Successful Career Planning
WHAT IS A CAREER?
A career can be defined as a person's progress within an occupation or series of occupations.
However, a career is more than just a job, or working, or your occupation. It also
includes your progress through life, your growth and development in vocational and
avocational areas of life.
Many of us think that there is only one occupation that is best suited for us, but
there are really several that may be good choices. The secret is to identify those
occupations in which you have a high probability for success and happiness. As a college
student, whether your career goals are accounting, theatre arts, or environmental
sciences, there are general skills which will be required regardless of the career
you pursue. These skills include the ability to read, write, compute, think critically,
and communicate in an effective manner. For the most part, these skills are developed
and/or sharpened in general education courses. These skills, along with effective
career planning techniques, and the ability to cope with ambiguity in a changing environment,
will enable you to overcome obstacles throughout your work life.
CHOOSING A CAREER
Deciding on your initial career may present a stressful and frightening prospect.
Many tend to perceive career decision-making as complex or even mysterious, only because
they tend to concentrate on the outcome and overlook the decision-making and planning
process. Successful career decisions are based on current and accurate information.
Today, career information is abundant and easily accessible. While this is exciting
and potentially helpful, it can also be overwhelming. Nevertheless, one major fact
emerges from the mass of data and literature available: effective career planning is a process that involves the total person. Comprehensive career planning stresses the importance of knowing enough about your
unique attributes, about specific career fields, and about your life priorities.
Career planning is an individual activity that occurs throughout a person's working
lifetime. In American society, the career that you enter will influence your entire
lifestyle, self-concept, income, prestige, choice of friends and living location.
Career planning is indeed a subcomponent of life planning. It is influenced by many
of the same factors, but it focuses attention on work tasks and work environments.
THE CAREER PLANNING PROCESS
The career planning process is ongoing and sequential. Since it is fluid rather than
chronological, you move to the next step only when you are ready to do so, and you
may move back and forth between steps at any given time. The career planning process
is also cyclic. When career change is desired anytime during your work life, you may
repeat the process once again. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the majority of members of the labor force will make three to four
major changes in their career during their 35 to 45 years of working. Because human
beings are complex, each of us has unique aspirations, goals, potential for development,
and limitations. Although we can follow the same process, career planning outcomes
must be individualized.
By working with a CDO counselor on the career planning process described below, you
can arrive at your own decisions, set your goals and actively plan for the career
in your future.
THE CAREER PLANNING PROCESS
EACH OF US POSSESSES A TOTAL OF
WELL OVER 500 INDIVIDUAL SKILLS.
STEP 1: Self-Assessment
What you will do for a living depends a lot on who you are. This may sound obvious,
but many people neglect considering this important side of selecting a career. You
can avoid joining the ranks of people who are dissatisfied with their work by making
a conscious effort to assess yourself. There is no way you can be absolutely certain
that a career will meet all of your needs, but there are things you can do very easily
that will help you learn more about who you are. Once mastered, techniques of self-assessment
can be repeated throughout your life.
What is self-assessment? Essentially, it is a way to enhance self-understanding. It is being able to describe
your unique characteristics clearly and accurately regarding what you do well (skills),
what is important to you (values), and what you like to do (interests).
Since there is no better source of information about you than yourself, the easiest
method of increasing self-understanding is to review and analyze your past and present
experiences with a career counselor. Increasing your knowledge of your skills, values
and interests will help determine the type of work which fits you best.
Skills. Skills are sometimes thought of as general talents/strengths or specific knowledge/abilities
acquired through training. Your skills, however, also include a variety of attributes
and personal characteristics which give you your greatest potency. An undergraduate
education is more than just learning the subject matter of your major. It also involves
acquiring and developing transferable skills in a wide range of fields outside your
major. You are the best judge of your skills if you take an accurate reading of your
own experiences. Consider the skills which have contributed to your successes, and
you will likely notice areas in which you excel.
You may wonder how knowing about skills can help you choose a career. Simply look
at any job description. A job is made up of a series of "tasks" for which the person
in that position is responsible. In fact, most jobs are described in terms of duties
or responsibilities. If you closely examine each of these tasks, you will discover
that it requires a specific set of skills to perform them. For a partial list of skills,
refer to Career Guide R6, Action Verbs.
Values. A value is a vague, global concept, sometimes difficult to understand. Essentially,
a value is something that is important to you or that you feel has worth, such as
marriage, family, religion, or education. What has little value for one person may
be of great value to another. Values tend to permeate and influence all aspects of
our lives. As values are acted on repeatedly, they become the basis for our lives.
