levit developed JOBSTART 101, a free, 90-minute online presentation sponsored by the Business Roundtable and the HR Policy Association. The virtual seminar features six "modules," including "How to Establish Your Online Brand," "How to Build Work Relationships" and "How to Drive Your Career."

Levit is also justifiably proud of a new workshop she's helping to create with the U.S. Department of Labor to assist veterans with the transition from military service to the civilian workforce.

"A lot of my typical content is included, but we have also really tried to help vets leverage the very real, applicable skills they learned in the military," she says.

Preparing for the future

Although Levit spent the first part of her career in a traditional workplace setting, she has helped lead the trend of choosing to work independently from home. As the married mother of two children under the age of 5, Levit finds consulting suits her personal life. She is able to limit her travel to once a month, to accommodate her family.

In a recent article for The New York Times, Levit advises full-time workers to take an entrepreneurial approach to their jobs, because they eventually may choose to work as a contingent, a term the government uses to describe contractors, temporary workers and the self-employed.

"If you're already experimenting with contingent work, blaze a trail that educates companies about the distinct needs of the self-employed," she writes. "Most important, keep an open mind. The future world of work will be one of increasing ambiguity, and your ability to adapt will set you apart and let you flourish"

For Levit, the proof that she chose the right path comes down to her daily interactions, whether they're with workers just starting out, middle managers or experts in their fields. "The coolest thing about my job is all of the people -- famous and not -- I get to talk to and hopefully assist every day," she says.

More about Alexandra Levit

1. What did you eat for breakfast? Life cereal with milk

2. Which day of the week is your favorite? Friday

3. Which day of the week is your least favorite? Sunday

4. What was the first job you ever had? Conducting children's birthday parties at a national play center chain

5. What makes you angry? Unreliable people

6. What makes you joyful? My children

7. If you could have any job, other than your own, what would it be? Fiction author, travel journalist or television commentator

8. If you had the time and the money to study anything at all, what would you choose? International business

9. What did you want to be when you grew up? An actress

10. Can money bring you happiness? No. If it could, I'd be doing something else