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As a student in the College of Arts & Sciences, you're opening the door to a million different career options. That's a great thing, but sometimes it can seem a little overwhelming. So many decisions and only four years to make them!
Fortunately, career counselors are here to help you. Career counselors offer expert guidance on finding your strengths, deciding on a major, crafting resumes and cover letters, networking, internships, alumni connections, graduate school options and service programs. Students can attend myriad events to explore careers, meet alumni in their interest area and learn how to polish their presentation skills.
"One can go to school to be a doctor or an engineer, but there's no major for producing musicals in Rwanda. The path to career satisfaction is not always straight and predictable It can take unexpected turns before you find the thing that gives you meaning. Seize your opportunities, explore your options, and learn what you can. And when in doubt, consider that Joy Behar taught high school, Andrea Bocelli was a defense attorney, and Julia Child spied for the government before she cooked on TV. Not even our enviable doctors lead lives of certainty. Just ask Charles Darwin." Anastasia Uglova '05
What Is Career Exploration?
There is no right or wrong time to start evaluating your interests and career ideas. When you’re ready to begin the process, it’s important to start with exploration. Exploration is an integral part of the career development process, and helps you to avoid getting involved in an industry or path in which you have no interest down the line.
The process of finding your dream job or program begins with getting to know who you are by evaluating yourself and your interests, and then looking at your options based on that analysis. Analyzing who you are and what drives you can be a complicated task. Thankfully, there are some tools available to you. First, come chat with our office or other folks who are neutral about the outcome of your interests and where they take you. It’s important to speak with someone who does not have a stake in your final decision. In your talk with our office, you can also set up a career assessment, or you can take one independently. Assessments can help you get an inventory of your drives and interests. You can also independently reflect and ask questions about your path.
Once you have a thorough understanding of yourself, we can start to expand and narrow lists of your options. What could a variety of plans look like, and how can you apply your major or time at A&S to life afterwards? Start looking at folks who are in your dream job on LinkedIn. Do they all have a common credential, or is there a pattern in in their backgrounds? How do they start off, and how could you get started in the industry? There are also some tools for you to utilize like O*Net Online, MyPlan.com, One Day One Job, Vault Guides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Princeton Review, and more. Our goal is to gather information on what your life could look like.
You should also tap into strategies like networking, shadowing, and informational interviewing. Here is a simple guide on how to reach out to an alumnus on LinkedIn and request a conversation with them. Career Conversations are also an important part of the process. These are hour-long informal chats with alumni in a group setting with other A&S students. They are a great way to test the waters and see if you like life in a particular industry or role.
When networking and conducting informational interviews, be sure to follow some general rules. When you’re asked, “What are you majoring in,” do not answer with, “I don’t know.” Instead, add another clause onto your sentence: “I don’t know, but I’m interested in…” Provide the person with whom you’re chatting some extra information so that they can build on the conversation and seek connections like, “Oh, my daughter is doing something similar - I would love to put you in touch with her.” Always end the conversation with another request: does the person with whom you’re speaking have anyone else to whom they could introduce you?
Look for clues in your life for things you might enjoy. Everyone enjoys something! How do you choose to fill your time, what conversations do you relish having, and how can we incorporate these interests into these goals? How can you bring joy into your work life through your interests and make it more fulfilling? Interests that seem impractical still have heart in them. Do you like watching Netflix mysteries? Maybe you consider jobs based on problem-solving, or maybe you seek a life with a sense of predictability.
You can also use your extracurricular activities and courses to explore plans and career options. How do the things you fill your freetime with feed into your life generally? Try out different clubs at any point in your college career to understand what work in a particular field actually looks like. Also see if you like the other people and the culture related to that industry. Say you’re taking an Intro to Anthropology course, and you find six of the sixteen classes particularly interesting. Why are they interesting, and how can you pursue the topics in those classes further? Also use classes to understand types of work you prefer. Take a good look at your coursework and extracurriculars, they can help you understand your relation to data analysis, teamwork and collaborative atmospheres, independent work, supervisor styles.
It’s never too late. That was the most important lesson I learned after seeing my career counselor. I was a second semester junior, I didn’t have a summer internship and I didn’t know what career field I wanted to go into. The fact that time was winding down and I hadn’t made any steps in the direction of a career scared me a lot. Especially since all my friends around me had summer internships and knew what field they wanted to work in after college. When I went to see my career counselor I was nervous because I thought no one could help me. I was wrong: my career counselor sat down with me and the first words my counselor spoke were, “It’s never too late.” My counselor proceeded to show me many ways I could find the career path I wanted to pursue. After the meeting I realized that I had taken my first steps in finding a career path I love and that for the most part it’s never too late to get started. - Cadell Williams ‘15
Get started by...
- Meeting with a career counselor
- Signing up for a workshop on exploring majors and careers
- Exploring your options through our externship and Alumni Connections programs
- Follow your interests through courses, clubs or volunteer work
Below are a few other concrete milestones to keep in mind:
- Freshmen year: Create a college-level resume.
- First semester sophomore year: Reconnect with a Career Development counselor and participate in a career-exploration event.
- Junior year: Make sure you have at least one career-related experience, with another lined up for the summer and participate in a student-alumni networking event.
- Senior year: Have two career-related experiences under your belt and be open to the possibilities.
Major and Career
Your choice of major does not lock you into a particular career path, but rather opens up a broad array of careers! Our career counselors can help you clarify your interests, skills, and values, then connect those to particular majors or careers. We can also help you set goals for your time at Cornell, show you resources and help you develop a strategy for your job search.
When you think about your ideal job, you might name a job title or function— doctor, lawyer, software engineer, public relations consultant; or you might think of an industry — entertainment, sports, technology. Perhaps you are passionate about sports, but want to become an attorney? Or you want to work at an advertising agency but you have a background in finance? It’s possible to satisfy both interests at once and find the perfect job. When you think about careers, think about what you want to be doing and where you want to be doing it.
As you dream about your future, remember these resources:
The Career Field cards are a great place to start.
Another great source can be LinkedIn profiles, which reveal career paths of people in your chosen field and work descriptions. Search for Cornell alumni or others whose career paths you admire, see what groups these people are in and join them to learn about the hot topics in the field. Join our LinkedIn group for career advice and job postings.
Many Cornell organizations, especially student groups, offer resources for career exploration. Check them out here.
Other resources include:
Review the "Undecided/Exploring" Career Plan on Handshake for specific steps to explore career options.