Unsure what academic major or career path to pursue? Lost interest in your current field of study or a career goal, and unclear about your next steps? Feel anxious about making the wrong choice? You're not alone -- these concerns are common among students.
To gain confidence in your career decisions, learn four career exploration steps and familiarize yourself with AU Career Center Resources.
Career exploration helps you identify academic majors/career paths that suit your values, interests, personality traits, and strengths (VIPS). The career exploration process is not linear, and you may repeat some or all the steps until you become confident and excited about your career choices.
Practicing the career exploration steps now will help you develop effective habits that will serve you well in your professional life. Career research shows that professionals in the U.S. (and increasingly in other countries) change jobs 12-15 times during their lifetime for various reasons (new interests and priorities, job market shifts, etc.).
Learning about your preferences, strengths, and areas for improvement is important at any stage of your career exploration and development.
Start by clarifying your preferences that may affect your satisfaction with a potential academic program/career path. You may do this informally by talking to academic and career advisors, professors, family members, and friends. Here are some questions to help you discover what will ultimately make you happy:
- What courses and topics spark your interest?
- What social causes and activities are you passionate about?
- What talents and skills come naturally to you?
- What three adjectives would your friends use to describe your personality?
- What can you see yourself doing in five or ten years?
To gain a better understanding of your VIPS, use various self-assessments and discuss the results with a career advisor. Start keeping career exploration notes or a journal to record what you learn through this process.
This step involves researching potential academic majors, careers, industries, employers, etc. Research takes time; don’t rush this step.
To make Step 2 effective, use what you’ve learned about yourself through self- assessments (Step 1). This will help you focus your efforts on finding information that matters to you. For example, search for and organize career information around the VIPS associated with the major/career.
You may also want to research and take notes on educational requirements, employment trends, and salary ranges in potential industries.
- Use the following resources:
- Review Career Guides by Major.
- Learn the career competencies employers value and seek in new hires.
- Explore O*Net, Occupational Outlook Handbook and Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For.
- Reach out to faculty, alumni, and other professionals (they can be your family members, family friends, or friends’ family) and ask for an informational interview to learn more about their fields.
- Attend Career Center events and programs.
- To further your career exploration, engage in experiential learning: pursue extracurricular activities and internships, which will help you learn more about yourself and about different work settings and organizational cultures.
- Your hobbies and volunteering can evolve into a career path. Keep them up and reflect on the related skills you’re building through these activities.
- Talk to AU alumni who work in your dream jobs/fields.
- Meet with a career advisor to discuss career exploration strategies and learn how to conduct informational interviews with faculty, alumni, and professionals in your fields of interest.
Before you continue, congratulate yourself on your career exploration efforts and the progress you've made so far!
Through self-assessments, you’ve deepened your awareness of your VIPS. By engaging in various career exploration activities, you have gathered valuable information and experiences. Finally, you’ve learned what AU majors and career paths entail.
Now, evaluation will help you identify possible options to pursue and build confidence in your decision.
- Compare major/career ideas that you have researched and evaluate their specific pros and cons. Don’t forget to use the results of your VIPS self-assessments when you evaluate and compare the options. Which options are a better fit? Why?
- Don’t rush through the evaluation step. You may discover that you need more information to select the best option. That’s ok! Spend some more time researching majors/careers. You might even need to do more self-reflection of your VIPS.
- Meet with a career advisor to discuss your progress, any roadblocks, or concerns.
- When you're ready, create an action plan. It may include:
- Declaring your major/minor
- Finding major/minor-related internships
- Developing a focused job search strategy
- Pursuing other skill-building projects and activities in your field of interest
- Meet with an academic advisor to declare your major/minor.
- Schedule an appointment with a career advisor for help finding major-related internships, learning how to build your professional network, etc. If you have questions or technical challenges, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-885-1804.
- Self-assessment instruments may help you clarify your VIPS: values, interests, personality preferences, skills that you like to use or would like to develop.
- Any self-assessment instrument provides suggestions –- not definitive answers -- regarding potential careers.
- Self-assessment results may help you:
- validate your major/career ideas
- generate new ideas
- better undertake your next two career exploration steps (see Step 2 and Step 3) by suggesting what career information to search for and pay attention to when exploring and evaluating different majors, fields, and careers.
- Meet with a career advisor for guidance on various self-assessments and how they can suit your individual needs.
- Work Values Matcher by CareerOneStop is a free service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
- Complete an online card-sort exercise that consists of ranking 20 value statements to identify your work values. It will take 10-15 minutes to complete.
- O*Net is a free, premier tool developed under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
- The Profiler consists of 60 statements required to be rated. The results will help you clarify your interest pattern based on the RIASEC model (a popular career counseling model based on Dr. John Holland’s theory of vocational personalities and work environments) and connect with related careers.
- The 20-minute Profiler Self-Assessment creates an interest profile. Use it to explore the trove of regularly updated information about 900+ careers on My Next Move.
Holland Career Code
- The HCC is free (fee for an in-depth interpretive report)
- Identify your top interests, related job titles, and salary information by taking a short self-assessment that entails rating 48 statements.
- The HCC, developed by Truity Psychometrics LLC, is based on Dr. John Holland’s vocational theory.
Strong Interest Inventory (SII)
- SII is a free, formal career self-assessment instrument that requires pre-approval and interpretation by your SII-certified career advisor. The instrument consists of 291 items and takes 30-40 minutes to complete.
- Identify your interest pattern, learn how your interests relate to 30 career fields and 190+ careers; receive suggestions regarding majors, internships, and extracurricular activities to further explore your interests.
- SII was developed by psychologist E.K Strong in the early 20th century; the instrument has been continuously updated based on extensive research.
- Schedule an appointment with your career advisor to discuss self-assessments and identify whether SII is suitable for your self-assessment needs.
The Type Finder
- The Type Finder is a free (fee for a more detailed report) tool based on Myers Briggs’s 16 personalities and consists of 130 items to be rated
- Your basic report will assign an MBTI type and provide a short summary of related personality traits.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI Form M)
- MBTI is a free, formal self-assessment instrument that requires interpretation by a MBTI-certified career advisor. The online instrument consists of 93 items and takes 20-30 minutes to complete.
- Developed in the early 20th century, the instrument has become the most popular personality assessment in the world.
- Schedule an appointment with your career advisor to discuss self-assessments and identify whether MBTI is a good fit.
- Skills Matcher by CareerOneStop is a free service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
- Rate your levels on 40 key workplace skills and explore careers that match your ratings.