Explore Majors & Careers
The Career Exploration Center
The Career Exploration Center (CEC) part of the Cross-College Advising Service (CCAS), is designed to assist students exploring their options for majors and careers. Since UW-Madison offers so many options (over 150 academic majors), the CEC is a great place to learn about your interests, skills, and personality, and how they can guide you as you make important life decisions.
The CEC offers a variety of resources and tools to help you in your major and career exploration process:
One-on-one Career Advising Appointments
Meet with a professional career advisor for a one-on-one appointment to:
- Identify the academic and career values that are important to you
- Consider how you make decisions about major, careers, and future opportunities
- Think about how personality type, interests, and strengths impact your decisions
- Understand the connections between majors and careers
- Take an assessment-we have personality, interest, and career assessments to help in your process of exploration
- Browse our career library of over 300 books to learn details about careers in many fields
- Workshops offered throughout each semester including topics like Choosing a Major, Careers in the Helping Professions, Which Biology Major is for Me, and more!
The CEC is located in 6 Ingraham Hall & is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Stop by or call 608-265-4497 to schedule an appointment and learn more about how the CEC can help you! You can also contact us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions the CEC can help you answer:
How do I combine my different interests into a career?
What careers may be a good fit for me?
What careers go well with the major or majors I am considering?
If I am not accepted by my desired college/school how can I prepare myself for a career in that field?
What skills do employers look for in employees?
Do I need to change my major because my career goals have changed?
What are employers looking for in job applicants?
What “tests” may help me figure out what career path is best for me?
Once you have narrowed down your career and/or major options, the next step is to "interview" people working in that field. An informational interview, or informational meeting is an interview that you initiate - you ask the questions. The purpose is to obtain information and get job-search advice from people working in the field (not to get a job).
Reasons to conduct an informational meeting:
- Help clarify and define your career goals and build confidence for job interviews.
- Gather information and gain insight into an occupation, industry or specific employer and learn what types of skills are needed on the job.
- Learn what someone in that field actually does in a typical day.
- Expand your professional network and gain visibility.
- Find out what your next best steps might be regarding job-search strategy and receive advice and information regarding hiring trends.
A few guidelines:
- Never ask for a job! The typical job searcher is going around asking for a job. An "informational interviewer", on the other hand, is just seeking information and advice about a job, industry or organization.
- Be prepared! People will be willing to give you information, as long as you don't waste their time. Research the employer, and prepare questions in advance.
- Don't forget to get the names of other people to contact before you leave an office, hang up the phone, or sign-off on an email.
- Identify the occupation or industry you wish to learn about. Prior to the meeting assess your interests, abilities, values, and skills to identify the best fields to research. Select occupational fields or organizations which match your career interests.
- Identify people to meet/network with. Start with people you already know - friends, relatives, fellow students, present or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbors and ask them who they know.
- Use the Wisconsin Alumni Association and the career centers on campus to find fellow Badgers working in your areas of interest.
- Join professional associations, attend conferences and participate in career fairs to grow your network.
Before the meeting:
- Prepare for the meeting. Find out as much information as you can about each organization. Research the organizations either through their company website, online career resources, through your local library or Chamber of Commerce.
- Prepare your questions ahead of time. See the sample questions below for ideas.
- Be prepared to talk about yourself. It might be helpful to brainstorm some short answers to the following questions:
- Why are you interested in this type of work?
- Why do you feel you would be a good “fit”?
- What interests you about this industry or organization or job?
- What are some of your longer range career goals?
- Arrange the meeting. Contact the person to set up a meeting by letter, email, phone, or in person. The best times to reach someone can be before 9:00 am and after 4:30 pm. Tell them your name, who referred you (if applicable), why you are contacting them and that you would like to meet. Emphasize your interest in information rather than looking for a job. Remember to mention that you will only take 20 - 30 minutes of their time.
The day of the meeting:
- Show up early - plan to arrive 10 minutes early for your meeting.
- Try to relax and be yourself.
- Dress appropriately. Professional business attire is always safest, but business casual is often acceptable. Jeans, shorts, short skirts are often too casual, so are open-toed shoes and sandals.
