Karen Cardozo, PhD

Career Design: The 5-Part Framework

By Michele Rapp

Traditionally, a career connoted a well-delineated ladder or track, but today most people can expect not only to pivot into multiple jobs over time, but also to switch between private, nonprofit, and government sectors or engage in entrepreneurship. Today, a “career” is no longer a noun or a predictable outcome. It’s a verb—the process of “careering” or pivoting to new opportunities as they arise.

Northeastern’s office of career services was renamed Career Design to signal our understanding of “the new normal” and to offer an approach that fosters career agility and resiliency. To that end, we have developed a simple yet profound 5-part framework informed by design thinking that presents career design as lifelong learning—the ongoing process of learning from experience.


You need to engage in self-assessment and values clarification, because self-knowledge is what drives fitting decisions. It is especially important to know your “I” and why when you’ve had a significant new experience or are at a key inflection point in your journey. At such points, you need to step back to reflect and recalibrate. Those integrative moments of taking stock are what power your next move. If all is well, continue on your trajectory. If not, it’s time to recalculate.

Explore and Experience:

However, you can’t just think your way into the future, you also need to explore and experience to prototype the next version of your career, since testing yields new insights. Indeed, it is likely that new work or life experiences are themselves the cause for recalibration. (e.g. perhaps your company was recently acquired with unclear implications ahead, or maybe you recently got married and need to relocate and job hunt as a result) It’s always better to be proactive rather than reactive in exploring your options.

Tell Your Story

As you go through the process, you will need to tell your story to many people in a way that differentiates you (which is where knowing your unique “I” and Why really helps!) Being authentic and clear about your values, interests, strengths and goals can help you stand out.

Navigate Your Networks

And of course, since most jobs don’t come from postings but through relationship referrals, it is essential to navigate your networks. The time to forge career communities isn’t just when you’re looking for a job: creating and maintaining authentic connections should be a way of life. Don’t think of networking as a process of getting the world to meet your needs; think of it as expanding your understanding of what the world needs. Your insight into those needs will make you compelling when you are on the job market. Being open to learning from every situation or relationship is an attribute that others will admire, especially future employers!

November 3, 2020


Karen Cardozo, PhD, is the assistant vice president of Employer Engagement and Career Design at Northeastern.

Interested in applying the 5-part framework in your early, mid, or late career?