Career Development Manual

Career Development Process

Did you know that career planning begins during your first year of undergraduate study? From the very first day, your courses and other academic and professional experiences (such as fellowships, volunteer work, leadership positions and study abroad programs) offer you rich and diverse ways to build your skills, expand your interests, and most importantly, clarify and refine your long-term career goals. The earlier you begin to focus on your career development and interests, the more prepared and confident you will be to pursue a wide range of career options and opportunities. The following sections of this guide will provide you with important information, resources, and advice in order to support you in your career journey.


Utilizing Your College or University’s Career Guidance Office

Whether you attend a community college, a liberal arts college, or a large university, all campuses are equipped with a Career Services program. It is essential that you the student make use of this valuable resource available to you. Students’ misconceptions about Career Services often prevent them from making an appointment, talking to counselors, or simply dropping by to find out more information. Some students believe that they must have an immediate plan of what they will do post-graduation before Career Services will provide support. Others believe Career Services is just for upperclassmen. Still others believe that Career Services is a placement organization and will guarantee a job or internship (it is not a placement agency, but information about obtaining both are readily available). Contrary to these misconceptions, counselors are available to speak with any student, at any stage in their career development; no advance preparation is necessary. You do not have to know what you will do after graduation or what career you’d like to pursue. All you need is the desire to learn how, and where, you can find the resources you need.


Step One: Self-Assessment

The first practical step in career development is to spend some time reflecting upon your skills, personality, and interests. Most Career Services departments have the following two tests available for you to take, or, if they don’t, advisors can provide you with information on where and how to take them. The Strong Interest Inventory (STI) helps students discover their interests, preferences, and personal styles in order to determine the right kinds of majors and occupations for you. Another assessment, the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), provides you with insight on how you make decisions, interact with people, gather information and get motivated. If you would prefer to do some assessment on your own, this database allows you to browse a number of careers based upon interest categories. To assess ways in which your academic and professional skills to date have provided you with development opportunities, click here for specific examples. In addition, this website provides you with downloadable forms to further support you in your assessment.


Step Two: Research: Exploring Careers

The skills most sought after by employers (regardless of field) are the ability to communicate effectively, to think critically, and arrive at solutions; to conduct research; to organize and present research and/or information, and to contribute meaningfully to a team. It is necessary for you to take courses that interest you and to seek out internships or programs that will give you experience in conducting research, making presentations, writing and communicating effectively. Once you recognize what skills are generally required for the job market, you can start conducting research. Using research and your own self-assessment, you can decide what kind of job, industry and location you will target. Browse a comprehensive list of job descriptions by field and find out other ways—besides the internet—of conducting research, such as finding an internship, or attending an internship and/or career fair in your area. Check with your Career Services center for details. In addition, the Chronicle of Higher Education is an excellent scholarly source to research career trends and information.


Step Three: Career Decision Making

Once you have assessed your interests, skills, personality, and values, and explored career and educational options, you are ready to begin to identify your career objectives and goals. You should seek to identify as many career options as you can, and then look for possible matches between what you’ve learned about yourself and your career choices. Now, you are in the position to determine which of your matches yields the best prospects.

At this point, you can take the time to identify your short term (one year), medium (two-five years) and long-range (five or more years) goals. Make sure these goals are attainable.

Often students can become anxious throughout the process of career decision making. You might be thinking, “What if I’ve made the wrong choice and end up unhappy?” If you’ve done the research to your best of ability, you shouldn’t have to think in this way.  Instead, keep these thoughts in mind and your journey will be less stressful.


Step Four: Marketing Yourself

Once you have assessed yourself, conducted research and clarified your goals, you are now ready to act—that is, begin applying for jobs (or act upon the next step that is right for you, such as applying to graduate school or taking an internship).)Marketing yourself—selling yourself—is an area that can be challenging, but it is crucial to master if you want to succeed in your professional endeavors. Writing a resume that attracts and sells is most important. Employers may only spend 30 seconds scanning a resume, so you need to think of a resume as a marketing tool. Effective resumes are ones that emphasize accomplishments and contributions, focus on the required skills necessary in a particular field, and are succinct, impeccably organized, and easy to read. University of Princeton offers a comprehensive handbook[YL1]  which provides step-by-step ways to create your resume as well as sample resumes catered to a variety of fields. In addition, you can find valuable information on writing cover letters and selecting references as well.
The resume and cover letter are just the beginning. Networking is the process (indirectly or directly) of developing relationships with people who can assist you in your career development needs. Networking can happen anywhere, at any time: on the phone, face-to-face, online, at career fairs, alumni receptions, internships, work study and study abroad programs, and even at social events. Family, friends, professors, alumni, university administration and staff, coaches, advisors and supervisors are all examples of individuals who may be able to help you with your career related needs.

The third piece of networking is the job interview. In this kind of economic climate, it is advised to take every interview that comes your way, even if you are sure you won’t be taking the job. Interviewing, like anything else, is a skill which requires practice. Two main pieces of advice: conduct research on the company, school, organization, etc. beforehand, and make sure you know your resume inside and out.


At Work

Once you have secured a job, please note that your career development has not yet come to an end. It is important to continually find ways to develop professionally (and personally) in order to feel as though you are utilizing your skills and potential as best you can. Make sure you speak with your boss or supervisor about career development opportunities that may be particular to job. On the other hand, you might find, at some point, that it is necessary to reevaluate your career path, and venture into something different. Click here for a comprehensive guide on setting and making new career and life goals.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons