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Career Decision-Making Process

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Designing Your Career @Yale

Networking is one of the skills exercised during the program.

Designing Your Career @ Yale guides students to explore possible career futures, take proactive steps to test career interests, move from contemplation to action, and become a part of a growing community of life designers.

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Realize that career decision-making will be ongoing throughout your professional life. As you gain experiences and move through different stages of your career, you may find yourself engaging in this process again. OCS has developed worksheets and rubrics to help streamline this daunting process, available on the right of this page, which will:

  • guide you through the OCS resources and opportunities;
  • help you maintain a running checklist of your career strategy progress;
  • support you in understanding your values, interests, and skills, and translating those to networking and interviewing opportunities;
  • provide a framework for meetings with career advisors.

TOC: The Five-Step Career Decision Making Process

Self-Assessment

As you start to explore career options, first assess your interests, values, and personality to develop an understanding of your technical and transferable skills. Consider factors which may affect your search, such as geographic preferences, an organization's culture, or work-life balance. Doing this inventory first will help focus your search so that you can direct your efforts in the most productive way.

OCS has created a unique values, interest and skills workbook, including structured activities to help lead you through the self-assessment process. Be aware that assessments cannot define you or tell you what you should do. Instead they suggest areas for further exploration and give you a place to begin your research. Assessments can be a valuable resource, but they can also be misleading if you are not ready to accurately and honestly assess yourself.

Four Components of Self-Assessment: Career satisfaction comes when you pursue careers that utilize your skills, fit with your interests and personality, and are aligned with your values. Use the information and activities in the following section to begin identifying and reflecting on your skills, interests, personality, and values.

FAQ: Skills

Skills are what you do well. The skills that come naturally to you are commonly referred to as your aptitudes or talents and are developed through training and experience. For example, you may have a natural aptitude for playing a musical instrument, but without practice and training you will struggle to be a star musician.

Many skills are transferrable – meaning they can be used across a wide range of industries and functional areas. For example, communication skills are valued in all industries and roles, making them highly transferrable. Technical skills are more specialized knowledge that is typically acquired through training and education, such as the use of laboratory equipment. It’s important to take the time to identify your skills and how those may connect with career options.

FAQ: Interests

Interests are the things you enjoy doing or learning about. You may have wide-ranging interests or a few more focused interests. Your interests may change over time as you are introduced to new areas of study and experiences, and as you progress through different stages of your life. Keep in mind that some of your interests are personal while others are career-oriented. It’s important to identify both types of interests, as there may be ways to incorporate your personal interests into your career, directly or indirectly. Reflecting on your interests, in conjunction with your skills, personality, and values, is an important step in the self-assessment process. Use the questions below to begin your reflection.

  • What activities do you gravitate towards? What specifically appeals to you about those activities? What roles do you tend to fill? Are there types of work or projects you enjoy taking the lead on?
  • What issues or causes are important to you? If you’re involved in volunteer work, what types of organizations do you volunteer with and why? What roles do you tend to take on and why do you take those specific roles on?
  • Have you ever been so immersed in a project, task or activity that you lost track of time or didn’t want to stop? What were you doing?
  • If you could do anything – all obstacles removed – what would you be doing?
  • When have you been happiest in life? What were you doing?
  • What careers were you interested in as a child? Why? What appealed to you about those careers?
  • What are your hobbies? How do you spend your free time?
  • What classes have been your favorites in high school and at Yale? What appealed to you about those classes?
  • If you could take classes on any topic, what would you take and why?
  • Who do you admire most and why?
  • When reading newspapers, magazines, websites or watching TV, what types of shows, topics or issues are you naturally drawn to? What appeals to you about those?
  • If someone was awarding you a lifetime achievement award, what would you like him/her to say about you?

FAQ: Personality

Personality is your unique combination of characteristics that influence your thoughts, behaviors, decisions, and how you engage with the world around you. This includes where you direct your energy, how you make decisions and preferences towards living in a more structured or spontaneous way. A job that is perfect for one person can be totally wrong for another.

  • How much interaction with others do you need in your work? Are you energized by being around a lot of people, or do you prefer working in small groups, or working alone?
  • Do you prefer imagining possibilities and being inventive, or do you enjoy handling practical matters, details, and work that is measurable?
  • People can find success and satisfaction in all fields, regardless of personality type; but the understanding of personality type can help you consider what type of jobs within your fields of interest may be the best fit.
  • Remember, personality is only one of the components to consider in the career exploration and self-assessment process.

FAQ: Values

Values are principles, standards or qualities that influence your choices throughout your life and provide guidance when evaluating options. Examining your values and making choices that are consistent with them is a key component of career satisfaction.