For example, a person who strongly values service to others may choose to become a
counselor or social worker. In this instance, the likelihood of job dissatisfaction
is decreased because the person's career choice is consistent with his or her personal
values. Just as life is ever-changing, so are values. Values evolve and continue to
develop just as the individual grows and develops.
Work-related values encompass a wide variety of specific elements. Here is a representative
list: advancement opportunities, affiliation on the job, autonomy, benefits, change
and variety, creativity, decision making, excitement and adventure, flexibility in
work hours, helping others, high earnings, independence, influencing others, intellectual
growth, job security, location of employment, moral fulfillment, physical challenges,
power and authority, prestige, professional accomplishment, public contact, recognition,
working alone, and working conditions.
Interests. The meaning of interests is straightforward. What kind of activities do you like? What types of work do you enjoy? What subjects
do you enjoy studying? What kind of people do you enjoy being around? Specifically, your interests are those things that grab your curiosity, the activities
that give you pleasure. They are the sum of your preferences that give definition
to who you are. Exploring different courses or types of activities are great ways
to try out new interests.
There is an infinite number of subjects or activities in which you might develop an
interest. Here are a few examples: animals, art, books, business, computers, engineering,
entertainment, environment, fashion, gardening, health, history, law, machines, mathematics,
media, museums, music, outdoors, people, photography, school, science, sports, theatre,
travel, and world affairs.
At first glance, assessing and identifying your skills, values, and interests may
seem to be a simple method for matching people to career fields. Ultimately, your
career choice will involve a complex evaluation of many factors about you including
personality traits and aspirations. The CDO offers a number of resources and assessments,
including FOCUS 2, an online career decision-making program, that will help you gain more information
about yourself and various occupations.
IN EMPLOYMENT SETTINGS, VALUES
PROVIDE THE EMOTIONAL SALARY OF WORK.
STEP 2: Career Exploration
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make a rational decision or to evaluate and
consider specific careers without an accurate information base. Career information
gathering is an integral step in the process of career planning. Initially, you will
need to generate a list of careers which you may want to consider. The federal government
lists more than 31,000 career fields. Most students admit they have limited knowledge
about careers and find it difficult to list or describe more than 40. Sources of career
alternatives include the results of computer assessments such as FOCUS 2, paper and pencil assessments, career publications and suggestions from other people
such as faculty and staff, parents and friends. Don't forget to take into account
those careers you are merely curious about exploring. After developing the list, you
will need to briefly research each career alternative and judge which of these seem
potentially suitable for future employment. Determine for each: typical on-the-job
duties, qualifications, outlook, salary, methods of entry, etc. How do your skills, values and interests correspond to the types of work you are considering?
Exploring Career Information. There are generally four ways of gathering career information: (1) reading everything
you can about careers, (2) talking to people, (3) participating in field experiences,
and (4) enrolling in key courses. Caution should be exercised in assessing career
information that is inaccurate or that has become obsolete.
Reading About Careers. The CDO maintains an extensive collection of printed and media-related career materials,
and there are many web sites with career information in the Career Links section of CDO Online. Some academic departments also have materials available for students. In addition,
career information may be obtained from public libraries; the Internet; federal, state,
and local agencies; trade and professional associations; and commercial sources.
Begin by skimming the Occupational Outlook Handbook. This book is published by the U.S. Department of Labor and is available in most
libraries, in the CDO, and electronically in the Careers/Majors section of CDO Online. It is a general listing of career areas with information on the nature of the work,
working conditions, places of employment, training required, employment outlook, earnings,
related occupations, and sources of additional information. FOCUS 2 also has extensive information about careers. Use the CDO resource area bookshelves
for general career information, assistance in making career choices, and specific
information about various careers. As you locate relevant career materials, keep a
thorough annotated bibliography. You may want to photocopy some of the more useful
information and begin a special career-related file.
Talking to People.
People can be excellent sources of career information. Interviewing for information
is a nonthreatening means of learning about careers. By asking explicit questions
of a person currently working in the field you are considering, you can receive the
most up-to-date, detailed description of that job's responsibilities and the qualifications
you must have. This will also provide an opportunity for you to comprehend the vocabulary
of the particular career field. By conducting an interview of this type, you gain
exposure to the work setting and to the kinds of people with whom you would work.
To learn about how to conduct information interviews, refer to Career Guide C5, Interviewing for Information; and Career Guide C6, Information Interview Questions, to get ideas for specific questions to ask.
