Career Planning and Exploration

Career Development is a lifelong process. Early career planning and exploration will help maximize your career journey. Embrace opportunities to explore your interests, values, and skills.

Career Planning

Are you headed toward your dream career? When you are focused and know your strengths and interests, you can target the industries, organizations, and positions that best match your talents and personality.

Your immediate goal should be to make the best career choices possible at this point in your life. Keep in mind; it’s only natural that your dreams and aspirations may change over time. Changing interests and personal circumstances, combined with the rapidly evolving nature of the world of work, will require you to remain flexible and make numerous career related decisions throughout your lifetime.

There are six stages in the career development process (see chart below), each of which you may visit at multiple points throughout your life. They often overlap and may occur in any order. However, it is important to start by knowing yourself.

Are You Career Ready?

The National Association of College & Employers (NACE) identified 8 career readiness competencies that represent the skills, experiences, and attributes that employers look for when recruiting. Mastering these skills will prepare you for a successful transition into the workplace.

View NACE’s Career Readiness Competencies

Four Year Career Plan

First Year: A Time of Self Discovery

As you begin your college education, it is perfectly okay not to know what you want to do later in life. Take time now to learn as much as you can about your skills, personality, lifestyle preferences, interests, and values. This information will help you choose a major so you can begin to explore the exciting world of career possibilities that await you!

  • Explore majors through general education classes and develop your interests and skills through student organizations, sports, extracurricular activities, and part-time work.
  • Get acquainted with Career Center resources. Learn about different occupations.
  • Talk about your career interests with parents, friends, professors, and other individuals who are already employed.
  • Register for Handshake and schedule a Career Advising appointment. Complete the On-Campus Recruitment Orientation found on MyUCLA under the “Finances and Jobs” tab. Take self-assessments to learn more about your interests, skills, values and strengths.
  • Study hard and keep your grades as high as possible.

Second Year: Expand Your Career Horizons

Continue to explore and gather information about career fields. The best resources are people who work in the career fields that interest you. Summer jobs, internships, and volunteer activities will provide first-hand insights.

  • Continue to expand your knowledge of career options. Make a list of those which sound interesting and update your “Career Interests” on Handshake.
  • Learn more about the job market by visiting the Career Center and by researching materials available online, including the online Occupational Outlook Handbook.
  • Conduct informational interviews with people who work in career industries of interest to you. Spend a day on the job with a professional. Sign onto to connect with Bruin alumni.
  • Pursue internships, part-time and summer jobs, and volunteer activities to gain work experience and learn more about your work preferences.
  • Attend career fairs and other career-related programs to increase your knowledge of a range of occupations.

Third Year: Narrow the Options

Internships and summer employment will help you acquire new skills, learn more about careers, and develop a network of contacts. Aim for outstanding academic performance, especially in your major.

  • Narrow down your choices and discuss your career ideas with a career counselor. Are you satisfied with your early decisions?
  • Research companies and work environments. Pinpoint organizations with job titles that use your skills and for which you believe you are a good match.
  • Begin to establish professional contacts through informational interviews to assist with your career exploration and job search campaign.
  • Continue to gain career-related work and internship experience.
  • Start preparing for graduate school if your career choice requires an advanced degree. Check admission requirements, testing dates, and timelines for applications.
  • Attend the annual Admit UCLA: Graduate and Professional School Fair in October.

Fourth/Fifth Year: Make a Career Decision

Plan ahead and set reasonable career goals for yourself. Remember that this is just one in a long line of career decisions. Your first job will not be your last and you don’t know where it might lead you, so keep an open mind. Remember that graduate school applications, letters of reference, and test scores must be submitted early. Handshake on-campus interviews (OCR), job listings, and career fairs will help you identify prospective employers and career opportunities.

  • Discover successful job search strategies by attending workshops at the Career Center and consulting with a career counselor.
  • Prepare for your first job. Talk with UCLA alumni about their first year on the job and some of the challenges you can expect. Join the UCLA Alumni Association and be sure to sign on to UCLA One.
  • Use your contacts to identify job opportunities and get referrals using LinkedIn.
  • Explore all opportunities. Attend career fairs and employer info sessions
  • Register for Handshake campus interviews (OCR) and apply for jobs
    through Handshake.
  • Confirm your remaining degree requirements at the beginning of the year so there are no surprises when it comes time to graduate.

Career Exploration

The Informational Interview

An informational interview is a conversation with a professional in a career field you are considering, which will help you gather information and advice to assist in your career planning process. One of the best ways to find out what an industry, company, or position is really like is to speak with people in careers you’re considering. No one else can give you a better sense of the real life experiences, the challenges and opportunities, the specifics and perhaps hidden demands, and the drawbacks and limitations of the career field. Informational interviews provide you many benefits including:

  • Obtaining a realistic grasp of a career, industry, or company you’re considering.
  • Evaluating whether your career of interest is compatible with who you are (personality, interests, values, skills, and lifestyle).
  • Receiving specific suggestions and ideas on where to acquire experience.
  • Expanding your network of contacts for future opportunities
  • Gaining referrals to other professionals for additional perspectives.

The informational interview works best if it is done in person in the setting that you are interested in working (i.e., a hospital, investment bank, consulting firm, or nonprofit organization, etc.). However, it can also be done over the phone or Skype. We recommend a written request followed by a phone call. This professional and respectful approach can have a more favorable response. The letter, sent via email, serves as a preliminary introduction to help communicate the intent of your request-to gather information and advice about a career option (not to ask for a job). Remember, this is their first impression of you. Be formal and professional in your correspondence.

