There are a few things to cover before we jump into Step 1 of the Systematic Career Exploration Approach (SCEA).
First, let’s define our terms so that we’re on the same page:
- A job is a specific position or work for which you get paid. Example: an engineering technician at XYZ Company.
- An occupation is a type of job with the same job duties. People who work in an occupation do similar tasks and need similar training. Example: physicians, teachers, or scientists.
- A career is a journey that lasts your whole life. Your career includes education, training, work experience, and community involvement. You are building your career, becoming a stronger working professional.
Second, if you’re not yet convinced that a systematic approach to career exploration is worth your time, check out the Reasons to Be Systematic page.
Third, for our purposes, we want to think about “career exploration” and “job preparation” as two related yet independent activities.
Career exploration involves figuring out what occupation is a good fit for you, and what kinds of educational degrees or training programs are going to be helpful in helping to prepare you to pursue a career in that occupation.
Job preparation involves tasks such as finding an internship, creating a resume and cover letter, learning how to network, learning how to search and apply for jobs or to schools, practicing your job interview skills, and identifying specific educational/training programs offered by specific schools or organizations.
Both career exploration and job preparation are important for achieving career success, and learning skills in one area can help with the other area. However, career exploration typically happens first. You need to first figure out what you want to do and what preparation you need to do it, before you then turn your attention to learning and using the skills necessary to get into specific jobs/programs that fit with your larger career plan.
In real life, we’re often simultaneously learning how to do career exploration and job preparation. However, it is important to keep these two types of activities separate in your mind. The reason: it’s common for family members and mentors to skip the career exploration part of career success and focus mostly on the job preparation part. But this does a disservice to those young adults they are trying to help because, as I explain on the Reasons to Be Systematic page, systematic career exploration can help maximize future job satisfaction.
Fourth, the SCEA can help people at different parts of their career exploration journey (e.g., completely undecided, have a few occupations in mind, have an undergraduate major they like but uncertain about the rest). However, for the purposes of this website, I will tailor the structure and description of the SCEA to those who are open to broadly exploring various occupations and education/training options and thus would benefit from completing all four Steps in order.
Fifth, the SCEA is designed to help people work backwards, first identifying the right occupation and then the right education/training that will help the person become qualified to obtain a job in that occupation. It can be tempting to work forwards because it is less stressful: all you have to do is figure out the next step and then you can avoid having to think about later steps for a while. However, this approach puts you at risk for making short-term decisions that may make it more difficult to efficiently pursue the occupation that is right for you. A helpful metaphor: when we want to go on a vacation, we usually want to figure out our destination before we start to plan what roads to start driving. If we didn’t, we might start driving in the opposite direction of where we actually want to end up. Thus, I recommend figuring out occupation then college major, rather than college major then occupation (for example).
Lastly, I recommend using a desktop/laptop for certain Steps because some of the SCEA activities are hard to do on a smartphone.
Ok, it’s time for Step 1: Explore Your Career Interests!