Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

–Steve Jobs

Pursuing Your Professional Interests

One of the most widely known and successful American entrepreneurs of all time is Steve Jobs. He is best known as the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple, Inc. He also co-founded Pixar Animation Studios, and he was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company. Four hundred eighty-four inventions bear Jobs’s name.

From early on in his life, Jobs was interested in electronics. When he was thirteen, for instance, he worked at the Hewlett Packard factory, which developed hardware and software components. Jobs later reflected on how he landed this job when he called Mr. Hewlett to ask for parts for an electronics project: “[Hewlett] didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett-Packard on the line, assembling frequency counters . . . well, assembling may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter; I was in heaven.”

Jobs’ electronics and computing career quickly unfolded as he pursued his passion for creating and promoting computing products. At age nineteen, he was a technician for Atari, a leading electronics, gaming, and home computer corporation. By twenty-one, he and his two partners had formed Apple, Inc. At thirty-four, he was named “Entrepreneur of the Decade” by Inc. magazine. And at fifty-two, he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All in all, Jobs was relentless about pursuing his interests and passions. The products he and his associates developed have transformed modern culture, including the iMac, iTunes, Apple Stores, the iPod, the iTunes Store, the iPhone, the App Store, the iPad, the Mac OS, and the Mac OS X.

This story of Steve Jobs’s professional pursuits illustrates a dream, a goal, and an ambition that many college students share: to be successful in earning money and finding personal satisfaction in employment. His story also illustrates how opportunities are all around us and how random events aren’t always so random.

In this section, we explore strategies that can help you chart your professional path and also attain ample reward. We begin by comparing and contrasting jobs and careers. We then look at how to match up your personal characteristics with a specific field or fields. We conclude by detailing a process for actually choosing your career. Throughout, you will find resources for learning more about this vast topic of planning for employment.

Job vs. Career

What is the difference between a job and a career? Do you plan to use college to help you seek one or the other?

There is no right or wrong answer because motivations for being in college are so varied and different for each student, but you can take maximum advantage of your time in college if you develop a clear plan for what you want to accomplish. The table below shows some differences between a job and a career.

Definitions A job refers to the work a person performs for a living. It can also refer to a specific task done as part of the routine of one’s occupation. A person can begin a job by becoming an employee, or by volunteering, for example, by starting a business or becoming a parent. A career is an occupation (or series of jobs) that you undertake for a significant period of time in your life—perhaps five or ten years, or more. A career typically provides you with opportunities to advance your skills and positions.
Requirements A job you accept with an employer does not necessarily require special education or training. Sometimes you can get needed learning “on the job.” A career usually requires special learning—perhaps certification or a specific degree.
Risk-Taking A job may be considered a safe and stable means to get income, but jobs can also quickly change; security can come and go. A career can also have risks. In today’s world, employees need to continually learn new skills and adapt to changes in order to stay employed. Starting your own business can have risks. Many people thrive on risk-taking, though, and may achieve higher gains. It all depends on your definition of success.
Duration The duration of a job may range from an hour (in the case of odd jobs, for example,) to a lifetime. Generally a “job” is shorter-term. A career is typically a long-term pursuit.
Income Jobs that are not career-oriented may not pay as well as career-oriented positions. Jobs often pay an hourly wage. Career-oriented jobs generally offer an annual salary versus a wage. Career-oriented jobs may also offer appealing benefits, like health insurance and retirement.
Satisfaction and contributing to society Many jobs are important to society, but some may not bring high levels of personal satisfaction. Careers allow you to invest time and energy in honing your crafts and experiencing personal satisfaction. Career pursuits may include making contributions to society.

In summary, a job lets you enjoy at least a minimal level of financial security, and it requires you to show up and do what is required of you. In exchange, you get paid.

A career, on the other hand, is more of a means of achieving personal fulfillment through the jobs you hold. In a career, your jobs tend to follow a sequence that leads to increasing mastery, professional development, and personal and financial satisfaction. A career requires planning, knowledge, and skills, too. If it is to be a fulfilling career, it requires that you bring into play your full set of analytical, critical, and creative thinking skills. You will be called upon in a career to make informed decisions that will affect your life in both the short term and the long term. A career also lets you express your unique personality traits, skills, values, and interests.

