How to Use Career Exploration
Updated 13 November 2020
What Is Career Exploration?
Career exploration is the continuing process someone goes through to learn about themselves.
- Trying new experiences
- Learning what your strengths and weaknesses are
- Finding what mentally stimulates you
- Discovering your potential and abilities
Through career exploration, you discover what employers look for in employees and create a strategic plan to help achieve your goals – your career plan.
Why Is Career Exploration Important?
Ideally, your career exploration journey will begin in high school, as you start deciding on colleges and universities.
Part of the exploration is to develop the skills you need for your future.
A large portion of this is through your education and you do not want to find yourself two-years into a bachelor's degree, having paid all that money, only to find it is the wrong course for you.
This is why career exploration is so important and why the earlier you start the process, the better.
People often look back and say that they wish more information had been available to them before deciding on a course, or that they wish they had made better decisions.
Of course, at a young age, it is not easy to know for sure what your chosen career should be, but if you can gain some self-awareness, then that is half of the battle won.
Career exploration is essential as it can help eliminate some career options.
Many careers may appeal to you – you may want to be a doctor or have a passion for art. You may like the idea of a fast-paced job or be adamant that you want to work for yourself.
Learning where your strengths, weaknesses and interests lie can help determine which path is best.
For example, you love the idea of being a doctor and saving people's lives, but when you go through the career exploration steps, you discover that science is not your strongest subject. It can also take up to ten years and a lot of money to become a certified doctor.
Are you willing to put in that much time?
Further into your work life, career exploration allows you to reassess your situation.
You will discover if you need to take any more courses or learn a new skill. You will be able to identify what you need to gain a promotion or whether to consider a new career entirely.
What Are the Goals for Career Exploration?
When you are undertaking career exploration, you will be trying to ascertain which career is the best fit for you, and how to get there.
To be more exact, the goals are:
- To identify your current interests and skills
- To establish a list of potential careers or career next steps
- To narrow down those options
- To make a realistic and actionable plan with S.M.A.R.T goals
How to Carry Out Career Exploration
Step one of career exploration is to take a self-assessment test
Career Explorer has a free and detailed test that identifies your personality archetype and matches that to a career and educational program.
Step two is to explore each of your potential careers.
This involves working through each option and researching:
- What skills the employer is looking for
- What level of education is needed – bachelor's/master's/doctorate. What should you major in?
- Do you need work experience?
- Salary expectation and career progression
- Will this job still exist in ten years
Academic advisors and career counselors will have most of this information – in particular, that relating to education.
For details on the job market, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has an incredible resource called the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which has details of average salaries, predicted growth and entry-level education.
The O*Net Database is another useful resource with a wealth of information.
Road Trip Nation offers similar advice, but it also details real people's career journeys.
Step three is to use all that research and narrow down your options.
You need to decide which career routes will suit you now that you know the journey.
It may be that the career you were most interested in requires a doctorate and years of work experience before you can start earning a reasonable salary, and that is not something you feel you could commit to.
Maybe you discovered that a job you thought was difficult to get, is more accessible than you initially believed.
By the end of this step, you should be left with a couple of realistic career options and routes to get there.
Now you know your possible careers, you need to consider which universities or colleges are best for you.
Do you need to attend a school in a different state and if so, are there any additional tests and entry requirements for it? Will you benefit from enrolling in a school renowned for a particular degree, or is an average ranking institute satisfactory?
University is the next big step in your career plan, and it could be the deciding factor for the career you pursue.
Step four, your final step, is to gain experience.
You don't have to work at the exact company you would like to join, but gaining relevant experience in that field will tell you if it is the career for you.
For college and university students, check your school's extra-curricular programs to see if any match your course.
Most program leaders will promote activities that complement your studies at the beginning of the academic year.
Get as involved as you can. The outcome will either be that you realize you do not enjoy the work, and you can start reassessing your plan, or you will love the job and now have a resume filled with work experience.
If you are still in high school, contact the companies related to your potential careers and ask if you can shadow or interview an employee or even volunteer.
Next Steps – High School Students
As mentioned earlier, career exploration is on-going.
During high school, your focus is to find potential careers that suit your personality and goals and narrow them down with work experience (if allowed or possible), so that you enroll in the correct course.
Your next steps are to do the work that gets you accepted onto that program.
- Do you need extra tutoring on a subject?
- Are there any additional entry exams that you should start preparing for?
This is also the perfect time for setting your S.M.A.R.T goals.
The best way to create them is to start at the end and work backward.
For example, your goal may be to retire when you are 40.
To retire at 40, you may need to have X-amount of money in the bank, no mortgage and a passive income. What actions do you need to take to achieve all those things? Keep moving back like this until you reach the present day.
Eventually, one of your S.M.A.R.T goals may be to improve your GPA by 0.8 by the end of this academic year.
After this exercise, you should have lots of big goals and a few S.M.A.R.T goals.
Don't hold back or think too realistic about the future at this stage. If you don't aim high, you'll struggle to get there. Your realistic goals are your short-term ones.
Also, do not set yourself too many S.M.A.R.T goals as it can get overwhelming. Work on two or three at a time, setting a new goal every time you complete one.
Next Steps – College Students
College and university are probably the most crucial time for career exploration.
You have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the process through:
Class and coursework – Choose electives specific to the industry you want to work in. Depending on the nature of the course, direct your coursework towards businesses or specialties you want to work for or do.
Internships and work experience – What time do you have available for this? Can you volunteer around your classes, or does your program have designated work experience slots?
Extra-curricular activities – What is available on campus to complement your course? Can you write for the school newspaper or start a blog related to your industry? What can you do to extend your knowledge, show potential employers you are serious about your career and build your portfolio or resume?
All these activities allow you to continually evaluate your goals. The more you do, the more aware you become of what motivates and excites you, what areas you do not enjoy, where your strengths lie, and what weaknesses you can work on.
By the time you graduate, you should be confident that you have made the right career choices.
Next Steps – In Your Career
Career exploration does not stop when you land your first job. Entry-level positions have lots of scope for learning and promotion.
Entering the workplace comes with new opportunities and challenges. Once you have familiarized yourself with your new environment, re-evaluate:
What do you like or not like about your work? The location, the people, the work itself, the company?
What tasks do you find easy and which do you struggle with? Why? What can you do about it?
What skills do you need to develop for a promotion?
This exploration can be done as often as you like.
You can re-evaluate four times a year, once a year or every three years. The choice is yours. But remember, the more you visit and assess your goals, the higher the chance of success and work satisfaction.
As you get older, your career exploration may include a career change, or time out to travel or start a family.
This may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but it will be invaluable in your career development.
There are millions of jobs and courses available to you and Your options are endless. But if you do not do your research, you will not be in a position to know what those options are.
Having goals and a career plan does not stop you from enjoying life. If anything, it helps you enjoy your time more because you are not worrying about the next step or wishing that you had made different choices.
It will give you a clear plan as to what you want and need to do to achieve it.
If you are in the habit of exploring what does and does not work for you, then you are always making steps to improve your life.
Should you be unclear about any of the career exploration processes, where to start or what to do next, then reach out and speak to your career counselor or academic advisor.
It is best to ask all your questions and gain clarity, than not say anything and miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime.