Explore career options

Your degree is just one of the many important pieces you bring to your future career. These resources can help you discover what motivates you, where your skills and interests lie, and what career options might be a good fit for you.

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Putting career exploration in perspective

As a student, you might feel anxious about learning what the "hot jobs" are or making the “right” career choice to set you on the “right” path for the future. This puts a lot of pressure on you.

The truth is, sometimes, one career choice would fit you best—but usually, several choices are viable and interesting. Your options may even contradict one another. Different opportunities and choices may lead you to the same place by different paths—or somewhere you never thought you’d end up. Along the way, you’ll transition from role to role, getting more in tune with yourself as you go.

Since the career landscape is so uncertain, remember to keep an open mind about your career. It's normal to change your mind about your career direction during university, and you'll have all sorts of experiences that may impact your career choices.

ACTIVITY: Check out Where will you be? (video by Jim Bright) to see how the changing world affects careers.

Identify your career motivators

What are career motivators?

The best way to start your career exploration is to identify what motivates you so you can seek out options that align with your personality and interests.

Career motivators are what energize you when you think about what you want in your career—concrete descriptions of what you think would make your work fulfilling. They're not job titles (like “lawyer” or “writer”) and they are not vague phrases like “fulfillment,” “financial security,” “happiness” or “work/life balance”; they're what your work would need to be like for you to have these things.


Three types of career motivators

Contribution motivators: How you want to contribute to the world through your work—things you want to create, passions and causes, or how you like to work with people and information. Examples:

  • I want to use my research and writing skills for sustainable urban development
  • I want to help people who are disadvantaged, but in a behind-the scenes role
  • I want to design efficient software that can adapt to people's individual needs

Work environment motivators: Elements of your workplace that are important for you—environment, work culture or your role on the team (leader, support person, expert, etc.). Examples:

  • I want to work in a corporate environment that is vibrant and exciting 
  • I want to work for for a small, fast-paced startup where I can take on different roles
  • I'd like working for an organization that is strongly connected to the local community
  • I’m happiest in a structured environment where everyone’s role is clearly defined

Lifestyle motivators: How your career supports other areas of your life—salary, location, work schedule, flexibility, time off, etc. Examples:

  • I'd like to work a standard 9–5 work week with evenings and weekends off
  • I'd like short-term contract work so I can work on creative projects in between
  • I'd like my earning power to increase as I get further into my career

Identify your motivators

ACTIVITY: Use the What are your career motivators info sheet and work sheet to brainstorm your motivators. Try to separate what you really want from what you feel you "should” want.

Do some more self-exploration

Find support

Try a variety of activities

(This can also help you meet people who might connect you to new opportunities!)

Research career options

Brainstorm career options

Before you can start researching careers, you'll need to brainstorm a list of potential options. You might already have some ideas in mind. This is a rough brainstorming process, so don’t rule out ideas too quickly. Include ideas for the long range and the short range. 

Start here:

ACTIVITY: Brainstorm a list of career options and write them down in a master list. You can use this career options list or create your own list.

Do some online research

Once you’ve made a list of interesting career options, the next step is to do some research, consulting several different sources. Consider:

  • The basic requirements of the work (education, experience, skills)
  • What the work is like (salary, working conditions, work prospects, work culture, schedule, flexibility, contract/ongoing)
  • Where the work is done (sector, industry, size and type of organization, location)

Start here:

In your research, you may discover new ideas you hadn’t thought of—add these to your list!

ACTIVITY: Choose a few promising career options from your list and research them using the websites above. You can use this career options research worksheet to make notes.

Conduct informational meetings

Meeting with someone who actually works in the field can teach you a lot more than a job posting or website. An informational meeting (a.k.a. networking meeting or informational interview) is an information-gathering meeting that helps you learn more about a career or company.

You can also use informational meetings if you're actively looking for a job – see Work search tips.

Step 1: Identify a contact

  • See Find raw leads for details on identifying contacts.
  • If you've identified an organization where this type of work is done, contact Reception and ask if they can refer you to someone in the organization. You can use this script as a sample:
    • Hello, my name is _____. I’m doing some research around a possible career in _____ to find out if this might be a viable option for me. I’m not looking for work at this point. I’m wondering if you could direct me to someone from your organization who might be willing to meet with me and provide me with some first-hand information about this type of career.
      


Step 2: Ask for a meeting

Prepare your introduction, including:

  • Your name and some very brief background information about yourself
  • Your reason for making contact
  • A request for a meeting
  • A date that you will follow up (if desired)

Sample introduction:

Hello, my name is _____.  I was referred to you by your receptionist. I’m working on my degree in _____ from UVic and I’m doing some research on careers in _____ to find out if this might be a viable path for me. I’m not looking for work at this point but I was hoping to get your take on what a career in this area might look like. Would you be open to meeting with me for 15 to 20 minutes so I could get your perspective? Thanks so much for your time. I will follow up with a phone call in a few days.


Step 3: Prepare for the meeting

Prepare 8–10 questions for your meeting. Have them ready before you call. If your contact can’t meet with you, they might be willing to answer questions by email or phone.

Sample questions:

  • What education or training do I need for this type of work?
  • With my current qualifications, what would be my starting point in this career area?
  • What skills and knowledge are important to succeed?
  • What are some typical entry-level positions?
  • What does a typical work day look like?
  • What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of this work?
  • What's the average salary range for this type of career?
  • What are the employment prospects for this career?
  • What are the major trends impacting the future of this sector or industry?
  • Do you have any suggestions of other people I might talk to about this kind of work?


Step 4: Meet with your contact

  • Arrive on time and don’t stay longer than the time period you arranged.
  • This is a professional meeting—dress and behave accordingly.
  • Bring your résumé, but the purpose of your meeting is to gather information and build your network, not to market yourself too aggressively.
  • If you’re researching careers, only offer your résumé if the person asks for it. (If you’re looking for work, offer it at the end of the meeting.)

Assess your research and set goals

Assess your career research

Now that you've done some career research online and/or in person, it can be helpful to compare your career options side-by-side and see which ones stand out.

ACTIVITY: Use the Career comparison worksheet to compare your career options based on what you learned from your research. This sample can help you fill out the worksheet.

Set career goals to move forward

Once you've assessed your career ideas, some options may start to stand out. Now, it's time to look at the requirements for those careers and lay out some steps for how you can meet them.

ACTIVITY: Use the Career goals worksheet to set goals around the education and experience you'd need to pursue your career ideas. This sample can help you fill out the worksheet.

Learn about common careers for your area of study

We've created a What can you do with your degree? sheet for most programs - each sheet contains a list of sample jobs, ideas to gain hands-on experience and more. Choose your faculty and program below to see your sheet.