Individuals such as campus faculty, staff, or administrators are easily available
for informational interviews. They can also serve as a good source for referrals to
individuals in the public or private sectors. There are probably many SUNY Fredonia
alumni working in careers you may be interested in learning more about. An ideal source
of contacts can also be obtained through professional associations, some of which
have student chapters on campus. Many professional associations provide a membership
directory which will enable you to locate experts to talk with. Attending conferences
or career fairs are other great ways to learn about careers.
Key Courses. An obvious method of exploring careers is to enroll in specific courses which are
directly related to the field of knowledge used in certain occupations. Through use
of general education and electives, you have the opportunity to explore several career
options. General education is intended to give all college graduates comprehensive
skills and abilities (i.e., oral and written communication) and a foundation of knowledge
in a variety of disciplines regardless of the ultimate major. While some careers require
a specific college major, many are not tied to any specific degree. Therefore, in
choosing course work and finally a major, examine your skills, values, and interests,
along with academic requirements and potential career choices.
Internships or Field Experience. The best method of exploring careers is to actually perform work related to the occupation
you have in mind. This provides you with firsthand information as to the possible
fit between your skills, values, and interests and those required by the occupation.
This method is the ultimate reality test to determine your suitability for a particular
career. A field experience may be accomplished through full-time, part-time, or summer
employment; volunteer work; or internships. Many opportunities for field experience
are also available through academic departments. Check the Quest listings and the Internships section on CDO Online, the Internships resource area at the CDO, as well as the internship coordinator in your academic
department for opportunities.
Internships are extremely popular with students and, as a result, tend to be very
competitive. Internships require a commitment of time, performance of assigned job
duties, and sometimes involve academic credit and perhaps financial compensation.
Internships are typically awarded for a particular time period and may be either full-time
or part-time. Often, interns work on specific projects or carry out teaching or research
tasks at a professional level. Internships are ideal because they permit students
to pursue a college degree and acquire experience simultaneously.
Obviously, some of the aforementioned career exploration techniques can be quite time
consuming. It is advisable to reserve participating in field experience and taking
key courses for those options about which you are most serious. As you become clearer
about what it is you want and what the job situations are really like, then you will
be ready to go on to the next phase of career problem solving: narrowing the alternatives.
AS YOU LOCATE RELEVANT CAREER MATERIALS, KEEP THOROUGH NOTES ON WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED
AND WHERE YOU FOUND THE INFORMATION.
STEP 3: Targeting
If you have investigated a number of career alternatives, you are now ready to target
a primary career goal. Initially, it may be easy to rule out several choices as obviously
inferior or inappropriate. With the remaining alternatives, it may be very difficult
to select the one that fits you best. Additional research regarding the career options,
your skills, values, and interests may be necessary. Any decision, career or otherwise,
should be approached with sufficient information. The problem now lies in how to process
the information and render a decision. There is a good deal of variability among us
as to how much prior deliberation we invest in a given decision and the strategies
we use. The probability of making a decision with a favorable outcome can be increased
with careful consideration and a logical approach. A systematic method uses a framework
with which you can effectively analyze and evaluate the data you have gathered for
your career decision.
Anyone can learn the technique of systematic career decision making. It can be described
as a series of five tasks. In order, they are: (1) define the decision to be made,
(2) identify all choices to be considered in the decision, (3) gather information
on each option, (4) evaluate the potential outcome of each option considered, and
(5) make a selection of the most appropriate option. By following this approach, the
likelihood of making good career decisions is increased.
STEP 4: Career Preparation
Once you have made a career decision, the next task is to begin planning how to prepare
for the career, how to get experience in it, and how to actually enter the field.
In this step, you should identify the degree of effort and all the things which are
required to be successful in your chosen career. What are the specific educational and experiential requirements? Of the qualifications
required by that career, which ones do you currently possess, and which ones do you
need to acquire? How will you best obtain the qualifications: additional education,
internships, special courses or training? Answers to these questions will help you identify and set relevant goals. Having
established the career goals and defined the tasks to achieve them, you should then
set up a timing and sequence outline. Obviously, you cannot accomplish everything
at once. Certain activities logically precede others. Try to put it all on paper,
identifying activities which must occur, their proper sequence, and the time that
it will take for each. Finally, put into action the long- and short-range goals and
monitor your progress as you work. For a general college career planning timeline,
refer to Career Guide C2, Career Planning Timetable.
EMPLOYERS WANT WELL-ROUNDED COLLEGE GRADUATES RATHER
THAN THOSE WITH JUST HIGH GRADE POINT AVERAGES.
STEP 5: Marketing Yourself
There is a great deal to be learned regarding obtaining employment, even after you
have prepared for a career field. Are you graduating with a major where there are few positions that appear directly
related to your studies? Graduation from college with the right credentials offers no guarantee of an appropriate
position. Your degree will open many doors, but it's up to you to obtain the type
of employment you desire. Finding the job you want, at an attractive salary and in
the desired geographic location, is the result of using effective job search techniques.
Each requires the same conscientiousness, discipline, consistency, and commitment.
Job hunting is in itself a full-time job, and should be treated as such.
The job search process is analogous to conducting a marketing campaign. Consider for
a moment that you have a product (your skills and training) to sell and the potential
employer is the consumer. As a salesperson, you must identify potential consumers
of your products and learn how they can use your product. You must be aware of your
competition and know the product you are selling. To successfully close a sale, you
need to carefully prepare your advertising tools (resume, cover letter, interviewing
skills), target a specific consumer group (potential employers), and determine the
best mode of marketing (approaching employers).
For years, job seekers have used marketing tactics which can be classified as the
traditional job search approach: responding to advertisements, using employment agencies,
and participating in on-campus recruiting. Lately, employment experts have been advocating
a nontraditional approach. This strategy requires the job seeker to become more assertive
in contacting potential employers. Government studies show that only one in five job
openings is likely to be advertised. In fact, 48 percent of job hunters ultimately
find employment through people they have met (i.e., friends, alumni, faculty, professional
association members). This is known as networking. As you expand the circle of people
who know your abilities and interests, more employment opportunities will present
themselves. Ultimately, the best search strategy for a specific situation may be one
which combines methods.
Whether you're applying for an advertised vacancy or using a contact directly without
knowing if an opportunity exists, there are several ways to proceed. You can write
a cover letter enclosing a copy of your resume, make a phone call to the employer,
appear in person, or apply electronically using the Internet. Which methods you use
to generate an interview will depend on the type of jobs, industry, and person you
are contacting. It's a personal decision, and you've got to experiment to see what
works for you. It is important to be adequately prepared prior to making your contacts
and also essential that you keep accurate records.
Finally, the last step in waging a successful job search campaign is timing. Begin
with realistic expectations. It may take more than six months to get your initial
career position, so you must start early. Since it is often difficult to stay motivated
for that length of time, an emotional support group is helpful. This informal network
can be composed of friends, family members, the CDO staff, other job seekers or individuals
of your choosing who can help motivate you when you need it. Even though there may
be many rejections, it takes only one "yes" to get hired. Be persistent, patient,
and positive! For more information about conducting a good job search, refer to Career
Guides J1 - J6 and J7, Job Search Basics.
IT TAKES MORE THAN SIX MONTHS TO GET YOUR
INITIAL CAREER POSITION, SO START EARLY.
STEP 6: Career Management
By this point, you will have hopefully obtained the career position you desire--one
that utilizes your skills and satisfies many of your personal values and interests.
Keep in mind that one job cannot offer everything you seek. Whatever needs are not
met by your paid employment can be actively satisfied away from the job. Likewise,
an ideal job should be one that educates and prepares you for an even better one.
Going to work as a professional is very different from attending school. As a student,
you completed identified assignments for specific grades. As an employee, evaluation
procedures are often vague. In many situations, you are expected to produce results
with relatively little direction or feedback. Your understanding of the world of work,
networking efforts, and contributions on the job will directly affect your career
security and advancement opportunities. Keep track of your accomplishments and log
them in specific terms. This data will assist you in negotiating the performance appraisals,
salary, and promotions you desire.
In times of rapid change and rampant obsolescence in occupation fields, you must remain
flexible. The "one-job, one-career worklife" of a generation ago phenomenon has been
increasingly replaced by a "12-jobs, four-careers worklife." At some point you may
begin to ask questions of yourself about your present employment. You may wonder whether
there is something better available; or as your skills, values, and interests change,
whether another position would better meet these factors. If and when this occurs,
the career planning process has completed its cycle. You can return to Step 1: Self
Assessment and begin anew the process, anytime during your working years as often
as you desire. Remember, the key to success is being prepared. Make an appointment
to talk with a CDO career counselor today!
Adapted and reprinted with permission from an article entitled Successful Career Planning For Future Grads by Deborah Veady, Associate Director of Career Planning at California State University,