The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. –Steve Jobs, cofounder and CEO of Apple
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Differentiate between “job” and “career”
- Explain the five-step process for choosing a career
- List key strategies for selecting a college major
- Identify the relationship between college majors and career paths (both why they matter and why they don’t)
- Identify specific skills and transferable skills that will be valuable for your career path and how to acquire them
- Describe the stages of career development and identify the stage you’re currently in
- Identify sources for developing professional networks
- Define the purpose and contents of an effective résumé and cover letter
- Describe effective strategies to prepare for an interview
One of the most widely known and successful American entrepreneurs of all time is Steve Jobs. He is best known as the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple, Inc. He also co-founded Pixar Animation Studios and was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company. Four hundred eighty-four inventions bear his name.
From early on in his life, Jobs was interested in electronics. When he was thirteen, for instance, he worked at the Hewlett Packard factory, which developed hardware and software components. Jobs later reflected on how he landed this job when he called Mr. Hewlett to ask for parts for an electronics project: “[Hewlett] didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett-Packard on the line, assembling frequency counters . . . well, assembling may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter; I was in heaven.”
Jobs’s electronics and computing career quickly unfolded as he pursued his passion for creating and promoting computing products. At age nineteen, he was a technician for Atari, a leading electronics, gaming and home-computer corporation. By twenty-one, he and his two partners had formed Apple, Inc. At thirty-four, he was named “Entrepreneur of the Decade” by Inc. magazine. And at fifty-two, he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. All in all, Jobs was relentless about pursuing his interests and passions. The products he and his associates developed have transformed modern culture, including the iMac, iTunes, Apple Stores, the iPod, the iTunes Store, the iPhone, the App Store, the iPad, the Mac OS, and the Mac OS X.
Perhaps Steve Jobs never had a job he didn’t love. But he always had a career: pioneering the personal computer revolution. This story of Steve Jobs’s professional pursuits illustrates a dream, a goal, and an ambition that many college students share: to be successful in earning money and finding personal satisfaction in employment.
In this section, we explore strategies that can help you chart your professional path and also attain ample reward. We begin by comparing and contrasting jobs and careers. We then look at how to match up your personal characteristics with a specific field or fields. We conclude by detailing a process for actually choosing your career. Throughout, you will find resources for learning more about this vast topic of planning for employment.
Job vs. Career
What is the difference between a job and a career? Do you plan to use college to help you seek one or the other?
There is no right or wrong answer, because motivations for being in college are so varied and different for each student. But you can take maximum advantage of your time in college if you develop a clear plan for what you want to accomplish. The table below shows some differences between a job and a career.
|A job refers to the work a person performs for a living. It can also refer to a specific task done as part of the routine of one’s occupation. A person can begin a job by becoming an employee, by volunteering, by starting a business or becoming a parent.
|A career is an occupation (or series of jobs) that you undertake for a significant period of time in your life—perhaps five or ten years, or more. A career typically provides you with opportunities to advance your skills and positions.
|A job you accept with an employer does not necessarily require special education or training. Sometimes you can get needed learning “on the job.”
|A career usually requires special learning—perhaps certification or a specific degree.
|A job may be considered a safe and stable means to get income. But jobs can also quickly change; security can come and go.
|A career can also have risk. In today’s world, employees need to continually learn new skills and to adapt to changes in order to stay employed. Starting your own business can have risks. Many people thrive on risk-taking, though, and may achieve higher gains. It all depends on your definition of success.
|The duration of a job may range from an hour (in the case of odd jobs, for example,) to a lifetime. Generally a “job” is shorter-term.
|A career is typically a long-term pursuit.
|Jobs that are not career oriented may not pay as well as career-oriented positions. Jobs often pay an hourly wage.
|Career-oriented jobs generally offer an annual salary versus a wage. Career-oriented jobs may also offer appealing benefits, like health insurance and retirement.
|Satisfaction and contributing to society
|Many jobs are important to society, but some may not bring high levels of personal satisfaction.
|Careers allow you to invest time and energy in honing your crafts and experiencing personal satisfaction. Career pursuits may include making contributions to society.
In summary, a job lets you enjoy at least a minimal level of financial security, and it requires you to show up and do what is required of you. In exchange, you get paid. A career, on the other hand, is more of a means of achieving personal fulfillment through the jobs you hold. In a career, your jobs tend to follow a sequence that leads to increasing mastery, professional development, and personal and financial satisfaction. A career requires planning, knowledge, and skills, too. If it is to be a fulfilling career, it requires that you bring into play your full set of analytical, critical, and creative thinking skills. You will be called upon in a career to make informed decisions that will affect your life in both the short term and the long term.
In the following video, author, speaker, and entrepreneur Shinjini Das discusses the distinction between a job and a career and explains her advice for planning for your career.
Whether you pursue individual jobs or an extended career or both, your time with your employers will always comprise your individual journey. May your journey be as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible!
The Five-Step Process for Choosing Your Career
As your thoughts about career expand, keep in mind that over the course of your life, you will probably spend a lot of time at work—thousands of hours, in fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workday is about 8.7 hours long, and this means that if you work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 35 years, you will spend a total of 76,125 hours of your life at work. These numbers should convince you that it’s pretty important to enjoy your career!
If you do pursue a career, you’ll find yourself making many decisions about it: Is this the right job for me? Am I feeling fulfilled and challenged? Does this job enable me to have the lifestyle I desire? It’s important to consider these questions now, whether you’re just graduating from high school or college, or you’re returning to school after working for a while.
Choosing a career—any career—is a unique process for everyone, and for many people the task is daunting. There are so many different occupations to choose from. How do you navigate this complex world of work?
The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has identified a five-step decision process that will make your career path a little easier to find. Below are the steps:
- Get to know yourself
- Get to know your field
- Prioritize your “deal makers” and rule out your “deal breakers”
- Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action
- Go out and achieve your career goal
Step 1: Get to Know Yourself
Get to know yourself and the things you’re truly passionate about.