The following video gives explicit, textbook-style distinctions between the terms job, work, and career. You may especially appreciate this video if English is a second language for you or if you are a first-generation college student.

Video: Difference between Job, Work, and Career

You can find the quiz referenced at the bottom of the lesson here. The next video takes a different look at jobs and careers. The speaker discusses the more affective, emotional aspects of pursuing a career. His emphasis is on the importance of being passionate about your work.

Video: Job vs. Career – Think about a long time career

Whether you pursue individual jobs or an extended career or both, your time with your employers will always be comprised of your individual journey. May your journey be as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.

The Five-Step Process for Choosing Your Career

As your thoughts about career expand, keep in mind that over the course of your life, you will probably spend a lot of time at work—thousands of hours, in fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workday is about 8.7 hours long, and this means that if you work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 35 years, you will spend a total of 76,125 hours of your life at work. These numbers should convince you that it’s pretty important to enjoy your career.

If you do pursue a career, you’ll find yourself making many decisions about it. Is this the right career for me? Am I feeling fulfilled and challenged? Does this career enable me to have the lifestyle I desire? It’s important to consider these questions now, whether you’re just graduating from high school or college, or you’re returning to school after working for a while.

Choosing a career—any career—is a unique process for everyone, and for many people the task is daunting. There are so many different occupations to choose from. How do you navigate this complex world of work?

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has identified a five-step decision process that will make your career path a little easier to find. Below are the steps:

  1. Get to know yourself
  2. Get to know your field
  3. Prioritize your “deal makers” and rule out your “deal breakers”
  4. Make a preliminary career decision and create a plan of action
  5. Go out and achieve your career goal

Step 1: Get to Know Yourself

Get to know yourself and the things you’re truly passionate about.

  • Gather information about your career-related interests and values
  • Think about what skills and abilities come naturally to you and which ones you want to develop
  • Consider your personality type and how you want it to reflect in your work

The following video has some good ideas for ways of matching your personality and skills with a career. You can download a transcript of the video here.

Video: Matching your skills to a career

This next video looks at the connection between childhood interests and career options. Several successful entrepreneurs and employees share stories about how they turned childhood interests into careers that suited them well. Learn how listening to your inner child can help you find the right career.

Video: Childhood Interests Can Help You Find the Right Career

Before moving on to step 2, you may wish to review the online surveys in the Personal Identity module, especially the Student Interest Survey for Career Clusters, which is available in both English and Spanish. Yet another survey is the Career Assessment Test. All can help you align career interests with personal qualities, traits, life values, skills, activities, and ambitions.

Ultimately, your knowledge of yourself is the root of all good decision-making and will guide you in productive directions.

Step 2: Get to Know Your Field

Get to know your field. You’ll want to investigate the career paths available to you. You may also want to see what your college Career Center offers or conduct informational interviews to find out more about your field. One of the handiest starting points and “filters” is to decide the level of education you want to attain before starting your first or your next job. Students should consider determining both how much education they are willing to acquire, and how much education a particular career will require. Do you want to earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate or professional degree? Meeting with a college counselor or career counselor can help a student clarify this information.

Step 3: Prioritize Your Deal Makers

Prioritize your deal makers and rule out your deal-breakers. Educational requirements aren’t the only criteria that you will want to consider. Do you want to work outside or in an office? In the country or a city? In a big or small organization? For a public organization or a private company? What type of industry is interesting to you? What role do you see yourself playing in the organization? Do you want to be your own boss?

Step 4: Make a Preliminary Career Decision

Make a preliminary (or first) career decision and create a plan of action. It is not set in stone and you may have multiple careers in your lifetime, but everything starts with that preliminary career decision and plan of action. As a student matures and gains experience, more career opportunities will present themselves.

Now that you have an idea of who you are and where you might find a satisfying career, how do you start taking action to get there? Some people talk to family, friends, or instructors in their chosen disciplines. Others have mentors in their lives with whom to discuss this decision. Your college has career counselors and academic advisers who can help you with both career decision-making and the educational planning process. Nevertheless, be advised: You’ll get the most from sessions with your counselor if you have done some work on your own.

