We make plenty of simple decisions every day, such as “What should I eat for lunch?”  At times, we have to make important decisions that will fundamentally shape our lives, such as “Should I go to college?” and “What occupation should I pursue?”

Stop and ask yourself: How will you choose what occupation to pursue?  What did your family and mentors teach you about how to make this big decision?

When we ask people how they plan to decide, they tend to say things like:

  • I’ll just pick something when the time comes
  • I’ll go with my gut
  • I’ll do what my _____ told me I should do
  • I’ll find a college major that sounds interest and go into whatever occupation connects with that major
  • I’ll go into whatever occupation has the most job openings
  • I’ll pick the most prestigious / challenging occupation I can
  • I’ll pick whatever career will help me make the most money possible

Many times, making decisions in these non-systematic ways can work out just fine.  And for many folks on this planet, they don’t have the luxury of being systematic.  However, for those of you who could be systematic, here are some facts to motivate you (see bottom of page for all sources):

  • Undergraduate students switch their major an average of 3 times, 80% of students switch their major at least once, and 45% of students fail to graduate in 6 years
  • 73% of people in their 30’s want to change their occupation because it’s not a good fit

In other words, the data suggest that most people have trouble predicting what education and career path is the right fit for them.  It’s possible that the non-systematic ways we tend to make decisions may be a big reason why people have such trouble predicting what career path will be a good fit.

Here are some other important facts to consider:

  • Annual household income greater than $75,000 does not significantly increase happiness or reduce stress (perhaps because of the hedonic treadmill effect)
  • People spend the majority of their waking adult life at work
  • Job satisfaction increases life satisfaction, mental health, and physical health and reduces work burnout
  • When our interests, values, and personality fit with our occupation, job, and organization,  we tend to experience increased job satisfaction
  • Better occupation/job/organization fit is associated with greater job satisfaction, which in turn is associated with greater life satisfaction
  • Research evidence suggests that systematic career exploration is effective at helping people choose occupations that can be a good fit for them

When we put these facts together, the conclusion is that it’s worthwhile to engage in systematic career exploration if your life circumstances allow you to do so.

Of course, there can be many reasons why we’re not systematic in our career exploration.  Click on the reasons to see how each can be successfully addressed.

  • We’re not taught how to be systematic
    The SCEA can teach you how to be systematic.  Once you’ve learned the SCEA, you can apply it whenever you need it, whether now or later in life.
  • We have personal or cultural expectations to honor the wishes of our family or community

    Our families and communities may have hopes and expectations for what we will do to make a living.  This could include pursuing a specific occupation (e.g., aerospace engineer) or type of occupation (e.g., become a doctor of some kind, earn a high salary, enter a prestigious field).  It could also include making a commitment to remaining close to family by staying in a certain town, or taking a part-time job in order to have time to care for aging family members.  If it is important to you that you honor your family’s/community’s expectations, the SCEA can help you explore all possible career options that are congruent with their expectations.  It may also be possible, if you wish, to share what you’ve learned about career exploration from the SCEA and other reputable sources with the important people in your life.  This may help them feel comfortable with the idea of you considering a broader range of occupations, so that you can find work that is fulfilling and productive.

  • We can feel overwhelmed (e.g., how am I supposed to choose one occupation from the 900+ occupations that exist?!)

    The SCEA simplifies the process of finding the right occupation and education/training path by breaking the process up into manageable steps.  This can help reduce the anxiety that  comes with doing career exploration and making big career decisions.

  • We're busy with other things (e.g., school, life)

    You’ve probably found that you must intentionally choose to “make time” for the things that matter to you.  When life is busy, there is usually no “convenient” time for doing important things that we’ve been procrastinating on.  Thus, while our day-to-day academic/job responsibilities, social and leisure time, and family obligations often require a lot of our time, we can benefit greatly from making time for career exploration.  Otherwise, we must rely on unsystematic ways of making career decisions, which can be hit or miss.

    I like to think about it this way: it can be annoying/scary to take time out of our life to engage in systematic career exploration, but think about what’s at stake.  Many people spend thousands of hours pursuing education, training, and occupations that end up being a poor fit, leaving them feeling unfulfilled.  They may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting degrees that prepare them for an occupation that they end up hating.  The average US citizen spends 90,000 hours at work over the course of their life.  In my opinion, it’s worth taking 10 to 15 hours (the typical length of time it takes most students to complete the SCEA) earlier in life if that helps increase your chances of avoiding occupations that are not a good fit for you.  Investing some of your time now in systematic career exploration can help you maximize your chances of pursing a career path that will bring you satisfaction for the rest of your life.


