Are you perplexed and confused about which career to pursue? If so, you may want to consider creating and executing a comprehensive career exploration plan to make sure you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into before you pursue any occupational track.

As a concept, career exploration isn’t just a casual search for information about a chosen job category, carried out by visiting websites that are essentially paid advertisements for schools or trade associations that offer training programs in that field. It is instead a thorough and impartial investigation that leaves no stone unturned in the search for the complete and unvarnished truth about a particular job or career option. Career exploration bypasses public relations or sales pitches in a quest to get the real lowdown on what various careers entail so when you choose one over the others, you’ll be making an intelligent and informed decision.

Career exploration and you

Whether you’re a young person getting ready to enter the job market for the first time, or a career changer looking for something new and different, finding the ideal career is a challenge you may feel unprepared to meet. From your current perspective, no job may feel quite right, or, conversely, you may find many possibilities equally highly enticing. You may be plagued by confusion and uncertainty, which could lead you to make the wrong choice, if you make any choice at all.

Career exploration can help you resolve such dilemmas. It makes you the prime author of an extensive research project into occupational categories that intrigue you, and what you find will help determine the course of the rest of your life.

You can learn a decent amount about any kind of job by visiting websites or reading articles or books that describe the duties and responsibilities associated with that position. However, you’ll need to look a lot deeper than this if you want to discover the important details.

A great career exploration plan will include part-time jobs, internships, or volunteer positions in the relevant field. This type of hands-on learning replaces hopes and dreams with actual real-world experience, allowing you to evaluate career paths based on reality rather than illusion.

A well-designed career exploration plan will also include multiple informational interviews with people who have worked or are working in that industry or field. These interviews should be of the candid, off-the-record type, so the people you’re talking to will feel comfortable about opening up. If you’re lucky, your source for information may even let you shadow them for a day or two while they’re on the job, letting you see for yourself what that potential career is all about.

Self-reflection will also be a vital part of any successful career exploration plan. You must resolve to take a closer look at yourself and your deepest preferences to discover what you really want as opposed to what you think you want or believe you should want.

As you can contemplate the responsibilities a particular job would entail, you should imagine yourself working at that job day after day for many years to see what kind of emotional response it triggers. Your response during this type of thought experiment will be spontaneous and natural, and thus will reveal much about whether you could fit in and find happiness.

If you take it seriously, career exploration can be incredibly valuable. It eliminates a superficial perspective and replaces it with deep and authentic knowledge, enabling you to match your true preferences with actual job responsibilities. When you finally find the right fit, you’ll know it and you’ll trust your conclusions, built as they are on facts rather than wishful thinking.

Empowerment through career exploration

Career exploration empowers you in several ways, all of which will make it easier for you to identify the most promising careers for someone of your character, inclinations, and abilities.

For example, career exploration can help you:

Clear your mind of preconceived notions that could steer you in the wrong direction

You probably have some general ideas about what any career you’ve considered is really like. With some occupations you may have read enough or heard enough to convince yourself you have a good handle on what that job involves and, therefore, don’t really need to look into that career choice more deeply.

But can you really trust your conclusions? Unless you’ve performed a thorough career exploration, you may be acting on limited or partial information that is inaccurate or misleading. The point of career exploration is to gain more of an “insider’s view” of what a particular job option is actually like, and once you acquire that perspective, you may come to realize that some of your preconceived notions were entirely false.

Narrow or broaden your career search, depending on your present state of mind

When considering career options, first-time job seekers and career changers alike will almost inevitably face one of two problems. They will either struggle to find something that they’re sure they would enjoy, or they will be attracted to so many different options that they’re not sure which is best. Their list of potential job possibilities will be either too short or too long, and as a result they will be unable to move forward  with their career plans (or with their lives).

Career exploration is equally efficient at solving both problems. Career exploration asks you to put aside at least some of your ideas about what types of jobs you’d enjoy and which you wouldn’t, so you can enter the exploration process with an open mind. If you can adopt this attitude your understanding of your true needs and interests will widen as your career exploration plan progresses. That helps you either broaden your scope or narrow your focus, depending on which direction you need to go.

Impress interviewers and increase your chances of landing your dream job, whatever it might be

When you interview with a potential employer you’ve identified through an extensive career exploration process, you’ll be auditioning for a job that you understand well and would be thrilled to land. If asked why you think you’re a perfect fit for the position, you’ll be able to answer with enthusiasm and conviction, and with enough detail to prove you know what the job is all about.

If you’ve done your homework and are truly prepared for a job interview, this will impress your potential employer and give you a leg up on your competition. This level of readiness reflects diligence, commitment, and professionalism, and those are exactly the qualities that all employers are seeking.

Personality matters, but maybe not as much as you think

Personality can play a big role in the types of careers you find satisfying. Your emotional and psychological needs are reflected in your personality type, and in an ideal world your career would allow you to meet all of those needs on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. The best that most of us can hope for is to find a job that will satisfy at least some of our needs, while not forcing us to make sacrifices or compromises that actively violate other needs. Your chosen career shouldn’t be in conflict with your personality type, even if the latter doesn’t complement the former completely.

One thing you should realize is that not every single person who shares a personality type will share the same career interests. There may in fact be jobs that appeal to you that aren’t normally recommended for your personality type, jobs that most who share your Myers-Briggs or Enneagram classification wouldn’t enjoy or appreciate.

If you decide to follow a career path that diverges from your personality type in some way, you may occasionally feel stressed out by events or circumstances that wouldn’t bother most of your colleagues. But if that is what you really want to do you shouldn’t be afraid to pursue your dream, even if it requires you to develop strategies to minimize your exposure to anxiety-inducing situations.

You should certainly read up on the kinds of careers that most often appeal to those with your 16-type or Enneagram personality, or that match your performance on the Career Personality Profiler test. But if your career exploration process ultimately takes you in another direction, it’s perfectly okay to trust that process and follow your heart.  

Know the job and know yourself

The idea behind career exploration is to increase your knowledge of the legitimate options, while bringing your deepest personal preferences more fully to light. Through a career exploration plan you’ll increase your knowledge of both the job market and your own interests, and your added comprehension will allow you to more precisely target careers that are likely to bring you joy and fulfillment.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.