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Career Exploration: What is it?
According to the Hub, career exploration can be defined as the process of learning about career paths, job functions, industries, fields, and roles that can help clarify your professional interests, goals, and aspirations. How can a student embark on exploration? In any way: Google searching careers; browsing LSA Connect, Handshake or LinkedIn; connecting with working professionals to inquire about their careers; or trying out part-time jobs or internships. The catalyst for career exploration is drawing knowledge from virtually any connection, experience, or opportunity you intentionally pursue or unintentionally encounter. Every learning gained helps push the process of career exploration further.
Hub Coach Kate Silbert not only supports students through their career exploration journeys on a one-on-one level, but hosts Hub workshops with a team of other coaches designed to offer students the tools they need to dive into career exploration.
“We're going to focus on the internal side of things today, really thinking about your own goals and interests and strengths,” Kate explains to students in an October career exploration workshop. She continues: “This is not a workshop where we're going to tell you ‘this is the career you should have’ or ‘this is who you should be’. Instead we’re going to focus on the tools and processes that you can use to find the best career for you.”
Kate understands that for undergraduate students, career exploration can be an unfamiliar concept.
“All the way up until college, your next step has probably been defined for you,” Kate explains. “As an alum we work with has put so well: from kindergarten you go to first grade, then to second and so on and so forth until you reach college. But as students approach the end of their college years, suddenly there’s not necessarily a defined next step.”
Kate identifies this as the time where career exploration becomes essential in students’ lives.
“Career exploration is a tool for defining your next step in that world of many existing next steps,” Kate emphasizes. “That includes figuring things out that are internal and personal to you and also understanding the paths that are external and how to get to them. Even really early on in your career exploration journey, it's important to reflect on what you already know about yourself: likes, values, strengths—all of these things are pieces of data that can inform the work that you might want to do in the long run.”
Career exploration is not a one-time event: it is an ongoing process that requires self-reflection on your collective experiences, such as extra curricular activities, in-the-field experiences, your LSA courses, passion projects, networking, and your LSA degree.
Kate concludes the workshop introduction, telling students, “let’s talk about this as a process.” Then, she dives in.
Career exploration: How do you engage in it?
We’ve established what career exploration is, but how do you go about it?
Kate emphasizes that you don’t need to have a career in mind to begin career exploration and that it's never too early to begin exploring.
“Students can begin exploring tools and resources without having everything tied up,” Kate clarifies. “You can start to build that professional persona with the information that you have at hand, knowing that you're going to continue building what your interests are over time. But you don't have to have everything figured out to be able to, for instance, start a master résumé or LinkedIn profile and connect with people to learn about industries of interest. Those are all tools that you can start to add to your toolbox wherever you are in your journey.”
As students embark on their journeys, Kate identifies some common roadblocks they may face.
“Many students are overwhelmed with just how many options there are,” Kate explains. “They struggle with ‘how do I decide? How do I figure out if the route that I'm going to put my energy towards is the right one, the perfect one, the best one?’ It's a double-sided problem: first, ‘there are so many options, how do I choose?’ And then also this sense of pressure of having to choose the best option.”
Kate’s advice for students? “Keep things manageable.”
“Start with three paths you found that seem interesting and dwell with those for a while and try them out,” Kate advises. “Join a student organization that's related to your interests, have an informational interview or conversation with an alum, or even pursue an internship in that field. And then using all of that, get more information about why you would enjoy that path. Reflect on what gives you energy, what matters to you and your work, and keep building from there.”
Kate also reminds students that the steps they take on their career journeys in undergrad or postgrad aren’t blocking them in but, rather, helping them to branch out.
“Adaption is the name of the game,” Kate affirms. “Students are going to have a lot of career changes over time, and when you're preparing for your next step after college, you're not carving into stone. It’s not the only thing that you'll ever get to do. Focus on keeping things manageable and take the leap to get started. Reflect on what matters to you, what your priorities are, and take action accordingly.”
Career exploration: Why is it so important?
2018 LSA alum Shavon Edwards is putting Kate’s advice into practice, utilizing her postgraduate journey to dive into the consulting industry, pivoting from position to position as she clarifies her career interests.
