Career Development 101: How to Figure Out What to do With Your Life

This post is for anyone struggling to find a job or figure out what to do with their lives, but mostly for any of our high school readers or soon to be college students. By understanding how career development works now, it will be much easier for you to take advantages of opportunities in college that will further your career and find a job you love after graduation.

Career development has three basic areas: self-assessment, career exploration and job search implementation. You can’t skip any of these, but they may not necessarily happen in that order, either.


Self-assessment is continually examining your strengths, interests, values, priorities, goals and passions. Being dishonest with yourself is one of the easiest ways to be unhappy in an internship or job.

Learning about all those things listed above takes time and effort. Think about the following:

  • What classes do you enjoy most? What do you like about them? The subject matter? The way they are structured (for example, group work vs. individual projects)? The type of skills required? A chemistry class may require a lot of trial and error and problem-solving while an English class may require writing and editing.
  • In what environment do you work best? Do you enjoy a lot of activity and excitement or do you prefer calm, organized environments? Work best under tight deadlines and lots of pressure or would you rather plan in advance and make progress toward your goal one step at a time?
  • What do you care about? What ideas or issues keep you up at night?
  • What are you really good at and what skills does it require?
  • What do your teachers, family, and friends say about your strengths? What kind of compliments do you receive? Ask for feedback from those that know you best.

Self-assessment is going to take more than some time reflecting on those bullet points. Most campuses have self-assessment tools, like the Myers-Briggs or the Strong Interest Inventory to help students be more aware of their personality type and interests.

Career Exploration

Many of the jobs that will be available to incoming first-year college students do not exist yet. Even if they exist, you probably haven’t heard much about them. Not everyone is going to become a doctor, lawyer or teacher so it’s important to explore the other options you have. Some ideas to get started:

  • Explore other people’s LinkedIn profiles to learn about different jobs and career paths
  • Talk to working professionals in fields of interest
  • Seek internship opportunities early to test drive different options
  • Read job descriptions, even if you are far from qualified, to get a sense of what different jobs entail
  • Read up on industries that interest you. Make sure to explore trends in that industry to determine how jobs in that field are changing and if the career you’re thinking about will still exist in ten years.


Putting the knowledge you gained through self-assessment with career exploration will allow you to identify where there are consistencies between what you like, are good at and what you value most with careers that meet those needs. Then it’s time to begin working on tailoring your resume, searching for opportunities, interviewing and going about the mechanics of a job search. Knowing what you like and what you’re good at, as well as what you’re looking for, will help you channel your energy more effectively.

However, the process doesn’t always work in this order. Not every job search starts with self-assessment and career exploration. These three steps can happen in any order and may be repeated several times. But it’s important to know each of them and be thinking about them as you move through college in order to increase your chances of landing in a career that you find rewarding.


Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, her blog, LinkedIn or BrazenCareerist.

Related posts:

  1. Blog about Your Self-Development
  2. Greek Life and Your Job Search
  3. The Quarter-life Crisis

2 Responses to “Career Development 101: How to Figure Out What to do With Your Life”

  1. Great advice. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and as a result I took a leave without pay from my job, and I’m actually writing a novel.

    I have no idea if it will ever be published, but it’s a great feeling writing it.

  2. avatar Kelly Cuene says:

    Good luck with the novel! it takes courage to take an unpaid leave to pursue a passion – good for you! Thanks for sharing.

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