The coronavirus pandemic has created a tough job landscape, but it has also created an opportunity for career “rethinking” as well. Many people are considering pivots and turning towards skill development and learning opportunities like graduate school. But how do you decide what’s next? How do you think about what you want, and also, how to get there? Below, we’ll take you through a step-by-step guide to answer these (and other) questions.
What is career exploration?
Career exploration is a process that is separate and preliminary to the job search, including a series of steps of practical learning about potential career paths of interest as well as self-reflection. The goals and outcome of the process are to learn, compare, contrast, and narrow in on your options until you reach a point of clarity and confidence about which career path is best for you. It is grounded in the concept that:
learning + self-reflection (in an iterative and fluid manner) →
clarity and confidence on your ideal career path
Why is this the best time for career exploration?
While many of us have a newfound sense of time, we are starting to reflect on the bigger picture of our lives, asking ourselves questions like, “What’s important to me (both personally and professionally)?” and “Where am I lacking fulfillment?” Take this moment to reflect on your path to date, your future goals, and how you can forge an interesting journey towards reaching your potential. If you’re still unsure of your direction, don’t fret as there are practical steps you can take to gain clarity; see below!
What does career exploration entail?
Step 1 – Reflect on your interests.
There are three distinct aspects to explore:
- First, think about the functions, tasks, actions, or projects that you truly enjoy doing (i.e. researching, selling, consulting, teaching, building, analyzing).
- Second, think about the content areas you find interesting (i.e. education, finance, fashion, politics, etc.)
- Third, reflect on which environments you thrive in (big vs. small companies, and what culture and values you align with).
Step 2 – Translate your interests into real-world opportunities.
Break it down into:
- What roles relate to the functions or tasks you love doing?
- What industries relate to the content you find interesting?
Step 3 – Learn and reflect to dive deeper into your options.
You can accomplish this step with the steps outlined below:
- Research – We can only learn so much online about certain career paths, but it’s a good place to start. See what you can find out about your target roles and industries and what questions or reflections arise for you.
- Networking as a way to learn – Connect with professionals in your target roles and industries and learn from them! Figure out what these roles and industries are really like and also what it takes to get there.
- Reflect – Once you begin learning about your options, reflect on what you’re hearing. Which paths do you want to learn more or less about?
- Continue learning until you feel clear and confident in your direction.
- Experiential learning – You can also test the waters by shadowing, volunteering, doing an online course, completing a side project, and attending professional events to ensure the path is right for you before you dive into the job search.
Once I’ve confidently identified my ideal path, what’s next?
This is where you start to learn about how to get where you want to go. This is where you consider whether a graduate program will propel you towards your desired direction, and which specific program will be the best fit for you.
In order to gain confidence on which program is right for you to help you achieve your goals, pursue similar activities to the career exploration process:
- Online research – This research can be carried out by exploring the various programs that you are considering and admissions consultant blogs, like this one!
- Network and consult – Network with past, current, or prospective students of programs you’re considering; this is an impeccable way to learn about a program’s content, value, and potential fit with your goals. You can also consult with an admissions counselor at your intended schools and with admissions consultants like those at Accepted, who have broad exposure to various programs, their value, and requirements.
After following a thorough career exploration process, as well as performing sufficient due diligence on which program is right for you, I can guarantee you’ll feel confident about the next steps in your career. Remember, with increased learning and reflection, you will feel greater clarity, confidence, relief, and excitement about your career path!
For assistance applying to graduate programs, check out Accepted’s Admissions Services. We’d be delighted to help guide you successfully through the application process.
For assistance with career exploration, check out www.iamwoken.com.
Rachel Serwetz, Founder/CEO of WOKEN, spent her early professional experience at Goldman Sachs and at Bridgewater Associates. She is an ICF-certified coach, with a Technology MBA from NYU Stern and a BS from Binghamton University. Throughout her career, she has helped hundreds of professionals with career exploration. Her company, WOKEN, is an online career exploration platform that coaches professionals through the process of figuring out their ideal job and career path. She is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and a Career Coach at Columbia University and Flatiron School/WeWork.