- Gather information about your career-related interests and values
- Think about what skills and abilities come naturally to you and which ones you want to develop
- Consider your personality type and how it you want it to play out in your role at work
While you are encouraged to explore your personality, interests, and passions, you may still feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. The following video discusses how “finding your passion” can be much more complicated than it sounds, and it introduces ways to explore related opportunities and gradually focus your interests and efforts.
Before moving on to step 2, you may wish to review the assessments and inventories from Chapter 3: Discover Your Values and Goals and Chapter 8: Personal Learning Preferences. These can help you align career interests with personal qualities, traits, life values, skills, activities, and ambitions. Ultimately, your knowledge of yourself is the root of all good decision-making and will guide you in productive directions.
You can also take assessments specifically designed to help you find your best career matches. A popular assessment is based on the work by John L. Holland and is referred to as the Holland Code or Holland Occupational Themes (RIASEC). In this model, there are six personality types, using the abbreviation RIASEC: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. You can take an assessment to determine your primary personality types at the O*Net Interest Profiler by the U.S. the Department of Labor.
Once you have determined your Holland Code, you can visit this page to find a list of careers that match your personality and start researching the fields that interest you, which leads to Step 2.
Step 2: Get to Know Your Field
You’ll want to investigate the career paths available to you. One of the handiest starting points and “filters” is to decide the level of education you want to attain before starting your first or your next job. Do you want to earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate or professional degree? This is a key factor in narrowing down your search to career paths that will be a good fit with your goals and expectations.
Step 3: Prioritize Your Deal Makers
Prioritize your deal makers and rule out your deal breakers. Educational requirements aren’t the only criteria that you will want to consider. Do you want to work outside or in an office? In the country or a city? In a big or small organization? For a public organization or a private company? What type of industry is interesting to you? What role do you see yourself playing in the organization?
Step 4: Make a Preliminary Career Decision
Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action. Now that you have an idea of who you are and where you might find a satisfying career, how do you start taking action to get there? Some people talk to family, friends, or instructors in their chosen disciplines. Others have mentors in their lives with whom to discuss this decision. Your college has career counselors and academic advisors who can help you with both career decision-making and the educational planning process. But be advised: you’ll get the most from sessions with your counselor if you have done some work on your own. Resources such as the Career Café or the Career Zone can help you get started.
Step 5: Go out and Achieve Your Career Goal
Now it’s time to take concrete steps toward achieving your educational and career goals. This may be as simple as creating a preliminary educational plan for next semester or a comprehensive educational plan that maps out the degree you are currently working toward. You may also want to look for internships, part-time work, or volunteer opportunities that help you test and confirm you preliminary career choice. Your college counselor can help you with this step, as well.
Your work experiences and life circumstances will undoubtedly change throughout the course of your professional life, so you may need to go back and reassess where you are on this path in the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty. This number is projected to grow. A prediction from Forrester Research is that today’s youngest workers will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime. But no matter if you feel like you were born knowing what you want to do professionally, or you feel totally unsure about what the future holds for you, remember that with careful consideration, resolve, and strategic thought, you can find a career that feels rewarding.
College Major Exploration
Your major is the discipline you commit to as an undergraduate student. It’s an area you specialize in, such as accounting, chemistry, nursing, digital arts, welding, or dance. Within each major is a host of core courses and electives. When you successfully complete the required courses in your major, you qualify for a degree.
Why is your major important? It’s important because it’s a defining and organizing feature of your college journey. Ultimately, your major should provide you with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and/or behaviors you need to fulfill your college and career goals. In this section, we look at how to select your major and how your college major may correlate with a career. Does your major matter to your career? What happens if you change your major? Does changing your major mean you must change your career? Read on to find out!
How to Select Your College Major
Selecting your major is one of the most exciting tasks (and, to some students, perhaps one of the most nerve-wracking tasks) you are asked to perform in college. So many decisions are tied to it. But if you have good guidance, patience, and enthusiasm, the process is easier. The video below presents the following five tips:
- Seek inspiration
- Consider everything
- Identify talents and interests
- Explore available resources
- In-depth career exploration
Does Your College Major Matter to Your Career?
There are few topics about college that create more controversy than “Does your major really matter to your career?” Many people think it does; others think it’s not so important. Who is right? And who gets to weigh in? Also, how do you measure whether something “matters”—by salary, happiness, personal satisfaction? It may be difficult to say for sure whether your major truly matters to your career. One’s college major and ultimate career are not necessarily correlated. Consider the following “factoids”:
- 50–70 percent of college students change their major at least once during their time in college.
- Most majors lead to a wide variety of opportunities rather than to one specific career, although some majors do indeed lead to specific careers.
- Many students say that the skills they gain in college will be useful on the job no matter what they major in.
- Only half of graduating seniors accept a job directly related to their major.
- Career planning for most undergraduates focuses on developing general, transferable skills like speaking, writing, critical thinking, computer literacy, problem-solving, and team building, because these are skills that employers want.
- College graduates often cite the following four factors as being critical to their job and career choices: personal satisfaction, enjoyment, opportunity to use skills and abilities, and personal development.
- Within ten years of graduation, most people work in careers that aren’t directly related to their majors.
- Many or most jobs that exist today will be very different five years from now.
It’s also important to talk about financial considerations in choosing a major.
- Any major you choose will likely benefit you because college graduates earn roughly $1 million more than high school graduates, on average, over an entire career.
- STEM jobs, though—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—can lead to the thirty highest paying jobs. So if you major in any of these areas, you may be more likely to earn a higher salary.
- Even though humanities and social sciences students may earn less money right after college, they may earn more by the time they reach their peak salary than students who had STEM majors.
- Students who major in the humanities and social science are also more likely to get advanced degrees, which increases annual salary by nearly $20,000 at peak salary.
So where will you stand with regard to these statistics? Is it possible to have a good marriage between your major, your skills, job satisfaction, job security, and earnings?
The best guidance on choosing a major and connecting it with a career may be to get good academic and career advice and select a major that reflects your greatest interests. If you don’t like law or medicine but you major in it because of a certain salary expectation, you may later find yourself in an unrelated job that brings you greater satisfaction—even if the salary is lower. If this is the case, will it make more sense, looking back, to spend your time and tuition dollars studying a subject you especially enjoy?
