Part 3: Career Readiness Guide: Prepare For Success With Your Liberal Arts Degree | The Career Management Model: Explore

Part 3: Career Readiness Guide: Prepare For Success With Your Liberal Arts Degree | The Career Management Model: Explore was originally published on College Recruiter.

This is the third of seven articles in this series, click here to go to the first article. If you’re searching for a remote internship, go to our search results page that lists all of the remote internships and other entry-level jobs advertised on College Recruiter and then drill down as you wish by adding your desired category, location, company, or job type.


The journey toward career readiness begins with the Explore phase of the Career Management Model, which includes exploring yourself and exploring your academic and career options:
• Self-Exploration—pinpointing your interests, skills, personality, values, strengths, identity, and needs.
• Exploring Your Academic and Career Options—thoroughly understanding the academic and career options that exist, or that you could create.

Self Exploration

You already know a lot about yourself. Take some reflective time to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Capture your vision and ideas, organize them, and look for patterns that will offer clues about potential academic and career paths for you to pursue. Things may shift over time, but it’s helpful to see where you are today.

How can you more specifically pinpoint who you are, what you want, and what you have to offer in the context of a future career? You have four strategies you can use, in any combination you’d like:

• Perform a “brain download” (see below).
• Ask for feedback from people who know you well.
• Take career assessments.
• Have an in-depth discussion with a career counselor.

Perform a “Brain Download”
A “brain download” is just what it sounds like: downloading what you already know about yourself out of your brain and connecting it to your academic and career decisions; writing down everything you can think of about:

• Your top interests: What captures your attention? What are you curious about? What types of things are you drawn to (e.g., people, data, ideas, things, numbers/finances) at this stage in your life?
• Your top skills: What skills have you built—or could you build—that are transferable from one area to another? And where do you currently stand on each of the Core Career Competencies?
• Your personality: Where do you get your energy? How do you take in information? What types of information do you trust? How do you tend to make decisions—with logic, with your “gut,” or some combination of both? How do you organize your time?
• Your top values: What’s most important to you? What grounds you? What will you fight for? Which of your values align with the career path you’re thinking about?

Advice from Liberal Arts Grads

There Are Far More Career Options Than You’re Probably Aware of

“Explore the different options out there—there are a lot of occupations you have never even dreamed
of. Think about who you are and what you enjoy doing and then consider what jobs incorporate those
same things.”

• Your strengths: Where do you naturally excel? What are you good at almost inherently, especially when it comes to the Core Career Competencies?
• Your personal identity or culture: How has your identity or culture (i.e., race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, age, religion, family position, etc.) influenced your ideas about a major, a career path, or the type of organization you will work for in the future?
• Your needs and other influences: What are some needs and influences (e.g., expectations about pay, location, abilities, family or cultural expectations, education/training needed, life
experiences, special circumstances) that may impact your career-related decisions?

Ask for Feedback from People Who Know You Well
If you’re like most people, you’re much too close to yourself to rely on a brain download alone as a self-exploration exercise. You will inevitably overlook—or, worse, ignore—key characteristics about yourself that will be critical in your academic and career planning decisions.

So ask other people in your life—people who know you well and care about you—to do this same brain download exercise, but with you in mind.

For example: What insights does your best friend have about your interests, your skills, your personality, your values, your strengths? How does it all look from your mom’s angle, or your favorite high school teacher’s point of view?

You will be surprised, often pleasantly, by the things others see in you that you simply cannot see in yourself. Competencies you take for granted, for example, may be competencies others don’t have and can easily spot in you.

Take Career Assessments
The career center offers formal and informal assessments in common self-exploration categories like interests, skills, and values. If you want to learn about yourself in great depth, set up an appointment with a career counselor there. Together, you can explore assessment options and determine which ones might be helpful to you.

You can also take career assessments online,
usually for a fee. If/when you do, just make sure
the assessment you’re taking is legitimate and

Have an In-Depth Discussion with a Career Counselor
A career counselor can get you started on the self-exploration process or, if you’ve already begun on your own, help you understand the complexities of what you’re learning about yourself.

