A Process for Guiding Middle School Students Through

    Career Exploration

    This article was published in NCDA's May 2017 issue of Career Convergence

    Career Day is a great way to introduce different occupations to middle school students, but it doesn’t have to start and end there. Allowing for a more comprehensive approach where students take an active role in the career exploration process is more effective. It keeps students more engaged and committed. Incorporating an approach with resources such as those outlined below will best help students explore various careers targeted to their own unique preferences and talents.

    Steps for a Comprehensive Career Approach

    1. Have students take an assessment to gauge interests and skills.
    There is one targeted to the middle school age level on the Virginia Career View website, http://vacareerview.org/68/check-it/who-r-u/. This website is part of Virginia Tech’s School of Education and is supported by the state’s Department of Education. Students are asked to identify their skills and interests. They are asked to indicate activities they are most interested in. Counselors can also have students identify the top three overall (they can write these down, perhaps provide a form for them to fill out.) This encourages them to focus more on specific career paths, to avoid being overwhelmed by too many choices. 

    2. Prior to Career Day (if one is planned), students should identify their top three vocational interests.
    At the end of the assessment, the summary page will identify their top Career Clusters. Students should be given some time to explore the specific occupations under each cluster during class and at home. There should be a place on the form to identify these top three occupations. This will allow them to prepare questions and start thinking of activities they can do for each. However, they should be encouraged to keep an open mind about other occupations too.

    3. Introduce the Career Compass 
    Introduce the Career Compass model to help students organize their research, opportunities and list achievements for each career they are interested in. 
    The Career Compass is a tool divided into four separate areas:

    North (iNformation), South (School), East (Extra Curricular) and West (Work).

     Career Compass - Lanham

    In each category, students search for information and activities as methods to explore each of their top career choices. Students start by gathering iNformation on the careers through various websites (there are many resources at http://vacareerview.org/68/), books and career applications (Google Career Expeditions). They can prepare questions for teachers/counselors that will help them decide which School classes to take, and the Extra Curricular activities will introduce them to necessary skills and knowledge needed for the chosen fields. Finally, students can make connections with their teachers/counselors and other adults who Work in areas they are interested in. Students are also encouraged to talk to or interview presenters if there is a career day, visit workplaces and learn about part-time jobs or volunteer opportunities in those fields. Using this approach will not only allow them to be more prepared, it will help them stay focused for the entire exploration process. Students will also be able to have a more practical and hands-on experience.

    Using the Compass: An Example

    An example of a completed Career Compass for a student interested in a Scientist profession might look like this:

    N – Visit Science guided tours on Google Careers Expedition by March 
    S – Take a chemistry class next school year
    E- Join the STEM club and enter the Young Scientist Challenge (http://vacareerview.org/pro/contests/contests-pro) in the fall
    W- Visit a research facility where scientists are working and interview one of them over the summer

    Many of these activities might be things students are already involved in. There is no need to change any of these activities. Instead, counselors should help students connect some of these with their future career goals. For example, help them make the connection that playing a team sport is good preparation for later working on a team to accomplish business goals.

    If having a Career Day, speakers should also be prepped to make their presentations engaging and interactive, giving students a sample of what it is like to work in their field. They too should be given the Career Compass tool ahead of time, so they can provide resources in each of the areas for students to explore further.

    4. Finally, students should be committed to the process by creating an action plan.

    The action plan should include 2 to 3 careers they want to explore over the next year. For each one, they will identify tasks in each Compass category with a target date of completion. These dates should be spread out over the year. Have each student turn in their goals after they are created, and follow up with them periodically to see what they have accomplished. Methods you can use to keep them engaged throughout the year are:

    • Having a designated share time for experiences (monthly)
    • They can present or give demonstrations on newly acquired skills and knowledge
    • Provide additional resources for continued exploration.

    The self-directed element in the exploratory process allows students to take ownership of their interests and goals. Overall, this comprehensive approach to career exploration helps make learning about careers at this age practical, focused and fun!


    Grades 6-8. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://vacareerview.org/68/

    Careers. (2017). Google Expeditions App. Retrieved from https://edu.google.com/expeditions/#get-started




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