Finding one’s path is a process
Deciding on the type of work we want to pursue in life is a major life decision. A few lucky people know from the time they are children what they want to do when they grow up, but for most students it is a longer process of identifying possible options, learning about those occupations, trying to “test drive” or get hands-on experience to make sure their choice will be a good fit, and then completing the education and/or training needed to actually enter that field of work. When a student meets with an academic advisor or a career counselor, they are often hoping for a quick answer – but to find a truly satisfying career path, spending the extra time and energy to really explore and research different opportunities can help avoid disappointment and burnout from rushed or poorly-informed decisions. This page will walk you through the stages of the process and provide you with resources to help you make a smart, well-informed decision based on your individual needs, strengths, interests, values and priorities.
These stages are:
- Identify options
- Research occupations of interest
- Gain real-life insight and experience to determine personal fit
- Create a plan for the education and/or training you need to be successful in your chosen field
||Identifying Occupational Options |
Have you ever met a small child who, when asked, declares an intention to be an ophthalmologist when they grow up? How about phlebotomist, anthropologist, or a friendly horticulturalist? Most people will answer “no” because these are not typically jobs that most children would have ever heard of before – or know how to spell if they wanted to learn about them! This was a problem that was identified over a century ago by psychologists who studied how to help people find jobs that suited them. They identified two major problems: first, people cannot aspire to careers that are completely unfamiliar to us
, and secondly, in order to optimize a worker’s experience as well as productivity that it is important to have a good fit between the person and occupation.
In order to help people find jobs that may fit them, vocational psychologists set out to develop assessments that would help determine a job-seekers’ interests by focusing on what they liked
. The assessment results created a pattern or profile that could be compared to the profiles of people who were already employed in different fields. Then we can recommend occupations – even ones that may be completely unfamiliar to the job seeker – with the understanding that a person who likes and dislikes a similar pattern of activities might enjoy doing the same kind of occupation or work.
Once a person has completed a career interest inventory, however, this is only the first step!
Recall that the assessments measure self-reported interests
of the job-seeker. It says nothing about talent, or training requirements, or fit with a person’s values. For example, a person may get back career interest assessment results that list medical specialties as being good matches for their interest. However, the person may have personal circumstances or priorities that would not fit well with the requirements of becoming a physician. This does not mean that the assessment was wrong
, since it only measures interests; in fact, the person might be an excellent fit for working in the medical field in an occupation that requires less education and training. Fortunately, there are dozens of occupations in the health sciences that the person could still choose from once they knew that this was the field to focus on for their career exploration process.
The chart below provides a list of different types of assessments and the advantages and limitations of each. The next section provides links to several different interest websites, if students would like to begin looking at an assessment before meeting with a career counselor.
||Person self-reports how much they like or dislike various activities. Interest assessments use the data from the “like” and “dislike” responses to create a general profile; it does not tell someone what occupation to pursue or what major to choose!
||By comparing a person’s pattern of likes & dislikes to wide range of different occupations, results show similarity between person’s interests and people who work in that field
• Does NOT assess skill. Example: Someone wants to be American Idol but sings badly.
• To keep quiz short, items tend to be simplistic and results are very general
• Mood and social expectations can influence answers
||Skills assessments attempt to measure what a person is already able to do, and therefore evaluate readiness for necessary job tasks.
||A nurse who can demonstrate the required skills for the healthcare profession is likely to be more effective in the workplace and have higher job satisfaction than someone who has never put in an IV.
• People can be very skilled in activities that they do not want to do for an entire career
• Because some skills require intensive training, assessment focuses on aptitude rather than current abilities
||What is most important to a person, whether physical (family, home, car) or qualities (faith, relaxation, connection with nature)? Values assessments help identify these priorities related to the world of work and future goals.
||Some people have many diverse interests in life, and picking a single major/degree is often stressful for these students. Choosing an occupation that fits their values or the lifestyle they wish to live can be more productive than interest assessments for these students.
• Fewer assessments available that connect values to occupational result lists
• Since there are no right or best values for a person to have, and priorities can shift during our lifetime, this tool works best for discussion with a counselor
||Links to Online Career Assessments|
Currently enrolled CGCC students can make a free appointment with Counseling Services
to meet individually with a highly-trained counselor who can serve as a guide through the career exploration process.
For those who would like to start exploring before making an appointment, or who are not currently enrolled at CGCC, here are several websites that provide free occupational assessments.
- My Next Move – a free career exploration website developed and maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor to help individuals assess interests and research occupations
- My Next Move for Veterans – a customized version of the original website designed to help military veterans looking for civilian jobs after completion of their service
- Arizona Career Information System (AzCIS) – another free career exploration website with assessment tools, occupational information, and the opportunity for MCCCD students to save their results into an electronic portfolio. This is a great option for students who wish to review their assessments with a counselor for a more in-depth interpretation and discussion!
Once someone has identified a list of several occupations that interest them, the next step is to learn more about each of those occupations. Things to consider include:
- what are the actual day-to-day job duties of someone in that occupation?
- what are the different types of jobs even within a single occupation?
- how much education and training is required to enter the field?
- what is the future demand for hiring?
- what would be the range of typical salaries that people earn in this type of work?
Take for example the occupation of “teacher.” Most people have a mental image of what the role of teacher looks like, but there are many variations. First of all, who does the teacher teach? Even within the same school, teaching different academic subjects or grade levels can be quite different experiences. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that students not only research online the occupations that interest them, but find ways to get direct experience with people who work in that field. Websites for Researching Specific Occupations
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – one of the most thorough and up-to-date sources of information on broad occupational fields, using data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics
- O*NET Online – this link will take you a page where you can browse occupations by name, by their broad field or industry, or by desired quality such as Bright Outlook (strong hiring demand)
||Ideas for Getting Direct Experience|
- Talk to your college faculty members who teach in the field that interests you, perhaps making an office hours visit to ask questions that provide general background on the jobs available.
- Visit Student Life to check out our clubs and organizations, or use the CoyoteConnect website to find the right group for you. Future teachers, healthcare providers, business professionals, or engineers – we have clubs on campus for all of them, great for networking and learning about how to get ahead in your field!
- Talk to family, friends, neighbors, and members of your community. If you want to be an accountant, but don’t know anyone who works in accounting, then let people around you know that what you are seeking. It might be that your cousin’s neighbor is an accountant who would be happy to talk to you, but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t ask for introductions.
- Talk to the Career Services office about opportunities for internships or entry-level jobs that might be available in your field of interest. While there, have them look at your résumé!
- Look for volunteer opportunities in your community. Someone who is interested in becoming a veterinary technician might learn a lot from volunteering at a local animal shelter. Need help finding a group that needs your help? Try Volunteer Match.
- Conduct informational interviews with people currently employed in your field of interest. It can be perceived as a compliment to a professional when a student respectfully contacts them with a request to learn more about their occupation, as long as you keep it focused and positive.
Finding the Right Educational Goal
One of the first questions students often wonder about when considering various occupational interests is the level of education and/or training required to pursue that type of work. This is an important consideration when deciding among different options within the same broad field. Take an example from the field of healthcare: there is a huge difference between being a dentist, which requires a doctoral degree and years of training to practice independently, and being a dental hygienist who can pursue licensure and join a dental team much sooner with completion of an Associate in Applied Science degree. These two professionals can work side-by-side in a dental office, but with separate scope of patient care, and it is critical for a student who wants to help people maintain healthy smiles to know the details of each occupation to make an informed decision which path to pursue.
Each individual is unique in terms of how much time, energy, and resources they are willing to invest in preparation for their future career, so use all available resources to make an informed decision about which path is best for you. Hard work and sacrifices are often part of the journey, but effective preparation and knowing clearly what to expect can help students overcome challenges and stay on track to be successful. The good news is that you are not alone on your journey – the college has numerous resources available and people happy to help you navigate your path!
Differences Between Degrees
For students who are new to college, a quick overview of the types of educational awards offered can be a good start. A Certificate is a relatively brief program of study that helps students develop specialized skills and knowledge related to a particular domain; it could be academic, like a Certificate in Child and Family Professional Development, or a Certificate of Completion in an applied area like Therapeutic Massage. These types of awards are excellent for someone seeking to enter or get ahead in many technical fields.
If a student’s goal requires broader training, they will be looking to pursue a Degree. At the community colleges, a student can earn a number of different types of Associate Degrees. These degrees require a minimum of 60-64 credit hours, and can be very broad like an Associate of Arts which prepares students for transfer to universities for bachelors degrees in the liberal arts, or quite specific like an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing which prepares students directly to become Registered Nurses. Students who do choose to go on for a bachelor’s degree will generally need to complete at least 60 more credits at the university level; depending on course load, this takes most full-time students (15+ credit hours) at least four more terms after completion of the associate degree and transferring.
Those interested in professions such as medicine, dentistry, mental health, pharmacy, law, or other specialized fields will need to continue for several more years of study and training beyond their bachelor degree to earn a graduate degree, such as a masters or doctoral degree. Depending on the academic discipline and graduate program model, this can add anywhere from one to eight years of additional full-time studies.
Exploring Fields of Interest
Once students know which field and/or occupation they wish to pursue, it is important to select the right level of education and training. Will a certificate be enough to meet your goals? Do you need to earn a college degree, and if so, which degree? Meeting with a counselor from Counseling Services can help currently enrolled students evaluate different options and make informed decisions. Some students refer to this as selecting their college major; however, the term “field of interest” is often more accurate as it reflects the adaptable nature of a college education that can later lead to a more focused “major” when students move on to pursue their bachelor degree.
Maricopa offers a number of tools to help students explore the available programs within your Field of Interest. This page explains Areas of Study, Degrees, and Certificates with guided options to browse, explore, and even begin thinking about university transfer options if that is part of your plan.
Once you have explored Programs of Study, now it is time to meet with an Academic Advisor to start creating your individualized educational plan. Not only can they help you create a semester-by-semester plan of the courses you need for your program of study, they can also introduce you to tools like the Degree Progress Report in your Maricopa Student Center, and your Advising Notes to keep track of recommendations they make for you during your advising appointments. Ready to get started? Use our Q-Less system to check their hours and current wait times at both Pecos and Williams locations.