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Step 2 – Research and Exploration

What's out there?

If you have worked through Step 1 – Self-Assessment, you learned about the importance of understanding yourself and your career goals.

In Step 2 – Research and Exploration, you learn how to research and explore the careers that interest you most. Career research and exploration can help you to understand the day-to-day realities of the occupation, know if there is predicted demand in a particular field, understand if the career is a good fit for you, and increase your awareness of opportunities that exist in your area of interest. Even if you know what career you want to pursue, research and exploration can increase your understanding of the field and give you information and contacts that will help you find employment.

What you should research

The labour market

  • Are there going to be good job prospects?
  • What parts of the country hire the most positions?
  • What is the salary range (starting rate, average, and top rates)?
  • What are the upcoming trends?
  • What are some examples of companies/organizations that hire for this type of job?

Day-to-day reality of the job

  • What are the main tasks being done?
  • What kind of environment do people usually work in? (For example, office towers, community centres, home, outdoors, construction sites or manufacturing plants.) 
  • What are the health and safety risks? (How dangerous is the work? What physical demands are required? What long-term effects might there be from doing this job every day?)
  • What do people love about this job, and what do they dislike?

Qualifications needed:

  • What formal education is required to qualify for this type of work? For example, high school diploma, college diploma, bachelor's degree, master’s degree or PhD?
  • Are there any licenses, certificates or other special training required?
  • What type of experience is required or helpful? For example, internships, volunteering or apprenticeships?
  • Are there any physical requirements?
  • Do you need to be part of a professional organization?

Lifestyle: 

  • What kind of hours are people in this line of work doing most often? For example, full-time, part-time, shift work or nights? How much  overtime do they do?
  • How much travel is involved?
  • What will be the impact of this job on your family life, leisure time or hobbies, etc?

Fit with self:

  • Do your personal values fit with the values of the occupation?
  • Does the work you'd be doing feel worthwhile to you?
  • Does this work fit with your personality type?
  • Does the typical career path for this type of work fit with your own career goals?

Is there any other information that is important for you to research? Think about your own personal situation and whether there would be important things you’d want to know about a career before pursuing it.

Finding answers

Here are some resources for finding answers to the questions above:

Company and career directories

Look at online job postings to identify common requirements and typical salary ranges:

Other research methods

In order to research and explore careers, you can also use more active methods of research and exploration. Here are some examples:

Informational interviews

Informational interviews are probably the most useful way to learn more about a particular occupation. They involve sitting down with someone with knowledge of the career you are interested in and asking questions that will help you understand that field. You can learn a lot from hearing about someone’s experience in a job and their insights into where the field is going. You should try to meet with more than one person in your field of interest, to get a variety of insights and opinions. As for who to speak with, start with professors or instructors, family, friends, neighbours, peers, colleagues and mentors. You can find or research people on LinkedIn who are working in similar jobs.

Additional resources

You don’t always need to have a formal informational interview to learn more about an occupation. Strike up conversations with just about anyone to ask what their job is like, what kind of qualifications they need and whether they like it. Most people enjoy talking about their job.

Job shadowing

Job shadowing is an activity where you visit a place of work and observe someone working in your career of interest, usually for a half- or full-day. By getting a chance to observe someone doing a job, you can get a better sense as to whether it appeals to you. You also get a chance to talk to the person doing the job and ask the same types of questions you’d ask in an informational interview.

Volunteering

A great way to try out a career is to find volunteer work in that area. It also gives you experience that you can add to your resume and connects you to people in your field. Some fields are better suited to volunteering than others. Even if your field doesn’t have many volunteer opportunities, consider looking for a conference in the field and asking if they need volunteers.

Interest groups and professional organizations

By joining groups and organizations either in person or online, you have the opportunity to share information and learn from others with a similar interest. Even if the other members in the group don’t work in the field, they may have information that would be helpful to you. It also gives you an opportunity to improve your knowledge, learn about developments in the field and engage in a community within your field of interest.

Work experience

Part-time work, field placements, internships, co-op and summer jobs can be a great way to get exposure to a particular field. This can be a challenging and time-consuming way to explore a career area, but it can also benefit you. What jobs might be available in your field of interest that don’t require you to have completed a college diploma, but would give you access to people in jobs that you would eventually like to get?

Decision-making

Now that you have gathered all the necessary information about your career of choice, you are ready to start the decision-making process! The more information you gather, the easier it'll be for you to make a choice. Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work, offer up some tips for making good decisions:

  1. Widen your options: It’s more effective to consider several options (at least three) rather than deciding whether one option is right for you.
  2. Reality-test your assumptions: Get out of your own head and check to see if your assumptions are correct by talking to people in the field, asking good questions and doing proper research.
  3. Attain distance before deciding: To avoid making impulsive decisions, take some time to step back and give yourself some space to reflect.
  4. Prepare to be wrong: Life is unpredictable – have a few alternative options in place!

Goal-Setting and Career Planning

Even though you might still be exploring various job options, it’s a good idea to set some career goals and lay out the steps required to achieve them. Setting goals and creating an action plan also allows you to make alternative plans to take advantage of unplanned opportunities.

You want to make sure that each goal is SMART:

  • Specific (detailed, clear, not very big or general, state exactly what’s expected)
  • Measurable (quantifiable, concrete, observable progress toward achieving this goal)
  • Achievable (realistic, attainable, barriers could be overcome)
  • Relevant (supports other goals, makes sense)
  • Time-bound (has a specific target date or deadline)

Action Plan

Now that you have set some goals, you can think about the actions you can take to achieve them. Make sure to set a target date for your actions so you can check on your progress.

Example: Learn more about a career in medical device reprocessing

Actions Individual steps Target date
Find at least 12 job postings to get a sense of what organizations hire for these positions and what the general responsibilities and qualifications are. Do a general search on the big job search sites (Indeed, eluta, Monster, Workopolis, etc.) – look regularly for two weeks Oct 3
Create a spreadsheet to record organizations who hire this position, qualifications needed, and responsibilities Oct 17
Think about whether the responsibilities fit with what I would want to do Oct 18
Identify some programs in the GTA that could train me for this occupation Oct 20
Informational interviews with 4 people who work in this field Message everyone I know to ask if they know anyone who works in the field (email, Facebook, Twitter) Oct 4
Find people who work in the field on Linkedin, Ten Thousand Coffees, and organization websites Oct 5
Write a script and then contact as many people from the above two steps to see if they’d be willing to meet with me. Oct 6-31
Have meetings with at least four people – be prepared and professional; ask if they know of anyone else that would be helpful to speak with Oct 6-Nov 15
Compile notes from all the meetings Nov 15
Send thank you notes to everyone spoke with Nov 15
Find schools that have the training for this occupation and meet with college staff to further clarify questions about program and occupation Find more direct contact for the program and call – have specific questions I’d like addressed. See if it is possible to meet them in person. Jan 3
Arrange meetings and attend, writing notes during and after each meeting to help with decision-making. Jan 6-18
Apply for programs of interest! Jan 20

Looking Looking Forward

According to a report by Workopolis, Canadians can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their careers. Reasons for changing it up include opportunity for advancement, discovering new passions, bored with current work, and experiencing setbacks, like layoffs.

So what does this mean for you and your career? Career research is a lifelong skill that will allow you to navigate these changes – so keep exploring and setting new goals!