Why Career Exploration Is Important—Activities, Ideas & Useful Links

Why Career Exploration Is Important—Activities, Ideas & Useful Links
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

With all the academic courses taken, students would likely question if the subject matter being taken up would be relevant after they graduate from college. Some might ask themselves if certain complex mathematical concepts would be useful in the professional realm. Others could even question if they would ever need a scientific calculator or the periodic table of elements after college. Career exploration navigates the answers to some of these questions.

In the field of vocational psychology, there has been growing interest in career exploration and how it can help students understand the value of their education in relation to their professional goals. In fact, a positive correlation has been drawn between exposure to career exploration modules and self-efficacy, career planning, and career maturity among students (Talib, 2015).

This article delves into the importance of exploring career options, giving clarity to why career exploration is important, and discusses the concept of Ikigai in relation to career mapping. It will also enumerate effective activities for career explorers.

Why Career Exploration Matters Table of Contents

  1. The Power of Career Exploration
  2. Ikigai: A Guide to Career Mapping
  3. 10 Effective Career Exploration Activities during Pandemic
  4. Useful Links for Career Explorers

The Power of Career Exploration

Traditional theoretical frameworks viewed career exploration only as an initial step. It was deemed as a phase that individuals eventually move on from like OJT meaning you finish it and apply for a real job. Contemporary research, however, has begun to recognize how it factors in on different stages of our occupational journeys. For example, Super (1980) has introduced a life-span, life-space approach to career development. He acknowledged that individuals go through several developmental stages, all of which career exploration performs a function.

One can go as far as arguing that career exploration is self-exploration. As Flum and Blumstein (2020) posited, it is “a critical means by which individuals can construct themselves and re-explore and reconstruct themselves throughout the life span and across life roles.”

With no doubt, career exploration has become an important consideration in the study of vocation. Lent and Brown’s popular model of Career Self-Management under Social Cognitive Career Theory places it as a central concept, along with commonly studied factors of interests, choices, and performance. Further, the growing interest in the subject compelled Jiang and his fellow academicians to write a review of related literature which includes 67 quantitative research articles. They came up with the following conclusions that answer the question: what is career exploration? (Jiang et al., 2018)

  • Career exploration is facilitated by interpersonal and intrapersonal factors
  • It necessitates personal agency
  • It is largely construed as having a positive impact on career outcomes

Drawing from the above summary, we can see the potential of career exploration to change lives. That is, if we find ourselves in an environment that is supportive of our career choices, are empowered with personal agency, and given the opportunity to explore our career lives, we might just find the right place for us in this world. This has far-reaching implications not just for individuals, but for society at large. With career exploration, we may be able to build a strong workforce, a set of workers who love what they are doing. Consequently, organizations will no longer be struggling with employee engagement and retention. The people they need to thrive would want to be there and stay.

If you are one of the dreamers, one of the people who still believe they can change the world, advocating for career exploration might just be one of your concrete options.

Source: State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report

Ikigai: A Guide to Career Mapping

Mapping out one’s entire career early on is an overwhelming prospect for many. It would certainly help if educators, leaders, and policymakers are intent on guiding them in this crucial part of their lives. Doing so would help learners select college, university, and trade school careers and degrees to pursue.

Just like in any other journey, one first needs to assess their current situation. From there, one can begin to envision where they want to be. What career exploration offers is a way for an individual to navigate point A to point B. Meanwhile, the Japanese principle of Ikigai or “a reason for being” may just be the perfect guide for figuring out what exactly point B is.

What do you love?

Bukowski once said, “Find what you love and let it kill you.” On the other hand, the principle of Ikigai states that you can find what you love and let it feed you. Further, you can be good at what you do and share your talent with the world. Now, isn’t that more ideal?

Empirical evidence shows that intrinsic motivation is important in career development. At this point, you may have childhood dreams you may want to go back to. For instance, your answer to the magic question earlier. Note, however, that to know you love something, you must know it very well. Career exploration can help you manage your expectations. You may think you love something, but experiential knowledge may later prove otherwise, and this can result to a setback.

What are you good at?

Create an inventory of your strengths and research occupations where these are valued most. As emphasized earlier, exploring careers is exploring the self. It follows that you must be acquainted with your own idiosyncrasies to land the right position. Career exploration will help expose you to different working environments and find where you will fit in and grow as an individual.

You are more likely to be good at things you take interest in. That is why a majority of the research on and some of the goals of vocational psychology are geared toward using interest-based measures. You may want to explore Holland’s Occupational Themes which categorize personalities into six: (1) Realistic, (2) Investigative, (3) Artistic, (4) Social, (5) Enterprising, and (6) Conventional.

What can you give to the world?

Social and political awareness is important in finding a purpose in life. You may want to check out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and try to see if one or two resonates with you. Whatever it is you find worthy of pursuing, career exploration can help you prepare you for the challenges ahead.

