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Career Decisions

Target with an arrow in the bullseye


Career Myths and Realities

Making Career Decisions

Taking the next step



So what do you want to be when you grow up? All of us have been asked this question from the time we were old enough to answer. It has probably been asked in several different ways depending on our age and where we are in life, but the pressure to make a decision about a career has been with us for a long time. When we were children, we may have responded with cowgirl, teacher, father, movie star, farmer, race car driver, mother, doctor, airplane pilot, or even ninja turtle. Some of us may have remained faithful to our original response. However, most of us have changed our answer to that question many times.

Now there seems to be more urgency and perhaps need to make a decision and stick to it. After all, most of us believe that once we have made that decision "for real," then career decision-making is over and life can go on. Wrong! Maybe that idea was true once; however, in the global and changing world of today, career decision-making is more a process than an outcome. As both personal and work needs change, each of us will evaluate career choices many times. We will revise and change career plans and directions as well as change individual jobs. Career decision-making is no longer a "one-time" event. Thus, learning a system of career decision-making that can be used whenever needed may be the most promising and practical skill in this ever-changing world.

This information provides you with some facts about careers as well as some activities that will help you assess and clarify your interests, skills, and values as they relate to the world of work. But this is only the start. The activities probably will not result in a conclusive outcome that is "the one thing you will do the rest of your life." Instead, they will help direct you in making effective and appropriate choices as you develop your career plan.


Career Myths and Realities

Read the following questions to understand some of the realities about career choice and decision-making.

Is there just one career that's best for me? No. There are many careers that are a good "fit" for any one person. No career is perfect. Most will require some degree of compromise between person and career. Many of us will find that the most appropriate careers for us tend to have common features. Perhaps they emphasize promoting or selling activities, helping others, dealing with practical and tangible problems, or working with abstract concepts or theories. It is important to consider a variety of occupations that share common characteristics, all of which you could enjoy, rather than trying to focus entirely on the one fictitious "best."

You mean that nearly half of K-State graduates end up in careers different from their major? True. Amazing, isn't it? Our interests change. The job market changes. Some careers and jobs become obsolete. Other interesting fields open up. Many people realize, after working a while, that careers affect lifestyles. So they make career changes in order to satisfy their lifestyle needs and wants.

Will I really have two or three (or even more) different careers? That's what the experts are saying. Interests change and new careers are developing all the time. This allows you to choose a career to begin after graduation and also know that you'll be able to change as new interests and opportunities emerge.

Do you really mean that nearly half the careers that will exist in the year 2025 don't exist today? Right! To prepare for the unknown, then, is a process. It requires learning about yourself; your knowledge, talents, skills, and interests; and your lifestyle (what you believe, how you prefer to live, the sorts of people you enjoy, etc.). And these will change over the years.

You will have the opportunity, in coming years, to make career changes. Doing so will become more and more typical of people in the work force.

Is changing majors really a sign that I am not committed to college or may not graduate? Of those who graduate, more than 50 percent have changed their majors (for an average of nearly 1.5 times). A common idea is that students who change majors don't know what they want and are on their way to not doing well in the university. But the opposite is true.

Maybe there is something to realizing that we sometimes make choices that aren't the best. The process of choosing a career requires the flexibility to try out options and make changes when needed. So we admit that the original choice is not working and go on to make another, more appropriate choice.

Should I choose a major or career area that guarantees employment? No major or career can guarantee employment upon graduation. Opportunities in every career change over time. The job outlook for next year is very difficult to predict, and the employment picture in three or four years is even tougher.

However, there are reliable sources of information on employment outlooks and predictions. Use these resources rather than relying on hearsay or advice from friends and neighbors. (See the Resources section of this brochure.)

Will taking an interest test or getting career counseling be an easy way to find out what job I should get? No test can take all the information that is important to your career development and tell you what jobs you can do or where you would be happiest. Career tests can, however, help you to clarify your interests as well as identify areas for further exploration.

The goal of career counseling is to identify several career areas that reflect your values, interests, and ambitions. It can also help to sort out the other factors that may influence your career decision-making (e.g., family commitments, geographic limitations, life goals).

