The Complete Guide to Career Exploration for Teens and Their Teachers

Students have a lot to consider as they make plans for life after high school. Career exploration can help students make, and feel confident about, their next steps. Download this resource to refer back to or share. 

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How can we expect students to choose a career path that doesn't exist yet?

We may not be able to tell them what jobs will exist in the future, but we can help students make logical, informed decisions. We do this by inviting them to engage in career exploration. Exploring a variety of career paths and occupations, as well as relevant labor market information, helps students become equipped to make informed decisions that they feel good about. 

What is Career Exploration?


Career exploration is “the exploration of the environment and the self with the aim of gathering career-related information.” It is a vital step in the career development process that students often first encounter as they begin to plan for life after high school. Although students need to engage in career exploration to make informed decisions regarding their post-secondary path, career exploration is not limited to this time of life. Instead, it is a continual process that individuals participate in as they progress through life.

Sometimes career exploration arises from necessity, as with students nearing graduation who must choose between different post-secondary education programs or when adults experience restructuring and subsequent job loss. Other times career exploration results from an internal desire to seek new opportunities. Whatever the case, it is becoming increasingly relevant for students to learn how to engage in career exploration since research shows that, on average, people now have five to seven careers in their lifetime. Career exploration is the key to equipping students not only for post-secondary success but for life-long professional adaptability.


Active career exploration helps students


Career Exploration is a cyclical, reflective, hands-on, trial and error process.


The career exploration process requires research and experimentation by the individual. This is the time for students to take an inventory of what they know about themselves and to begin looking for potential careers that interest them. But beyond just researching, they also need to explore through hands-on experiences in the classroom or through work and volunteer opportunities. Even investing in their hobbies is a valuable part of the exploration process. Like any good scientist, once students have completed their experiment, they need to reflect and draw their conclusions. Did they actually like the kind of work they completed? Is the career they were exploring compatible with their interests, skills, and values? Depending on how they answer these questions and others, they will either research new career options or they will research the next steps as they draw up a plan.

Why is Career Exploration Important for Students?


Career exploration is important for students because it helps them set informed goals and motivates them to achieve those goals. Let’s take a look at how career exploration accomplishes this. 



Why is Career Exploration Important for Students_USA

1. Career exploration exposes students to the myriad of career pathways that exist. 


Did you know that the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) includes 867 detailed occupations? Or that Canada’s National Occupational Classification (NOC) lists approximately 30,000 different job titles? That said, neither the SOC nor the NOC “attempt to provide an exhaustive list of job titles.” Instead, these lists aim “to cover the most commonly used and universally understood labels that identify work” in their respective labor markets. In other words, a list of 30,000 occupations does not cover all the jobs that exist in a single country. Given the tremendous number of job titles and opportunities, it is impossible for students to be aware of all their options without dedicating time and attention to career exploration. 


Discover how ChatterHigh personalizes career exploration for students.



2. Career exploration introduces students to labor market realities. 


Exposing students to the plethora of occupations within the labor market is a vital piece of career exploration. However, to help youth make informed career choices, it’s important to also teach them about a couple of fundamental economic principles: supply and demand. Of course, the economy is ever-evolving as technology continues to transform how people work and what kinds of jobs exist. So it’s impossible to tell your students exactly what the job market will look like by the time they are ready to enter the workforce. It’s possible that the jobs your students will one day have don’t exist yet. It’s also possible the jobs they’re dreaming of will change. However, by introducing them to trends in the economy and relevant labor market information, you can help your students gain insight into what areas of study will prepare them for tomorrow’s economy.


Check out “NOC, SOC, and Roll: How ChatterHigh Connects Students to Labor Market Information.”



3. Career exploration helps students make informed decisions and plans for their future. 


According to Sareena Hopkins, Executive Director at Canadian Career Development Foundation, an informed decision is based on self-awareness and opportunity awareness. So, to make an informed decision, students must learn about themselves and the different options available to them. And this is precisely where career exploration comes into play. Career exploration is the vehicle for building opportunity awareness. Active career exploration does more than simply list a number of post-secondary pathways available to students. Instead, it allows students to discover the skills, knowledge, and values involved in different jobs. Through exploring occupations, students gain relevant knowledge concerning job responsibilities, work environment, training requirements, remuneration, and more. As a result, they are equipped to make informed decisions. 


ChatterHigh fills an important gap in supporting opportunity awareness. It exposes individuals to a wide range of post-secondary options, industry sectors and occupations. This is vital for anyone, but particularly critical for young people who may have had limited access to social capital and limited exposure to the range of possibilities that exist in post-secondary and labor market systems.

