Career Exploration and Planning

As you begin the career exploration process, it will be important to understand the job market.  The Occupational Outlook Handbook contains information on hundreds of occupations.  For each occupation, the Handbook looks at the nature of the work, qualifications, working conditions, training, advancement, job outlook, earnings, and related occupations.  Check it out at Bureau of Labor.

As a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), we receive free magazines for our students.  The magazine is published in several editions devoted to specific career areas, and lists profiles on specific companies.  Job Web (copyright NACE) also provides information on jobs, employers, career planning and job hunting.

Other Sites for Exploring and Researching Careers:

SELF-ASSESSMENT

Perhaps the most important part of the career planning process is self-assessment.  In particular, there are three key areas that you will need to explore--skills, values and interests.

Skills

Different work settings require different skills, so you need to know your skills and those skills required in occupations that appeal to you.  Identifying your skills will make you more competitive in the workplace.  The Department of Labor has a number of publications that explain how skills are related to career markets.  The Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the Guide for Occupational Exploration are two of the resources located in our Career Library.

Values

Values are the guiding principles of all your decisions and choices in life--the things that you consider important or desirable.  While our attitudes and interests may change as a result of life experiences, our values remain pretty much the same.  What kinds of things do you value?

  • Helping society
  • Competition
  • Power and authority
  • Influencing people
  • Money
  • Excitement
  • Environment

Interests

Think about the amount of time you'll be spending at work!  Would it make sense to work at something that does not interest you?  What do you enjoy doing?  John Holland's theories suggest that most people fit into one of six personality types, largely determined by their interests.  He also found that people of certain personality types are attracted to certain careers.  If you are able to distinguish your type, then you can start to match your interests with those of others working in particular careers.

DISCOVER YOUR SKILLS, VALUES & INTERESTS

Check out these resources for self-assessment offered through Career Services:

  • SDS (Self-directed Search)
  • Do What You are:  Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
  • What Color is Your Parachute?
  • Career Key
  • ONET

NETWORKING/INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

"Luck  is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity."--Oprah Winfrey

Undoubtedly, you've heard the saying, "It's not what you know, but who you know."  Well, it's the "who you know" that's part of the hidden job market.  The vast majority of the job openings in the United States are never advertised.  Most employers fill these openings by hiring friends, relatives and acquaintances of people who work for them.  Still, having an "in" won't automatically land you a job.  You still need to "know your stuff" and be prepared to present it during the interview process.

To begin the process, you need to identify your existing network and continuously work to expand it!  Think of all the people you know--family, friends, co-workers, classmates, professors, fellow volunteers, neighbors, etc.  To expand your network, think about identifying resources relevant to your field of interest and start making connections.  This is the key for developing potential job leads and for getting your foot in the door to starting your job search process. Check out this networking blogspot from New Grad Life!

Another strategy to consider is Information Interviewing.  In this well-known career exploration and networking strategy, you talk with people who are working in a field that you are considering.  Be sure to ask questions about the person's specific duties and what type of preparation is needed to enter the field.  After the interview, don't forget to send a thank you note.

Another form of informational interviewing is job shadowing.  You can learn a lot about a career field by actually spending a day with someone, and experiencing first hand what goes on during a typical day at the office.

WetFeet offers great tips on networking.  Just click on articles and then networking to learn more about the process.  You can also build your own network on Monster.

VOLUNTEERING

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."--Ghandi

If this sounds familiar..."you can't get a job because you have no experience, and you have no experience because you can't get a job," you may want to consider volunteering.  In addition to helping your community, volunteering allows you to investigate careers and gain valuable work experience; it can be an effective stepping stone to reaching your career goal.

Volunteering also exposes you to other people, which increases your network of contacts.  It's important to present yourself to your volunteer supervisor the same as you would if you were applying for a paying job. 

Most of us know that hospitals, libraries, and churches use volunteers for a great deal of their work, but here are some volunteer opportunities that may not have crossed your mind:

  • Day care centers, public schools and colleges
  • Halfway houses, community theaters, and drug rehabilitation centers
  • Retirement centers and homes for the elderly, meals on wheels, church or community-sponsored soup kitchens, and food pantries
  • Museums and art galleries
  • Prisions, neighborhood parks, youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs
  • Shelters for battered women and children

The following web sites are great resources for information and opportunities:

Volunteer Maine
United Way of Eastern Maine
Maine Seacoast Mission
Big Brothers/Big Sisters
Down East Community Hospital
Child and Family Opportunities
Volunteer Match
Idealist.org
AmeriCorps
Peace Corps
Cross-Cultural Solutions

DEVELOPING AN ACTION PLAN

Once you have made some decisions about your career choices, you should develop a plan of action.  One way to turn your decisions into reality is to make a commitment to a stated long-term goal.  You should establish short-term goals to help you move toward the long-term goal.  Basically, an Action Plan is a well-defined road map to help you achieve a goal.  When setting a goal you may want to follow the S.M.A.R.T. approach--Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Timely.

