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 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:

How Should I Choose My Major?

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Maybe it’s time to start planning for your undergraduate degree, and you have to start asking the big questions about which degree programs and universities you should apply to. Or maybe you’re an undecided student already at university. If these sound like you, you are probably thinking, I don’t know what to study! What should my university major be?

Nobody but you can choose your path. Part of university is about learning more about yourself and your role in the world, and you can begin this self-discovery when you choose your major and degree at university!

What is a major?

This is the model I recommend for exploring your options and choosing the best major for you in university. The three things you should consider when choosing a major are your aptitudes, interests, and career options. Find something in that middle zone of your aptitudes (skills and strengths), interests (what you enjoy), that has career options (that appeal to you).

You may also find that one of these categories is more important than others for you. I focused on studying something I was very interested in, that I was moderately skilled at, but wasn’t sure what career options it would give me. Other students may prioritize a certain career above the other areas, but you should definitely be thinking about all three of these for success – I wish I had been more aware of the career options I would have before I graduated.

It takes some work to figure out what’s in that middle point, but it will help guide you when you’re planning your degree and choosing your major (and possibly a minor).

How to choose your major: Three overlapping circles. One is peach and says "career options." One is pink and says "aptitudes," and one is blue and says "interests."
How to choose your major.

How to choose your major based on your Aptitudes

Spending your time as a student or a worker, slogging away at something you really struggle with will be a long, uphill journey. That’s not to say you won’t have to sometimes take courses or do work that you’re not the best at, but it shouldn’t be your main focus. Figuring out your strengths can help you focus and enhance those, rather than spending all your time challenging yourself.

If you don’t already know what you’re good at, it’s time to do some reflecting! What have others (teachers, parents, friends) told you that you are good at? What comes easily to you? Think about school and anything you are involved in outside of school: arts and crafts, hobbies, sports, clubs, volunteering…

And remember, you may develop new skills while you are a student, so giving yourself some space to change your studies may be helpful. If this is something you can see happening, you may wish to choose a university and program where there are more options to change programs.

If you’re having trouble determining your strengths, read this post: Understanding Your Skills and Interests.

How to choose your major based on your Interests

We have to work for a long time. If you graduate from university at 23, and retire at 65, that’s 42 years of working, so you should definitely do something that you like! You will also enjoy your classes more if you are interested in the content and not just trying to get through.

This isn’t the same old “find your passion!” advice. This is about finding where your interests, and hopefully one of your passions, can also align with a career outcome you are interested in. Unfortunately, some “passions” and interests can be more difficult to turn into successful careers, or may not be a good fit for you based on your skills, which is why we are trying to find where these meet.

You are probably still discovering your interests. Hopefully, you continue to discover new interests for the rest of your life! Think about the things that you get wrapped up in – what are the activities that stop time from passing when you’re doing them? What would you rather be doing when you’re bored?

If you’re having trouble narrowing down your interests, read this post: Understanding Your Skills and Interests.

How to choose your major based on your Career Options

This is important because it’s the main reason we go to university. And it’s challenging because there are so many careers out there that we don’t even know exist! We all know about doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers – but what about all those other people out there in fulfilling careers? Doing some research on the careers that are of interest to you before and throughout your time at university will help you make decisions about your own career.

And remember, this is career research, not choosing one specific job. The idea here is to remain open so you will have lots of options when you finish your degree. You want to make sure that there are career options waiting for you that you are interested in, and that you will be able to work towards and eventually qualify for.

You have a lot of time to explore your career options, but starting to do research early in your university degree will be helpful.

Here are the steps you can follow to start exploring career paths:

  1. Start with a really open search of job postings. You can go on LinkedIn or Indeed or any other job posting website, and just do some keyword searches based on careers you are aware of as well as your interests and aptitudes. You can also look at organizations you have heard of before to see what kinds of jobs are available.
  2. When you find a few postings that look interesting, look at the details. Start with the role description and the responsibilities. What appeals to you? What doesn’t sound very interesting? Does this role work independently or with others? Are they a leader who has to motivate and manage people? Notice which are transferable skills (which you can gain from any university degree) and technical skills (which may require specific training and certain university programs).
  3. Next, look at the qualifications (requirements) for that role. What kind of education and experience do you need? What skills do they want you to have? You can use this to guide some of your activities during university so that you can build your resume towards these jobs. You should try to find some entry-level positions that require less experience, as well as positions for later on in your career.
  4. Finally, use LinkedIn to look up some of the people who have these positions. You don’t need to contact them yet (we’ll talk about that later), but have a look at their education and past work experience to see how they ended up in those jobs. Career paths are not one-size-fits-all, but looking at the paths of others will give you some idea of how to advance in your career.

You may want to start saving some of these job postings so you can look at them later. These are just to provide guidance for you, and if you go through this process every semester or two as you go through your degree, you can continue to update your career goals. You can change your goals as you go through, but this activity will give you some basic knowledge of the kinds of roles that are out there, and what you need to access them.

If you aren’t finding any jobs that appeal to you, that’s still helpful. Early on, even knowing what you don’t want to do will be helpful. Hopefully, you will eventually find some roles that are of interest to you! Just keep searching and trying new things.

As you gain experience and build your network, you can start reaching out to people who are in positions that you would like to learn more about. But early on, just build your knowledge and understanding of what your career path could look like.

About the Salary

Salary may also be something you want to research, which you can do on sites like However, remember to keep your interests and skills in mind. Having a high salary is great, but having a slightly less high salary in a job you enjoy will probably make you happier. If you retire at 65, you still have to work for another 40+ or so years after you graduate, and you’ll likely be working around 40 hours a week. That’s a lot of time if you’re spending it in a job you dislike, even if you make a lot of money. Don’t make the salary the only reason you chose a particular career path.

If you picked your Career First

A lot of students already know what career they want to go into, and focus on that when they go to college. If this is you, I encourage you to still think about your interests and skills and how they align with that career. As I mentioned above, struggling to get into a particular field may indicate that you will also struggle at that career. Even if you’ve already picked a career, I encourage you to still do some exploration to confirm that it is indeed the best career for you.

Careers that require additional education

Some careers require additional education. For example: lawyers, doctors and professors all have to go beyond a bachelors degree. For other careers, it will depend on where you study (institution and/or province), for example: teachers and architects. If the career of interest to you requires additional education, it will be helpful to do that research early on so you can make sure you meet the requirements.

You can read more about career exploration for students in these posts:
University Student Career Exploration
How can I explore my career options?

Connect Your Skills, Interests, and Career Goals with a Major

Your next step is connecting everything you’ve learned from the steps above with one or more majors so you can continue your research.

Not sure what your options are for majors? Everybody knows about majors like English, Biology, and Computer Science, but there are hundreds of other options! Get a list of over 400 examples of university programs available at Canadian universities – click here:

Choosing a University

Finally, once you’ve narrowed down to a few programs, look them up on the Universities Canada program search tool to see which universities offer the programs you are interested in.

You can also check out the Glossary: Canadian University Vocabulary to find definitions of any vocab you haven’t seen before.