- Sareena Hopkins, Executive Director, Canadian Career Development Foundation



4. Career exploration helps students evaluate career pathways according to their values, skills, and interests. 


Since career exploration involves exploring the environment and the self, it requires students to reflect on themselves and the variety of job opportunities they’ve discovered. Since this exploration is not simply a mental exercise but requires hands-on experience, students will be able to test their hypotheses. That is, students can try out their career of choice through job shadowing, work or volunteer experience, or developing a new hobby. Then they can decide whether this career pathway is truly compatible with their values, skills, and interests. Considering the role that intrinsic motivation plays in job satisfaction, it’s important that we help students discover careers that interest them and allow them to use their skills. And career exploration is one key way we can do this.



5. Career exploration can help cultivate hope in students.  


Hope can be defined as the cognitive combination of agency and pathways. In other words, hope is where “goal-directed determination” and the “planning of ways to meet goals” intersect. That’s because knowing what our goal is, believing we can achieve it, and having a plan to achieve it shows us that our goal is attainable. And that’s precisely what career exploration does for students. Not every student who dreams of travelling to the moon is going to become an astronaut, but career exploration shows them that there is a path that leads to that outcome. It may be hard. It may not be the right fit for the student. They may even discover something better for them along the way. The beauty of career exploration is that it can help students feel more confident as they begin their post-secondary education. And if they do discover their original goal isn’t right for them, they can pursue a new interest and set a different goal. 


Interested in finding a way to help foster hope in your students? Check out ChatterHigh’s gamified platform that uses inquiry-based learning to expose students to a variety of career and post-secondary options. ChatterHigh’s approach has been proven to produce a wide range of positive outcomes, including making students feel more hopeful about their future. Ready to start exploring? Create your account now or book a demo.


When to Introduce Your Students to Career Exploration


It’s never too early to begin career exploration, especially when it’s engaging. In fact, to equip students to make informed decisions with minimal stress, we should begin career exploration by middle school.


Why Middle School is the Perfect Time for Students to Explore Careers


Middle school is the ideal time to introduce your students to career exploration for three main reasons. First, middle school students want to engage in career exploration. Second, middle school students benefit more from career intervention than their high school peers. Third, in high school, students are choosing courses that form their educational pathway and determine their post-secondary opportunities. 


students-iconMiddle school students are already preoccupied with thoughts of their future and what they will become. By offering them career exploration opportunities, we can meet them where they are at and ease some of their anxieties by helping them find answers to their questions. In fact, one ASA study revealed that 87 percent of middle school students want to match their specific skills and interests with potential careers.


Research shows that “middle school is the most effective time for career guidance.” Several studies from 1988 to 2017 all demonstrate that middle school students respond exceptionally well to career intervention. While career exploration is still beneficial for high school students, one study “suggests that career guidance efforts may be the most effective with younger teenage students.” 

class-iconDepending on the high school a student attends, they may not be choosing many of their courses for the first year or two. However, when it comes time to choose senior-level courses, it is vital that students know which courses are compulsory for admission to their post-secondary programs of choice. This necessitates prior career exploration in which a student discovered programs that interest them.

>> Learn more about the benefits of early career exploration <<


Because career exploration is a continual process, there are benefits to bringing it into the classroom well before high school and it should be worked into all subject areas. Research shows that higher levels of career planfulness can result in heightened school engagement. Highlighting future career relevancy can also help to answer the age-old question, “When will I ever use this stuff?!” In a world where the average worker will have five to seven different careers during their lifetime, it is valuable to practice career exploration as an ongoing activity. So let’s take a look at exactly how we can get our students engaged in this exploratory process. 

How to Bring Career Exploration into the Classroom


There are a variety of ways to successfully bring career exploration into your classroom, no matter the age of your students.


"Career development is a lifelong process. At the elementary level, students are already making choices that will impact their future. It is important to expose students to these key career concepts early in their school careers. Having students reflect on their learning, choices, and who they are as individuals, students and learners will impact their social, emotional, academic, and career growth and development throughout school."

- Newfoundland and Labrador Career Development Elementary Curriculum Guide, 2017


Regardless of whether or not career education is a separate subject in your region’s curriculum, you can use some of the following ideas to bring career exploration into your classroom. These activities can be integrated into different subjects, from language arts to math, and are a great way to help engage your students.