Specific

WHO:  Who is involved?
WHAT:  What do I want to accomplish?
WHERE:  Identify a location.
WHEN:  Establish a time frame.
WHY:  Specific reason, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

Measurable

A measurable goal is more likely to be accomplished than a general goal.  How much?  How many?  How will I know when it is accomplished?

Action

How will you achieve?
Do I need a change in attitude (positive vs. negative)?
What specific aptitudes/skills must I develop?

Realistic

Is this time frame realistic?
Do I have the aptitudes/skills to do this occupation?
Are there other barriers in my way?

Timely

Is there too much time between now and the goal?
Is there not enough time?
Must have a deadline to stay focused and motivated.

Remember to assess your progress periodically--you may need an alternate or back-up plan!

CAREER DEVELOPMENT TIMELINE

A Guide That Details the Steps College Students Need to Take to Establish a Fulfilling Career

First Year-Career Activities

  • Think about your reasons for attending college and what you want to get out of your four years.
  • Write down some personal, academic, career, and social development goals.
  • Try out new and different courses.
  • Utilize interest and career inventory tools.
  • Consider volunteer positions to help build your resume.
  • Collect information on internships, co-ops, service learning, and summer jobs.
  • Join college/community organizations that will offer you leadership roles in the future.
  • Attend a job fair to gather information on potential careers and employers.
  • Familiarize yourself with the services and resources available at the Career Development Office and other career-related resources on the Internet.
  • Get involved in campus activities and community service.
  • Identify some possible career interests.
  • Identify your existing NETWORK.

Sophomores-Exploring Careers

  • Continue to identify what values are important to you in a job and career.
  • Attend Career Development workshops.
  • Take a self-assessment inventory.
  • Attend College Career/Job Fairs for leads on internships and summer jobs.
  • Obtain relevant work experience through an internship, summer job, co-op, volunteering, or service learning.
  • Begin to assume leadership roles in worthwhile extra-curricular activities.
  • Explore at least three career options available to you through your major (if you have one).
  • Attend campus alumni programs--expand your NETWORK.
  • Identify organizations and associations in your interest area for shadowing opportunities and informational interviews.

Juniors-Making Choices

  • Develop your career goals by meeting with the Career Development Coordinator.
  • Research more thoroughly the occupations that you are considering.
  • Interview people about the nature of their jobs in occupational areas that interest you.
  • Shadow several professoinals in your field.
  • Continue to develop your abilities through meaningful extra-curricular activities, internships, and work.
  • Begin to research programs and entrance requirements if you are considering graduate school.
  • Seek a summer position that will give you direct experience in a field you wish to pursue after graduation.
  • Attend College Career/Job Fairs for leads on internships and summer jobs.
  • Attend Career Development workshops/programs: Using the Internet in Your Job Search, Resume Writing, Interviewing Skills, etc.
  • Consult with your advisor to ensure you are on track for graduation.
  • Develop relationships with professionals and alumni in your field--continue expanding your NETWORK.

Senior-Taking Action

  • Plan your job search or graduate school search strategy.
  • Choose and contact faculty and previous employers you want to use as references.
  • Update and prepare your professional resume.
  • Write a cover letter that you can adapt to various employers.
  • Take advantage of on-campus recruiting programs.
  • Participate in College Career/Job Fairs.
  • Attend Career Development workshops:  Resume Writing, Interviewing Skills, etc.
  • Network with professionals and alumni in your field about your job search techniques and opportunities.
  • Research potential employers thoroughly.
  • Write letters of inquiry, visit employers, send follow-up letters, and make phone calls.
  • Apply to graduate schools and take all required entry exams.
  • Be sure you have fulfilled all requirements for graduation.
  • Use the Internet in your job search..
  • Continue to meet with the Career Development Coordinator on a regular basis.
  • Report all offers to the Career Development Office.
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