Career Exploration Project

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Kids are repeatedly asked this question by adults. In kindergarten, my son’s class was asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. They created the self-portraits pictured below.


As my son worked on his self-portrait, I reflected on how little exposure most students have to the work world. Very few schools have career-school partnerships that provide students with the opportunity to explore different professions. I designed a Career Exploration Project to help students learn more about a career they are interested in pursuing after high school. Below is an explanation of the project with student examples:

Part I–Inquiry Questions & Research

First, students were asked to generate at least 10 questions they had about their chosen career. They had to submit those questions via a Google Form for review. Then those questions were used to drive their online research. All of their research was organized on a shared Google Document complete with a works cited page that included at least three credible online sources. 

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Part II–Interview Questions & Evidence 

The second part of the project required students interview someone in their chosen career field. In preparation for their interview, students were asked to:

  • Write a professional business letter and resume. The formal business letter served to introduce them, outline the purpose of the project and request an interview. Students also learned how to format a formal resume and included that with their request. 
  • Decide on the audio recording device to capture evidence of the interview. Instead of taking notes during the interview, students recorded the conversations so they could refer back to them later. I encouraged them to explore the following recording apps:

Once students had found a person in their field to interview, they had to submit a short bio of the person they were interviewing and interview questions. I reminded them that their interview questions had to be strong enough to spark a 15-30 minute conversation. Once again, they submitted their proposed questions via a Google Form so I could review them prior to their interviews. 

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Part III–Observation

Students had to find a second person in their chosen profession and spend a minimum of one hour observing them at work. During their observations, they were asked to record notes on the environment they are observing, tasks performed and interactions with other employees and/or customers.

They were also asked to reflect on the following questions:

  • What is appealing and/or unappealing about the work environment?
  • Does this job require a person to move about, sit for long periods, work with their hands, or on the computer?
  • What skills and/or technology are needed to accomplish the daily tasks?

After completing their observations, students transferred their notes to a shared Google Document and included evidence (photos and/or videos) from their observation. If cameras were not welcome in the environment they were observing, I encouraged them to take a picture of the building/sign where they observed.


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Part IV–Create, Publish & Share               

After students completed their research, interviews, and observations, they pulled all of that information together to create a short video about their chosen profession to share on YouTube. Their films needed to provide a comprehensive overview of their career, including:

  • Title page: your name, class, and name of your researched career
  • Prior impressions
  • Education – degrees, field of study, certifications, specialized training
  • Needed skills
  • Typical daily tasks
  • Job realities – What is the job really like?
  • Challenges and rewards (monetary and nonmonetary)

Their videos needed to incorporate the various elements of their career exploration–audio clips or direct quotes from their interview, pictures from their observations, statistics and information from their research.

I encouraged students to explore one of the video creators below to produce their videos. I wanted students to select the video creator that worked with their individual devices. I’m an advocate for allowing students to select the tools they want to use instead of requiring them to use a specific tool.

Here are some of the finished products!

*This video was produced with GoAnimate.

*This video was produced with VideoScribe.

*This video was produced with iMovie. 

As a class, we watched all of the student-produced videos. That way students could publish their work for an authentic audience AND students learned about a whole range of professions!

For those educators wondering, why would an English teacher do this project? Like most projects there were so many important skills incorporated into it. Students had to complete extensive research, cite properly, write a business letter and resume, practice speaking and listening skills during both the interview and observation, and produce a multimedia video to communicate information. Even though many of my students were stressed at different points in the project as they struggled to coordinate schedules with busy professionals or learned how to navigate a new video creator tool, most really enjoyed the process and learned a lot about their chosen careers!

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17 Responses to Career Exploration Project

  1. Alissa Marshall says:

    This project is terrific, as the results clearly demonstrate. However, I have two reservations. First, how much time does this project require? The second is how do you adjust for the inevitable problems of “I don’t know what career I’m interested in!” or “I can’t find anyone to interview or job shadow!” Many of my students come from very small worlds and the fear of stepping into the larger world sometimes looms so large that they would prefer to fail a project than risk any sort of exposure to criticism or failure. How do you counter those concerns?

    • Hi Alissa,

      We began this project in January at the start of the second semester. Students submitted a proposal identifying their chosen career. I did have a few conversations with students who were not sure what career to pursue. I reminded them that it was an exploration and not a commitment to pursue that profession after school.

      In terms of dealing with student fear, I did not encounter that. I’m constantly asking students to share and publish. I emphasize that failure and fear are part of life and learning. I try to build that into our culture, so they are more willing to take risks.


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  5. Dr. Clara Sheffield says:

    I am very interested in using this career project idea to jumpstart an After School Career Program beginning in September 2016. How may I get copy of the implementation process?

  6. Clara Sheffield says:

    Thanks, I will order it.

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  8. Kati says:

    This looks wonderful. Is it a requirement for students to shadow? I can see some of my students saying they can’t find someone, or no rides, they have to work, etc. How do you avoid these conflicts?

    • We do a lot of networking, Kati! We have students make connections with each other. It’s amazing how almost every class has someone who knows someone in a profession, but it’s about raising awareness so students can be helpful resources for each other. We also reach out to parents and our community members for help.


  9. Melinda Malaspino says:

    Caitlin, I’ve been doing a career exploration for years and am excited to infuse some long-needed updates and will share this post with my PLC. Thanks for the ideas! I will definitely let you know how it goes.

  10. R. Starcher says:

    Hi, Catlin. I am a media specialist who collaborates yearly with an English teacher on a 10th grade career project. It’s completed in two parts. Part 1 is similar to what you described but also includes a career interest survey and strengths assessment. The students interview/shadow only one professional. The first day is a day of exploration with learning stations set up in our media center by career clusters. It’s very informal and not timed. We just ask the students to explore their interests and record some new things they learned. We move on to online sources on day two, including the Occupational Outlook Handbook website. They use their initial learning to compose better interview questions for their chosen professional. During Part 1 the teacher also organizes a career night during which professionals from around the community come to the school to talk to students. The students will communicate all the things they learned about their career of interest in a hyperdoc. Part 2 has the students focus on a “hot topic” or trending issue within the career field. We look at professional association websites (during this time we review the characteristics of a quality website) to help the students pick a topic. For example, a student interested in IT may look at the current issue of net neutrality. We also have them use research databases and rely on their professional “partner” for this part of the project which ultimately results in an argumentative research paper about the issue they choose. Just wanted to share my colleague’s great work with your readers. Thanks for drawing attention to these types of projects. I think it’s so important for students to explore careers of interest and meet members of the community, and as you stated, there are so many skills that can be reinforced along the way.

    • I appreciate you sharing the details of your approach to career exploration. I particularly love the idea of organizing a career night with parents and community members. That would be a fantastic way to expose students to careers they may not be familiar with. Often I thinks students select careers because that is what their parents do or it’s a career they’ve heard they can make a lot of money pursuing. However, these careers may not speak to their interests or passions.

      Thank you!


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