Remember, there is no one perfect choice for you. Throughout your lifetime you will make many career choices and many career changes.


But How Do I Start Making Career Decisions?

The decisions that we make are often a reflection of our values, interests, and skills. In order to make more informed decisions, it is important to be aware of the values, interests, and skills that influence decision-making.

Though you already know many of your attributes and characteristics, the following sections will help to clarify those values which are most important to you, areas of interest based upon your activities, skills that you already possess, and job characteristics that are important to you.



Would you . . .

  • work for a company that offers rapid promotion but will not guarantee you job security?
  • like to work in a setting where you are your own boss, but there is no one higher up to offer help when you need it?
  • accept a high paying job in a company that makes a poison gas that poses high risk to people and the environment?

Answers to these questions involve our values. Values are attributes and ideas that are important to us and that help to guide our decision-making.

This section will give you a chance to examine your values. Listed below are a number of work-related values. Read over the list, then assign a number to each value from 0 to 10 (0=no importance and 10=great importance).

___ Prestige: Being well-known and prominent

___ Responsibility: Desiring to be seen by others as capable

___ Adventure: Taking risks

___ Independence: Acting on your own, freedom

___ Challenge: Enjoying difficult tasks and problems

___ Creativity: Accomplishing tasks in new ways

___ Accomplishment: Wanting to excel and achieve

___ Variety: Enjoying diversity

___ Security: Wanting a comfortable/predictable future

___ Power and authority: Taking leadership, being in charge

___ Money: Liking material possessions

___ Integrity: Behaving consistently with own beliefs

___ Altruism: Helping people and/or society

___ Honesty: Valuing truthful interactions

___ Artistic expression: Caring about beauty and harmony

___ Leisure: Having time for hobbies and recreation

___ Health: Having a balanced lifestyle

___ Others:

Look over your list and circle your five most important values. Now think of one or two occupations that most express those values. For instance, prestige, challenge, altruism, independence, and creativity may be values that can be actualized through being an attorney.

List your ideas for occupations that may fit with your most important values:









Understanding interest areas can help us think about the types of work-related activities we might find enjoyable. Occupations that fit our interests are likely to be the most rewarding for us.

So how do we go about determining interest? One method is to list all of the activities we find pleasurable. For example, when you have an opportunity to take elective or community education classes, what sorts of classes do you select?

Another is to think about areas to which we devote a lot of our time. For instance, you may notice that whenever you have some "free" time, you prefer to be outside grooming your horse rather than staying inside reading.

Another example could be that you spend your free time working with a service organization helping people (e.g., Big Brothers/Big Sisters). This section will help you to outline some of your interest patterns.

What are your three favorite subjects in school?




What are your three least favorite?




Notice any patterns of interest or any common features in your most and least favorite subject areas.

List extracurricular activities and club memberships.






Remember to include high school and church activities. Do you notice any similarities between the subject areas and your activities and club memberships?

Now list your hobbies, leisure activities, and other interests.






Look again for patterns of interest. For instance, if your favorite subject in school is accounting, you also enjoy organizing and leading groups, and you devote leisure time to Junior Achievement, you might want to consider looking at careers in business.

Generally, interests can be grouped into themes such as the following:

Interest themes

__ Mechanical, athletic, and outdoor activities

__ Discovering new facts or theories, math, sciences

__ Concern for others in the world and activities that help others

__ Music, drama, art, self-expression

__ Organization, detail, and structured tasks

__ Persuasion, sales, leadership, politics

__ Academic pursuits, presentations, lectures

As you look at the patterns of your interests, select two or three themes from the list above that seem to describe you. Now list some occupations that you believe might allow you to express your interests:









We can also understand career influences in life by making a list of skills and work experiences. Skills refer to personal attributes, talents, or abilities that you bring to a job or that you acquire by doing a job or by some form of learning. In this section, you may examine your current work-related skills.

In the space provided, list all the part-time and full-time jobs you have held or may be working at now. In addition, list the skills you have that may or may not appear to be work-related (for example: swimming, photography, biking, dancing, etc.). List as many skills and experiences as you can recall. Remember to include work you have done around the house or as a volunteer.

