Researching Careers

Often we develop a short list of career options and might like to compare them to see which suits us best. Until you have researched different careers, it can be difficult to make an informed decision. Here are some activities to help you learn more about careers:

Internet searches

The internet has become one of the most popular ways to research careers. Using a search engine like Google you can find a wide variety of career information quickly. From a general internet search you are able to access a vast amount of information from company and industry websites, careers websites, education and training provider websites, blogs, forums and online job boards.

Job guides and occupation profiles

There are many job guides and occupational profiles available in print and online. These guides and profiles provide descriptions of occupations including typical duties and responsibilities, skills and attributes required, education and training levels along with average wage information. In Australia try the Job Guide and MyFuture websites, in Canada refer to the Working in Canada Tool, in the USA visit O*NET OnLine or CareerInfoNet, and in the UK, Next Step’s Job Profiles or the Prospects website. Your own country is bound to have its own job guide or occupational profile with local career information. Check with your government careers service or department of labour to see what resources are available.

Informational interview Interviewing someone who works in a career you are interested in is a great way to gain first-hand information. You can interview people in person, by telephone or via email asking questions like “How did you enter the industry?”, “What qualifications did you require?” and “What are the best and worse parts of your job?” Be prepared with a list of relevant questions and take notes.

Industry journals and newsletters

Reading industry journals and newsletters can provide valuable insight as they contain information about issues, opportunities, future trends and threats to the industry. Most industries have peak bodies which produce quarterly or biannual journals and/or regular newsletters discussing current and emerging issues in the field. These publications can help you identify the nature of a particular industry along with its advantages and disadvantages. Industry journals and newsletters are also a good source of information about events and professional development opportunities such as conferences, forums, training and workshops.

Volunteer work, work experience placements

By volunteering or undertaking a work experience placement, you get the opportunity to try out an occupation in an unpaid capacity for a period of time. Your volunteer work or work experience placement will be subject to workplace safety and insurance, and if the host employer cannot arrange this for you, it will be necessary to have an agent (such as a volunteer organisation, school/ college or employment program) coordinate this on your behalf. If you are a student, check with your career guidance centre about work experience opportunities. It may be possible for you to undertake a number of placements over time to allow you to experience a number of different careers. There is an added advantage to volunteering and work experience placements; they can be added to your resume or CV to demonstrate your dedication to a career in the field.

Job forecasts/occupational outlooks

Job forecasts and outlooks provide statistical data to help predict the future demand for different occupations. This can be very useful by helping you understand if an occupation is viable to enter into. The information provided can include current and future employment prospects, wages and conditions. These can be obtained from a number of sources including industry bodies or government departments such as the Australian government’s Job Outlook website, Canada’s Working in Canada Tool, USA Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook or in the UK the Industry Insights section of the Prospects website.

Observation/job shadowing

Observing people on the job, performing their roles can be a great way to learn about careers. Job shadowing is a more formal arrangement that allows you to shadow someone going about their usual job tasks. You are likely to learn about duties performed, interactions involved and general work environment. Some roles are solitary in nature with little opportunity for interaction with others whereas others might involve a high level of personal contact. You may not have realized the career you are interested in is so demanding or at the other extreme, less challenging than you would like.


Attending conferences, meetings and other events offers you a good opportunity to network with those already employed in an industry area. You will learn about the industry you are researching and find yourself in a unique position to gain valuable contacts.

Employment advertisements

Employment advertisements can be very helpful in providing information about an occupation which can help you determine if a career is suitable for you. Many advertisements identify duties and responsibilities, hours of work, rates of pay, qualifications required and the need for special licences etc. Obtaining a position description and selection criteria will also provide an detailed description of the role.


Television shows (eg. CSI, Law & Order or ER) can provide a rare insight into life in certain careers. Although the media is not renowned for always painting a completely accurate picture of occupations, there’s no doubt it has some value. Given the nature of the information gained by this method of career research, it shouldn’t be your primary method of career research. In fact, you should aim to undertake as many research activities as possible to ensure the information you obtain is balanced and to increase its validity.

Keep a record of your career research findings either in a dedicated journal or on your computer. It’s also a good idea to create a positives and negatives list for each career option you are researching. This will enable you to see which aspects of a job you think you would enjoy and those you wouldn’t.

Career research can go a long way towards helping you find a career that will suit your own interests, attributes and abilities. Don’t automatically discount a particular occupation because you currently lack the necessary skills or qualifications. You can always gain the skills and/or qualifications. To get help with career decision making, goal setting and planning consult a professional.