Pillar Page How to Bring Career Exploration into the Classroom



1. Take Our Kids to Work Day


Encourage your students to participate in Take Our Kids to Work Day. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to experience a day in the life of a professional. If your school isn’t participating in this day, consider implementing it yourself. To make the most of this event, you might consider creating a reflection assignment or a presentation. Sharing what they’ve learned in front of their class not only gets students thinking, but it also gets them educating one other.


2. Guest Speakers


Consider inviting professionals into your classroom as well. Bringing in guest speakers from the field is a great way to show students the relevance of what they’re learning in your classroom, while also helping them discover and learn more about potential careers. This is an especially great way to do career exploration with elementary students. 


If you want to find speakers from specific fields that interest your students, consider having your students (from Grades 6 to 12) complete the ChatterHigh Daily Quiz. As students quiz, they rate their interest in the programs of study and jobs that they encounter during the quiz. As their teacher, you can see a classwide summary of all their interests and select a speaker accordingly. (Find out more here.)


3. Brochures


Encourage your students to swing by your school’s guidance office to check out some of the brochures for different colleges and universities in your area. There are so many resources online, but a physical booklet can help guide students to the information they need.


4. Skilled Trades Competitions


Take a field trip, virtually or in-person, to a skilled trades competition. Skills Compétences Canada and WorldSkills USA both host competitions that showcase a variety of skilled trades. You can even find regional competitions closer to your school. This is a great way to introduce your students to the world of trades. 


5. Career Exploration Worksheets


Take advantage of free resources such as the When I Grow Up: Career Lessons and Activities for Grades 9-12 booklet. This downloadable PDF covers skills identification and career exploration, while also including resources so your students can refine their job search and employability skills.


6. Job Fairs


Organizing a job fair at your school is a great way to introduce your students to a variety of job opportunities in one place.


7. Online Skills and Personality Assessments


There are lots of free skill and personality assessments students can explore. However, there is one assessment in particular that Grade 12 students may benefit from completing — a Plum Profile. Plum is a company that specializes in categorizing and measuring people’s recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours — what they call “talents.” By creating their own account and completing the assessment, students can learn about their preferences and strengths so they have a better understanding of the kinds of jobs and work environments that would suit them best.


8. Gamified Career Exploration 


The ChatterHigh Daily Quiz is a great bellringer activity that allows students to regularly engage in career exploration. With the ability to earn points that can be used to win prizes or donate to charity, students are motivated to complete the research activity that will expose them to all the general areas of study and help them discover interesting occupations. As a teacher, you can even access lesson plans for your region that show you how the Daily Quiz aligns with your curriculum and how you can easily incorporate it into your classroom. To learn more about the quiz, see the section "How the ChatterHigh Career Exploration Activity Works." Or check out our blog to learn how you can get started with career exploration in your classroom in five easy steps.


How Career Exploration Complements College and Career Readiness Standards and Programs


College and career readiness is a top priority across the country. In fact, the Common Core Standards were developed to ensure that every student who graduates from high school is equipped with the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to succeed in post-secondary studies or in the workforce. However, these standards emphasize academic measures, specifically literacy and numeracy. While it is vital for students to possess these aptitudes, to truly be college- or career-ready, students must expand their awareness of opportunities in post-secondary and labor market systems. 


“Career readiness becomes refined through systematic career exploration that includes an intentional process of reality-testing career preferences. Such reality-testing occurs along a continuum ranging from personalized research, information interviews/observations, externships, internships, curricular and co-curricular experiences.”

-Spencer Niles, Professor and Co-Director, THRIVE Research & Intervention Center and Editor, Counselor Education and Supervision 


Therefore, career exploration is a necessary complement to the standards.


It is worth noting that while most states adopted the Common Core Standards, a few did not. Instead, these states (Alaska, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Virginia, and South Carolina) created their own state-specific standards, while Minnesota opted for a hybrid of state-developed standards and the Common Core Standards. 


>>Click here for a map showing college- and career-readiness policies by state.<<


Unlike the Common Core Standards, some of the state-developed standards address college and career readiness through specific courses and curricula. For example, the Texas curriculum includes courses such as Investigating Careers and College and Career Readiness, while Minnesota's state-specific standards dictate that school districts are responsible for helping students “explore their educational, college, and career interests, aptitudes, and aspirations and develop a plan for a smooth and successful transition to postsecondary education or employment.”


Regardless of whether a state’s standards explicitly address post-secondary planning or career exploration, states can further promote college and career readiness through adopting other programs and initiatives, such as dual enrollment opportunities, Career Technical Education (CTE), Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), and more. To learn more about these programs, click on the tabs below.


