If you were thinking of moving to a new town and staying there for at least a year, how would you pick the place?  Some might just choose a spot on a map and go, others would pick based on a variety of factors such as their interests, preferences, values and needs.  You might know that you need to be in a large, bustling city with access to museums, the theatre, and a community of individuals who value and support the arts.  Or, you may thrive in the country in the midst of nature and in the heart of a community that values taking care of each other.

Choosing a career is kind of like picking a place to live.  Some of us find it by accident and others by exploring interests, preferences, values…  Sound familiar?  The accidental careers can be an adventure to be sure, and sometimes work out very well.  To chart your path in a way that is likely to lead to fulfilling work, however, consider engaging in career exploration to make an informed decision about which careers are a good fit for you, and which are not.

Some of the steps in the exploration phase include gathering information about yourself (e.g., activities that interest you; your values – such as making a difference, or receiving recognition for your work; and skills and qualities you have and like to utilize) and identifying and researching potential careers.  Using resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Department of Labor) and talking to people with experience in your fields of interest about their work are wonderful (and low risk) ways to learn about possible choices.  You can then decide whether to drop some of them from your list, research others further, or begin to pursue one.  To get a better feel for the ones you’ve decided to keep on your list, and depending on how much time and resources you can devote to this step, you may try volunteering or interning in an organization that does the kind of work you are interested in, or taking a class in that field.  The point is to select activities that will give you more direct and in-depth exposure to the work and its environment before fully committing to it.

When you have gathered enough useful information and experience during the career exploration stage, use this newfound knowledge to decide with confidence, start your journey and enjoy your new career!

Shahrzad Arasteh, M.A., helps people create and pursue their career search plan using 10+ years of experience and a holistic approach to career counseling.  She is a Certified Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Practitioner, a Master Career Development Professional, a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, and a Certified Global Career Development Facilitator.  If you are ready to create your career search plan and find your meaningful work, visit http://www.careerconsultmd.com or contact her shahrzad[at]careerconsultmd.com

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