It’s essential to define what your values mean to you. For example, the desire to make a difference is a career-related value that many people share. But what that means to each person can be very different. Do you want to make a difference in conservation of natural resources, access to healthcare, food security, or immigration reform? Would you prefer to draft legislation, raise funds to support programs, educate the public on issues, or provide direct services to those impacted by issues? Take time to reflect and define these values for yourself.

 

Note: Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for GSAS Students and Postdocs 

ImaginePhD, MyIDP and ChemIDP are web-based resources that provide career exploration and planning tools, including self-assessment modules, for PhD students and postdocs considering careers either within or outside of academia. Learn more about IDPs and how to use these resources here.

Identify and Research Options

Doctors and teachers are among the jobs we know, but there are thousands of other jobs and more created every day as industries evolve. Once you have done a self-assessment of your interests, values and skills, take time to explore the range of career options, and don't limit yourself to careers with which you are familiar.

Learn as much as you can about the employers within your field of interest, trends in the industry, and the latest industry news. Immerse yourself in the publications, websites and resources that professionals in the field follow. This will help you to develop your list of target employers, and prepare you to speak about the industry and your interest when networking and interviewing for positions.  The career exploration tools and resources offered by OCS will get you started in this process, as will talking with an OCS Career Adviser who can explain how to make the most of these tools.

Point: Visit Yale's Roadtrip Nation webpage to access 5,000+ informational interview videos from professionals of every kind.  These videos cover questions that no one is asking—honest questions about their struggles, successes, and how they figured out the age-old dilemma, “What should I do with my life?”

Evaluate and Prioritize

After taking the time to research a career option, the next step is to reflect. It is important to undergo a reality check for each career area you’re exploring, weigh the pros and cons, and evaluate how well it matches up with who you are and what you want. Use the following questions to guide your reflection.

Tip:

  • What is your initial reaction to the career field after your research?
  • What appealed to you about the field? What didn’t appeal to you? List the pros and cons.
  • Did any information surprise you? Did you learn something about the field that you didn’t know before? Does this new knowledge impact your opinion of the career field?
  • What skills, knowledge, or experience will you need to be competitive for entry in this field? Are you interested enough in the field to develop these skills or knowledge?
  • With every new career there is a learning curve along with knowledge and skills that will need to be developed in order to excel. Are you willing to put in the necessary time and effort to be successful and advance in the career? Is your interest sustainable or fleeting?
  • Consider what you learned about yourself through the self-assessment process including your interests, skills, personality, and values. Are there aspects of the career that fit better than others?
  • Do you think you would be satisfied in this field or position? Why or why not?
  • How much adapting will be necessary for you to be satisfied in this career area? No career is going to be a 100% perfect match; there will be aspects that aren’t going to be exactly what you want, but is the percentage of less desirable components at an acceptable level or will it impact your long-term satisfaction?


If after your research you find that a career field is not for you, that’s fine. After all, the point of this is to help you clarify a good fit. Check that area off your list and move on to the next career area. If you didn’t get a strong impression either way, you may need to conduct some informational interviews or try a job shadowing/trek to get a more concrete impression.

Keep in mind that entry-level positions may have a greater percentage of less desirable components but if it is a stepping stone into the career you want, then it may be worth it. You need to think beyond just the first job and look towards the more senior positions.

Take Action and Try Options

After you have researched career opportunities of interest, it’s time to try them out and gain some experience.  Reading about a career provides valuable insight, as does talking with professionals, but trying the position through internships or extracurricular involvement will give you first-hand perspective. In addition, gaining experience will allow you to develop marketable and transferrable skills that will help you for future opportunities.

Many students will seek to build relevant experience through internships and other forms of experiential learning off campus. There are also numerous ways to gain relevant skills and experience without even leaving campus. Consider a part-time job at Yale, which employs staff in a wide range of career fields, from real estate development and media production, to publishing and art conservation. Student organizations also offer the opportunity to test a variety of roles. For example, campus publications need writers/reporters as well as staff to manage finances, develop multimedia content, create illustrations and take pictures, oversee design and layout, manage printing and distribution, maintain the website, solicit sponsorship, and generate ad revenue.

Click below to explore ways to develop your professional skill set and experience, and connect with a career advisor to discuss which option is best for you.

Reflect and Re-evaluate

During and after an experience, take time to evaluate and reflect. When evaluating whether a career is right for you, you need to consider aspects that may be consistent from one employer to the next verses factors that will vary widely, even if you’re in the same role.

Tip:

  • What was enjoyable? What was not?
  • Were there aspects of the experience that were challenging and aspects in which you excelled?
  • What did you like and didn’t like about your experience, and why?
  • Was it the work itself, or maybe something to do with the people that made it enjoyable?

There are times in this process that you will feel frustrated, like you are no closer to finding direction than you were when you started. If you’re going through the process, you are making progress. Each area of interest you explore and check off your list takes you one step closer to narrowing down your options that are a good fit. If you’re taking time to reflect, you’re also learning more about the type of work and environment you will find most satisfying.

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