Researching Careers

Just like you do research for classes, it is important that you research careers to determine what careers are a good fit for you. There are 3 major ways to research careers: Read-Talk-Do.


Reading about careers is a fast and low-risk way to gain information about daily duties, skills needed, work environment, compensation, and employment trends.

Career Exploration Resources

OOH: Career library from the US Department of Labor.
O*Net: Interactive career search tool that can be used to search careers by interests, skills, and values.
Vault: Use the "Industry Guides" in over 40 career areas giving encyclopedic knowledge of duties, types of positions, getting hired, and more
Wetfeet: A database of Industry and Career Information.
The Daily Muse: insider information on interesting career paths

Talk: Finding and Meeting People

Informational interviewing is a great method for conducting career research to acquire information about a field, industry, or position. Informational interviews are particularly useful when you have very little awareness about a career field or limited work experience. Informational interviews can lead to other things such as additional networking contacts or internships.

Resources for Informational Interviewing

  • Start with your family, friends, and peers. Chances are they know people working in many different fields. Get the word out to as many people as possible that you know that you are looking to talk with people in specific careers.
  • Our Northwestern: An online database of Northwestern Alumni volunteers in a variety of careers 
  • LinkedIn: use this resource to locate NU alumni in many different careers or in a specific company.

Sample Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview

What is your background?
Will you discuss your career path with me?
What are the major responsibilities of your position?
Do you use your academic major in this job, and if so, how?
If there is such a thing as an average week, what is it like for you?
What are the positive/negative aspects of working in this field?
What type of individual usually succeeds in this field/organization?
What are the "hot issues" in this field?
What trends/developments do you see affecting career opportunities?
How can I become a more competitive candidate for this industry?
What steps would you recommend I take in order to prepare to enter this field?
What professional associations do you recommend I join?
Can you recommend anyone else for me to contact?

DO: Testing Careers and Occupations

Job Shadowing/Externships

An externship is a 1-3 day experience where you "shadow" someone at their place of work. To job shadow NU alumni, sign up for the Northwestern Externship Program or speak with a Career Counselor on how to create your own shadowing experience.

Internships/Summer/Part-time jobs

Internships/Summer/Part-time jobs are one way to get short-term exposure to a specific career area. Internships can be done during the summer or during the school year.  Even part-time or summer jobs such as waiting tables or office work can help you to gain skills and test out new roles.

Volunteer Work

Volunteer work can also help you to discover and develop your skills and interests. There are many different types of volunteer opportunities: research, writing, counseling, marketing and event planning are just a few of the areas in which you can gain experience through volunteering. Volunteer positions are available locally, nationally,and internationally.

Resources for Volunteer Work