How do I narrow down my career options?

It is typical to be interested in a variety of career fields, but it can be difficult to know when to narrow down your options, let alone how. By using the Career Development Process, you can gain a better understanding of what options are best fit for you and which can be eliminated!

  1. Reflect on who you are.

How would you describe who you are to someone you just met?

  • What are you curious about?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is important to you in life?
  • What do you want to achieve through your work? / What type of impact do you want to make?

Refer to our Developing Self-Awareness course to guide your self-reflection.

When thinking about career, what motivates you?

  • Career growth
  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Autonomy
  • Work/life balance
  • Flexibility

It is okay if you feel overwhelmed or uncertain about where to start when thinking about yourself and what your motivations are. It takes time to understand these things.

To help you gain a better sense of self, you can:

  1. Create a list of your options.

Next, outline what interests you, what career paths you are considering, what experiences you have done so far, etc.

  • What hobbies do you enjoy?
  • What skills do you like to use?
  • What energizes you? What depletes you?
  • What are your strengths? What have others noted are your strengths/talents?
  • When thinking about your past experiences, are there certain things that you liked or disliked?

There is no right or wrong approach to organizing this information. Organize it in a way that is logical to you.

You may find creating a mind map helpful to brainstorm this information.

If you want to learn more about your strengths, consider taking the StrengthProfile through Duke Catalyst or Focus2.

  1. Identify your long-term goals.

Create a list of your personal and professional goals.

Goal-setting can be helpful to make action steps for what you want to accomplish or learn about yourself, an interest, career, or industry.

To guide your goal-setting process, you can view the Professional Goal Setting Guide that includes an online course on goal-setting and how to make an individual development plan.

  1. Explore your options.

Once you have identified your interests, who you are, and your goals, it is time to research!

Research enables you to better understand what you can do with your interests and what career paths align with your goals and who you are.

There are a variety of ways that you can conduct research:

  • Explore career paths that match your interest through What Can I Do With This Major?
  • Investigate types of professional roles using My Next Move.
  • Utilize job/networking sites such as LinkedIn and Handshake to look at the profiles of companies and/or professionals in the careers you are exploring.
  • Attend career-focused campus events such as a career fair.
  1. Network with professionals.

Learn more about the industry from professionals!

Ask them about their experience in different roles and what they recommend for gaining relevant skills and experience in the industry.

How can you connect with professionals?

Informational interviews via the Duke Alumni Directory and LinkedIn.

Typically, informational interviews are 30-45 minutes long. To prepare for an informational interview, you can brainstorm a list of 4-5 questions that you would like to ask the interviewer to help structure the conversation.

Review the Informational Interviewing Guide for ideas on what questions to ask.

New to networking? Check out our Networking Guide to get started!

  1. Act on a specific goal.

The process of narrowing down your options often involves taking action.

Consider one of your goals and what are smaller steps you can take to reach those goals.

What are actions you can take to expand your perspective of your career options?

  • Create a resume, CV, and/or cover letter for your industry(ies) of interest.
  • Expand your professional network.
  • Apply to jobs and internships in a field (or fields) that you are exploring.
  • Get involved in research or project-based opportunities at Duke.
  • Join clubs or organizations on-campus to get hands-on experience.

Want a starting point for crafting your application materials?

Review the following guides: Resume Guide, CV Guide, and Cover Letter Guide.

  1. Evaluate and reflect on your experience or activity.

Based on the action that you took, reflect on the following:

  • What did you learn from the experience/activity?
  • What questions do you still have about the career area that you explored?
  • Is this an area of interest you want to further explore/pursue?
  • What next steps can you develop to further your research, experience, and/or knowledge?

What did you learn overall about the process of narrowing down your options?

  • How do you feel about the process?
  • What aspects of the process were uncomfortable for you? What aspects did you take comfort in?
  • What would you do differently?
  • Are there elements of the process that you need additional support or guidance in?

Remember that career exploration is not linear, it is a continuous process. The Career Center is here to help you each step of the way.

By Lauren Coury
Lauren Coury Career Advisor