Navigating Your Career Journey

Think about a recent trip you took.  What did you do to plan for this trip?  What were some of the logistics (lodging, travel, etc.)?  What did you want to see/do on this trip? What did you pack?  How long did this planning process take you? Usually planning a trip is not a quick process - depending on the nature of the trip - but hopefully it’s also a bit fun and rewarding, especially if you end up having a really great time!

Planning your career is much like planning for a trip.  There are many details and decisions to make and it requires a lot of exploration and research.  It’s not a one-step process.  Contrary to popular belief, deciding on a major doesn’t always determine the rest of your life.  A common phrase we hear at the Center for Career Development (CCD) is “I’m a [insert name of major] major - what can I do with that?”  There seems to be this commonly held belief in our society that a major always equals a certain career path. Granted there are certain career paths – such as accounting and engineering fields - for which it is valuable, if not necessary, to have a certain sort of educational background.  

 At the CCD we talk a lot about the “career development process”. What exactly does that mean?  Essentially this is the process of deciding on a career (or careers) and navigating your journey.  It is something you’ll engage in your entire life - and you’ve already started. It is a dynamic process with movement back and forth between stages.

Much as we present it with arrows from one step to the next, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always linear; these steps don’t take place in a nice, neat order.  It’s a developmental process that will recur throughout your lifetime and you’ll move between stages as you learn and grow. After you leave ND, some of the details (like choosing a major) will change, but the core elements remain the same: learn about yourself, explore careers, reflect, & take action.  That’s why it’s important to learn the process now so you can engage in it again and again as needed to effectively manage your career. Let’s explore a bit about a common career theory to learn more about these stages.

Super’s Career Development Theory and Step 1: Learn About Yourself

Dr. Donald Super developed one of the most universally accepted theories of career decision making (Luzzo & Severy, 2009).  He was among the first to suggest that career decision making is a developmental process that spans a person’s entire lifetime.  He contended that career satisfaction/success depends in part on how well a person can identify and implement his/her career self-concept, which is comprised of your values, interests, personality, and skills.  The idea is that the best career choices for a person are those that allow him/her to implement as many parts of his/her self-concept as possible. If a person only focuses on one or two parts of his/her self-concept for a career, that person may most likely hit a wall.  If someone focuses only on skill, for example, he/she may realize that that interest is lacking, or alignment with values, or personality is off. That person can do the career for a while but eventually may start to feel dissatisfied and likely burn out. This reinforces the need to consider all four aspects - values, interests, personality, and skills - when making a career decision.  

This brings us to step 1 in our visual above: learn about yourself.  You have to know yourself first - your values, interests, personality, and skills (VIPS) - before you can make effective career choices.  The only way to know more about yourself is to test the waters - just get out and experience life!  Everything you’ve done to this point, as well as all the interactions you’ve had with others, have already started shaping your VIPS.  This includes classes, activities, jobs, service, research, etc. - even those things that on the surface don’t relate to a career area can give you great insight into things you like, what’s important to you, and how you like to interact with the world.  Sit back and reflect on those experiences - what was satisfying/dissatisfying to you? The CCD has structured inventories on our website to help you reflect upon your experiences to ascertain your VIPS.  So with this in mind we’ve already moved into step 2: study what you enjoy and get involved. See how interrelated these steps are?

Step 2: Study What You Enjoy and Get Involved

We know it can be daunting to find ways of getting involved on campus as first year students - most of the first year is spent trying to keep your head above water, make new friends, and do well in your classes.  But as much as you can it’s important to find other avenues of getting involved that are right for you. You don’t have to join only career specific clubs. If you peruse the Student Activities website you’ll quickly see there are hundreds of clubs on campus that cover a wide array of interests.  You can also get involved in your residence hall and the various opportunities through hall council. But be aware of overextending - getting involved on campus is all about quality over quantity. Remember, sleep is important too!

Studying what you enjoy goes hand-in-hand with getting involved.  You might have heard this piece of advice already and maybe some of you thought it was great advice and some of you thought it was ridiculous.  Studying what you love is a core value of the CCD’s - it is not something to which we merely pay lip service. There is no “best major” out there - but there is a “best major for you."  We also view studying what you love as highly practical.  If you are in a major you enjoy, you will be more motivated to go to class, get better grades, and overall be happier - all of that leads to better post-graduate outcomes.  That sounds pretty good, right? I’m sure you’ve all done things that you really haven’t enjoyed - maybe it was something a friend or family member wanted you to do or a required course in high school.  It’s really hard to motivate yourself to do well if you’re just not interested in that subject matter or activity, or maybe your skill is lacking so it gets frustrating quickly. Now imagine focusing primarily on that activity for four years.  Does that seem appealing?