Informational Interview Checklist

Searching and Preparing

  • Research the field, company, and/or organization that you want to know more about.
  • Consult with family, friends, faculty, co-workers, bosses or supervisors, UCLA Alumni, or to find people in your area of interest to speak with.
  • Contact the person via email or phone.
  • Arrange a convenient time for the contact to meet such as a lunch or a coffee break (no more than 30 minutes).
  • Be prepared to speak about yourself (major, interest in the field, your experiences, etc.).
  • Have a list of specific questions ready to ask (be mindful of the contact’s time and schedule).
  • Bring a professional folder with a notepad inside, pen, and copies of your resume.

During the Informational Interview

  • For a face-to-face meeting, dress in professional attire.
  • If you meet at the company’s site, ask in advance if the contact is willing to give you a tour.
  • For email or phone, correspond and speak professionally.
  • Express your appreciation to them for taking the time to speak with you.
  • Ask the questions you’ve prepared in advance, and take notes.
  • Be mindful of the time.
  • Ask the contact for their business card and whether you may follow up with them in the future.

After Your Informational Interview

  • Within 24 hours, send the contact a thank you card or email. A hand-written thank you note is recommended.
  • As you continue to explore, keep the contact updated about your progress.
  • If you’ve decided to pursue the field, ask the contact if they would be willing to review your resume and provide feedback.
  • If you were given any recommendations (i.e., a web link, book or article, a contact) be sure to mention what you have done with that recommendation. For example, “Thank you for recommending that I contact Ms. Jones. She and I have a call scheduled for next week.”
  • Request to connect with the individual on LinkedIn.

Requesting an Informational Interview

Develop an Outline or Script

Before you attempt to schedule an informational interview, develop an outline or script of what you are going to say. This will decrease your anxiety and increase your chances of getting the results you want. It may be helpful to rehearse out loud after you plan the kinds of things you will communicate.

  • Say who you are and why you want to get together.
  • Make it clear you are not asking for a job.
  • Mention a personal referral or mutual interest to stimulate conversation.
  • Ask for a brief meeting at a time that’s convenient for that person.

Be Prepared with Questions

You should develop basic questions about the career field to fit your particular knowledge and experience level. Depending on the interest and willingness of your contact to talk, you may have an opportunity to ask more specific personal, company, and industry questions. Do some research about the career in advance in order to develop thoughtful, intelligent questions and make the most of the interview. Based on your research, choose a few questions to keep within your meeting time frame.

  • Please describe a typical day as a _________.
  • How did you get started? What was your path?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What do you find most/least satisfying about your job? Rewards? Challenges?
  • What skills/qualities does it take to be successful in this field?
  • What are the entry-level jobs in this field? What does the career ladder look like?
  • What trends/developments do you see affecting career opportunities?
  • How would you advise I gain the skills and experience necessary to enter this career field?
  • What is the “culture” of your company?
  • Are there additional resources you suggest that I look into that would be beneficial for me?
  • Do you have suggestions of other people I can be referred to-to learn more?
  • May I contact you in the future, should I have any more questions?

Internships: The Inside Track to Your First Full-time Job

More than ever, employers today look at an entry-level job candidate’s track record of “real world” experiences and accomplishments before extending an offer for a permanent position. They rely heavily on internships and summer programs to assess the skills, abilities, and qualifications of potential full time employees.

Internships and summer programs provide prospective employers an opportunity to observe your content knowledge, initiative, creativity, skills, values, interests, and other personal attributes, which are a few of the intangible qualities that don’t come through on a resume and manifest themselves only briefly during an interview.

An internship or summer job gives you a chance to explore and test your career interests on a short-term basis. You’ll be able to get a realistic idea of what the career industry is all about, decide whether the job is one you enjoy, and evaluate whether you “fit” into the company culture. It’s definitely a two-way street! Benefits of working as an intern include:

  • Gain valuable real world experience and learn new skills.
  • Explore and test different career possibilities before making a long-term commitment.
  • Demonstrate to future employers your interest in your chosen career field.
  • Make contacts and develop important networking and mentoring relationships.
  • Prove yourself on a trial basis to a potential employer.

Internship Planning

It’s important to give some thought to your goals for the internship or summer job. Here are questions to consider:

  • What is the primary reason you’re looking for an internship or summer job? Develop career-related skills? Gain experience to add to your resume? Test out career alternatives?
    To earn money?
  • When does your intended industry begin hiring? When should you begin preparing? See our timeline on the inside front cover.
  • What are you interested in doing? Where? With whom? In what type of organization?
  • What skills can you bring to the job? Why should you be hired instead of any other college student?
  • Is money an issue? How much money do you need? What is the bare minimum?
  • Can you afford to do an unpaid internship or volunteer work that might relate more directly to your career objective?
  • Will you need to relocate? What impact will this have on your financial situation? Does the employer provide any assistance relocating?
  • Will you get class credit? (Offered through the Center for Community Learning or department based internship courses.)
  • Is the position likely to provide an entrée into your dream career?
  • Is it important for your internship experience or summer work to tie in with your academic pursuits and career goals?

Summer and Part-time Jobs

Summer and part-time work (especially if it is relevant to your career goal) can lead to great opportunities, and it should be a vital component in any job search strategy. Many employers are impressed with a person who has had to work their way through school and has still managed to maintain a good academic record and excel in extracurricular activities.

Temporary Employment

Opportunities range from one day assignments to longer term commitments. Most often these positions can be found through employment service firms and include a diversity of professional and technical opportunities.

Community Service and Volunteer Work

Involvement in social, political, cultural, performing arts, religious, and public service organizations can add valuable experience and leadership responsibilities to your resume. What are your interests? What issues and causes do you strongly support? Volunteer your services and get involved.

For more information about Career Planning and Exploration, download Chapters 2 and 3 of the UCLA Career Guide.