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Self-assessment is the building block and foundation of career development. If you carefully "pour a strong foundation," you will be able to construct a vibrant and satisfying work life. It is the first step in the process of finding the right job and career. Finding the career that is your best match is dependent on the intersection of four key traits unique to you: 1) Skills, 2) Values, 3) Interests and 4) What's the next step after conducting a thorough summary of the data from the self-assessment phase?

In the career exploration stage, you begin to discover where your top skills, values, interests and personality can be put to work. A report by the Gallup organization found that more than 72% of respondents stated that if they could start over, they would get more information about their career options. By taking a battery of self-assessment inventories especially the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey®, Strong Interest Inventory®, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and the DiSC® Profile, you can create an exhaustive list of possible career and job options. Perhaps this list will be 25 jobs or more. That's fine. Next, you will want to narrow down this extensive list to what I refer to as your Top Ten List for Career Exploration. At first this list will be in no particular order.

Now you are ready to begin to explore these options. The goal in this step is to gather data and evaluate vocational information that matches your self-assessment results to determine where you should put your energies in the pursuit of the right job targets. Remember, at this point in the process your only commitment is to learn more about what interests you and the available opportunities out there. Based on my experience as a practicing career counselor, there is a four step method to discover what you want to do with your life and become more "occupationally literate."

1. Reading and Research. First, I strongly recommend that you create a separate and labeled folder for each of your top ten career/job options. This will help you stay organized as you collect information. Next, go to your local library or bookstore. They will have a section on careers that will help you identify specific fields, employers, job titles and trends. Take detailed notes on what you learn from these resources. I would also suggest doing a keyword search in Google such as "Careers in..." An Internet search will yield information not found in books. Print off this information and organize in its respective career file folder.

2. Networking and Informational Interviewing. Second, reading and research cannot capture all the information you need to make this important decision. Extensive networking and informational interviewing is required. What you learn from informational interviews with family, friends, colleagues, alumni and professionals will either confirm or contradict what was discovered by your reading and research. This way industry insiders can give you the honest scoop about what is involved in that particular career that might not be contained in books or on the Internet. You can ask them real and hard questions about the nature of the work, a typical work day, compensation, job security, long range job prospects and the qualifications for breaking in. I also suggest you get involved in one of the local chambers of commerce, civic organizations, business leads groups and professional associations. Get a or account and start building your social network. Collect as many business cards as you can. Set a goal of how many people you want to meet each month to get closer to your career objective. Take notes on the following questions:

1. How can I best prepare to break into this field?
2. Do you know of any opportunities that I should consider?
3. Are there three people that I can talk to that could be helpful

3. Gaining Relevant Experience. Third, closing the experience gap from where you are now to where you want to be is critical to a successful transition. This can be a difficult challenge for those that are already working full-time or have additional commitments. If doing a formal internship or part-time job is out of the question, considering volunteering a few hours per week or month. This will be important in building and transforming your resume. It is the bridge and sends a message to a prospective employer that this is your new career direction. Without some experience, few employers will be willing to take a chance on you.

4. Evaluation and Decision-Making. Finally, it is time to analyze the intersection of the information collected from your reading and research, networking and informational interviewing and new relevant experience. Take the necessary time to create an wide-ranging list of the following attributes for each job: 1) Strengths, 2) Weaknesses, 3) Opportunities, and 4) Threats. You can then compare one job to another in a logical manner. The goals of the evaluation step is effective and rational career decision-making. Next, you will want to narrow down and rank your choices to three tentative job or career targets: 1) First Choice/Ideal Career, 2) Realistic Choice/Back-up Plan and 3) Safety/Last Choice. You can then begin the last stage of the career development process, the Action Plan. This can take one of three forms: 1) Doing an Effective Job Search, 2) Going to School and/or 3) Starting a Business.

Both self-assessment and career exploration are time consuming and challenging because getting focused often means confronting your fear, taking risks, and making hard choices. Exploring your options is more like a marathon than a sprint; pacing yourself is important if you want to reach your goals. With career exploration you are making an investment and planning for your future. Now is the time to think out of the box about your future options. Career Exploration is essential in order to make as strategic, deliberate and smooth a transition as possible. Focus on your future, you will be spending the rest of your life there.


Dr. Thomas J. Denham

Dr. Tom Denham is the founder of Careers In Transition LLC, a private practice which focuses on career counseling for individuals and consulting services for institutional clients. Dr. Tom has over twenty years of career services experience at Siena and Union Colleges as well as Harvard, St. Lawrence and Boston Universities.

Dr. Tom founded Northeast Public Radio's award winning talk show, The Career Forum and speaks extensively on career management issues. He earned his bachelors from St. Lawrence University, his masters from Boston University and his doctorate from Nova Southeastern University.

He has climbed over 180 mountains including the Adirondack 46, Oregon's Mt. Hood and The Grand Teton. In 2009, he survived a huge crevasse fall on Mt. Rainier by ice climbing his way out. Tom lives where he grew up in Albany where he would rather be ice and rock climbing and raising his 11 year old daughter, Rachel.

Dr. Tom Denham has been a professional career counselor for over 20 years. He helps people explore their options with career testing, make job changes and write resumes and prepare for interviews.

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