Life is filled with important decisions, but few are as critical as selecting a well-matched career. Not only is it our primary income source, but it also is the most direct way we apply our skills and talents in life. With all of the time we spend in our careers, it pays to make this one of the most well researched decisions in life. That means inventorying our skills, interests, and personal preferences, and researching different career options that play to our strengths, are realistically accessible, and will offer fulfillment and sufficient income.
Many high schoolers feel inordinate pressure to know NOW what career they should pursue, but we believe this is premature and speculative. Students are still discovering themselves, they haven’t been exposed to a variety of career options, and they haven’t even taken advanced courses. Accordingly, we believe it’s more appropriate to train our teens on the process of career exploration rather than placing undue pressure on them to decide on specifics at this time. For most, it’s far too soon.
Educators and parents, you play an important role in facilitating a career exploration process that promotes research and discovery, rather than forcing a definitive conclusion. In this spirit, we offer these suggestions to you:
- Build career awareness and curiosity. Encourage students to become career conscious and to connect with people who have potentially interesting careers. Parents, you can take a leadership role in making the introductions.
- Take career assessment surveys. Many sites (e.g., careercruising.com and careerbridge.wa.gov) offer excellent information and assessments to assist with career exploration. Often, they include both potential careers and industries to help students channel their interests and skills. They also provide valuable information regarding demand, qualifications, and marketing tips (resume writing, interviewing, etc.). Importantly, students should consider why particular career areas rose to the top of their list and why others were at the bottom. It’s a great self discovery exercise.
- Consider all key career selection factors. Selecting a career match is a multi-faceted decision. Key considerations include: 1) skills and aptitudes, 2) interests, 3) ability to obtain the necessary qualifications, 4) personal preferences (e.g., personality compatibility, workplace environment, stress level, relational vs. task orientation, work hours, flexibility), 5) demand, 6) income requirements/potential, and 7) location.
- Determine whether it’s a career, hobby, or volunteer opportunity. Many students are majoring in areas where actual job opportunities are scarce. In such cases, it may be wise to pursue these interests in their free time rather than enduring a fruitless and frustrating job search.
- Parents, remember it’s about them, not you. We often observe high school students planning to pursue the same career as their parent(s). Some of this comes through osmosis (fine), but other times, it is coming from parents who are actively steering (or even directing) this decision (not fine).
- Educators, be sure to invite recruiters into your classroom. Classroom visits from recruiters, as well as career fairs, are great opportunities for students to broaden their career horizons and gain real world perspectives from practitioners.
- Encourage multiple options. It’s common for students to change their minds regarding their career or college major. It’s also common for students to be so narrowly focused on a specific career that they become discouraged and stagnant when that exact job isn’t available. It always helps to have a Plan B and C to get in the game. Perfection isn’t always possible when you begin your career.
Your students will be well served by taking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to career selection. We invite you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources to support their efforts.