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Career Conversations in Advising


Student meeting with career services

If your expertise isn’t in career development, the idea of asking students to talk about their career plans can be intimidating, especially if you’re used to having all the answers. It’s important to remember that when it comes to talking about career plans, you don’t need to have the answers in order to benefit the student; you just need to start the conversation. From there, you can guide the student to appropriate resources, whether it’s an online resource you use together, something they can explore on their own, or a referral to Career Services.

Let’s start with a little background information on what it takes for students to successfully transition into a career. Employability requires:

  • A degree that is appropriate for the career the student intends to pursue
  • Hands-on experience outside the classroom that is directly relevant to the student’s intended career
  • A set of demonstrated professional and technical skills
  • A strong professional network within the intended career field

In order to achieve professional success after graduation, students need start the career planning process early. They’ll need to explore their interests, abilities, and values as well as their academic and career options, and create a career preparation plan to guide the types of activities, internships, and other experiences they’ll pursue.

Sample Questions

Below are some questions to use in those career conversations.

“What” Questions

  • What classes do you enjoy, and what do you enjoy about them? What classes do you dislike, and why?
  • What classes do you do well in? What do you not do well in?
  • What did you want to “be” when you were little? What specifically was appealing about it?
  • What things are important to you in a future career?
  • What are your hobbies? Would you like to make a career out of your hobby if you could? Why or why not?
  • What do friends and family say you are good at? What types of things do they come to you for help with?
  • What is your dream career? Do you think it’s realistic? Why or why not? What characteristics of it might be found in other careers?
  • What have you enjoyed and not enjoyed about past jobs, internships, volunteer experiences, extracurricular activities, etc.?

“Why” Questions

  • Why did you choose your major? Tell me the story of how you chose it. What do you like about it? Are there any concerns you have?
  • Why did you choose the career path you have selected? Tell me the story of how you chose it. Why do you think it’s the right fit for your interests, abilities, values, and personality type? What experiences have you had that have helped you learn this is the right fit (informational interviews, job shadows, internships, jobs, volunteer experiences, activities, etc.)?
  • Why do you want to change your major? What do you not like about your current/previous major? Tell me about the process you went through to choose your current/previous major. What do you think you’ll need to do differently this time in order to make a better decision?
  • Why are you undecided about your major and/or career path – what information do you need in order to make a decision?

“How” Questions

  • How are you going to prepare for your career – do you know the educational requirements, the skills you’ll need, the experiences outside the classroom that will be required, and who will need to be in your professional network? Do you have a career preparation plan?
  • How will your major prepare you for your career? Are there any additional things you’ll need to do to meet the educational requirements- specific electives, minor, grad school, etc.?
  • How do you plan to get the experience required for your career? What types of opportunities (internships, Work U, volunteering, jobs, service learning, research, student organizations, study abroad, professional organizations, etc.) will you take advantage of?
  • How will you develop the professional and technical skills required for your career? What types of opportunities will you seek out to allow you to demonstrate those skills outside the classroom?
  • How will you set yourself apart from and make yourself competitive for the jobs you want – What do employers in your field value most?