Exploring Career Interests
This week's blog is written by Peer Career Coach, Jill Feilen. Jill is a B.S. Chemical Engineering student graduating in May 2023 with 3 co-op terms working with Dow Chemical, where she will continue full-time after graduation.
College is a time to find yourself. You can find new hobbies and interests, make new friends, and make decisions for yourself for the first time. Some students come into college with set career goals—to become a consultant, engineer, doctor, or whatever it might be. For these students, college is a great tool to further their education and prepare them for their future career.
Many other students enter college unsure about their career interests. Some go to college with specific goals but end up changing their career path entirely. Others enroll as a “blank canvas,” and use college to explore different career options. If you’re feeling lost or don’t know where to start in your career exploration, here are a few tips:
Internships and co-ops are a great way to get hands-on experience with a specific company or field. Because you get an opportunity to work full-time, you get to see all the ins-and-outs of the job, company, and industry. If you enjoy your internship or co-op, you can start to narrow down your career interests or even look for a full-time opportunity in a similar role or at the same company. If you don’t like it, no problem! You just got 3+ months of great work experience and can feel comfortable “checking it off the list” as something you don’t want to pursue in the future. I always advise students to take as many co-ops and internships as possible, even if it pushes back their graduation. Being able to try out multiple roles for a few months each is an opportunity that you likely won’t come across after graduation. It’s much harder to change jobs that quickly once you get into full time positions, but not impossible!
Handshake is a great resource for searching and applying for jobs. If you need help navigating Handshake, creating/updating your resume, or anything else for your job search, please schedule an appointment or come into drop-ins to meet with an ECS advisor. You can schedule appointments on Handshake by going to the “Career Center” tab and clicking on “Appointments.” Our drop-in hours are listed here.
During your internships and co-ops, take time to talk to as many of your coworkers as possible. Ask them questions: Are you happy in your job? Do you feel overworked? Do you wish you worked for another company or industry? How did you know this job was right for you? Also, try to talk to leaders or someone with a role that aligns to your long-term career goals. Ask them how they got to their position, if they would have done anything differently, and for their best advice for someone starting their professional career.
You can even set up an informational interview with someone with a role you are interested in to gather advice. An informational interview is a one-on-one conversational with someone who has a job you might like, who is employed by a specific company that you’re interested in learning about, or who works within an industry you might want to enter. These interviews can be with people inside your company, or people you find on your own (parents of friends, alumni you find on LinkedIn, etc.). Learn more about informational interviews in our “Use Informational Interviewing to Develop Job Prospects” or our “What Do I Ask in an Informational Interview?” Job Blogs.
Do you know someone in a career you are interested in pursuing? Ask to shadow them! While you won’t be able to get your hands dirty, you will be able to see what a normal day looks like for them. Try to talk to as many people as possible and ask open-ended questions like those above.
Talk to a Mentor
You don’t need formal internships or job shadowing experience to narrow down your career interests. Conversations with mentors or peers can give you great insight to many different careers and industries. Think about joining a student organization for your major where you can talk to senior-level students about their co-op and internship experience. Sit next to someone new in class and ask them what they plan to do with their degree. In this informal setting, your mentor or peer can be candid with you about their true feelings toward a company or industry.
Even after internships, job shadowing, and networking, you still might not feel 100% confident that you are pursuing the best career for you. Don’t worry! No job is permanent, and you will have many opportunities to change roles, companies, or industries. Even in a current role, don’t be scared to ask for responsibilities outside of your department. Focus on performing in your current role, and plenty of doors will open for you in the future.
“I want to look back on my career and be proud of the work, and be proud that I tried everything.” - Jon Stewart