“When I was in undergrad I don't think we had a full understanding of what career exploration meant,” Shavon explains. “But now I'm empowered by it. For someone who doesn't want to take those traditional paths to a career, it offers opportunities and tangible steps you can take. And because of that, having the ability to engage with career exploration and really lean into it, I’m not even thinking that that's what I'm doing, but that's essentially what you're doing as you explore opportunities in the post-grad realm.”
Shavon graduated with a degree in Political Science and a minor in History of Law & Policy. Her plan in undergrad was to continue immediately to law school, but as she was studying for the LSAT during her junior year, she paused to reflect: why was she doing this? Did she want to go on to practice law?
“I shifted my focus,” Shavon explains. “I realized I didn’t want to be doing this, so I took a step back to explore some things that I thought I might be interested in. When it came to work I was like, ‘okay, I'm going to take some time off before I even consider going to graduate school so I can get some work experience.’ So, for right now I am doing just that.”
Shavon began her career shortly after graduation with a global engineering consulting firm, WSP USA. In the years since, she’s worked with consulting companies in the technology, information services, and communications spaces, recently culminating in a senior advisory role with a public affairs firm.
“A mix of political consulting, strategic communications, and project management is the easiest way to describe it,” Shavon says of her current position. “I’m really just learning what it is I like to do, and what it is I don't. Coming out of undergrad, that's basically what I thought would happen so it's really interesting to see it happening in real time and being in it.”
Shavon’s current title is Senior Public Affairs Associate at Kivvit, a company focused on providing “innovative and immersive public affairs and communications strategies” to their clients.
But how did Shavon work her way to her current role?
“Have conversations with different people,'' Shavon emphasizes. “People are all just figuring it out, and you have to understand that that's never going to go away. No one ever has it all figured out. I’ve taken a lot of opportunities that I’ve gotten through recommendations, where somebody I knew was like ‘Hey, I think you'd be great for this’. And I’ve just tried it. What's the harm in that? We have the rest of our lives and a good chunk of it will be spent working, so why not explore and find things you enjoy?”
Shavon also emphasizes not restricting yourself by your major.
“No matter what your major is, that's not all you have to offer and that's not all you can learn or can do,” Shavon explains. “There's so many people that are in roles they happened upon and ended up taking an interest in that had nothing to do with what they studied in school.”
Instead, Shavon highlights the evergreen skills she developed through her liberal arts education, noting that their uniqueness in the workplace helps her to make a strong impression.
“The skills I’ve gained from my LSA degree have helped me to stand out,” Shavon confirms. “Because I studied political science and policy, I'm able to think strategically, I'm able to have conversations with people, I'm able to relay information processing in a strategic way, and I'm able to move across different industries and apply the skills that I do have.”
Looking back at her undergraduate journey, Shavon wishes she had learned more about negotiation, specifically about the importance of self advocation. She recommends this as a critical skill for current students to carry in their toolbox.
“Make sure you're able to speak to your experiences, and that you're able to sell yourself,” Shavon instructs. “If you don't know how to do anything else, you need to learn how to talk about yourself in a way that highlights what it is that you can provide to whatever opportunity you're applying for.”
Shavon concludes with powerful insight into career exploration, and what it can mean to students.
“You own your own career trajectory,” Shavon affirms. “Worry about you and your experiences, and not so much about what society says that you need to be doing, or what your résumé looks like, or how long you've been at a job. Focus on what's best for you and your journey.”
Resources to rely on as you embark on your career exploration journey:
Hub Coaches. Get personalized 1:1 support on career exploration and any other professional development needs when you make an appointment with a Hub coach.
Hub Career Learning. Dive into career exploration at your own pace with the Hub’s online 24/7 career tools and take charge of your professional development. Head here to get started.
Liberal Arts by the Numbers. See what LSA alums are doing with their degrees when you explore the LSA Career Wheel.
Hub Industry Groups on LSA Connect. Join Industry Groups and get access to industry specific insider information on opportunities, industry trends, and more. Head here to learn more about LSA Connect and join today.