So how does one figure out what he/she enjoys studying the most?  Taking classes is the most obvious way but it’s not always possible to take a class in every subject matter of interest.  As a very basic starting point, it’s important to review requirements for majors/minors and read class descriptions (these can be found in the ND Course Bulletin or departmental websites).  This will help you start to gauge what subjects are most interesting to you. After that, other avenues of exploration include talking with faculty in departments of interest and older students in majors you are considering.  Getting the perspective of those teaching or taking the classes is amazingly insightful. You might also ask if you can sit in on a class or two to get a firsthand perspective.

Step 3: Explore Career

After engaging in introspection around your VIPS, getting involved, and exploring enjoyable majors, you can begin looking externally at career paths.  There are so many career paths and industries out there that it’s best not to limit yourself too much right off the bat. There are likely some fields that you’ll know automatically don’t hold your interest, so that will help narrow things down a bit, but beyond that it’s good to explore broadly.  This is where the self-assessment in step 1 comes into play. By knowing more about your VIPS, you’ll have a better idea of what career areas could be a good fit for you once you start exploring. The CCD has numerous tools and resources you can use to begin your research.

But you can only go so far with online research.  Eventually, you’ll need to get a first hand perspective and talk with people in career fields of greatest interest to you.  You will learn so much by talking with someone in a career you are considering - the good and the bad. This process is called informational interviewing.  The point is to investigate a career field and either narrow down or expand options. You can also get great advice on what you can do in college to prepare yourself for the field, how to enter the field out of college/grad school, and how to apply your skills in the field.  We know this process can seem a little scary at first - talking with an older person who you may or may not know very well about what they do.  But if you can get over that fear, you will gain so much from informational interviewing. But who should you speak with and how do you find these people?  To begin with you might consider people you already know - relatives, neighbors, friends’ parents, parents’ friends, etc. That sort of “warm” connection can be a little easier when you’re getting started. But the Notre Dame family is also an excellent resource - and ND alums really do like talking to current ND students and helping them with this process!  We recommend students utilize IrishCompass and LinkedIn to search for and contact alums. If you’re not sure how to get started with these tools, the CCD is here to help.

There are also many opportunities to learn about career fields on campus.  Employers, alumni and graduate programs hold information sessions throughout the year and the CCD runs workshops and events focused on different industries and topics, view many of those on Handshake.  Take advantage of those on-campus opportunities to learn from professionals!

Tying It All Together

As you gather this career information, it might help to keep a list of what you’ve learned, aspects of certain majors and careers that sound most appealing, areas you want to explore further, things you want to avoid, contacts you’ve made, etc.  You’ll notice in our career development model that “reflect and take action” touch all phases of the process. It is imperative to take time after an experience or conversation to think intentionally about how it impacted you and how it aligns with your VIPS.  You’re not just checking a box and moving on. Every experience shapes you in some way, whether you realize it at the time or not!  We know that life is busy and it’s hard to take the time to slow down and process.  But if you give yourself that time you will gain so much. To help yourself “take action”, you might treat the career development process like a one credit class - commit an hour each week to career exploration.  That way it will become more of an imbedded process in your life and it won’t feel like something extra you need to do - and you’ll likely feel much more relaxed and confident come senior year.

As you can see, career development is a process and a journey and ties into your mission in life.  If you actively engage in the process, take ownership, and utilize the tools at your disposal you will reap the benefits and establish a satisfying professional life.  Please refer to all the resources we have on our website and come see us at the CCD when you need help. Remember this is your time at ND and your career.  Make the most of this time by studying subjects you enjoy, getting involved in activities that interest you, build your skills, and taking advantage of everything ND has to offer!

Below are action steps and tools you can use for self-reflection and career exploration:

Learn about the Center for Career Development and review information on Major & Career Discernment 
Meet with your academic advisor to explore resources and services on campus
Become involved in on-campus extracurricular activities for personal and professional development
Complete the Prioritizing your Values activity
Complete the Work Satisfaction Inventory 
Complete the Achievements Inventory
Complete the 7 Clues to Help You Get Started activity
Complete the Skills Inventory 
Complete the Skills Application 
Check out the Career Development Guide for lots of great information
If you would like a 1:1  Discern Your Career Path appointment with a counselor - sign up in Handshake)



Luzzo, D.A., & Severy, L.E. (2009).  Around we go: the developmental process of making career decisions.  In Making career decisions that count: a practical guide (3rd ed.) (pp. 1-12).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

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