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Career Exploration for Students
January 4, 2022

WHY IT PAYS TO EXPLORE CAREERS WHILE YOU’RE IN COLLEGE

Choosing a college is a big decision that can establish the path for the remainder of your professional career. When deciding on what college to attend, there are a number of different factors that could impact your choice such as location, academic quality, overall cost and course offerings. While taking those things into consideration, you’ll want to ensure you are choosing a college that provides you the opportunity to explore what interests you in a safe, supportive environment.

1. WHAT IS CAREER EXPLORATION? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Career exploration is a unique journey. It involves learning about different occupations and how they “fit” with your individual career preferences, including your interests, values and skills.

Dean Marc Hunsaker, who leads the Center for Personal and Professional Development (CPPD) at Berry College, explains that exploring a wide range of majors and career options is an important, and normal, part of the college experience. “Over 75% of college students in the U.S. will change their major at least once as they learn more about themselves, their academic/professional interests and their goals for life after college,” he says. “At Berry, we encourage all of our students to engage in an ongoing process of self/career exploration throughout their college experience.”

Hunsaker adds that the CPPD plays an expansive role in the lives of students: “We believe that our job is not just to help students secure their first job after college; rather, it is to help equip students with the skills, mindsets and experiences they will need to navigate a future career landscape that will be ever-changing. Through a wide range of workshops, courses and advising appointments, our career consultant team intentionally meets students wherever they are on their personal and professional journey and helps them develop a clear sense of direction (and greater confidence) to guide their next steps at Berry (and beyond).”

The most important thing when it comes to your career exploration is being proactive. The sooner you start exploring what options you are interested in, the better you’ll be able to narrow down your choices and have authentic experience to back up your resume for employers.

According to America’s Promise Alliance, a partnership of organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, career exploration benefits young people at any age: “With a better understanding of the working world, young people can more easily envision how they fit successfully into that world.”

2. HOW CAN I START MY CAREER EXPLORATION JOURNEY?

RESEARCH

One great resource to start is the Occupational Outlook Handbook on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, where you can find statistics about today’s labor market and careers. For example, someone interested in healthcare would find that the average salary of registered nurses is $75,330, with the profession experiencing steady growth at 9% between 2020 and 2030. (See more healthcare careers in our article “15 Types of Allied Health Professionals and What They Do.”)

TAKE A CAREER ASSESSMENT

Career assessments and related tools are a simple way to examine what career path may be the best option for you. They help to identify your personal strengths and align your personality traits and interests with possible career paths.

Many schools offer a service known as PathwayU, an assessment tool used by students in their first year and beyond. “PathwayU is an incredibly powerful and helpful tool to help Berry students engage in career exploration and research,” Hunsaker notes. “As an assessment tool, PathwayU offers students a series of short, scientifically reliable assessments (e.g., interests, values, personality) and then runs it through their ‘magic algorithm’ that takes those results and matches them with a wide range of ‘good fit’ major and career options. Once a student finds a career field of interest, PathwayU also provides them with some great data points to help them learn more about it (e.g., salary, education requirements, necessary skills, projected growth). We even use some of the PathwayU assessment results to match students with a first ‘good fit’ LifeWorks job!”

If you’re curious about career assessments, here are a few to try: MAPP Career Test, 123 Career Test and Princeton Review Career Quiz.

HANDSHAKE: YOUR CONNECTION TO EMPLOYERS

Handshake is a platform that helps connect employers with students and graduates looking for internships and full-time positions. Even if you’re not ready to apply, taking the time to explore the listings can give you an idea of what options are out there when you’re ready to apply.

“Handshake is the #1 way that college students find jobs,” Hunsaker says. “There are currently over 40,000 jobs and internships listed on Handshake from some of the top employers all over the world, including all of our on-campus LifeWorks jobs and off-campus local internships. Through Handshake, students can also schedule appointments with their own personal Berry career consultant, keep tabs on all of the personal and professional development events happening on campus and even schedule one of our ‘Zoom Rooms’ for virtual interviewing. Handshake truly is a one-stop shop for all things related to paid professional development!”

INTERNSHIPS AND JOB SHADOWING

Internships are an invaluable way for college students to test the waters with an employer in their field. An internship during the school year or summer break is a terrific way to dip your toes in the water and get hands-on experience. An internship may pay as much or more than a part-time job. Make effective use of this opportunity, as many companies use internships as training-to-hire programs to test your skills before hiring you full-time.

Job shadowing is usually shorter-term and involves observation rather than hands-on work. If you find a company you’re interested in or happen to know someone with a job you find interesting, inquire about job shadowing on one of your days off. This can give you a taste of that profession without the commitment of an internship. You’ll follow an employee throughout their day to get to know them and their job better. This is a wonderful opportunity to make connections that could potentially lead to a job or internship.

Colleges also host job fairs both on-site and virtually to introduce students to potential employers and help them build a professional network. On-campus career advisors provide guidance on resumes, networking and informational interviewing during this period of career exploration.

3. HOW TO LEARN FROM YOUR CAREER EXPLORATION

Your career exploration experience is what you make of it. Whether it’s research, an internship, job shadowing or work study, taking in what you learn is crucial to success.

Record observations as often as possible, daily, or at least weekly, reflecting on your experiences and what you learned. If the hours are longer than you were expecting, it’s worth noting. Can you see yourself in this profession long-term?

Keep track of all the new skills and concepts you are learning and revisit them when you have downtime. Try out a LinkedIn Learning course on topics related to your field. Taking the initiative to learn can be highly rewarded at the right company.

It is also important to ask questions when appropriate. Keep a notepad with you during an internship or job shadowing and write down questions to follow up later. You can learn only as much as you ask, so take the initiative.

At the end of the day, your college experience will reflect what you invest, which includes taking the time for thoughtful career exploration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will have up to 12 jobs over a lifetime, which will likely entail multiple career changes. Leveraging the tools, advice and opportunities available through a college with a career center dedicated to personal and professional development will prepare you to navigate the professional world for years to come.

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