"Dual enrollment" is a term referring to any program that allows high school students to complete college courses. Most often, a student who participates in a dual enrollment opportunity will receive a credit at both the high school and college levels. While these dual credit opportunities are common throughout the country, they are not all identical. In some cases, a student will complete a dual enrollment course at their high school, while in other cases they will attend a local college or complete it online. Regardless of the format, dual enrollment opportunities allow students to take advantage of more subject-specific courses that align with their interests. If a student is considering a certain career path, participating in a dual enrollment program can allow them to get a taste of that field to see if they want to continue down that path, before they’ve officially enrolled in a college or university program.

To learn about the dual enrollment programs in your state, click here.

Career Technical Education (CTE) refers to “education that combines academic and technical skills with the knowledge and training needed to succeed in today’s labor market.” Unlike traditional vocational education, CTE is not designed for a narrow segment of the student population. Rather, CTE derives its structure from the 16 Career Clusters in the National Career Clusters Framework, which include jobs from a wide variety of industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture, business, health care, and more. In this way, students with various vocational goals can benefit from CTE. Furthermore, CTE can help expose students to career possibilities. To discover what CTE students have to say about it, watch the video below.


Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) are federal grant programs designed to help students from low-income families enter and succeed in post-secondary education. One way grants can do this is through supporting programs that focus on making students college- and career-ready. For example, Desoto Independent School District created its college and career readiness program, NXT Generation GEAR UP, with the aim of building an academic community that will foster student success in post-secondary education.

AVID is an organization that provides a specialized curriculum that schools can purchase to prepare students for life after high school. Through access to professional development, resources, and support, AVID equips teachers and students all for the benefit of students. AVID partners with both primary and secondary schools so that students receive the education they need to prepare them for college and career success. In fact, the “college-going culture of an AVID Elementary campus encourages students to think about their college and career plans.” In this way, not only does AVID help equip students with the skills needed for academic success, but it also creates the perfect environment for meaningful career exploration. 

How the ChatterHigh Career Exploration Activity Works


ChatterHigh offers students a divergent career exploration experience through our 10-question Daily Quiz. The powerful algorithm behind the quiz allows students to discover countless post-secondary programs and career pathways, while also offering personalization as students progress through the activity. Here’s how it works.




Book a demo to learn more about ChatterHigh career exploration activities.Book a Demo



Step 1 and 2

Step 1


Students receive questions relating to post-secondary education and career paths, as well as health, financial literacy, and labor market resources. After reading their question, students click “Research.”


Step 2 


Students are taken to the webpage containing the answer. Once they’ve found the answer, they return to the ChatterHigh site where they submit their response.





step 3 and 4

Step 3


Students complete the Interest and Awareness Survey for the question they’ve just answered.


After answering a question about a post-secondary program or a career, students receive an Interest and Awareness Survey, which is a brief, 4-question survey. The first two questions are about the organization, while the last two are about the program or job. Indicating their level of interest allows the platform to learn what kinds of questions to tailor to the students after the students have answered 100 questions. The first 100 questions are dedicated to divergent exploration so that students are exposed to all the general areas of study. After answering 100 questions, a couple of questions in each quiz are personalized to the student based on the interests they’ve previously indicated in their surveys. (To learn more about the benefits of ChatterHigh’s personalized career exploration activity, check out this blog.)




Step 4


Students review and reflect on their exploration by clicking on “Interests” at the top of their screen. 


Thanks to the Interest and Awareness Survey, everything that catches a student’s attention while they quiz (that is, anything they rank as “Interesting” or “Very Interesting”) is recorded in their Interests Profile. The more they quiz, the more interests they accumulate and the more reports they unlock! There are a number of helpful reports available to students within the Interests Profile. In particular, the Top 5 Interest Report allows students to compare their top five colleges and universities, programs of study, and jobs and careers. (Click here to learn about how the Top 5 Interest Report can help your students reflect on their post-secondary options.)



Step 5

Step 5


Students use the points they’ve earned from quizzing to enter prize draws or to donate to charity. 


The chance to win prizes and donate to charity motivates students to engage in career exploration, particularly during a competition. (Click here to find out when our next national competition is happening.)

Have a Question or Want a Closer Look at ChatterHigh's Career Exploration Activity?

Feel free to contact us or book a demo. We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Don't forget, you can download this entire page as a pdf to refer back to or share with colleagues.