Career exploration is one of the most important subjects in terms of long-term life planning for earlier researchers. It is a career planning process through which earlier researchers pursue the careers of their choice. It involves researching, assessing, and learning about various occupations and how they fit with your career preferences. It is a long-term process that requires information gathering and evaluation. Career preferences unique to each individual centre around three elements: skills (what you are good at), interests (what you enjoy doing), and values (what are important to you in your work life). These key elements can help you identify an ideal job.
But how do you go about career exploration? How and where do you identify available options? And when do you know that you have reached a reliable conclusion and can now decide?
It is important to note that in this process, it is not impossible that you make new unexpected discoveries that will require re-examination and reconsideration. There are so many career exploration resources and tools, but there is a need to understand which to use and when.
As it is important for you to take responsibility for your career trajectory, I will share five important steps of career exploration that will help you learn more about the working world around you. You will find them helpful because they are logical and practical.
1. Review your research topic
It is important to first survey your research topic using a literature review. This process will help you to identify your research question by making clear what you know and what you do not know. You need to find a career self-assessment that most aligns with your field of study. Most career self-assessments explore your skills, interests, and values in identifying an ideal job.
2. Frame your research question
Informing your career exploration question, you will identify your most significant skills, interests and values from the initial review process and use them as the standard for conducting your career research. It is important to find out how a particular career fits your skills, interests and values.
3. Collect data
Data collection for career exploration involves four major methodologies, which include:
Reading online and book resources
Attending career-related events (like panels of people with advanced degrees discussing various jobs and employer information seminars)
Conducting informational interviews with people with relevant backgrounds and skillsets
Experiential learning (via internships or short-term and project-based learning).
Career exploration is most effective when you do not rely on just one of these methodologies.
4. Analyze your data
In this analysis phase, you apply your understanding of your top skills, interests and values to the results from your data collection to find out whether they align. This is by passing them through the litmus test of questions like: “Does this career allow me to frequently carry out responsibilities that interest me?” “Do I have the skills needed to succeed in this career (or at least, the opportunity to develop them)?” “Would I enjoy working with the set of people I have met in this career?” “Do organizations in this field support my professional values?”
5. Conclude by summarizing your findings
The process of career exploration may reveal that the career you investigated is an ideal one for you. On the other hand, it may reveal otherwise. You may also get to find out additional aspects of your identity and preferences that are critical to consider when weighing career options.
The answer to your career research today may not be the same answer in a few years from now, once you have gained further professional experience. As your identity evolves and you consider new career opportunities, career exploration may continue for a lifetime.