- Remember first impressions count.
- Make sure to have the necessary materials. Bring copies of your resume (distribute upon request only!) You can always send on as a follow-up, as is appropriate.
- Come prepared to take notes: i.e. names, phone numbers or other information. Make sure you have a list of questions you want to ask, as well as topics to discuss.
During the meeting
- Be prepared to initiate and keep the conversation going. Stay on track, but allow for spontaneous discussion, and ask questions. Adhere to the original time constraint of 20-30 minutes.
- Be enthusiastic and friendly! Show interest. Be polite and professional. Remember to be a good listener, maintain eye contact, and be responsive. Share something about yourself, but do not dominate the conversation.
- Remember that this is an information gathering and advice seeking interview, not an employment interview! Let the person you are meeting with bring up specific job vacancies.
- Before leaving don’t forget to…
- Thank them and ask if you could stay in touch if you had any more questions.
- Ask him/her to suggest names of others who you might benefit from talking to.
- Ask permission to use their name when contacting these new contacts.
- Consider suggesting a follow-up appointment somewhere further down the line (to stay on their "radar screen").
After the meeting
- Be sure to send a thank-you note within a couple of days of the meeting. This is an effective way to keep in touch and to stay in people’s memories. Let them know they were helpful and thank them for their time. Mention something they said that made an impression. E-mail is okay!
- Ask them to keep you in mind if they come across any other information that may be helpful to you. Include your phone and email under your signature.
- Keep a notebook to track your conversations, follow-up ideas or commitments.
- Keep in touch with your contacts by keeping them abreast of your job search.
Suggested questions for an informational meeting:
About the person and their present job:
- What is your educational background? How did you get started in this field?
- What was your career path like? How did you get your present job?
- What do you like most and least about your job?
- What do you wish you would have known prior to entering this field?
- What would you change about your job/career path if you could?
- Where do you see yourself going from here?
- What do you do during a typical work day/ week?
- What are some of the problems/ decisions you are likely to face in a day?
- What do you spend most of your time doing?
- How much paperwork? Interaction with others? Do you have frequent contact with people/customers/co-workers/supervisors/general public? What is the nature of those contacts?
- How does your job affect your general lifestyle? What is your schedule generally like?
- How many hours to you generally work in any given week?
- What obligation does your work place upon you, outside of the ordinary work week?
- How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, work hours, vacation, etc.?
Work setting / culture / climate:
- Do you determine what tasks you will work on and how to structure your time? Or is that determined for you?
- How would you characterize your working relations or work environment (formal, informal, etc.)?
- Do you work primarily alone or in collaboration with others? With whom? How are decisions made? What is the company’s management philosophy?
About the career field / industry:
- What are the employment trends and how rapidly is your present career field growing?
- What specific jobs are in demand and which are being cut back?
- Is relocation to another state or company necessary? What is the turnover rate like?
- What is the salary range for the various levels in this field?
- What type of professional development or training opportunities are there?
Preparation / qualifications:
- What credentials, educational degrees, licenses, etc. are required for entry into this field? What kind of prior experiences would be good background for the position?
- How do college majors fit in?
- What specific skills are required? What are some additional skills that will be helpful?
- What qualities / qualifications do you look for in an ideal candidate?
- What is the profile of someone who is successful in this field?
- How are hiring decisions made?
- How did the last few people you hired obtain the position? What were their backgrounds?
- How do people find out about these jobs? Are they advertised? If so, where? How else does one hear about openings?
Advice to you:
- Is this a realistic goal? Am I in the ballpark?
- How does someone with my background and skills fit the needs of an organization in this industry?
- Do I have to develop some skills or gain some experiences to make myself more competitive?
- What professional associations or organizations do you think might be useful to contact for information or to belong to?
- How do people break into the field? What is my next best step?
- What advice do you have for me as I try to break into this field?
- What entry level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
- Are there people you think I would benefit from talking to?
- Can I use your name when I contact them?
- If I have any further questions could I stay in contact with you?