The in-depth, one-on-one conversations you have with a career counselor can give you the targeted guidance you need, especially as you begin to see the breadth and depth of the information you’re trying to analyze and understand—and eventually, act upon. It can be a lot to manage. A career counselor can help.


Getting to know yourself better through purposeful self-exploration is only part of the Career Management Model’s Explore phase. It’s also time for you to start exploring your academic options, and your future career options as well.

Take academics: With so many majors (and minors) to choose from—in so many diverse disciplines—you’re probably unfamiliar with the many academic possibilities available to you as a liberal arts student.

Likewise, the career possibilities you have as a liberal arts student are almost endless; your liberal arts degree—and the Core Career Competencies you build through it—can lead to a diverse range of career paths in a wide variety of career fields.

It’s exciting to explore your academic and career options, and this is your chance. The self-awareness you’ve already been working on allows you to at least begin identifying what academic and career options might be a good fit for you. Now, as you take the next steps in the Explore phase, explore your academic and career options in more depth by focusing on two additional key tasks:
• Exploring majors
• Exploring career fields

Exploring Majors
As we stress throughout this guide, the major(s) you ultimately choose does not and will not define you, especially in the eyes of future employers or graduate/professional school admissions committees. But a major is the prescribed set of courses (some required, some elective) that comprises a particular academic program. So you need to know which majors are available, what they’re about, and what they might lead you to in the future; you’ll eventually need to pick at least one, after all.

How can you begin exploring majors, then? Start simple: Read through the online listing of majors and their brief descriptions. Don’t rush! Take the time to study each major closely, and try not to rule anything out at this point. For each major, ask yourself: “My abilities aside, does this major sound interesting to me?” If the answer is yes, add the major to a “Sounds Interesting” list of possibilities to explore further. If the answer is no? Well, be careful. Far too often, “no” is actually “I don’t know enough to say one way or the other.” If that’s the honest case for you where a particular major is concerned, add it to a separate list called “Majors I Know Little or Nothing About.”

Now, use your lists to visit the websites of the academic departments housing the various majors. Read through the fine details on each major, including the courses each offers. Once you’ve completed these preliminary steps, get some help: Ask a career counselor, your advisor, or a faculty member to guide you in deeper exploration of the majors that intrigue you the most— along with any additional majors that come up during your discussions together.

Exploring Career Fields

The other piece of exploring your academic and career options involves researching broad career fields you might like to pursue, and learning how your liberal arts degree can help you prepare for the career field(s) you ultimately choose.

Here again, you can start small and simple by turning first to online resources. The federal government, for example, offers two tools that will help you explore various career fields in considerable depth:

• Occupational Outlook Handbook (, which allows you to explore some two dozen broad occupational groups (e.g., Architecture and Engineering, Healthcare, Media and Communication, Sales), along with numerous subgroups.

• O*Net Occupational Research Tool (, which allows you to explore possibilities by “Career Cluster” (e.g., Education & Training, Marketing), industry, or even future job outlook.

You can also explore career fields by tapping into the often extensive career resources of professional organizations, particularly those at the national level. Say you’re interested in psychology, for example, and you want to know what types of careers exist in that area. The American Psychological Association, like so many other national professional groups, devotes a portion of its website ( to helping people understand the types of careers available in the field.

Here are a few other prominent examples of professional organization career sites:

• American Historical Association (history):

• American Philosophical Association (philosophy):

• American Political Science Association (political science):

Books—whether you check them out at the career center or library or you buy them yourself—offer yet another way for you to explore broad career fields. If you know you’d somehow like to work in sports, for instance, a book like Careers in Sport, Fitness, and Exercise (published, by the way, by a professional organization: the American Kinesiology Association) will help you see what’s possible.

Once you’ve completed some initial research on career fields using one or more of the tools described here, sit down once again with a career counselor, your advisor, or a faculty member to get one-on-one help in exploring in more depth. With this guidance, you can research a field(s) more extensively to learn about associated job titles, internship possibilities, and more.

Crucially, you’ll also learn about alumni and others who work in the field (and perhaps even arrange to talk to them via an informational interview, a topic we cover on pages 56-60 of this guide), as well as specific employers and organizations that are connected with the field.

How to Explore Academic and Career Options

Here’s a strategy that will help you explore your academic and career options in depth, and make confident decisions about what path(s) you would like to pursue. (Remember, as always, that you’re not alone in this work: Your advisor, career counselors, and/or faculty members are available to support you along the way.)

Here’s the strategy you can follow:
Research your options.
Observe work environments.
Discuss your options.
Engage in meaningful experience to explore even further.
Reflect on what you’ve learned.

Research Your Options

As you begin exploring your academic and career options in depth, it’s helpful to start by gathering basic information about the different options available to you. Doing research—primarily through reading—is a low-risk, low-commitment activity that can help you begin to answer some questions about what pathways might make the most sense for you, given what you know about
your values, interests, personality, skills, needs, and identities.

Common Questions/Barriers

• Knowing where to start and what information to look for.
• Knowing what resources are credible and how to use them.
• Organizing the information you find in a manageable way.

Strategies for Researching Academic and Career Options • Start broad. Generate a list of options by brainstorming ideas you’ve already thought about, identifying common career paths of alumni, and/or crossing off options you know you don’t want to consider.
• Once you have a list of options, gather basic information about the academic majors/minors or career options you are considering. This could include looking up required coursework for a given major, identifying student organizations
related to your interest areas, and/ or looking up general occupational information about careers you want to explore.
• Get specific. Identify real examples of alumni in various career paths to determine what majors, experiences, and skills helped them get where they are. Begin analyzing job descriptions to determine what employers are looking for in candidates.

Observe Work Environments and Discuss Your Options
Doing your research and gathering information is important. But you can only gain so much insight from reading about your options. That’s why it’s important to find opportunities to connect with people in your desired field, and to observe various work environments in that field. You can do this by requesting an informational interview (learn about informational interviewing on pages 56-60 of this guide) with someone in a career field of interest; shadowing a professional in their workplace; networking with employers at a career fair; talking to upper-class students or alumni in a major you’re exploring; and discussing your choices with your advisor, a career counselor, a
faculty member, a mentor, a friend, or a family member.

Common Questions/Barriers:

• Knowing how to find people to connect with and how to reach out to them.
• Understanding and navigating “unwritten rules” of networking.
• Figuring out what questions to ask during a networking situation.

Strategies for Observing Work Environments and Discussing Your Options • Talk to more than one person, and/or visit more than one work environment, during your observe and discuss activities. Get multiple perspectives.
• Don’t overlook people who are already
in your life—your own family members, for example, or friends’ family members. They can be excellent people to talk to, and they may also be able to help you observe various work environments. “Warm” contacts, such as alumni, are also good possibilities because they share a common connection with you.
• Know that most people are happy to talk about themselves and what they do. In fact, many people find it flattering to be asked for career-related guidance.

Resources for Observing Work Environments and Discussing Your Options • Meet with a career counselor, your advisor, and/or a faculty member.
• Access the school’s alumni page on LinkedIn (
• Attend alumni and employer networking events, on campus and in the community.

(Note: Later in this guide, you’ll find additional tips and resources to help you learn how to identify networking contacts, craft an effective email invitation, prepare for your interactions, determine what questions to ask people, and follow up.)

Engage in Meaningful Experience to Explore Even Further

During the Research and Observe/Discuss phases of exploring, you will likely build various assumptions about given academic or career options. Sometimes, though, the best way to clarify a potential path is to try it for yourself to see what you really think.

It’s one thing to read about a particular academic discipline, for example, or even to talk to someone about a career field of interest. But what if you were to participate in a research experience with a professor who has been studying one of the nuances within an academic discipline for years or decades? What if you were to complete a brief volunteer experience or internship at a nonprofit agency where a career like the one you’re considering is actually available? Books, websites, and even short observation and discussion opportunities just can’t compete with this more hands-on type of exploring (though they are all still valuable in and of themselves). So engage in meaningful experience to explore your academic and career options even further.

(Note: Later in this guide, you’ll see that the entire second phase of the Career Management Model—Experience—is devoted to gaining experience, largely for the purpose of building your Core Career Competencies and related skills. But as we emphasize here, getting experience is also an excellent way to explore various academic and career options in real-world settings and situations.)

What Are Your Engagement Options?
There are many engagement opportunities awaiting you here—lots of possibilities to supplement your academic experience with out-of-the-classroom experiences of all kinds, both on and off campus. You can even explore opportunities nationally or internationally.

The engagement activities you pursue will help you learn more about yourself, as well as your academic and career options, in more depth. They’ll also help you build the necessary Core Career Competencies that employers and graduate schools desire in their candidates. It’s a win-win!

Common Questions/Barriers

• Knowing how to find opportunities for gaining experience.
• Deciding which experiences will be most beneficial.
• Managing your time and juggling coursework, experiences, and other responsibilities.

Strategies for Engaging in Meaningful Experience

• Try a reasonable variety of activities, not just one, so that you get a well-rounded view of what you’re exploring. Keep in mind, though, that you also need to maintain a healthy balance so that you can get the most out of each experience and prioritize your time.

• Know that many engagement opportunities are available right here on campus. You can start with lower-risk, lower-commitment activities. Get involved in student organizations, for example, or volunteer somewhere. Later, you can pursue an internship in a field of interest or in an organization that intrigues you. Or you can participate in a research activity of some kind.

• Understand that you probably won’t get the chance to tackle the full-fledged duties of the job you’re investigating. But you’ll still get a sense of the opportunity and its associated work

Resources for Engaging in Meaningful Experience

• Visit various campus offices and academic departments to learn about different types of engagement opportunities: student groups, leadership, volunteering, learning abroad and away, research, employment, and internships.

• Your advisor and campus faculty members also know what engagement options exist and can help you explore them and eventually pursue them. So can career center personnel and staff in academic departments.

• Search the school’s website for relevant student organizations and on-campus leadership positions. Get suggestions from your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member too.

• Search the school’s website and outside websites to identify potential service-learning and volunteer opportunities. Again, your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can offer ideas as well.

• Use the career center’s job platform to find jobs and internships in the area.

• Search the school’s website and outside websites for information on learning abroad opportunities. Talk to your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member too.

• Search the school’s website and talk to a faculty member, your advisor, and/or a career counselor to learn how you might get involved in research.

• Talk to people you know! Your course instructors, peers, family members, and other networking contacts are great resources for referrals.

• Take an introductory class in a major or topic of interest.

• Meet with a career counselor, your advisor, or a faculty member for one-on-one assistance.

Reflect on What You’ve Learned

Always remember to reflect on what you’ve learned from any given experience, positive or negative. Be sure to consider what factors may have contributed to your overall impressions (i.e., what did you learn about your preferences for work environment, individual activities vs. team collaborations, communication techniques, supervision styles, workplace professionalism, schedule/hours, etc.?).

Remember: Even if an experience was less than enjoyable, you gained insights that can help narrow down or expand your options. (You also developed your Core Career Competencies, by the way.)

Meet with a career counselor, your advisor, and/or a faculty member to reflect upon your options in even more depth. It’s often beneficial to do your reflecting with someone who can ask you insightful questions, help you spot patterns, and offer suggestions from a different perspective.


Once you have a better idea of who you are and what academic and career options are available to you, it’s time to focus in depth on gaining Experience—keeping in mind that exploration never really ends!

— This is the third of seven articles in this series. Click here to go to the next article. This series of articles are courtesy of the collective expertise of the staff in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Career Services in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

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