The problem: lack of information.

J.C. was finishing up his second year at a four-year university. He had grown up in a small, rural community, and he was the first person in his immediate family to attend college. He had put off selecting a major and making any decisions about his future because he felt overwhelmed by the pressure of the decision and he didn’t know where to begin the process of identifying a career for his future. He stated that he was just putting off the making a decision, but that he now felt pressured to make a decision since he was moving into his junior year.

J.C. was beginning to feel pressured, but he really didn’t know where to begin. His only work experience was at family-owned ice cream shop in his home town the previous summer. J.C. was unable to decide upon a major because he felt that his decision would hold too much finality, and he was afraid he would make the wrong choice. He stated that he had been looking at the majors his friends were selecting as a way to help him decide, but that he had a hard time picturing himself in these careers because he didn’t know what work would be like in those fields.

Like many young people just starting out on their career journey, J.C. needed to learn more about himself, what would be important to him in a work setting, occupations that related to his personally expressed interests, and the possibilities that exist in the world of work. He needed more experiences in the world of work to know what types of work he enjoyed, and what he didn’t enjoy.

Throughout the career planning process, clients will require information relevant to their current status in their career journey. Depending on the situation, clients may require information about themselves, occupations, alternative options, training or education, financial aid opportunities, and job-seeking documents and information.

Sources of information may include formal assessments, informal assessments, records of past grades and achievements, life stories, parent and teacher feedback, trustworthy websites and databases, printed materials, and word-of-mouth from professionals working in a field of interest. He can also learn more about the world of work and improve his skills and confidence through volunteering, job shadowing, internships, and part-time work. J.C. needed to step out more confidently in the world around him and have some good experiences to realize what the world had to offer and what he would enjoy as a career

The need for more information is something that I encounter frequently with clients, especially when working with young students who have not had much of an opportunity to explore the possibilities and see what they could become in the future. More specifically, these clients need access to quality information that is accurate, as well as relevant to their career exploration experience.

The first step: gaining self-awareness.

Never underestimate the value of career assessments to support self-awareness in the career development process. As a client discovers more about their interests, skills, and values, they are more likely to understand why particular careers would be a good match for them, Online career planning systems (such as the Kuder Career Planning System®) can help clients better understand themselves, and encourage occupational exploration that is focused on the assessment results of the client. After completing the assessments, clients will better understand which career pathways and clusters they would be most likely to enjoy based on their Interest assessment results. Behind this list, they will better understand what traits of the work they truly enjoy; whether it’s detailed, organized, and structured types of work, or work that allows them to help people through teaching, counseling, healing, or coaching, the client will better understand what types of work they are most likely to enjoy, and what types of work they feel confident in performing, and what is most important to them in their work.

Exploration helps narrow down options.

Clients can use their assessment results to inform their career planning as they read about the job descriptions of various occupations, watch videos to see and hear what the different work environment may be like, see salary ranges, and learn about the level of education required to work in these fields.

Instead of trying to decide between more than a thousand possible careers, the client can focus on a narrow list of occupations that have been pulled specifically for them based on their assessment results. Plus, the system also contains information about the occupation tasks, salary, educational requirements, and expected growth so that they can make a more informed decision about whether or not a career would be a possibility for their future.

After J.C. completed his assessments, we identified that he had a strong interest in work that allowed him work with his hands to create, repair, or assemble tangible things. He also showed a high interest in problem-solving by reaching logical conclusions, using his mind to observe carefully, think rationally, and reach conclusions. (Needless to say, J.C. had a dominant Realistic-Investigative Holland code.) When we discussed these interests during his intake interview, he excitedly shared how much he enjoyed spending free time alone outdoors, and growing and tending to the plants that filled his apartment. He was smiling as he shared these passions, and he was excited to see that his Kuder assessment results confirmed his interests and provided him with a list of occupations that aligned with those interests.

Road-testing occupations.

John Krumboltz’s social learning theory emphasizes the importance of instrumental learning, which is learning that occurs through positive outcomes following a particular behavior. When a client has a good experience when working (such as receiving a paycheck, or receiving praise from a supervisor), they’re able to learn how to create a more satisfying life for themselves. So, after learning more about career pathways and occupations that would be a possible fit for clients, it’s time to connect to learning experiences in their field of interest. These experiences could be in the form of internships, part-time jobs (sometimes these jobs can be found on campus), related course work, interviewing professionals in the workplace, and even volunteer activities.

Since J.C. was so interested in plants and the outdoors, we turned our attention to careers that would allow him to work with these passions. We explored the list of career options displayed in his Kuder Journey account and Internet searches. As we continued to meet, we talked about his list of favorite careers and how they related to his work values. He read job descriptions and interviews with professionals working in the field and watched videos that provided insights on the various working conditions, job tasks, settings, and other details. Through exploration and evaluation, J.C. began to narrow his list down to a list of careers which included Landscape Design, Nursery and Greenhouse Worker, and Horticulture Research. After making some calls, we were also able to connect J.C. with a local arboretum where he later spent some time volunteering.

Volunteering can be a useful tool to directly test the waters of occupations because clients are able to experience the work environment and decide if it is a good fit. They’re also able to make networking connections that could open the door to a job one day. For example, one of my clients volunteered at a local hospital for several months in a department that aligned with his career aspirations. His supervisor liked the work that he was doing so much that he offered him a part-time paid job. The same supervisor eventually served as a reference for him and helped him land his first job after college in the physical therapy department. His volunteer experience was fundamental in opening the door of this occupation to him, and his willingness to volunteer paid off in more important ways than just a paycheck.

Shining a light on the possibilities.

J.C. researched the horticulture program at his university and he enrolled in it. He is working toward his Bachelor of Science in Horticulture, and is still working on deciding which area to specialize in. He’s exploring internship options available to students that are enrolled in the program, and I’m hopeful that such an opportunity will help him make a more informed decision.

The bottom line? As with any decision, people are more likely to make a wise decision when they’ve spent time researching, gathering information, and exploring options. As career advisors, a big part of our work involves connecting people with information, ideas, and options most valuable to their personal futures.

We help clients discover the world around them by shining a light on the many exciting opportunities that exist in the world that coincide with their expressed interests. Therefore, we must work diligently to ensure that we are providing relevant, accurate, up-to-date career related information.