The IDEAL Approach to Career Development

students trainingNationally, 80 percent of new college freshmen, whether they have a declared major or not, are uncertain about their major, not to mention which job or career they would like to pursue after graduation.

In an attempt to help students define and pursue their career interests, Northern Michigan University has developed the IDEAL Path for students to follow. IDEAL stands for investigate, discover, experience and link, the five stages of career exploration all students are recommended to complete. Ideally, students should start this path early in their college career and continue it through graduation. However, it is never too late to start the IDEAL Path.

The IDEAL Path suggests students first investigate their own interests and aspirations, and then discover potential careers that match them. Students are encouraged to work and gain experience in their career field(s) of interest. When a major and career area are identified, students activate a job search plan with Career Services, and finally link with employers. Your success depends on you.

Students, advisers and faculty sometimes struggle with the question of exactly when students should take particular steps in the career development process. The following timeline should serve as a general guide to help answer that question. Of course, this time line should be adjusted to the needs of the individual student.

IDEAL Path 28 Credits 56 Credits 88 Credits 120+ Credits
  Freshman Year Sophomore Year Junior Year Senior Year











How to Begin

To determine where you are in this process, answer the following questions.

1) Do you know what you want out of life?
2) Have you taken any self assessments to learn about your interests?
3) Do you have careers identified which match your personal and life goals?
4) Have you researched career choices?
5) Have you visited professionals in work settings to observe and learn about career fields of interest?
6) Do you have a resume with career related skills included?
7) Have you fine tuned your interview skills?
8) Have you connected with potential employers?

If you answered. . .
  • no to questions one and/or two, begin at the investigate step.
  • yes to questions one and two, but no to either questions three or four, you are at the discover step.
  • yes to one through four, but no to question five, you are at the experience step.
  • yes to questions one through five, but no to six and/or seven, you are at the activate step.
  • yes to the first seven questions, you are at the final step, link.
Step The Ideal Plan What You Can Do

Investigate your own interests, skills, values, attitudes and aspirations. What do you really want out of life? How will your career help you lead a more satisfying and productive life?


Take time to reflect on yourself, the past and your hopes for the future.


Discover career fields that match your interests. Examine questions such as: Do careers match your values? Do the work hours match the lifestyle you want to live? What are the day-to-day responsibilities? Do you have the personal characteristics and skills to be successful in the job? Make a tentative decision.


Use programs and reference materials to learn about different careers. Some good sources are Vocational Biographies and the Occupational Outlook Handbook available in the Academic and Career Advisement Center. Check out career references at the NMU Olson Library and the Housing and Residence Life Academic Service Center.


Experience career fields first hand! Have you spent time or interviewed professionals in the work place for the careers you are investigating? What experience do you have in the field? Have you completed an internship or worked part-time in the area? Experience is instrumental in confirming and strengthening your career choice and employability.


Take time to "shadow" professionals in your field(s) of interest. Discuss daily responsibilities of the career and how professionals balance career and personal lifestyle. Volunteer, join career related student organizations and participate in internships to learn about your career ideas. Look for Career Services workshops such as: "Internships and Summer Jobs."


Activate a job search plan. Have you Identified potential employers? Have you researched employers in your career field? Do you have a network of contacts started? Do you have an effective resume and other job search tools?


Stop by Career Services to develop a plan for finding a job. Create a resume. Career Services workshops such as: "Resume Prep." "Hidden Job Market," "The Bottom Line," "Art of Interviewing," and "Cyber Jobs," are helpful.


Link up with prospective employers. Do you have an action plan? Have you implemented your networking plan? Do you have a list of all available resources to aid in your search? Have you visited potential employers? Move! Aim to have a job offer before you graduate.


Market yourself to select employers, implement networking and conduct on-site visits. Attend Career Awareness Day and interview with employers on campus or at job fairs.

For help with investigate, discover and experience contact the Academic and Career Advisement Center at 906-227-2971, 3302 C.B. Hedgcock
For help with experience, activate and link contact Career Services at 906-227-2800, 3502 C.B. Hedgcock

Other resources to help you along the way.


Who Benefits



Academic and Career Advisement Center

Any student at any stage.

Individual contact with professional advisers responsible for the career development program, career exploration materials, assistance in planning a course of action leading to the development of a career goal, and referrals to other appropriate services.

Call 906-227-2971 to schedule an individual appointment.

Career Planning Workshop Series

Students just starting the career development process or who have an identified need that matches a workshop topic.

Workshops covering the career development process, career and life planning, decision making and goal setting in a career fields and other career development topics.

Call 906-227-2971 for workshop details and registration information.

Career Services

Students who have established career goals and who should begin developing a job search strategy. Students seeking part-time or summer jobs.

Individualized career services plan, workshops, resume preparation assistance, interviewing skills coaching, employment referrals, job opening information and job fairs.

Call 906-227-2800 to schedule an appointment.

Self-Paced Computer Assisted Resources

Students who need to match their life interests, values and goals with potential career fields.

FOCUS II software program. A follow-up appointment is held to process the student's results and create an action plan.

Academic and Career Advisement Center at 906-227-2971.

Career Counseling

Any student can benefit, especially when personal issues interfere with their ability to make a career/major decision.

Confidential one-on-one counseling sessions with professional counselors.

Call the Counseling and Consultation Services at 906-227-2980 to schedule an individual appointment.

For more information about the career development process at NMU, contact the Academic and Career Advisement Center at 906-227-2971 or Counseling and Consultation Services at 906-227-2980.