Career exploration is an ongoing process that requires careful reflection on your values, skills, interests, and priorities. This process should ideally begin early in your graduate career so that you have time to proactively develop the necessary skills, competencies, and networks needed to excel in your chosen profession. However, it can be valuable to continue the steps of career exploration even when you have an established career or career plans; as your values and priorities shift throughout your life, so too might your preferred career path.

Steps You Can Take

Set aside dedicated time for self-reflection

To ensure you find a career that is a good fit for you, it is important to engage in self reflection about your priorities, preferences, skills, and interests. There are existing guides that can help structure the process of self-reflection. For example, you can work through the key questions outlined in Beyond the Professoriate’s guide for finding a job that you will love, or work through the “flower” worksheet from University Affairs’ summary of a key book for job seekers, What Color Is Your Parachute?.

Beyond the Professoriate’s guide suggests two key questions for self-reflection. First, what did you find energizing in your academic work? Once you’ve identified what you found energizing, you can dig deeper into the specific activities or components of that task that you most enjoy. For example, if you found teaching most energizing, was it mentoring, curriculum design, facilitating discussion, or public speaking that you most enjoyed? This question will help you clarify which specific tasks or activities you find enjoyable. Second, what do you value in your work? Take some time to reflect on what characteristics you value in yourself, and why you enjoyed certain activities across your academic experience. For example, if you enjoyed mentoring, did you value this because it was an opportunity to express empathy, creativity, or innovative problem solving?


Learn about career options that correspond with your interests and values

While the idea of career exploration quizzes might feel outdated, there are now advanced career exploration tools that incorporate real-world data to inform job seekers on what the day-to-day experiences of various career paths entail. These tools can provide a general direction for your job search, teaching you about job titles and descriptions that match the tasks and work activities you value most. ImaginePhD is a tool specifically designed for humanities and social science graduate students, and MyIDP is designed for STEM graduate students. All UC Berkeley graduate students also have free access to Versatile PhD resources, which can can assist you in exploring careers, reframing skills, and applying for positions beyond academia.

Also consider finding out what previous recipients of your degree in your discipline have done with their training. Some departments maintain an alumni database or LinkedIn alumni group as a resource for graduate students.


Explore Resources Offered by Professional Associations and Organizations

Most professional associations offer career exploration resources and job boards. What has changed over time is that many of these professional associations offer resources both for academic and non-academic jobs. For example, the American Historical Association (AHA) has an initiative called Career Diversity, which includes a set of institutes and resources to assist graduate students across disciplines in preparing for careers in and beyond the academy. These resources are also useful to faculty and graduate students outside of history. 

As another example, the American Philosophical Association (APA) initiative Beyond the Academy offers resources, information, and advice to students who are interested in exploring a wide range of professions in and outside of academia. It includes links to resources for academic and non-academic career opportunities; career outcomes data, including new academic placement data and analysis; and biographical essays of philosophers who have successfully found ways to use their philosophical training outside of academia.

Do some research for yourself and see if there are similar resources in your professional association or in an association related to your professional interests, such as the American Planning Association or the National Lawyers Guild. There are also more overarching associations with interdisciplinary membership like the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students which share resources of broad interest. Some associations’ career exploration resources and job boards are only available to members, so it can be helpful to join multiple professional associations, particularly as you near graduation.

The career preparation sections below provide additional suggestions on how to explore career options experientially throughout your time as a student.