Success doesn’t come to you . . . you go to it. —Dr. Marva Collins, civil rights activist and educator
This quote really sets the stage for the journey you’re on. Your journey may be a straight line that connects the dots between today and your future, or it may resemble a twisted road with curves, bumps, hurdles, and alternate routes.
To help you navigate your pathway to career success, take advantage of all the resources available to you. Your college, your community, and the wider body of higher-education institutions and organizations have many tools to help you with career development. Be sure to take advantage of the following resources:
- College course catalog: Course catalogs are typically rich with information that can spark ideas and inspiration for your major and your career.
- Faculty and academic advisors at your college: Many college professors are also practitioners in their fields and can share insights with you about related professions.
- Fellow students: Many of your classmates, especially those who share your major, may have had experiences that can inform and enlighten you—for instance, an internship with an employer or a job interview with someone who could be contacted for more information.
- Students who have graduated: Most colleges and universities have active alumni programs with networking resources that can help you make important decisions.
- Your family and social communities: Contact friends and family members who can weigh in with their thoughts and experience.
- A career center: Professionals in career centers have a wealth of information to share with you—they’re also very good at listening and can act as a sounding board for you to try out your ideas.
Many organizations have free materials that can provide guidance, such as the ones in the table, below:
|List of College Majors (MyMajors)
|A list of more than 1,800 college majors—major pages include description, courses, careers, salary, related majors and colleges offering major
|Take the College Major Profile Quiz (ThoughtCo,)
|Quiz is designed to help you think about college majors, personality traits, and how they may fit within different areas of study
|Choosing a College Major Worksheet (LiveCareer)
|A six-step process to finding a college major
|Common Mistakes Students Make in Choosing a Major (Wayne State University)
|Lists common misperceptions about choosing a major and explains how these misperceptions can cloud future plans
|Explore Careers (BigFuture/The College Board)
|Explore careers by selecting “Show me majors that match my interests,” “Show me new career ideas,” and “Show me how others made their choices”
|The College Major: What It Is and How To Choose One (BigFuture/The College Board)
|When to choose a major, how to choose a major, “you can change your mind,” majors and graduate school, and majors and professions
Preparing for Your Career
If you lived and worked in colonial times in the United States, what skills would you need to be gainfully employed? And how different would your skills and aptitudes be then, compared to today? Many industries that developed during the 1600–1700’s, such as healthcare, publishing, manufacturing, construction, finance, and farming, are still with us today. And the original professional abilities, aptitudes, and values required in those industries are many of the same ones employers seek today. For example, in the healthcare field then, just like today, employers looked for professionals with scientific acumen, active listening skills, a service orientation, oral comprehension abilities, and teamwork skills.
Why is it that with the passage of time and all the changes in the work world, some skills remain unchanged (or little changed)? The answer might lie in the fact there are are two main types of skills that employers look for: hard skills and soft skills.
- Hard skills are concrete or objective abilities that you learn and perhaps have mastered. They are skills you can easily quantify, like using a computer, speaking a foreign language, or operating a machine. You might earn a certificate, a college degree, or other credentials that attest to your hard-skill competencies. Obviously, because of changes in technology, the hard skills required by industries today are vastly different from those required centuries ago.
- Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that have changed very little over time. Such skills might pertain to the way you relate to people, or the way you think, or the ways in which you behave—for example, listening attentively, working well in groups, and speaking clearly. Soft skills are sometimes also called “transferable skills” because you can easily transfer them from job to job or profession to profession without much training. Indeed, if you had a time machine, you could probably transfer your soft skills from one time period to another!
What Employers Want in an Employee
Employers want individuals who have the necessary hard and soft skills to do the job well and adapt to changes in the workplace. Soft skills may be especially in demand today because employers are generally equipped to train new employees in a hard skill—by training them to use new computer software, for instance—but it’s much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill such as developing rapport with coworkers or knowing how to manage conflict. An employer might rather hire an inexperienced worker who can pay close attention to details than an experienced worker who might cause problems on a work team. In this section, we look at ways of identifying and building particular hard and soft skills that will be necessary for your career path. We also explain how to use your time and resources wisely to acquire critical skills for your career goals.
Specific Skills Necessary for Your Career Path
A skill is something you can do, say, or think right now. It’s what an employer expects you to bring to the workplace to improve the overall operations of the organization. The table below lists some resources to help you determine which concrete skills are needed for all kinds of professions. You can even discover where you might gain some of the skills and which courses you might take.
Spend some time reviewing each resource. You will find many interesting and exciting options. When you’re finished, you may decide that there are so many interesting professions in the world that it’s difficult to choose just one. This is a good problem to have!
|Career Aptitude Test (Rasmussen College)
|This test helps you match your skills to a particular career that’s right for you. Use a sliding scale to indicate your level of skill in the following skill areas: artistic, interpersonal, communication, managerial, mathematics, mechanical, and science. Press the Update Results button and receive a customized list customized of career suggestions tailored to you, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can filter by salary, expected growth, and education.
|Skills Profiler (Career OneStop from the U.S. Department of Labor)
|Use the Skills Profiler to create a list of your skills, and match your skills to job types that use those skills. Plan to spend about 20 minutes completing your profile. You can start with a job type to find skills you need for a current or future job. Or if you are not sure what kind of job is right for you, start by rating your own skills to find a job type match. When your skills profile is complete, you can print it or save it.
|This U.S. government website helps job seekers answer two of their toughest questions: “What jobs can I get with my skills and training?” and “What skills and training do I need to get this job?” Browse groups of similar occupations to explore careers. Choose from industry, field of work, science area, and more. Focus on occupations that use a specific tool or software. Explore occupations that need your skills. Connect to a wealth of O*NET data. Enter a code or title from another classification to find the related O*NET-SOC occupation.
