Career Exploration Resources
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 be when they grow up! But for most of us, it’s a much longer process. We have to see what kinds of occupations are out there, decide if they’re a good fit, and then get the education and training we need to actually enter that field of work.
When a student meets with an academic advisor or a career counselor, they often hope 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 even job burnout.
This page will walk you through the stages of the process and give you the resources to help you make a smart, well-informed decision based on your individual needs, strengths, interests, values and priorities.
These stages are:
- Identify your 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
Career Exploration Resources
Have you ever met a small child who says she wants to be an ophthalmologist when she grows up? How about a phlebotomist, anthropologist, or a friendly horticulturalist? Probably not, because these are professions most children have never heard of – or even know how to spell! This is an example of an issue psychologists identified over a century ago. People cannot aspire to careers that are completely unfamiliar to them! Research also showed that in order to optimize a worker’s experience and productivity, an occupation has to be a good fit.
To help people find jobs that suited them, vocational psychologists set out to develop assessments that would help determine a job-seekers’ interests by focusing on what they liked and disliked. The assessment results created a pattern or profile that could be compared to the profiles of people who were already employed in different fields. With this comparable information, 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 as other people, might enjoy doing the same kind of occupation or work those people do.
Completing a career interest inventory, however, is only the first step! These assessments measure self-reported interests of the job-seeker. They do not tell us about talent, or training requirements, or fit with a person’s values. For example, a person may get results that list medical specialties as a good match to 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 would be wrong, since it only measures interests; in fact, the person might be an excellent fit for working in the medical field, but 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 section following this chart provides links to several different interest websites. You may wish to begin looking at an assessment before meeting with a CGCC career counselor.
Type of Assessment
What It Measures
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 a wide range of 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 poorly.
• 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 administered 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
Values assessments help identify these priorities related to the world of work and future goals. They help identify what is most important to a person, whether physical (family, home, car) or emotional (faith, relaxation, connection with nature).
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 is most effective when discusses with a counselor
Currently enrolled CGCC students can make a free appointment with Counseling to meet individually with highly trained Counseling Faculty 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.
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:
- Day-to-day job duties of that occupation
- Different types of jobs within a single occupation
- Education and training required to enter the field
- Future demand for hiring
- Salary ranges for this type of work
Consider the occupation of “teacher,” for example. 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 – Browse occupations by name, field or industry, or by desired quality such as Bright Outlook (strong hiring demand).
- 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, for example, but don’t know anyone who works in accounting, then let people around you know about your interest. It might be that your cousin’s neighbor is an accountant who would be happy to talk to you. When you discover those kinds of contacts, don’t be afraid to 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 you’re 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 assistance? 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 this 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 about 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 you 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 who are 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 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. Community college degrees can be quite specific, like an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing, which prepares students to become Registered Nurses. Students who do choose to go on to a Bachelor 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 per semester) 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 CGCC Counseling Faculty can help currently enrolled students evaluate different options and make informed decisions.
Some students refer to this process as selecting their “college major,” but the term “field of interest” is often more accurate, because 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 Community Colleges offer a number of tools to help students explore available programs within nine different Fields of Interest. Whether you’re seeking a degree, or just want to take a class, you’ll find various majors and programs listed within each Field of Interest. Search by name, or browse and explore, and even begin thinking about university transfer options, if that is part of your plan.
Once you have explored your Fields of Interest, it’s time to meet with an Academic Advisor to start creating your individualized educational plan. Not only can an Advisor 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? Contact our Academic Advising Office!