Exploring the Possibilities
Are you just starting the process of considering what you want to do after graduation? A little anxious or overwhelmed by it all? The most important thing to do at this point (no matter what lies ahead) is to take a deep breathe and relax for a moment. The following information and resources should help you begin.
Basic career exploration advice often emphasizes the importance of “knowing yourself.” And that's actually good advice, because understanding your personal values and goals for the future is a valuable tool for successful decision making.
Taking the time to examine what makes you happy will help to ensure that you will thrive in the career path you choose. Your level of awareness of your own preferences will determine how much self-exploration you need to do. A number of assessment tools are available to help clarify your values and goals, but you can conduct a quick assessment by asking yourself some fundamental questions, such as:
- What do I value? Social interaction? Learning? Leisure time? Being efficient? Monetary compensation?
- How do I like to engage with the world? Hands-on? Contemplatively? Practically?
The key to making this self-assessment a valuable exercise is answering these questions honestly. Once you affirm your own preferences, you can start comparing them to career options and potential employers.
Surveying the Field
The next step is to begin surveying various fields to determine how your interests align with opportunities. At this point, don’t get too wrapped up with in-depth examinations of a specific industry or company; you'll be doing that later. Instead seek to gain a basic inclination for the type of work you want to be doing. You may choose from a number of the tools and techniques discussed in our Researching section to get started. It’s helpful to write down your reactions and thoughts as you examine how your interests relate to these options.
This searching stage will probably lead you to say such things as, "Well, I know that doesn't sound like I would really like it," and "Now that sounds really interesting and engaging..." It is also important that you allow yourself the freedom to change your mind about anything at this point. This process should be fun, energizing and exciting.
To begin mapping out a career direction, we encourage students to visit the Center for Student Professional Development during walk-in hours to meet with one of the professional coaches on staff. If you are unsure about your career interests, the Center offers career coaching and resources to assist with clarification of your goals. When appropriate, a career coach will recommend a career assessment (e.g. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Career Leader) to boost your understanding of your interests and strengths. The coaching process often leads students to explore professional development opportunities through participating in Center activities.
If you already have a field in mind, we will connect you to one of our industry clusters (groups of related industries and career fields). A career coach may suggest that you conduct informational interviews with individuals in your fields of interest or that you investigate shadowing opportunities.
Exploring Industry Clusters
The professions pursued by Vanderbilt graduates are varied and are often not directly tied to a student’s major. By participating in coaching based on industry clusters (groups of related industries and career fields), you can explore your interests in various fields and investigate applying what you have learned through your curricular and co-curricular experiences to a field of interest.
Informational Interviewing & Shadowing
A great way to find out if you would like a particular field or job is to ask someone who is already doing that type of work. Sitting down with an industry professional can provide you with an insider's perspective, a stronger network, and sometimes lead to tips about job or internship opportunities.
An informational interview is simply a conversation to gain information and insights about a career, industry, or organization. This information can be used in choosing a major, exploring career options, or preparing for a summer or professional job search. Be clear with yourself and with the professional you are interviewing that the discussion is not for the purpose of requesting a job or internship. Learn more about informational interviewing.
Job shadowing is another great way to explore career directions. Shadowing gives you the opportunity to watch someone at work in a particular job and experience the nuances of the position, without having to perform the work yourself. This is a great way to test the waters before making a commitment to a specific career direction.