Transferable Skills for Any Career Path
Transferable (soft) skills may be used in multiple professions. They include, but are by no means limited to, skills listed below:
|Dependable and punctual (showing up on time, ready to work, not being a liability)
|Adaptable (willing to change and take on new challenges)
|A team player
|Essential work skills (following instructions, possessing critical thinking skills, knowing limits)
|Willing to learn (lifelong learner)
|Able to accept constructive criticism
|Honest and ethical
|Strong in time management
These skills are transferable because they are positive attributes that are invaluable in practically any kind of work. They also do not require much training from an employer—you have them already and take them with you wherever you go. Soft skills are a big part of your “total me” package. Take the time to identify the soft skills that show you off the best, and identify the ones that prospective employers are looking for. By comparing both sets, you can more directly gear your job search to your strongest professional qualities. The following video further explores what soft skills are and why they are essential to the modern workplace, regardless of your specific career:
Acquiring Necessary Skills (Both in and out of Class) for Your Career Goals
“Lifelong learning” is a buzz phrase in the twentieth-first century because we are awash in new technology and information all the time, and those who know how to learn continuously are in the best position to keep up and take advantage of these changes. Think of all the information resources around you: colleges and universities, libraries, the Internet, videos, games, books, films—the list goes on.
With these resources at your disposal, how can you best position yourself for lifelong learning and a strong, viable career? Which hard and soft skills are most important? What are employers really looking for? The following list was inspired by the remarks of Mark Atwood, director of open-source engagement at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. It contains excellent practical advice.
- Learn how to write clearly. After you’ve written something, have people edit it. Then rewrite it, taking into account the feedback you received. Write all the time.
- Learn how to speak. Speak clearly on the phone and at a table. For public speaking, try Toastmasters. “Meet and speak. Speak and write.”
- Be reachable. Publish your email so that people can contact you. Don’t worry about spam.
- Learn about computers and computing, even if you aren’t gearing for a career in information technology.
- Learn something entirely new every six to twelve months.
- Build relationships within your community. Use tools like Meetup.com and search for clubs at local schools, libraries, and centers. Then, seek out remote people around the country and world. Learn about them and their projects first by searching the Internet.
- Attend conferences and events. This is a great way to network with people and meet them face-to-face.
- Find a project and get involved. Start reading questions and answers, then start answering questions.
- Collaborate with people all over the world.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile and social media profiles up-to-date. Be findable.
- Keep learning. Skills will often beat smarts. Be sure to schedule time for learning and having fun!
Just Get Involved
After you’ve networked with enough people and built up your reputation, your peers can connect you with job openings that may be a good fit for your skills. The video below, from Stephen F. Austin State University, provides great insight into how being involved while in college can help you develop these critical skills and into determining what level of involvement may be right for you.
As you can see, being deeply involved with at least one organization while in college creates the perfect opportunity to hone some soft skills.
We close this professional skill-building topic by sharing an essay by Vicki L. Brown, from Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Her message is this: “Do not let your college degree define who you are but rather, let the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired define who you are.”
I was supposed to be a teacher. Growing up, I had a classroom in the basement. I had a chalkboard, chalk, desks, textbooks, homework assignments, pens, pencils, paper—you name it, I had it! My brother and sister called me “Miss Brown.” All I ever wanted to be was an elementary school teacher—until I went to college.
As an elementary education major in college, I participated in a variety of classes—classes on literacy, math and science, philosophies of teaching, child development theory, principles of education, foundations of classroom behavior, and a whole list of others. We learned how to write a lesson plan, manage a classroom, how to set up a classroom, and much, much more.
In addition to my studies, I got involved in campus life. I joined the swimming and diving team, participated in campus activities, and joined clubs. I served as a captain of the swimming and diving team, became an Orientation Leader and a Resident Assistant, and completely immersed myself in the college experience. It was through these co-curricular activities that I was introduced to the world of higher education and a potentially new career choice for myself.
Through my academic and co-curricular activities, I gained valuable knowledge from all those I came in contact with—my peers, professors, Residence Hall Directors, and many college administrators. They encouraged me to explore what it was that I really wanted to do with my life. The more I got involved in my college experience, the more I learned about myself: what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, what I wanted to, and what I didn’t want to do.
As I started to sort through my options, I continued my studies, receiving both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in elementary education. While attending graduate school, I also worked as a Graduate Residence Hall Director. It was during that time when I finally made the decision to pursue a career in higher education administration/student affairs administration and leave my plans of being an elementary school teacher behind.
The decision wasn’t as difficult as one might think. When some listen to my story, I often hear, “You’ve wasted all that time and money . . .” But, the truth is I gained valuable, lifelong skills from the people I met, the classes I took, the jobs I’ve had, and the activities I involved myself in. Each and every skill you acquire is transferable. This is perhaps the best lesson I’ve ever learned in college.
The countless lesson plans I had to write for my education classes and student teaching have helped me prepare practice plans as the head coach for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving team. The skills I learned while planning programs and activities for my residents as a Resident Assistant, Hall Director, and Area Coordinator have helped me plan campus events as the Director of Student Activities in the Center for Student Leadership & Involvement. The classroom management techniques I learned in college have helped me to manage my office, staff, team, committees, etc. The communication and development theories I’ve learned have taught me how to have meaningful conversations with others and how best to meet their needs.
Each and every skill you learn throughout your academic, personal, and professional career are valuable and transferable. Do not let your college degree define who you are but rather, let the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired define who you are.
—Vicki L. Brown, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom
See if you can remember a time in your childhood when you noticed somebody doing professional work. Maybe a nurse or doctor, dressed in a lab coat, was listening to your heartbeat. Maybe a worker at a construction site, decked in a hard hat, was operating noisy machinery. Maybe a cashier at the checkout line in a grocery store was busily scanning barcodes. Each day in your young life you could have seen a hundred people doing various jobs. Surely some of the experiences drew your interest and appealed to your imagination.
If you can recall any such times, those are moments from the beginning stage of your career development. What exactly is career development? It’s a lifelong process in which we become aware of, interested in, knowledgeable about, and skilled in a career. It’s a key part of human development as our identity forms and our life unfolds.
