Alumnae/i Career Process

Career theory in the U.S. originated in the early 20th century. Over time, many theories and models of career development have been created. New ones continue to emerge while others evolve with the changing times.

Because there are so many approaches, it’s worth investing your time to find a few approaches that resonate with you. You can explore articles, podcasts, and book summaries to get a sense of frameworks that sound appealing to you. Gather recommendations from others; what approaches, processes, and resources worked for them?

Despite the wide variety of options, many career development models make reference to the following common, cyclical stages (the naming of which can vary greatly!). Something that almost every theory or model agrees on: Career development is not a linear process.

Self-assessment, Self-Awareness, or Looking Inward

  • Identify and examine your values, interests, personality characteristics, and lifestyle preferences (i.e., urban/rural living, indoor/outdoor work, structure/spontaneity), goals, and commitments (i.e., relationships, mortgage, etc.).
  • Reflect on activities, experiences, academic studies, people, and situations that energize you and those that drain you.
  • Inventory your skills, abilities, strengths, and talents. Identify those you enjoy but need or want to acquire or develop further.
  • Consider what motivates or inspires you. Not everyone has a passion or discovers one at the same time, so start by focusing on what generates enthusiasm.
  • Spend time taking stock of all variables that may factor into or influence your choices. What are your needs versus your wants? A few salient examples include
    • Family and relationships
    • Financial needs and commitments (e.g., mortgage or student loan payback)
    • Geographic location (i.e., access to transportation, availability of desired job roles or industry)
    • Education and training requirements (versus preferences an employer might articulate)

Exploration, Research, or Looking Outward

  • Avoid researching career options by looking at job postings – at least initially. Begin your research with resources that more comprehensively and objectively describe and define roles and fields.
  • After “looking inward,” hopefully you have a few ideas of fields or industries that intrigue you. It’s common to be unclear about titles and roles initially; instead, think about questions such as, “What kinds of problems do I want to solve? What sorts of issues do I want to be a part of influencing?”
  • Visit websites that generate ideas and brainstorm lists of options based on something you already know. For example, we subscribe to “What Can I Do with this Major?” which is an excellent resource for identifying occupations aligned with diverse fields of study.
  • Utilize career and occupational research sites such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*NET for comprehensive and reliable information about roles and industries.
  • Visit professional association websites and industry-specific career guides for a deeper dive, including networking connections, compensation data, certification or licensure requirements, etc.
  • Think about geographical areas of interest. Utilize location as a lens for research on considerations such as compensation, availability of certain types of jobs, etc.
  • Formulate a strategy for activating your networking connections and conducting informational interviews. Talking with others about their experiences and insights is THE MOST important and valuable way to expand your understanding of career options.
  • Seeking to start a business? Tap small business development centers and organizations that support start-up ventures for expertise and resources.

Making Decisions

  • Making an informed career decision is not a “single moment in time” event – it’s a process. Individuals typically cycle through this process several times, making many smaller decisions to home in on a bigger decision.
  • What is your decision-making style? How have you made other significant decisions in your life? What approaches have served you well?
  • Analyze and weigh the options you have researched in relation to how well they align with or fulfill what you learned about yourself by looking inward.

Set Goals, Prepare Materials

  • Develop an initial networking list and draft email outreach messages. On an ongoing basis, conduct informational interviews and build your network.
  • Identify target organizations or graduate/professional school programs.
  • Prepare a core “elevator pitch” and practice!
  • Prepare a core resume that you can adapt and tailor for each application.
  • Prepared tailored essays and personal statements when applying to continuing education programs.
  • Develop and practice your interview skills.

Implementation, Taking Action

  • Integrate information to form a plan and timeline. Break down long-term goals into smaller short-term goals or steps.
  • Obtain experience (e.g., part-time, gig / contract work, volunteering, internship or “returnship,” etc.)
  • Refine your goals and next steps based on what you discover and experience.
  • A job search or a career transition is time consuming. Be patient, persistent, and kind to yourself in the process.

The following worksheets offer you ways to examine your skills, values, and interests, as well as reflect on preferred work settings and industries. You can utilize them on your own or discuss within a career coaching appointment.


Contact Us

The Career & Civic Engagement Center

Phone: 610-526-5174