If additional lines are needed, use a separate sheet of paper.

As you look at your lists of skills, do you see any patterns or skills that seem to go together? What do they indicate about your interests and abilities? Do you like to work with your hands? Do you enjoy some certainty about results? Have most of your experiences dealt with people, information, or things?

Skills can generally be grouped into clusters that parallel the interest themes above. These include:

Skill clusters

__ Building, assembling, cultivating, cooking, delivering, lifting, operating, repairing

__ Problem-solving, discovering, analyzing, experimenting, comparing, predicting, researching, thinking

__ Conveying warmth, counseling, relating, empathizing, encouraging, helping

__ Composing, creating, decorating, designing, drawing, imagining, singing, dancing

__ Calculating, cataloging, checking, collecting information, following directions, filing, typing

__ Arguing, confronting, delegating, influencing, selling, leading, managing, public speaking, debating

__ Reading, writing, teaching, advising, informing

As you look at your skills, what patterns seem to fit you? List occupations that seem to utilize those skills:


Job characteristics

Sometimes specific features of a job are important to us and to our lifestyle considerations. The following is a list of occupational characteristics that may or may not be important to you.

Rate each of these according to the following 0-10 scale where 0=not important to me and 10=essential for me in my career.

__ Working with people: Most of your work day is spent interacting with people

__ Working with words or numbers: Tasks include writing, adding, attending to detail

__ Working with tools or objects: Assembling, building, and operating machinery predominates

__ Working with children: Most of your work day is spent interacting with children

__ Working with adults: Interacting with adults is the focus of most of your day

__ Working indoors: Most of the time your work occurs inside

__ Working outdoors: Most of the time you work outside in all sorts of weather

__ Travel: Traveling from place to place is often a required part of the job

__ Flexible work hours: You are able to set your own schedule

__ No overtime: You rarely if ever have to work overtime

__ Working in a city: This type of job requires or most always occurs in more populated areas

__ Working in the country: This type of job requires a less populated area

__ Retirement or pension plan: Retirement planning and benefits are part of the payment for a job

__ Vacation time: Paid vacations are part of the payment for a job

__ An 8-5 day: Work hours are specific and consistent

__ Working days: Work occurs during the standard Monday-Friday work week

__ Working nights: Evening hours are required for this job

__ Others:

Now, go back and circle the three or four job characteristics that are most important to you. Often specific characteristics of occupations may limit or enhance their desirability. For instance, if you prefer working in a city, at night, and indoors, then perhaps a career in hotel management or entertainment is a possibility. If, however, you prefer working outside, traveling, and working with tools, a career as an accountant, psychology professor, or executive secretary may not be as appealing.

As you look at these preferences, what occupations may fit with your job requirements?


Integration of this self-information:
So...Now What?

The next step in the process of career exploration and decision-making is to integrate the information about your values, interests, skills, and job characteristics with occupational information.

Excellent information about occupations is available through the DISCOVER program, the Career and Employment Services, and the Academic and Career Information Center (see the Resources section of this brochure).

Based on the patterns that you have seen thus far, identify two or three occupations that you want to explore further and list them here.





Taking the next step?

What do you need to know? If you have had difficulty grouping your interests and skills, or if you have had problems thinking of occupations that utilize those skills and values, then you probably need more information about occupations.

If on the other hand, you have had difficulty identifying your values, skills, and interests, you may need help learning more about yourself.

The following quiz may help direct you to the resources that can help you get the information that you need to make effective career choices.

Check the statements that seem to be most applicable for you and review the resources listed.

What next?

__ 1. I would like to learn more about my interests, skills, or values. See Resource 1 and Resource 3.

__ 2. I would like to take a regular class on career exploration. See Resource 1 and the K-State Class Schedule.

__ 3. I need some structure and help with career exploration, but not a regular class. Maybe an independent study class. See Resource 1 and the K-State Class Schedule.

__ 4. I know what I'd like to major in, but my family, friends, or teachers don't like the idea and it's causing me some problems right now. See Resource 1.