  • We're still learning and defining who we are

    This is so true! We learn more and more about ourselves as we age.  It is certainly easier to engage in systematic career exploration when we’re older and have a better sense of our interests, skills, values, and personality.  Research suggests that people of all ages can benefit from engaging in career exploration activities, but doing systematic career exploration becomes practical once we enter our teenage years.  By the time we’re in high school, most of us know enough about our basic preferences that using a system like the SCEA becomes appropriate.  How far we can get in the SCEA, however, depends on our own unique situation.

    Some people find that they can complete the entire SCEA as high school students.  Others find that they need more time to take high school/university classes, engage in extracurricular activities, hold part-time jobs and internships, etc., in order to form informed opinions about what they like and who they are.  Yet others who have developmental or acquired disabilities will face special challenges around career exploration and require specialized resources to help them identify and pursue meaningful work.  Thus, my general recommendation is that people 14 years of age or older begin using the SCEA and get as far as they can given the strengths and limits of their self-knowledge and life situation.

    When they get stuck and can’t move forward with the SCEA, I encourage them to “pause and save their progress” with the SCEA.  They can then take whatever time they need, whether it be months or years, to get additional academic/career experience.  Once they have gained additional self-knowledge, they can then pick up with the SCEA where they left off.  It is not uncommon for people to have to pause, and then return to, the SCEA process several times over the course of their young adult life.  The SCEA will always be here for you, so complete the journey at your own pace.  There are no true shortcuts and sometimes patience with the process (and yourself!) is what is needed.

    And let’s be real.  People successfully switch education/training programs and occupations all the time.  It’s  not the end of the world if you start off in a field that doesn’t fit you and have to make some sacrifices in order to switch into something that fits you better.  In fact, most older adults report feeling generally satisfied with their career journeys in the end.  I find comfort in that, and I hope you do to.

    In fact, when we’re young adults, our interests and skills are still evolving.  This is why we can pursue an occupation that was a good fit at one time, but later in life stops being a good fit because circumstances and our preferences have changed.  Thus, it is not always necessary or even possible for everyone to plans out a lifetime career path when they are a teenager or young adult.

    However, my personal belief is that people have nothing to lose and everything to gain by using the SCEA, or another systematic career exploration approach.  It provides them the opportunity to identify occupations that could be a great fit for them and help provide some concrete ideas for next education/training/job steps.  The occupations you identify by using the SCEA may not be the best fit for you in 5, 10, or 20 years, but these occupational choices are more likely to be accurate than occupational choices made purely on the basis of unsystematic methods.

  • Our financial, geographic, or economic situation doesn't give us much choice when it comes to work

    Many people in this world are born into a situation where they don’t have much flexibility when it comes to work.  They may live in certain cultural and economic contexts that may limit what kinds of work are available to them.  If the only place that you can get work in your town is a fast food restaurant, and you don’t have the option of moving to another town, then it’s either you work at the fast food restaurant or you don’t work at all.  It is a privilege to be able to consider multiple occupations and choose between them on the basis of personal preference.  Thus, it is important for me to acknowledge that I recommend the SCEA to those who have some flexibility and choice in deciding what kind of career to pursue, but understand that using the SCEA may not be practical for those who don’t have much choice due to financial, geographic, economic, or other factors.

  • .

    In summary, there are many understandable reasons why many of us don’t use a systematic approach.  However, if you have the chance to be systematic, then it’s well worth your time and effort. You can return to the Overview page or proceed to learning more about Step 1 (Explore Your Career Interests) of the SCEA.

    Sources: Kahneman & Deaton, 2010; Diener et al., 2006; BLS.gov; Mishra et al., 2014; Faragher et al., 2005, Bretz & Judge, 1994; Tracey, 2007; Kristof-Brown et al., 2005; Whiston et al., 2003; Brown & Krane, 2000; Perdrix et al., 2012; Fretz, 1981; National Center for Education Statistics; NCES, 2014, Shapiro, 2014; National Bureau of Labor Statistics; Harris Poll; Pryce-Jones, 2011; Tracey, 2017