What can you get paid for?

It would be highly advised that you do not embody the hungry artist metaphor. Especially if you have the privilege to explore careers and find a way to make your skills marketable.

You may opt to research various industries especially in relation to the changing landscape of the workplace brought about by the pandemic. Some industries are doing better than others in coping with the situation, and so may offer more job opportunities during these uncertain times.

Everyone has a different path, and the most successful did not simply follow the others but paved their own way. Find your Ikigai. Let it guide you.

ikigai diagram

10 Effective Career Exploration Activities during Pandemic

Not only are we stuck at home, but we are also in the middle of an economic recession. Take advantage of the time you have right now to prepare for the future. Here are several career exploration activities to explore.

  1. Take the VIA personality test. The VIA Institute of Character has designed a 15-minute survey that returns a result of 24 positively valued traits from highest to lowest in terms of strength. The results can be used to determine person-environment fit. Research shows that the more you use your top character strengths in your work setting, the higher the probability that you are satisfied with your job and your life in general (Gander, 2020).
  2. Become a digital volunteer. One great way to earn experience, expand your network, and explore a field of interest is to serve as volunteer in an organization. Due to the pandemic, most volunteer opportunities present themselves online. Not only will you be able to contribute to a cause of your own choosing, you will also have a better gauge of the working environment and structure that suits you.
  3. Join a virtual career exploration program. Many schools now offer a career exploration program. This gives them a competitive advantage over schools that choose not to. If you want to be more guided by experts in your career exploration, this is the perfect activity for you.
  4. Interview professionals. You may have professionals in your social circle that serve as an inspiration for you. Reach out to them and learn their secrets to professional success. You may find yourself someday looking back to this conversation with them and being grateful that you initiated.
  5. Read autobiographies of people in your field of interest. If you do not know someone in real life you would like to emulate, try finding a historical figure or a fictional character that resonates with you. If you do not have the appetite for reading, even audiobooks will do.
  6. Watch movies or series that feature your dream job. While it may be true that life is not a movie, it may contain some degree of truth which may help you make the best choices. If you are considering a job in the media and entertainment industry, this will be an even more valuable activity.
  7. Play virtual career games. Gamify the experience of pursuing a career. Create an avatar, take chances, and never suffer the consequences. Second Life is one of the popular of options for doing this.
  8. Take online classes on various subjects. Several learning platforms are at your disposal for free. Taking up introductory courses on various fields of interests will help you determine which subjects you enjoy, and which subjects you would prefer to discontinue taking.
  9. Build a professional network. Leverage on your social media accounts and connect with people virtually. Gain visibility on what companies or organizations are doing to protect their people from the health crisis we are facing.
  10. Consider online career counseling. If you have tried everything on the list and are still stuck or unsure about your next actions, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Career counselors can come up with an individualized program to help you explore careers. A session might even help you realize that being a counselor is a viable option, with degrees in substance abuse counseling, guidance counseling, and the like offered by many institutions.

Percentage of Countries that Increased Support for Employment in 2021

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Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2021)

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Useful Links for Career Explorers

Wherever you are in life right now, you may find the theory and practice of career exploration to be very useful. Here are some links to career exploration ideas that further guide you on some of the career paths you may consider taking:

Finding your vocation is no easy feat. Every path comes with its own challenges. You need to trust the process, create your own path, and see where it takes you.



  1. Flum, H., & Blustein, D. L. (2000). Reinvigorating the study of vocational exploration: A framework for research. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 56(3), 380-404. https://doi.org/10.1006/jvbe.2000.1721
  2. Gander, F., Hofmann, J., & Ruch, W. (2020). Character Strengths: Person–Environment Fit and Relationships With Job and Life Satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology,11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01582
  3. Jiang, Z., Newman, A., Le, H., Presbitero, A., & Zheng, C. (2018). Career exploration: A review and future research agenda. Journal of Vocational Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2018.08.008
  4. Lent, R. W., and Brown, S. D. (2013). Social cognitive model of career self-management: toward a unifying view of adaptive career behavior across the life span. J. Couns. Psychol. 60, 557–568. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033446
  5. Super, D. E. (1980). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 16(3), 282-298. https://doi.org/10.1016/0001-8791(80)90056-1
  6. Talib, Jasmi & Mohamad, Zakaria & Wahab, Norwaliza. (2015). Effects of Career Exploration Module on Career Planning, Career Self-Efficacy and Career Maturity among Community College Students. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences. 6. https://doi.org/10.5901/mjss.2015.v6n6s1p464
  7. Tracey, T. J., Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., Soresi, S., & Nota, L. (2006). Adherence to riasec structure in relation to career exploration and parenting style: Longitudinal and idiothetic considerations. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(2), 248-261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2006.02.001

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