By Anna Sommer
Career Exploration Specialist, APUS
Deciding which career to pursue is a lot like deciding whether to buy a house. It’s an investment — one that requires research and reflection. Exploring your options, reflecting on personal needs and values, and weighing the pros and cons is critical before pursuing any career field.
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Is Research Necessary?
In an era where anyone can watch a five-minute YouTube video to learn something new, performing thorough research seems like an outdated concept — but it’s not. Researching a potential career field up front will help you pursue a career path in line with your goals and values. It will also help you prepare to enter that field as a knowledgeable and qualified professional who is able to meet the specific challenges within it.
So what exactly should you look at? Career planning should include research into four areas: yourself, potential career fields, current job postings in those career fields and job locations.
Approach yourself like a research project. Pretend you are a scientist observing and trying to understand yourself, then consider the following:
- Your likes and dislikes
- The values you possess
- The types of tasks you enjoy or hate
- The areas in which you struggle or succeed
- The people you’d like to work with or serve
- Which type of work tasks feel meaningful or tedious
- Your personal mission statement
Taking time to reflect on yourself, your work values, your interests, and your skills will help you pinpoint career fields and jobs that best suit you. This personal research can also help you identify gaps where you will need additional experience or skills to be more marketable.
If you need help with this step, try completing a self-assessment, which can identify applicable careers based on your interests, skills, and values. There are different types of self-assessments to try, including free ones.
Researching Career Fields
Full-time employees spend about one-third of their life at work, so it is important to choose a career that is interesting and fulfilling. Doing work that personally aligns with your interests and values can also lead to more success, longevity, and happiness in your career.
Learn everything you can about specific career fields that interest you to uncover important details about each one, such as:
- What the field is about
- Who the field serves
- Types of roles within the field
- Employment outlook over the next 10-20 years
- Any industry-specific organizations, memberships or certifications
- How the field operates in a post-pandemic world
- Typical requirements in terms of education, experience and skills
This information will help you filter through different options to allow you to pinpoint the career fields that are right for you. This research will also help you determine how to build your resume with the necessary combination of education, experience and skills. To perform this research, use the following websites to review career field profiles:
- Occupational Outlook Handbook
- CareerOneStop — Occupation Profile Search
- O*Net Online — Career Clusters
Researching Current Positions within Career Fields
Researching available positions within specific career fields is important because every field has several moving parts that require different educational backgrounds. For example, accountants are needed in almost every organization or business. People with an accounting degree or background can work in just about any industry, including government, education, retail and entertainment.
When you’re researching different positions, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my options in this field?
- Which jobs are good entry-level, mid-level or highly experienced/specialized roles?
- How can I grow and develop in this field over time?
- How competitive is this field?
- Is the job outlook positive for the next five, 10 or 20 years?
- What salaries and benefits are typical for these positions?
- What will I need in terms of education, experience and skills to be a good candidate for these positions?
The easiest way to research positions is to use a job board, such as Indeed, Glassdoor or USAJobs (for federal positions). You can also check out specialized job boards for specific industries or our campus job board, CareerLink, which is tailored specifically to our university students and alumni.
Additionally, researching different corporations, agencies or companies common in a career field can be helpful. You can learn about different positions within a company, as well as understand how different companies operate within the career field overall. For example, researching the website for a K-12 school district can help you learn about open job positions, the qualifications for different positions, job opportunities that are not specific to teaching and how school districts operate in a community.
Researching Job Locations
Researching job locations is important for two reasons. First, doing your research on locations helps you understand whether your intended career field and desired position are viable in a specific geographic location. Second, it will help you plan for the life you will live in that location.
All career fields and the jobs within those fields are interdependent with physical locations. For example, the tourism industry is abundant in areas like Hawaii and Las Vegas, where people like to travel. Federal job opportunities may mean frequent moves as part of the military or moving to the Washington, D.C. area, where federal agencies are typically located.
Research each location not only based on the available job opportunities, but also do your research on what it’s like to live in that location. Your career, in many ways, fuels the rest of your life. Taking time to make sure your location lines up with both of these is critical for your overall career and your personal wellbeing.
Determine the cost of living in that area by researching the housing market and travel expenses. Also, consider access to amenities and education, as well as the type of lifestyle that each location offers. If you are seeking to live in a rural area but job opportunities are in the city, consider whether you can sacrifice one for the other or if commuting and the associated costs is an option.
Partner with the Career Services Team for Support
Researching potential career fields, job opportunities and locations can be exciting. For those who find this challenging or are not sure how to start, collaborating with a Career Exploration Specialist might be a good idea.
Our Career Exploration team is equipped to help you identify your skills and interests, research careers that align with your degree program, and explore different career industries. Schedule an appointment with one of our specialists now to get started.
About the Author
Anna Sommer began her career at APUS in 2007. She has worked in the Academic Advising Department and Student Services Department, and now currently works as a Career Exploration Specialist in the Career Services Department. She thrives when working with students and alumni on career planning, researching industry trends, and developing career exploration resources. Anna holds a B.A. in English from Minnesota State University Moorhead, a M.S. in Adult Education from Kansas State University, and an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.