Stages of Career Development
There are five main stages of career development. Each stage correlates with attitudes, behaviors, and relationships we all tend to have at that point and age. As we progress through each stage and reach the milestones identified, we prepare to move on to the next one. Which stage of career development do you feel you are in currently? Think about each stage. What challenges are you facing now? Where are you headed?
|This is a time in early years (4–13 years old) when you begin to have a sense about the future. You begin to realize that your participation in the world is related to being able to do certain tasks and accomplish certain goals.
|This period begins when you are a teenager, and it extends into your mid-twenties. In this stage, you find that you have specific interests and aptitudes. You are aware of your inclinations to perform and learn about some subjects more than others. You may try out jobs in your community or at your school. You may begin to explore a specific career. At this stage, you have some detailed “data points” about careers, which will guide you in certain directions.
|This period covers your mid-twenties through mid-forties. By now you are selecting or entering a field you consider suitable, and you are exploring job opportunities that will be stable. You are also looking for upward growth, so you may be thinking about an advanced degree.
|This stage is typical for people in their mid-forties to mid-sixties. You may be in an upward pattern of learning new skills and staying engaged. But you might also be merely “coasting and cruising” or even feeling stagnant. You may be taking stock of what you’ve accomplished and where you still want to go.
|In your mid-sixties, you are likely transitioning into retirement. But retirement in our technologically advanced world can be just the beginning of a new career or pursuit—a time when you can reinvent yourself. There are many new interests to pursue, including teaching others what you’ve learned, volunteering, starting online businesses, consulting, etc.
Keep in mind that your career-development path is personal to you, and you may not fit neatly into the categories described above. Perhaps your socioeconomic background changes how you fit into the schema. Perhaps your physical and mental abilities affect how you define the idea of a “career.” And for everyone, too, there are factors of chance that can’t be predicted or anticipated. You are unique, and your career path can only be developed by you.
Career Development Resources
Career experts say that people will change careers (not to mention jobs) five to seven times in a lifetime. So your career will likely not be a straight and narrow path. Be sure to set goals and assess your interests, skills, and values often. Seek opportunities for career growth and enrichment. And take advantage of the rich set of resources available to you. Below are just a few.
Career Services on Campus
Whether you are a student, a graduate, or even an employer, you can obtain invaluable career development assistance at your college or university. Career Services can support, guide, and empower you in every step of the career development process, from initial planning to achieving lifelong career satisfaction.
Books on Career Development
Going to college is one of the best steps you can take to prepare for a career. But soon-to-be or recently graduated students are not necessarily guaranteed jobs. Staying educated about strategies for developing your career and finding new jobs will help you manage ongoing transitions. The book The Secret to Getting a Job After College: Marketing Tactics to Turn Degrees into Dollars, by author Larry Chiagouris, was written specifically to help recent grads increase their chances of finding a job right after college. It speaks to students in all majors and provides tips and tactics to attract the attention of an employer and successfully compete with other candidates to get the job you want.
The following video provides an introduction to the book. You can download a transcript of the video here.
Internet Sites for Career Planning
Visit the Internet Sites for Career Planning Web site at the National Career Development Association’s site. You will find extensive, definitive, and frequently updated information on a variety of topics including, but not limited to, Self-Assessment; Employment Trends; Salary Information; and Resources for Diverse Audiences, Ex-Offenders, Young Adults, and/or Older Clients.
Plan, Do, Check, Act
PDCA (plan–do–check–act), shown in Figure 1, is a four-step strategy for carrying out change. You can use it to evaluate where you are in the career-development process and to identify your next steps. The strategy is typically used in the business arena as a framework for improving processes and services, but you can think of your career as a personal product you are offering or selling.
- PLAN: What are your goals and objectives? What process will you use to get to your targets? You might want to plan smaller to begin with and test out possible effects. For instance, if you are thinking of getting into a certain career, you might plan to try it out first as an intern or volunteer or on a part-time basis. When you start on a small scale, you can test possible outcomes.
- DO: Implement your plan. Sell your product—which is YOU and your skills, talents, energy, and enthusiasm. Collect data as you go along; you will need it for charting and analyzing in the Check and Act steps ahead.
- CHECK: Look at your results so far. Are you happy with your job or wherever you are in the career-development process? How is your actual accomplishment measuring up next to your intentions and wishes? Look for where you may have deviated in your intended steps. For example, did you take a job in another city when your initial plans were for working closer to friends and family? What are the pros and cons? If you like, create a chart that shows you all the factors. With a chart, it will be easier to see trends over several PDCA cycles.
- ACT: How should you act going forward? What changes in planning, doing, and checking do you want to take? The PDCA framework is an ongoing process. Keep planning, doing, checking, and acting. The goal is continuous improvement.
Getting a Job
In the context of career development, networking is the process by which people build relationships with one another for the purpose of helping one another achieve professional goals. When you “network,” you exchange information. You may share:
- business cards, résumés, cover letters, job-seeking strategies, leads about open jobs, information about companies and organizations, and information about a specific field.
- information about meet-up groups, conferences, special events, technology tools, and social media.
- information on job “headhunters,” career counselors, career centers, career coaches, an alumni association, family members, friends, acquaintances, and vendors.
Networking can occur anywhere and at any time. In fact, your network expands with each new relationship you establish. And the networking strategies you can employ are nearly limitless. With imagination and ingenuity, your networking can be highly successful.
Strategies for Networking
We live in a social world, so it stands to reason that finding a new job and advancing your career entails building relationships with people in your field. Truly, the most effective way to find a new job is to network, network, and network some more. Once you acknowledge the value of networking, the challenge is figuring out how to do it. What is your first step? Whom do you contact? What do you say? How long will it take? Where do you concentrate efforts? How do you know if your investments will pay off?
For every question you may ask, a range of strategies can be used. Begin exploring your possibilities by viewing the following energizing video, Networking Tips for College Students and Young People, by Hank Blank. He recommends the following modern and no-nonsense strategies:
- Hope is not a plan. You need a plan of action to achieve your networking goals.
- Keenly focus your activities on getting a job. Use all tools available to you.
- You need business cards. No ifs, ands, or buts.
- Register your own domain name. Find your favorite geek to build you a landing page. Keep building your site for the rest of your life.
- Attend networking events. Most of them offer student rates.
- Master Linkedin because that is what human resource departments use. See the LinkedIn for Students Web site to get started.
- Think of your colleagues and family friends as databases. Leverage their knowledge and their willingness to help you.
