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Careers Café

Starting to explore


In my last blog post, I suggested that passion can be a misleading guide when you’re starting to explore career options. However, if you’re willing to set aside passion in favour of curiosity, you have more freedom to investigate a variety of career options.

The next issue, of course, is how to go about doing that.

First, remember that you don’t have to choose a new career right away. When your career future is unknown, you may want to get rid of that feeling of not knowing as quickly as possible. You may even need to take a new job right now for financial reasons. Exploring career options is still worthwhile, and the job that you may have to take, even if you don’t love it, will still give you experiences that refine your knowledge of what you want and what you don’t.

Second, get a sheet of paper. Following a piece of advice from Kathleen Mitchell’s excellent book, The Unplanned Career, write down a few careers that you’d like to know more about. Over the next several days, add to that piece of paper, until you have a messy, unedited list of all the careers that you’ve ever felt curious about. Again, don’t worry about passion — that will come later. Don’t worry about your qualifications for the jobs, either. Just write down a list of careers.

While you’re watching your list grow, get a binder, a shoebox or a file folder to start adding job clippings to. The point isn’t to apply to jobs. In fact, responding to a job posting is one of the least successful job search strategies out there (more on that in another post). However, job postings do help with research (what are employers looking for?), including research about yourself.

Gather any postings that appeal to you. Start with postings related to careers on the list you’re developing. A job posting search engine like Eluta can help you search by skills or areas of knowledge, rather than just by job titles. Highlight the elements of the jobs that you find most interesting. Highlight, too, the parts that you find unappealing. Over time, you will see patterns emerge.

Finally, add a bit of information to your list and your job postings. Beside the careers and tasks of interest, name people who might know more about that title or task than you. If there are resources that you could use — like the occupational profile directory on the Alberta Learning Information System, websites or white papers from relevant professional associations, or discussion groups on LinkedIn — jot them down. Which two or three areas could you start exploring first? Pick a date to contact one person or draw on one resource for each of the careers you’ve decided to explore.

These activities are only some of the starting points from which you could work. Keep visiting the Careers Café to work through the process of exploring and securing work that is meaningful to you.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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