Get started by using the Career Café or the Career Zone.

“Find a career that you love and you will never work another day in your life.”

– Barbara Sher

 Step 5: Go out and Achieve Your Career Goal

Go out and achieve your (initial) career goal! Now it’s time to take concrete steps toward achieving your educational and career goals. This may be as simple as creating a preliminary educational plan for next semester or a comprehensive educational plan that maps out the degree you are currently working toward. You may also want to look for internships, part-time work, or volunteer opportunities that help you test and confirm your preliminary career choice. Your college counselor can help you with this step, as well.

Your work experiences and life circumstances will undoubtedly change throughout the course of your professional life, so you may need to go back and reassess where you are on this path in the future. However, no matter if you feel like you were born knowing what you want to do professionally, or you feel totally unsure about what the future holds for you, remember that with careful consideration, resolve, and strategic thought, you can find a career that feels rewarding.

This isn’t necessarily an easy process, but you’ll find that your goals are more tangible once you’ve set a preliminary career goal. Don’t forget: There is always support for you. Ask for any help you need.


Activity: Take the CAREERLINK Inventory


  • Formally assess your aptitudes, interests, temperaments, physical capacities, preferred working conditions, and career preparation time using the CareerLink Inventory instrument.


  • Access the CAREERLINK Inventory, add your name, and then click on the “Aptitudes” frog icon to begin the inventory. The CAREERLINK Inventory is designed to match the way you see yourself—your interests, aptitudes, temperaments, physical capacities, preferred working conditions, and desired length of preparation for employment–with available career information from the United States Department of Labor. The information you provide about yourself will produce a career profile showing to what extent your self-identified characteristics and preferences match those considered significant in 80 career clusters.
  • Your responses to the items contained in this inventory should reflect your honest self-judgments in order to provide you with meaningful career information. If you are unsure about a particular response, please answer as accurately as possible.
  • When you complete the inventory, review your personalized Career Inventory Results.
  • Write a 750-word reflection discussing the results of the inventory. Use the guidelines, below, to guide you.

To help you develop your reflections, you may want to consider the following:

  • What were your highest career-area clusters?
  • Review the work performed, worker requirements, sample occupations, related clusters, and response summary (this will make sense to you once you complete the inventory).  Do the results of the inventory surprise you?
  • Do you believe the Careerlink Inventory produced accurate or inaccurate suggestions for you?
  • Did you learn anything new about your career interests?
  • What insights from the inventory results might you apply to your life?
  • Follow your instructor’s directions for submitting this assignment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty. This number is projected to grow. A prediction from Forrester Research is that today’s youngest workers will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime and it is estimated that people will change their career an average of 5-7 times over their lifetime.

What jobs are in store for you? Will your work be part of a fulfilling career? What exciting prospects are on your horizon?

Learning Objectives

    • Inventory online resources to research career information.
    • Recognize current labor market trends and the changing workplace.
    • Consider interests and personality preferences with the world of work.
    • Use informational interviews as a way to research careers.
    • Examine diversity in the workplace.

Welcome to Phase 2 – “What’s Out There?” Conducting career research will allow for additional information and resources to assist you in better understanding the world of work and where you see yourself fitting in. This unit will require online research and self-discipline to navigate several career resources. In addition, creating intentional research to outline your ideas helps organize the process.

As you research career information make note of tasks, work environment, skills, job outlook, necessary training, and salary information. Analyze this information with the results you gathered from Unit 2 in regards to your interests, skills, abilities, personality, values, and strengths and make connections. Start asking yourself, “Where do I see myself fitting in within the world of work?”

Online Resources to Research Career Information

Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) – The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a nationally recognized source of career information, designed to provide valuable assistance to individuals making decisions about their future work lives. Revised every two years, the Handbook describes what workers do on the job, working conditions, the training, and education needed, earnings, and expected job prospects in a wide range of occupations.

O*Net Online– Has detailed descriptions of the world of work for use by job seekers, workforce development and HR professionals, students, and more. Making occupational information interactive and accessible to everyone.