- Create the world you want to live in in the future by forming it today through your networking activity. These are the times to live in a world of “this is how I can help.”
International Student Series: Finding Work Using Your Networks
If you are an international student, or perhaps if English is not your native language, this video may especially appeal to you. It focuses on the importance of networking when looking for jobs and keeping an open mind. Simply talking to people can help you move from casual work to full-time employment.
. . . And More Strategies
Strategies at College
- Get to know your professors: Communicating with instructors is a valuable way to learn about a career and also get letters of reference if and when needed for a job. Professors can also give you leads on job openings, internships, and research possibilities. Most instructors will readily share information and insights with you.
- Check with your college’s alumni office: You may find that some alumni are affiliated with your field of interest and can give you the “inside scoop.”
- Check with classmates: Classmates may or may not share your major, but any of them may have leads that could help you. You could be just one conversation away from a good lead.
Strategies at Work
- Join professional organizations: You can meet many influential people at local and national meetings and events of professional and volunteer organizations. Learn about these organizations. See if they have membership discounts for students, or student chapters. Once you are a member, you may have access to membership lists, which can give you prospective access to many new people to network with.
- Volunteer: Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new people who can help you develop your career, even if the organization you are volunteering with is not in your field. Just by working alongside others and working toward common goals, you build relationships that may later serve you in unforeseen and helpful ways.
- Get an internship: Many organizations offer internship positions to college students. Some of these positions are paid, but often they are not. Paid or not, you gain experience relevant to your career, and you potentially make many new contacts. Check CollegeRecruiter.com for key resources.
- Get a part-time job: Working full-time may be your ultimate goal, but you may want to fill in some cracks by working part-time. Invariably you will meet people who can feasibly help with your networking goals. And you can gain good experience, which can be noted on your résumé.
- Join a job club: Your career interests may be shared by many others who have organized a club, which can be online or in person. If you don’t find an existing club, consider starting one.
- Attend networking events: There are innumerable professional networking events taking place around the world and also online. Find them listed in magazines, community calendars, newspapers, journals, and at the Web sites of companies, organizations, and associations.
- Conduct informational interviews: You may initiate contact with people in your chosen field who can tell you about their experiences of entering the field and thriving in it. Many Web sites have guidance on how to plan and conduct these interviews.
Strategies at Home and Beyond
- Participate in online social media: An explosion of career opportunity awaits you with social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and many more. You will find an extensive list of suggested sites at CareerOneStop. Keep your communication ultra-professional at these sites. Peruse magazine articles, and if you find one that’s relevant to your field and it contains names of professionals, you can reach out to them to learn more and get job leads.
- Ask family members and friends, coworkers, and acquaintances for referrals: Do they know others who might help you? You can start with the question “Who else should I be talking to?”
The bottom line with developing professional networks is to cull information from as many sources as possible and use that information in creative ways to advance your career opportunities.
Résumés and Cover Letters
A résumé is a “selfie” for business purposes. It is a written picture of who you are—it’s a marketing tool, a selling tool, and a promotion of you as an ideal candidate for any job you may be interested in. The word résumé comes from the French word résumé, which means “a summary.” Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing one of the first known résumés, although it was more of a letter that outlined his credentials for a potential employer, Ludovico Sforza. The résumé got da Vinci the job, though, and Sforza became a longtime patron of da Vinci and later commissioned him to paint The Last Supper. You can see the letter and read the translation at Ladders Career Advice.
Résumés and cover letters work together to represent you in the brightest light to prospective employers. With a well-composed résumé and cover letter, you stand out—which may get you an interview and then a good shot at landing a job. In this section, we discuss résumés and cover letters as key components of your career development toolkit. We explore some of the many ways you can design and develop them for the greatest impact in your job search.
Your Résumé: Purpose and Contents
Your résumé is an inventory of your education, work experience, job-related skills, accomplishments, volunteer history, internships, residencies, and more. It’s a professional autobiography in outline form to give the person who reads it a quick, general idea of who you are and how well you might contribute to their workplace. As a college student or recent graduate, though, you may be unsure about what to put in your résumé, especially if you don’t have much employment history. Still, employers don’t expect recent grads to have significant work experience. It’s all in how you present yourself.
Elements of Your Successful Résumé
Perhaps the hardest part of writing a résumé is figuring out what format to use to organize and present your information in the most effective way. There is no one correct format, but most follow one of the four formats below. Which format appeals to you the most?
- Reverse chronological: A reverse chronological résumé (sometimes also simply called a chronological résumé) lists your job experiences in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent job and working backward toward your first job. It includes start/end dates and a brief description of the duties you performed for each job, as well as details of your formal education. This may be the most common and perhaps the most conservative format. It is most suitable for demonstrating a solid work history and growth and development in your skills. It may not suit you if you are light on skills in the area you are applying to, if you’ve changed employers frequently, or if you are looking for your first job. Reverse Chronological Résumé Examples
- Functional: A functional résumé is organized around your talents, skills, and abilities (more so than work duties and job titles, as with the reverse chronological résumé). It emphasizes specific professional capabilities, like what you have done or what you can do. Specific dates may be included but are not as important. So if you are a new graduate entering your field with little or no actual work experience, the functional résumé may be a good format for you. It can also be useful when you are seeking work in a field that differs from what you have done in the past, or if you have had an unconventional career path. Functional Résumé Examples
- Hybrid: The hybrid, or combination, résumé is a format reflecting both the functional and chronological approaches. It highlights relevant skills, but it still provides information about your work experience. You may list your job skills as most prominent and then follow with a chronological (or reverse chronological) list of employers. This format is most effective when your specific skills and job experience need to be emphasized. Hybrid Résumé Examples
- Video, infographic, or Website: These formats may be most suitable for people in multimedia and creative careers. Certainly, with the expansive use of technology today, a job seeker might at least try to create a media-enhanced résumé. But the paper-based, traditional résumé is by far the most commonly used—in fact, some human resource departments may not permit submission of any format other than paper-based. Video Resume Examples; Infographic Résumé Examples; Website Résumé Examples
Contents and Structure
For many people, the process of writing a résumé is daunting. After all, you are taking a lot of information and condensing it into a very concise form that needs to be both eye-catching and easy to read. Don’t be scared off, though! Developing a good résumé can be fun, rewarding, and easier than you think if you follow a few basic guidelines. Watch this video for tips for writing a resume and making your resume stand out:
Contents and Components To Include
- Your contact information: name, address, phone number, professional email address
- A summary of your skills: 5–10 skills you have gained in your field; you can list hard skills as well as soft skills
- Work experience: include the title of the position, employer’s name, location, employment dates (beginning, ending)
- Volunteer experience
- Education and training: formal and informal experiences matter; include academic degrees, professional development, certificates, internships, etc.
