Deciding on a career to pursue, whether it's your first career or a career change, involves weighing many options and considering multiple factors. The process can seem overwhelming. As an online student you will need to take action and seek out the resources you'll need to make decisions about your career. Have you considered adding other people to your decision-making process? It's often desirable to have someone to talk to about the information you are gathering and the options you may have.
Two career development experts Brown and Ryan Krane (2000), reviewed research studies on career choice activities and developed a list of five types of activities that are considered to be critical in the process of making a career choice. One of these groups of activities involves building support.
It's important to maintain focus on the fact that the decisions are yours to make. You will be the one to go through the process of preparation for the career and in working in the field. You can however consider how other people might be of assistance along the way. In this post I'll outline several techniques for building your own support group, to assist you in the career decision-making process.
Establish an Advisory Board
Business organizations often rely on an Advisory Board to help with both information gathering and decision-making. Why not create your own advisory board to help you do the same? As you explore multiple career options, it will be beneficial to seek guidance from others. Consider people that you already know and trust, and may already be talking with, as your own elite group of advisors. Members of this group may include friends, family, employers, classmates, and co-workers. This group can be as formal or informal as you wish and can assist is multiple ways.
- Brainstorming – Working with you to develop lists of possible sources of information and resources.
- Sounding Board – Listening to your thoughts and ideas, and providing objective feedback.
- Networking – Introducing you to others who may be helpful in your career exploration and decision-making.
- Advice – Sharing their unique experiences with career choices and stories of what worked and didn't work.
- Encouragement – Providing you with positive support and keeping you motivated throughout the decision process.
Work with a Career Counselor
Seek out the resources available to you through your online school or program's Career Center and engage in any opportunity to meet with a counselor one-on-one. These meetings may be face-to-face, but more likely will take place over the phone, in an online chat, or in a virtual meeting space. Career Center professionals are skilled at understanding your preferences, your context, and helping you define your educational and career goals. This will be a foundation for moving forward with career decisions. Below is a list of just a few of the resources and services that may be available to you.
- Assessments – There are many career assessments available to categorize your interests and match your goals with specific career fields. Career professionals are trained to administer and interpret these assessments and help you apply them to education and career choices.
- Career interest groups – Other students with similar interests and questions may also be meeting with career counselors as a group. Find out if this is an option at your institution. Career specific webinars and websites may also be available.
- Organizations and Associations – Are there student organizations or professional associations related to your career interests? Find out what exists and how you might join as a student member to find out more about the careers you are interested in.
- Brainstorming – Just like your Advisory Board, your Career Counselor can help you develop lists of ideas and resources.
- Alumni connections – In many institutions, the career center is closely linked to alumni activities and mentorship programs. Find out more about how you might connect with those who have graduated from your program and are working in their new careers. They will have experiences and lessons learned to share.
Career professionals can also help you build your Advisory Board and understand more about the many factors that may play a part in your career decisions.
Understand Career Influences
Many career development researchers have explored the effects of various factors on career choice. We often perceive limitations or barriers where there are none. This may be due to stereotypes, experiences we’ve encountered, and expectations of those around us. Several prominent career development theories [PDF] include the concept of self-identify – how we perceive ourselves in terms of culture, gender, race, ethnicity, and social status.
Each of us is more than a description of our culture, gender, or economic status. Understanding that you may be influenced by multiple factors is important, but these factors should not be seen as automatic limitations. All of these factors should be considered as you move forward in making decisions about your career that will be unique to you.
As an online student it is particularly important for you to find the support you need to finalize your career decisions. You can begin immediately to establish a support system through a combination of developing an Advisory Board, working with a career counselor, and exploring the many influences on your decisions. Begin by gathering information that helps you to explore the possibilities based on your needs and goals.
There are many resources available to you online and in print as you continue your career exploration and build your support network. What Color is Your Parachute? is just one example of a popular book that includes advice on networking and contact building. It also has an online component.
Making a career-decision is not a one-time thing. We make multiple career decisions and change careers several times over the course of a working life. You will find yourself returning to these resources and techniques when needed to help you clarify choices and make decisions.
Brown, S. D., & Ryan Krane, N. E. (2000). Four (or five) sessions and a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling. In S.D. Brown & R.W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of Counseling Psychology (3rd ed., pp. 740-766). New York: Wiley.