How can I explore my career options?

Career development is something you should work on throughout your education and career. How can you explore your career options while you’re a student? Undergraduate students can start setting professional development goals and working towards them while they’re still at university.

Text reads "How to explore your career options while you're at university" with an image of a job interview.

Read job postings

Start your career exploration by reading job postings to see what’s out there. LinkedIn and Indeed.ca are both great resources for this, as is Google. Search by keyword to see what’s out there (marketing, graphic design, programming, etc), and then take a look at the skills required, description of the role and the duties it will perform to find out more about the job. What appeals to you about this role? What doesn’t sound very fun?

Make sure you also look at the requirements so you have an idea what the qualifications are and also the level of role (entry-level vs. senior management) and think about where it could fit in your professional development plan. What are the educational requirements? If it requires further education beyond a bachelors degree, is that an option you want to keep open? What kinds of experiences does it require? Which of those can you build during your undergrad?

Learn about others’ career paths

You can do this through LinkedIn, and also through networking, including informational interviews. People are usually happy to talk about their own careers, so you can see what led them on their path. Talk to people in a variety of careers so you can see the different paths people take. There’s not just one path you can take to reach a particular career, so take this as an opportunity to explore all your options!

The goal here is not to find a career path that you can copy. You have to find your own path and opportunities, and career paths are not one-size-fits-all. But seeing how others got into their careers will give you ideas about what kind of options you have and help you set your own professional goals.

Access resources

As a student, you have access to additional resources that can help your career growth. In high school, your guidance counsellor can help, and most Canadian universities have a career centre that can provide support once you’re a student there. They will be able to help you on your career exploration journey by providing resources and asking effective questions.

People pay big money for career counselling, so take advantage of the services at your university while you are an undergraduate student! Career counsellors can provide advice, ask you helpful questions, and point you to new resources.

Try career assessments

There are many assessments you can take that will prompt you to look at certain careers. Your high school guidance counsellor or the career centre at your university may be able to refer you to some. These assessments can guide you to some different careers to explore, and may either broaden your choices, or help you narrow them down.

Remember that these assessments are based on algorithms, and don’t know you as well as you know yourself! If the results don’t resonate with you, you don’t need to listen to them. It may be worthwhile to try and understand why it recommended a particular career to you, but it also may not. Make sure you exercise your own good judgment.

Try new things

The authors Bill Burnett & Dave Evans talk about prototyping in their book Designing your life: Build a life that works for you. Prototyping is trying jobs out to see how much you like them. The best time to do this is when you’re a student! You can do internships, co-operative work terms, and other types of part-time work. These are all opportunities for you to sample different types of jobs and meet people in industries that are of interest to you in order to make decisions.

Co-operative work terms, also called co-op, are organized through your university, and you may get additional credit or a certificate for completing them. Some programs require you to complete a certain number of co-ops. A co-op is usually a semester (or maybe more) where you work full-time. Employers can get extra funding for hiring university students, so they are motivated, but they are also interested in helping you develop because they know they’re hiring a student who may need more guidance than a more experienced employee.

Internships are typically less structured than co-ops, and they can be paid or unpaid. There is no federal regulation about paying interns, but some provinces require that they get paid. The internship is usually whatever is agreed upon between the employer and the employee, so the number of hours and the tasks can really vary. Make sure you check out your other options (and your provincial laws) before you accept an unpaid internship – there may be a better option. Unfortunately, in certain industries, unpaid internships are more accepted or even the standard.

Part-time work is any kind of work you do that’s not full-time. Many students work part-time to supplement their incomes. There are pros and cons to this. Cons: you may not be able to take time off to pursue some of the opportunities of university (exchange, co-op, etc). Pros: you can supplement your income consistently and gain work experience. Most campuses have on-campus employment opportunities, which may be worth exploring. If you are going to work part-time while going to school, ideally you should look for something that gains experience that will benefit you later on, pays as highly as possible, and allows enough flexibility so you can accommodate your studies.

For more information, read the post on Work Experience for Students or sign up for the next Beginning Career Exploration webinar on Eventbrite.

For more information on career exploration, check out these posts:
For more tips on how to explore your career options: University Student Career Exploration
For help describing the skills you learn at university: Transferable Skills for Students
If you want to gain a better understanding of yourself: Understanding Your Skills and Interests
To find out the different ways to gain work experience as a student: Work Experience for Students
Or sign up for the next Beginning Career Exploration webinar on Eventbrite.

What other avenues have helped you to explore your career options? Let me know in the comments or send me an email: email@chooseyouruni.ca

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