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A career is an individual's journey through learning, work and other aspects of life. There are a number of ways to define a career and the term is used in a variety of ways.
Definitions and etymology
Career is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a person's "course or progress through life (or a distinct portion of life)". In this definition career is understood to relate to a range of aspects of an individual's life, learning and work. Career is also frequently understood to relate to the working aspects of an individual's life e.g. as in career woman. A third way in which the term career is used to describe an occupation or a profession that usually involves special training or formal education, and is considered to be a person’s lifework. In this case "a career" is seen as a sequence of related jobs usually pursued within a single industry or sector e.g. "a career in education" or "a career in the building trade".
Historic changes in careers
For a pre-modernist notion of "career", compare cursus honorum.
By the late 20th century, a wide range of choices (especially in the range of potential professions) and more widespread education had allowed it to become possible to plan (or design) a career: in this respect the careers of the career counselor and of the career advisor have grown up. It is also not uncommon for adults in the late 20th/early 21st centuries to have dual or multiple careers, either sequentially or concurrently. Thus, professional identities have become hyphenated or hybridized to reflect this shift in work ethic. Economist Richard Florida notes this trend generally and more specifically among the "creative class".
Career management describes the active and purposeful management of a career by an individual. Ideas of what comprise "career management skills" are described by the Blueprint model (in the United States, Canada, Australia, Scotland, and England) and the Seven C's of Digital Career Literacy (specifically relating to the Internet skills).
Key skills include the ability to reflect on one's current career, research the labour market, determine whether education is necessary, find openings, and make career changes.
According to Behling and others, an individual's decision to join a firm may depend on any of the three factors viz. objective factor, subjective factor and critical contact.
- Objective factor theory assumes that the applicants are rational. The choice, therefore, is exercised after an objective assessment of the tangible benefits of the job. Factors may include the salary, other benefits, location, opportunities for career advancement, etc.
- Subjective factor theory suggests that decision making is dominated by social and psychological factors. The status of the job, reputation of the organization and other similar factors plays an important role.
- Critical contact theory advances the idea that a candidate's observations while interacting with the organization plays a vital role in decision making. For example, how the recruiter keeps in touch with the candidate, the promptness of response and similar factors are important. This theory is more valid with experienced professionals.
These theories assume that candidates have a free choice of employers and careers. In reality the scarcity of jobs and strong competition for desirable jobs severely skews the decision making process. In many markets employees work particular careers simply because they were forced to accept whatever work was available to them. Additionally, Ott-Holland and colleagues found that culture can have a major influence on career choice, depending on the type of culture.
When choosing a career that's best for you, according to US News, there are multiple things to consider. Some of those include: natural talents, work style, social interaction, work-life balance, whether or not you are looking to give back, whether you are comfortable in the public eye, dealing with stress or not, and finally, how much money you want to make. If choosing a career feels like too much pressure, here's another option: pick a path that feels right today by making the best decision you can, and know that you can change your mind in the future. In today's workplace, choosing a career doesn't necessarily mean you have to stick with that line of work for your entire life. Make a smart decision, and plan to re-evaluate down the line based on your long-term objectives. 
Career (occupation) changing
Changing occupation is an important aspect of career and career management. Over a lifetime, both the individual and the labour market will change; it is to be expected that many people will change occupations during their lives. Data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1979 showed that individuals between the ages of 18 and 38 will hold more than 10 jobs.
A survey conducted by Right Management suggests the following reasons for career changing.
- The downsizing or the restructuring of an organization (54%).
- New challenges or opportunities that arise (30%).
- Poor or ineffective leadership (25%).
- Having a poor relationship with a manager(s) (22%).
- For the improvement of work/life balance (21%).
- Contributions are not being recognized (21%).
- For better compensation and benefits (18%),
- For better alignment with personal and organizational values (17%).
- Personal strengths and capabilities are not a good fit with an organization (16%).
- The financial instability of an organization (13%).
- An organization relocated (12%).
According to an article on Time.com, one out of three people currently employed (as of 2008) spends about an hour per day searching for another position.
There are a range of different educational, counseling, and human resource management interventions that can support individuals to develop and manage their careers. Career support is commonly offered while people are in education, when they are transitioning to the labour market, when they are changing career, during periods of unemployment, and during transition to retirement. Support may be offered by career professionals, other professionals or by non-professionals such as family and friends. Professional career support is sometimes known as "career guidance" as in the OECD definition of career guidance:
The activities may take place on an individual or group basis, and may be face-to-face or at a distance (including helplines and web-based services). They include career information provision (in print, ICT-based and other forms), assessment and self-assessment tools, counselling interviews, career education programmes (to help individuals develop their self-awareness, opportunity awareness, and career management skills), taster programmes (to sample options before choosing them), work search programmes, and transition services."
However this use of the term "career guidance" can be confusing as the term is also commonly used to describe the activities of career counselors.
Provision of career support
Career support is offered by a range of different mechanisms. Much career support is informal and provided through personal networks or existing relationships such as management. There is a market for private career support however the bulk of career support that exists as a professionalised activity is provided by the public sector.
Types of career support
Key types of career support include:
- Career information describes information that supports career and learning choices. An important sub-set of career information is labour market information (LMI), such as salaries of various professions, employment rate in various professions, available training programs, and current job openings.
- Career assessments are tests that come in a variety of forms and rely on both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Career assessments can help individuals identify and better articulate their unique interests, personality, values, and skills to determine how well they may match with a certain career. Some skills that career assessments could help determine are job-specific skills, transferable skills, and self-management skills. Career assessments can also provide a window of potential opportunities by helping individuals discover the tasks, experience, education and training that is needed for a career they would want to pursue. Career counselors, executive coaches, educational institutions, career development centers, and outplacement companies often administer career assessments to help individuals focus their search on careers that closely match their unique personal profile.
- Career counseling assesses people's interests, personality, values and skills, and helps them to explore career options and research graduate and professional schools. Career counseling provides one-on-one or group professional assistance in exploration and decision making tasks related to choosing a major/occupation, transitioning into the world of work or further professional training.
- Career education describes a process by which individuals come to learn about themselves, their careers and the world of work. There is a strong tradition of career education in schools, however career education can also occur in a wider range of other contexts including further and higher education and the workplace. A commonly used framework for careers education is DOTS which stands for decision learning (D), opportunity awareness (O), transition learning (T), and self-awareness (S). Oftentimes, higher education is thought of as being too narrow or too researched based and lacking of a deeper understanding of the material to develop the skills necessary for a certain career.
Some research shows adding one year of schooling beyond high school creates an increase of wages 17.8% per worker. However, additional years of schooling, beyond 9 or 10 years, have little effect on worker's wages. In summary, better educated, bigger benefits. In 2010, 90% of the U.S. Workforce had a high school diploma, 64% had some college, and 34% had at least a bachelor's degree.
The common problem that people may encounter when trying to achieve an education for a career is the cost. The career that comes with the education must pay well enough to be able to pay off the schooling. The benefits of schooling can differ greatly depending on the degree (or certification) obtained, the programs the school may offer, and the ranking of the school. Sometimes, colleges provide students more with just education to prepare for careers. It is not uncommon for colleges to provide pathways and support straight into the workforce the students may desire.
Much career support is delivered face-to-face, but an increasing amount of career support is delivered online.
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