__ 5. I have picked out the one "perfect" career for me. See the Career Myths and Realities section of this brochure.

__ 6. I've been reading this "Help Yourself" booklet, but I still don't have any ideas about my career directions. See Resource 1 and Resource 3.

__ 7. After reading this brochure, I'm beginning to wonder if the major I have chosen is really right for me. See Resource 1.

__ 8. I'd like to talk with a professional counselor about some problems I'm having with choosing a career direction. See Resource 1.

__ 9. I need to know more about occupations. I have limited experience with knowing about different kinds of jobs. See Resource 2 and Resource 3.

__ 10. I think I know what I want to do, but I'm not sure I have the skills or can get them. See Resource 1 and Resource 3.

__ 11. I need more information about K-State majors and what is required. See Resource 3 and Resource 4.

__ 12. I would just like to browse through some books that give information about job requirements and outlook. See Resource 3.

__ 13. I'm interested in more formal assessment of my interests, abilities, and values. See Resource 1 and Resource 3.

__ 14. I have little work experience. I think I need an internship or externship experience. See Resource 2, Resource 3, and Resource 4.

__ 15. I'm not sure what I need. See Resource 1 and Resource 3.

__ 16. I would like to know more about one or two career areas. See Resource 2, Resource 3, and Resource 4.

__ 17. I know what I'd like to major in, but I'm not sure of the requirements. See Resource 4.

__ 18. There are some tests I'm supposed to take to get into graduate school (the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or others), but I don't know when or where they are given. See Resource 5.

__ 19. I'd like to go to graduate school, but I'm not sure if I can qualify. See Resource 4.

__ 20. I need to know where to go to get help assessing my employability, writing my resume, or learning about internships on campus. See Resource 2, Resource 3, and Resource 4.



1. Counseling Services 2nd floor of English/Counseling Services Building, Kansas State University (785) 532-6927.

Counseling Services provides individual and group career counseling experiences. Professional counselors are available to assist you with personal or vocational concerns. Counseling Services also provides career interest testing, other assessment services, and two types of career planning classes. Contact Counseling Services for more information or an appointment.

2. Career and Employment Services, Holtz Hall, K-State (785) 532-6506

The Career and Employment Services offers a variety of services to K-State students. These include: workshops on job-related activities (resume writing, cover letters, interview techniques), job opportunity bulletins, candidate referral services, summer employment assistance, and cooperative education programs. Additionally, the center maintains a library of job-related reference materials.

3. Academic and Career Information Center (ACIC) 14 Holton Hall, K-State (785) 532-7494

The Academic and Career Information Center assists students in making better informed decisions about their academic major or career paths. ACIC provides: DISCOVER - a computer-based career planning and information system, career planning information, curriculum guides, academic profiles of majors and graduates, employment outlook data, a career information library, and much more. You can make an appointment or just stop by and browse.

4. K-State Colleges. Kansas State University has nine degree-granting colleges. Academic advisers in each of the colleges are valuable resources for information when making a decision about career choices, areas of study, and requirements for graduate school. Information about the requirements of a given field of study may be obtained from each college:

5. Academic Assistance Center, 101 Holton Hall, K-State (785) 532-6492

The Academic Assistance Center maintains a schedule of testing for the Graduate Record Examination, Scholastic Aptitude Test, Graduate Management Admissions Test, Law School Admissions Test, Dental Admissions Testing Program, Test of English as a Foreign Language, Test of Spoken English, Veterinary Aptitude Test, and Allied Health Professions Admissions Test. To receive information on test dates or to obtain test application booklets contact the Academic Assistance Center.

Original text was revised and written in 1993 by Rebecca A. Sanderson, Ph.D., Carol A. Jauquet, Ph.D., and staff from the Counseling Services, Kansas State University. Portions of this were adapted from Career Choices: A Think-Book by Counseling Services intern David A. Blankenship (1983). Brochure adapted for Internet in 1997 by Dorinda Lambert, Ph.D.

HELP YOURSELF is created by Counseling Services
© 1993, 1997 Kansas State University