How do you decide which career field to pursue? There’s not just one way to go about it, and as an online student you likely have some career goals in mind, are seeking advancement in a field you are already familiar with, or just know that you want a change. But how do you know where to go next? Career exploration is a great first step to research the possibilities and develop a few initial ideas about fields that will be a good fit.
There’s a good discussion going on in a career counseling LinkedIn Group right now and it was sparked by a question about career exploration materials. Group members have been adding their recommendations to a growing list and I was glad to see that a lot of these resources are not only online, but also free.
Take a look at this short list of the tools available to help you identify your work interests, abilities, and values, as well as learn about how these components factor into your review of the current labor market.
- MyNextMove.org: This site from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration offers a wealth of exploration options, including an interest profiler. Respond to a series of 60 short questions to help determine the type of work you are interested in doing. Your preferences are then categorized into “job zones” to identify potential careers for further research, as well as the experience, education, and training they may require.
- What can I do with a major in … ? Many students – online and on-ground, graduate and undergraduate – pick their initial area of study based on personal interest, then work to match that with potential careers. Sites like the one featured from MyPlan.com are designed to help you make this connection. If you think you might want to build on education you’ve already completed, this may be a good place to start your exploration.
- Career Values Test: Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team? Have your favorite jobs in the past involved working on a variety of projects? This online card sort exercise from placement executives Stewart, Cooper, and Coon allows you to prioritize your values as they relate to careers and work. Use your results and the related exercise to learn more about how understanding your values, and including them in your career decisions, can positively impact job satisfaction.
- Career Profiles: Ever wonder what it might be like to work in a new field? Online career profiles are the next best thing to conducting informational interviews. You can find these on sites such as CareerOneStop.org. Look for presentations that include job descriptions and titles, videos, and more to learn about these jobs directly from people already working in these kinds of positions.
- Occupational Projections: Are employers in your field hiring? The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a wealth of information online, including searchable data about projected employment growth. Your exploration should include finding out the demand for workers in your fields of interest. You can also use this database and others like PayScale.com to find out more about the salaries you might expect.
Take the time to review multiple resources as you conduct your career exploration. Different tools draw upon different sources of data, so you may find variance. Remember to include resources specific to your geographic region or the location where you plan to relocate – consider the impact of the local economy and pool of employers on your exploration efforts. The list above is just a start and each one will lead you to additional information.
Career exploration can become overwhelming, especially if you are truly unsure about what to do next. The career development services available through your school should be part of your plan. It can be helpful to talk with an advisor, who is familiar with both your program’s requirements and the current dynamics of the workforce, to answer questions and make sense of the results you find in these online materials.
Arm yourself with the information you’ll need to make the big career decisions ahead of you. The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll be making the choices to move you forward.
Image credit: Inky Bob, Flickr, CC:BY-NC-ND