Career exploration is the second stage of the career planning process. During the first stage, a self-assessment, you learn about your personality, interests, aptitudes, and values. After using various tools to gather this information, you are left with a list of careers that are a good fit for someone with traits similar to yours.
Although the careers on your list appear to be suitable, it does not mean you can just go ahead and randomly choose any one of them. There are other things to consider. Each occupation has characteristics that will make it a better idea to choose some over others.
Since you can only have one career at a time, your goal, after learning about all the careers that might be a good fit for you, is to eventually have one remaining that is the BEST fit. Try not to eliminate any profession from your list until you do some research, even if you think you know something about it. You may be surprised by what you learn when you dig for information. If you cross a career off your list because of some preconceived notion, you could end up eliminating one of your best options.
Start With the Basics
At first, you will just want to gather some basic information about each occupation on your list. Let’s assume you have a list of ten careers. Before spending a lot of time on in-depth research, do some preliminary fact-finding that will allow you to narrow down your list. It will include looking at a job description and labor market information, including job outlook, median salary and educational and training requirements.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a government agency, does a good job of presenting basic career information. Another useful resource is the O*Net Database, sponsored by the US Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA) through a grant to the North Carolina Department of Commerce. You can also read individual career profiles or delve into careers by field.
After learning about all the occupations on your list, you will find that several of them don’t appeal to you. It could be for a variety of reasons. For example, you may decide that you wouldn’t enjoy the job duties of a particular occupation or that you can’t or don’t want to meet the educational and training requirements. The earnings may be lower than you thought they would be or the job outlook tells you that employment opportunities will be poor. After completing your preliminary research, you will be left with a list that contains between three and five careers on it.
After you narrow down your list of career choices, your research should become more involved. You will want to learn what working in the field is really like before you actually work in it. The best way to do this is to talk to people who do.
- Figure out who, in your professional network, knows people who work in the field or fields in which you are interested, or ask around to see if any of them have contacts who do.
- Set up informational interviews with anyone who has experience working in the careers you are considering. Those whose experience is more recent make better subjects.
- See if any of those people are willing to let you shadow him or her on the job for a day or two.
- Consider doing an internship to learn about a work field and get experience.
After you complete your career exploration in-depth research, you should be able to determine which career is a good match for you. Try not to get too frustrated if you can’t make a decision by this point. You may not have enough information yet. Continue to do more research until you can comfortably choose the best career for you.