Whether your post-graduate plans are still up in the air or you're dead set on becoming the regional manager of a paper company, the Student Professional Development Center can support you along the way no matter the career path.
By: Alison Doherty, Career Advising Fellow
There can be a lot of pressure in college to know what you want to do for the rest of your life from the moment you step on campus. Especially during the holiday season, you are often faced with many questions from family and friends asking about major choices or post-graduation plans, and while it might not be their intention, it can add to an already high-stress level.
However, what students often fail to realize is that taking time to explore potential career paths, or having moments during college, or later in life, when you rethink your career choice, is a natural part of the career development cycle.
In other words, even if you don’t know what you want to do with your life you are already making progress in your career development!
To better understand what this looks like, I’ve outlined the four stages of the career development cycle, with some classic quotes from Michael Scott of the TV show “The Office” to further illustrate what each stage means. Keep in mind this process is not always a perfect circle and you may repeat the cycle or skip around at different points in your life.
Learn about Yourself
When we think about careers we may want to pursue, we often think externally of what is out there, but we can forget how essential it is to look inward and take time to learn about ourselves. This stage of the career development cycle focuses on personal reflection. While it seems simple, really think about what you like to do and what you’re good at.
Consider your favorite subjects in school, hobbies, and interests. Are there things you know you don’t like? If you don’t like math and science, maybe being a doctor isn’t the best career path for you; but if you want to be a doctor for the aspect of helping people, there are lots of other related career possibilities.
In addition to your interests and skills, it is also important to understand what you value and your personality traits, as these can help you decide which careers best align with your preferences.
The SPDC offers several assessments to help in your personal exploration process, including My Plan, which offers four different online assessments Elon students can take for free. We recommend making an appointment on EJN with a career advisor afterward to debrief your results and help you better understand what they mean in relation to your job search.
While you should focus on your strengths, like Michael Scott, you also need to consider your weaknesses, too.
Explore Options and Careers
After learning more about ourselves, we are in a better position to strategically explore some career options. If you resonate with Michael in terms of not having any idea of what you want to do, this is where devoting time and effort to this stage can really help.
There are plenty of online resources you can utilize, such as “What Can I Do With This Major?” which you can access from the SPDC website.
O*Net OnLine and The Occupational Outlook Handbook are great tools for not only finding occupations based on your interests and skills but also to see the outlook of certain jobs and salary information broken down by region.
Perhaps the best way to gain insight into potential jobs or industries is to talk directly with the people who are currently in them. You can connect with professionals by setting up informational interviews to learn more about career paths and to build professional relationships.
LinkedIn is super useful for finding and reaching out to Elon alumni working in various industries. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn or need some tips on navigating the platform, you can make an appointment with a career advisor who can assist you with setting up or reviewing your profile and give you tips on how to build your network.
Get Focused/Make a Plan
While you will definitely learn new things along the way of your career development journey, unlike Michael Scott, you’ll want to have a bit of a clearer plan to begin with and keep the end in mind.
This stage is all about making decisions, setting goals for yourself, and starting to action plan. What (realistic) professional goals do you want to accomplish before you graduate? What can you start doing now that will prepare you for what you might want to do in the future?
If you need some more guidance and structure during this planning stage, or want additional time to learn about yourself and explore your options, the Transition Strategies Courses offered through the SPDC can be an excellent resource. These one-credit courses focus on a variety of different topics, including exploring career options, finding internships and jobs, making informed financial decisions, and transitioning from college to your professional life. You can view and register for available COE courses on OnTrack.
The final step is to take action, but as mentioned earlier a cycle does not have a real stopping point, and you may jump around to various stages as part of your career development journey.
In this stage, you should look for opportunities to gain experience in a career and/or industry that interests you. As early as your first year at Elon, you can get involved in campus organizations and participate in other experiential learning activities, such as community service. You can find all these opportunities on Phoenix Connect, or talk with student leaders at the organization fair which takes place every fall and spring.
Later in your Elon career, you can begin to take on leadership positions, pursue research, and study abroad, which you can (and should!) purposefully connect to your professional goals. Keep in mind that many experiential learning activities, even if not directly related to your major or career interests, will give you transferrable skills that employers look for and can assist you in any job – such as critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and adaptability.
Lastly, get hands-on job experience by applying for internships or shadowing someone. These can be some of the best ways to gain experience, network, develop professionally and further explore career choices. Take advantage of the job and internship postings on EJN, and make sure you set up job alerts to see postings that meet your preferred criteria.
Just remember in the words of Michael Scott (in the words of Wayne Gretzky), you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, so get out there and start discovering, exploring, planning, and taking action and repeat!