Exploring Interests, Majors and Careers



Utilizing formal and informal career assessments are just one of the many ways in which you can begin to explore your interests and values.  The CCO offers three types of formal assessments:

  • StrengthsQuest Clifton StrengthsFinder (StengthsQuest): Helps to identify your talents that could be developed into strengths and how these strengths can be used in career identification as well as influencing all other aspects of life
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI):  Helps you to understand how your personality type may influence your career choices and preferred work environments
  • jobZology:  Helps you to understand how your interests, personality, values, and workplace preferences relate to the world-of-work and college majors

Informal assessments are done through exploring key questions about your interests and previous experiences.  Typically, informal assessments are less structured and do not necessarily require the assistance of a career services professional.  We all participate in informal assessment in our everyday lives in terms of understanding how our experiences shape our career decisions and motivations.

The CCO staff are trained and experienced in providing both formal and informal career assessments.  To get started on exploring career assessments, contact us to schedule an appointment.


Choosing a Major

Now that you have explored your interests and career options, it is time to choose your major and/or minor, if you have not already done so!  Many of you may have already reviewed the academic disciplines available to Saint Mary’s students and may have considered several different options.  Saint Mary’s has the following academic disciplines and majors:

*denotes minors, certificate programs; some may be turned into self-designed majors if desired

After exploring career options and choosing your major, contact your academic advisor to discuss changing your major (if necessary), identify coursework that will help you achieve your career goals, and to explore supplemental experiential activities such as undergraduate research opportunities and academic credit internships that may be available.


Exploring Career Options

Knowing your own interests and values are essential, but understanding more about the career fields you are interested in is also critical!  A few ways of learning more about careers are through informational interviewing and job shadowing, online and print publications, professional associations, alumnae and academic contacts, and taking various courses in areas that interest you.

Information to Gather:

  • Nature of the Work:  Duties, activities, physical requirements, tools, feasibility of modifications, typical workday and psychological aspects
  • Working Conditions:  Physical aspects of environment, type of supervision, climate of work setting and working with others or alone
  • Qualifications:  Education, training, licensure, demonstrated ability, interests and personality traits
  • Preparation:  Education, training, essential experiences, apprenticeship, part-time work, length and amount of preparation, scholarships, loans and colleges offering the training
  • Entry into Field:  How to get the first job or establish a business, required exams and union affiliations
  • Number and Distribution of Workers:  Size of occupational workforce may be the best index of future openings, demographics and large or small firm
  • Lines of Advancement and Related Occupations:  Promotional ladder, usual tie before promotion, additional training and horizontal mobility
  • Economic Benefits:  Beginning salary, benefits, bonuses and award incentives
  • Non-Economic Benefits:  Status, mobility and satisfaction
  • Disadvantages:  Seasonal work, frequent overtime, night work, hazards and weekend hours
  • Outlook:  Demand for future and present workers as well as stability of field


Online Resources for Exploring Careers


Informational Interviewing and Job Shadowing

Another way to glean information about possible career paths is through Informational Interviewing or Job Shadowing. Job shadowing and informational interviewing are almost identical except for the amount of time you spend with an employer.  With job shadowing, it is ideal to spend a full day with the employer to experience a typical day’s activities in the workplace.  With informational interviewing, you may spend as little as one hour with the employer in an interview-style format.  Both serve the purpose of gathering information regarding a particular field from a professional established in his/her career, and to obtain information about that professional’s career path, previous positions, career mobility and educational background.

While preparing for an informational interview or job shadow, keep in mind the following:

  • Ensure that you have assessed your own interests:  Be sure to identify your general interest areas as this will help you locate appropriate contacts for these areas.
  • Identify potential sites and employers:  Utilize your network contacts as well as the CCO to identify potential employers and contacts for your informational interviewing and job shadowing.  The CCO has the College Central Network (CCN) online database of employers as well as the Alumnae Resource Network (ARN) that can assist you in locating potential contacts.
  • Develop a strategy and approach method:  Two basic approaches exist for obtaining sites:  direct and indirect.  With the direct approach, you will find yourself making telephone calls and perhaps visiting employers to determine if they will allow a job shadow or informational interview.  With the indirect approach, you will be sending letters of request to potential sites, either by mail or e-mail.

For both a job shadow and informational interview, you should develop a list of questions to ask the employer.  They will expect you to come in with an inquisitive mind, so be prepared!  The following is a list of potential questions:

  • How did you get started in your career?
  • What was your major in college?
  • Tell me about the industry and some of the trends you see emerging.
  • What credentials or degrees are needed in your position or for someone starting out in this industry?
  • What are you responsible for, specifically, in your position?
  • What skills do you see as being essential for someone in this business (definable such as: computer programming, accounting, instructing, public speaking, etc., and less definable such as: organizing, attention to details, flexibility, and multi-task projects).
  • What is a typical day like for you in your position?
  • What are the positives about this position and what are some of the negatives?
  • Do companies such as this view an internship as a way of getting into this industry?
  • What prior experiences are helpful and which are essential for someone in this career?
  • Can you give me any advice that might be helpful as I pursue this career path?

Some simple, yet very important guidelines to follow during your informational interview or job shadow:

  • Dress for business casual at the minimum
  • Arrive five to ten minutes early to feel settled
  • Introduce yourself to the receptionist and let him/her know that you have an appointment and with whom and at what time
  • Review your goals and expectations and briefly review any questions you may have
  • Get the names of other professionals you can contact for additional connections and collect a business card
  • Remember that professionalism is the key!

After a job shadow or informational interview, it is important to send a thank you letter or e-mail.  This will express to the employer your appreciation for meeting with you and will allow you build a network and connection with the employer.  You may also want to send the employer an update later into your college career to inform them on any particular career paths you have chosen.  This will keep your information relatively fresh in their minds and could lead to a potential internship or job leads down the road!

A final way to gather information on what career paths previous graduates from Saint Mary’s College have taken, you can view the Life After Saint Mary’s section of the CCO website.