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