CareerOneStop – Sponsored by the U.S Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. This site provides tools to help job seekers, students, business and career professionals. Career OneStop connects job seekers to an American Job Center. Fortunately, we have one located at COC through the Santa Clarita Worksource Center.

Santa Clarita Work Source Center (Career One-Stop) – A free Job Resource Center that connects job seekers and employers. Businesses can find qualified candidates, customized training resources, and assistance with finding a qualified candidate. Job seekers can look for new or better careers and will find skilled employment specialists, hundreds of local job listings, training resources, and a full-service technical center with phones, fax machines, copiers, and computers with Internet access and resume building tools.

The California Career Cafe – A virtual career center designed to walk you through self-exploration, career research, getting experience, and landing a job. Full of videos, information, and tips on how to be successful in your search for a career.

California CareerZone California CareerZone is a career exploration and planning system designed especially for students. Job seekers, educators, and counselors will also benefit from the wealth of information on 900 occupations from the Occupational Information Network (O*Net) database.

Path2Careers Pathways Path2Careers Pathways to Emerging Careers contains career tools used to help with important life decisions – choosing a meaningful and successful career. Connecting students to resources and job market information, which is relevant to their career interests. In addition, there is access to Career Fact Sheets, 15 Pathways to Careers, Jobs of the Future, YouTube Career Videos, and other resources.

You will have an opportunity to use these online resources to help you conduct career research.

Current Labor Market Trends and the Changing Workplace

As you conduct career research, it is important to be aware of the current labor market trends. Understanding information, such as jobs in demand, potential job growth and changes in the workplace will help you better prepare for your future career.

State of California Employment Development Department (EDD) California Employment Development Department Labor Market Information Division provides statistical data and reports on California’s labor force, industries, occupations, employment projections, wages, and other important labor market and economic data. LMI data is grouped by customer, subject, geography, data library, general information, and online services.

Linking your Interests and Personality Preference with the World of Work

The more you learn about the world of work the better you will be able to make informed decisions. The World of Work Map arranges 26 career areas into 12 regions. Together the career areas cover all US Jobs. The map graphically shows how occupations relate to each other based on work tasks. For example, occupations that work with data, things, ideas, and people. The world of Work map will be distributed to you in class as a handout to review. Take a moment and reference your results from the Strong Interest Profiler you completed in Unit 2. The RIASEC interest areas are grouped into the World of Work Map. Taking a look at the career areas that overlap with your RIASEC code may be a good place to start your research.

Informational Interviews

In addition to online career resources, informational interviews are another way to gather information about a career.

Informational interviews are meetings where you are the interviewer, and the person with whom you are meeting has information that you want—for example, about a specific job, organization, or industry. Informational interviews are a type of networking, but since the primary aim is to uncover information, we are including informational interviewing in the research unit.

Many job seekers treat informational interviews like an interrogation, with a long list of questions to extract information from the interviewee. We will take a more sophisticated approach to informational interviews. These interviews occur after some research is already completed, so the interview is not simply a series of questions to gain more information but rather a way to verify, refine, and test the information already researched. It is a two-way conversation, and you will be giving as well as receiving information.

Informational Interviews Are Two-Way Exchanges of Information

Most job seekers see informational interviews as a shortcut to research. Why not find someone who does the job, works at the organization, or works in the industry so they can give you a summary of the job, organization, or industry, instead of plowing through secondary data yourself? There are several reasons it is a bad idea to jump right to informational interviews without conducting your own research first:

  • It’s harder to land good informational interviews without having done some research first. Potential interview targets are going to think it is not worth their time if you are just there to take information from them, rather than having an interesting two-way exchange.
  • Just because someone does the job or is part of an organization or industry does not mean that they have an exhaustive command of the information for that job, organization, or industry. You will not get an objective, comprehensive view of your target just by talking to a few people.
  • Unless your interview target is skilled at tailoring advice across a range of backgrounds, what they will share is based on their specific experience, skills, and personality. It may not be relevant to you or your situation.
  • You get just the basic information because you do not know enough to ask probing questions or to confirm or refine the information you gather beforehand. It is a wasted opportunity for you to get more nuanced information.
  • You come across as knowing nothing about the job, organization, or industry. You wasted an opportunity to demonstrate your interest and knowledge, and therefore market yourself as a possible person to work in that job, organization, or industry.