- References statement (optional): “References available upon request” is a standard phrase used on résumés, although it is often implied
- Other sections: may include a job objective, a brief profile, a branding statement, a summary statement, additional accomplishments, and any other related experiences
Although you can benefit from giving yours a stamp of individuality, you will do well to steer clear of personal details that might elicit a negative response. It is advisable to omit any confidential information or details that could make you vulnerable to discrimination. Here are some tips on what not to include:
- Do not mention your age, gender, height, or weight.
- Do not include your social security number.
- Do not mention religious beliefs or political affiliations, unless they are relevant to the position.
- Do not include a photograph of yourself or a physical description.
- Do not mention health issues.
- Do not use first-person references. (I, me).
- Do not include wage/salary expectations.
- Do not use abbreviations.
Top Ten Tips for a Successful Résumé
- Limit it to 1–2 pages long on letter-size paper.
- Make it visually appealing.
- Use action verbs and phrases.
- Proofread carefully to eliminate any spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typographical errors.
- Be positive and reflect only the truth.
- Keep refining and reworking your résumé; it’s an ongoing project.
Remember that your résumé is your professional profile. It will hold you in the most professional and positive light, and it’s designed to be a quick and easy way for a prospective employer to evaluate what you might bring to a job. When written and formatted attractively, creatively, and legibly, your résumé is what will get your foot in the door. You can be proud of your accomplishments, even if they don’t seem numerous.
Résumé Writing Resources
|The Online Resume Builder (from My Perfect resume)
|An easy to use online résumé builder: choose your résumé design from the library of professional designs, insert pre-written examples, then download and print your new résumé.
|Résumé Builder (from Live Career)
|This site offers examples, templates, tips, videos, and services for résumés, cover letters, interviews, and jobs.
|Résumé Samples for College Students and Graduates (from About Careers)
|This site offers a plethora of sample résumés and templates for college students and graduates. Listings are by type of student and by type of job.
|JobSearch Minute Videos (from College Grad)
|This site offers multiple to-the-point one-minute videos on topics such as print résumés, video résumés, cover letters, interviewing, tough interview questions, references, job fairs, and Internet job searching.
|42 Résumé Dos and Don’ts Every Job Seeker Should Know (from the muse)
|A comprehensive list of résumé dos and don’ts, which includes traditional rules as well as new rules to polish your résumé.
|How to Write a Resume: A Step-By-Step Guide [+30 Examples] (from Uptowork)
|This site describes common résumé tips and offers advice for landing a job.
Your Cover Letter
A cover letter is a letter of introduction, usually 3–4 paragraphs in length, that you attach to your résumé. It’s a way of introducing yourself to a potential employer and explaining why you are interested in and suited for a position. Employers may look for individualized and thoughtfully written cover letters as an initial method of screening out applicants who may who lack necessary basic skills, or who may not be sufficiently interested in the position. With each résumé you send out, always include a cover letter specifically addressing your purposes.
Characteristics of an Effective Cover Letter
Cover letters should accomplish the following:
- Get the attention of the prospective employer
- Set you apart from any possible competition
- Identify the position you are interested in
- Specify how you learned about the position or company
- Present highlights of your skills and accomplishments
- Reflect your genuine interest
- Please the eye and ear
Cover Letter Resources
|Student Cover Letter Samples (from About Careers)
|This site contains sample student/recent graduate cover letters as well as templates, writing tips, formats, and examples by type of applicant.
|How to Write Cover Letters (from CollegeGrad)
|This site contains resources about the reality of cover letters, using a cover letter, the worst use of the cover letter, the testimonial technique, and a cover letter checklist.
|Cover Letters (from the Yale Office of Career Strategy)
|This site includes specifications for the cover letter framework (introductory paragraph, middle paragraph, concluding paragraph), as well as format and style.
If your résumé and cover letter have served their purposes well, you will be invited to participate in an interview with the company or organization you’re interested in. Congratulations! It’s an exciting time, and your prospects for employment are very strong if you put in the time to be well prepared. In this section, we look at how to get ready for an interview, what types of interviews you might need to engage in, and what kinds of questions you might be asked.
Preparing Effectively for a Job Interview
- Review the Job Description: When you prepare for an interview, your first step will be to carefully read and reread the job posting or job description. This will help you develop a clearer idea of how you meet the skills and attributes the company seeks.
- Research the Company or Organization: Researching the company will give you a wider view of what the company is looking for and how well you might fit in. Your prospective employer may ask you what you know about the company. Being prepared to answer this question shows that you took time and effort to prepare for the interview and that you have a genuine interest in the organization. It shows good care and good planning—soft skills you will surely need on the job.
- Practice Answering Common Questions: Most interviewees find that practicing the interview in advance with a family member, friend, or colleague eases possible nerves during the actual interview. It also creates greater confidence when you walk through the interview door. In the “Interview Questions” section below, you’ll learn more about specific questions you will likely be asked and corresponding strategies for answering them.
- Plan to Dress Appropriately: Interviewees are generally most properly dressed for an interview in business attire, with the goal of looking highly professional in the eyes of the interviewer.
- Come Prepared: Plan to bring your résumé, cover letter, and a list of references to the interview. You may also want to bring a portfolio of representative work. Leave behind coffee, chewing gum, and any other items that could be distractions.
- Be Confident: Above all, interviewees should be confident and “courageous.” By doing so you make a strong first impression. As the saying goes, “There is never a second chance to make a first impression.”
Job Interview Types and Techniques
Every interview you participate in will be unique: The people you meet with, the interview setting, and the questions you’ll be asked will all be different from interview to interview. So how can you plan to “nail the interview” no matter what comes up?
A good strategy for planning is to anticipate the type of interview you may find yourself in. There are common formats for job interviews, described in detail below. By knowing a bit more about each type and being aware of techniques that work for each, you can plan to be on your game no matter what form your interview takes.
Screening interviews might best be characterized as “weeding-out” interviews. They ordinarily take place over the phone or in another low-stakes environment in which the interviewer has maximum control over the amount of time the interview takes. Screening interviews are generally short because they glean only basic information about you. If you are scheduled to participate in a screening interview, you might safely assume that you have some competition for the job and that the company is using this strategy to whittle down the applicant pool. With this kind of interview, your goal is to win a face-to-face interview. For this first shot, prepare well and challenge yourself to shine. Try to stand out from the competition and be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.
Phone or Web Conference Interviews
If you are geographically separated from your prospective employer, you may be invited to participate in a phone or online interview instead of meeting face-to-face. Technology, of course, is a good way to bridge distances. The fact that you’re not there in person doesn’t make it any less important to be fully prepared. In fact, you may wish to be all the more “on your toes” to compensate for the distance barrier. Make sure your equipment (phone, computer, Internet connection, etc.) is fully charged and works. If you’re at home for the interview, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free. If the meeting is online, make sure your video background is pleasing and neutral, like a wall hanging or even a white wall.
The majority of job interviews are conducted in this format—just you and a single interviewer, likely the manager you would report to and work with. The one-on-one format gives you both a chance to see how well you connect and how well your talents, skills, and personalities mesh. You can expect to be asked questions like “Why would you be good for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.” Many interviewees prefer the one-on-one format because it allows them to spend in-depth time with the interviewer. Rapport can be built. As always, be very courteous and professional. Bring a portfolio of your best work.
An efficient format for meeting a candidate is a panel interview, in which perhaps four to five coworkers meet at the same time with a single interviewee. The coworkers comprise the “search committee” or “search panel,” which may consist of different company representatives such as human resources, management, and staff. One advantage of this format for the committee is that meeting together gives them a common experience to reflect on afterward. In a panel interview, listen carefully to questions from each panelist, and try to connect fully with each questioner. Be sure to write down names and titles, so you can send individual thank-you notes after the interview.
Serial interviews are a combination of one-on-one meetings with a group of interviewers, typically conducted as a series of meetings staggered throughout the day. Ordinarily this type of interview is for higher-level jobs, when it’s important to meet at length with major stakeholders. If your interview process is designed this way, you will need to be ultraprepared, as you will be answering many in-depth questions. Stay alert.
In some higher-level positions, candidates are taken to lunch or dinner, especially if this is a second, or “call back” interview. If this is you, count yourself lucky and be on your best behavior, because even if the lunch meeting is unstructured and informal, it’s still an official interview. Do not order an alcoholic beverage, and use your best table manners. You are not expected to pay or even to offer to pay. But, as always, you must send a thank-you note.
Group interviews are comprised of several interviewees and perhaps only one or two interviewers who may make a presentation to the assembled group. This format allows an organization to quickly prescreen candidates. It also gives candidates a chance to quickly learn about the company. As with all interview formats, you are being observed. How do you behave with your group? Do you assume a leadership role? Are you quiet but attentive? What kind of personality is the company looking for? A group interview may reveal this.
For a summary of the interview formats we’ve just covered (and a few additional ones), take a look at the following video, Job Interview Guide—10 Different Types of Interviews in Today’s Modern World.
For most job candidates, the burning question is “What will I be asked?” There’s no way to anticipate every single question that may arise during an interview. It’s possible that, no matter how well prepared you are, you may get a question you just didn’t expect. But that’s okay. Do as much preparation as you can—which will build your confidence—and trust that the answers will come.
To help you reach that point of sureness and confidence, take time to review common interview questions. Think about your answers. Make notes, if that helps. And then conduct a practice interview with a friend, family member, or colleague. Speak your answers out loud. Below is a list of resources that contain common interview questions and good explanations/answers you might want to adopt.
|100 top job interview questions—be prepared for the interview (from Monster.com)
|This site provides a comprehensive set of interview questions you might expect to be asked, categorized as basic interview questions, behavioral questions, salary questions, career development questions, and other kinds. Some of the listed questions provide comprehensive answers, too.
|Interview Questions and Answers (from BigInterview)
|This site provides text and video answers to the following questions: Tell me about yourself, describe your current position, why are you looking for a new job, what are your strengths, what is your greatest weakness, why do you want to work here, where do you see yourself in five years, why should we hire you, and do you have any questions for me?
|Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers (from CollegeGrad)
|This site explores some of the most difficult questions you will face in job interviews. The more open-ended the question, the greater the variation among answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.
Why Should We Hire You
From the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business Career Management Office, here is a video featuring representatives from recruiting companies offering advice for answering the question “Why should we hire you?” As you watch, make mental notes about how you would answer the question in an interview for a job you really want.
ACTIVITY: EXPLORING YOUR CAREER OPTIONS
- Explain the process for choosing a career
- Respond to the prompts in the table below to create an action plan for furthering your career exploration process.
- Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting your assignment.
Two things I will do to further
my career exploration in…
|How I will know I accomplished this action
|…the next two weeks.
|…the next two months.
|…the next two years.
- A job is work you do for a living, while a career is an occupation that requires specialized professional knowledge and skills and typically provides opportunity for advancement.
- Use a systematic approach to narrow down your career interests and to select a major.
- For your career path, you will need both career-specific hard skills and soft skills that are transferable because they are desirable in any field. Use your college career to help develop both.
- Take advantage of available resources and get involved in college organizations or activities to acquire necessary skills, both in and out of class, for your career goals.
- Follow a systematic process of career development to assess your progress toward your goals, but know that you may need to reevaluate and change course along the way.
- Networking is an important aspect of planning to begin your career, and the earlier you begin this process, the more robust and helpful your network will be when you are looking for a job.
- Your resume and cover letter are your first official introductions to potential employers; they should be customized for each job/company and meticulously crafted in order to put your best foot forward.
- Interviewing well requires effective preparation.