The best informational interviews are two-way exchanges of information, more like a conversation than an interrogation. You are offering the information you have collected via your research and the interviewee is adding his or her thoughts and ideas. You come across not as the novice looking for a favor and more as a colleague brainstorming ideas. People are busy and do not always take the time to read business news, attend trade association meetings, or do the in-depth research you will be doing. They will appreciate you bringing to them the latest news. By being well researched and prepared, you do not have to feel like you are imposing on someone when asking for an informational interview. You will be giving back as well, in terms of information on breaking news, trends, or innovations.

Sample Informational Interview Questions

You want to get to know your interviewee by asking questions such as the following:

  • How did you get involved in this job, organization, or industry?
  • What do you like most about it? What has been most rewarding?
  • What is most challenging? Was there anything that surprised you?
  • What is a typical day, week, or month like?
  • What skills are most critical to have, develop, and maintain to be successful?
  • What personality types are most successful in this job, organization, or industry?
  • What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started?

Interest in their specific background establishes rapport because it shows you care about them specifically. It also gives you a foundation for questions to ask later because you know more about their experience. You want to get broader information about the industry, so you ask questions that reflect your research:

  • According to my research, the top competitors are [name the competitors]. Am I missing anyone you think is significant? Is there a new player I should know about?
  • According to my research, [name a trend, challenge, or innovation] is a major trend, challenge, or innovation. Is this affecting your job or organization? Is this overestimated in the media? Are there are other trends, challenges, or innovations I should be concerned about?

This is why research prior to the informational interview is so critical. You use your research findings as a springboard for conversation. You are not relying on the interviewee to think of everything and be the sole source of information. You are offering ideas, too. Informational interviews also enable you to dive deeper into what you previously researched.

Pick several research findings to test, and choose what to ask based on what level and type of experience your interviewee has. If your interviewee is very experienced and senior, you can ask broad strategy questions. If your interviewee is focused on a very specific area, say technology, focus on technology-related issues in the discussion.

You also want to get career-related information, such as salary and environment, and a candid sense of your chances in this job, organization, or industry:

  • According to my research, it is customary for people in this job to make [name salary range] and experience [name lifestyle, travel, or work culture]. Is that accurate? Are there any nuances to this that are not publicized in general media?
  • According to my research, the typical career trajectory is [name different titles you have seen for the job]. Is this accurate? Does this differ by the company?
  • How would you describe the culture of your organization? Does this vary greatly for companies in the industry?
  • According to my research, it is customary for people in this job to have [name skills and experiences]. Is my background of [summarize your skills and experience] competitive? If you knew of an opening for this type of job, would you consider me or refer me?
  • What about my background is most relevant to this job? What would I need to do to improve my chances?

These questions enable you to get information on the touchy issues of compensation and lifestyle, as well as candid feedback on your hiring prospects. By offering ideas, you take the pressure off the interviewee to reveal sensitive information. Instead, you give them something to react to. People will also appreciate that you have done some salary research, as they might not have time to see what is happening in the market, and they will want to reciprocate by sharing something they know.

Asking about the competitiveness of your skills and experience is not the same as asking for a specific job. You should never ask for a job in an informational interview. It is disingenuous because you asked for a meeting to focus on gathering information, not to ask for a job.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

All rights reserved content:

  • “Job vs Career – Think About a Long Time Career.”, uploaded by els gcr. 2013. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • “Matching Your Skills To a Career.” WWLP-22News. 2011. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
  • “Childhood Interests Can Help You Find the Right Career.”, uploaded by Hire Story. 2009. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

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Adaptions: Relocated learning objectives. Removed image of outdoor information fair.

Content from Blueprint for Success in College and Career by Rebus Community CC-BY 4.0


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7.9 Career decision making Copyright © by Lumen Learning and Linda (Bruce) Hill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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