Most parents of teenagers know that life can be an “emotional roller coaster.” One minute a young people can feel that they are on top of the world, and the next second they are certain that they are have no strengths whatsoever, have nothing to offer anyone.

As a career coach who does career testing for high school students and career testing for college students, I know that the emotional “ups and downs” of career exploration should be dealt with in a positive way. During our first session, I will often ask teens and young adults what their greatest career fear is. They frequently say that they are afraid that they will never find that perfect occupation, will flounder around as a total failure, live forever without career satisfaction. The list of fears is long because the job market is often an unknown place to them, and they have no idea of their relative worth. They have been watching adults struggle in this most recent economic downturn, and they wonder how they can find their places at this point in time.

One of the techniques I have found to be most helpful is to ask the young person to come up with a list of potential interviewees (mentors), people who they respect who have a positive empowering, attitude. They can be people that they know through school (teachers, other students), work, extracurricular activities (coaches, dance teachers), and friends and family members. I ask them to “mix it up,” with some people in each category. Then they ask them to answer the following questions.

  • What personal characteristics do you feel are my strengths? (Examples: loyalty, dependability)
  • What skills do you feel are my strengths? (Examples: listening skills, organizational skills)
  • What careers/ do you feel would suit me?

I often give this activity as a homework assignment. In years past, my clients would interview individuals over the phone or in person. Now, they email all their contacts or use Facebook, and they bring in many responses. They usually come back to see me beaming with pleasure because they have read many wonderful things about themselves. They are surprised that contacts you do not know each other often say the same thing. I tell them that repeating patterns in career work are often very important. Perhaps, both their teacher and their coach feel that they have leadership qualities or have a talent for interacting with others. These are excellent skills and qualities, ones that can suggest future careers, perhaps in management or social services and counseling. They also receive some wonderful career suggestions from the people that they value, and these careers can be researched at a later date on a variety of helpful career websites.

Young people and individuals of all ages benefit from learning about themselves, getting to know what skills and traits they have that could be the beginnings of formulating what careers might be best for them. It can also give them courage as they begin to face the adult world of career choice.

A second question that I ask at the beginning of an interview is to describe their greatest career hopes. Young people hope that they will find a career that suits their talents, a job that they love, one that is a natural fit. They often want to do something meaningful, get up every day and look forward to their job. I assure them that this is possible, but it takes time and a series of steps to do this. Gathering feedback, which is one of the first steps, helps them to understand about one’s skills and talents. This assignment is the beginning of making their hopes a reality.
Linda Robinson, M.Ed, is a professional career coach who does career testing in Atlanta and online. She has over 25 years of experience, helping young people to find satisfying careers.

By Linda Robinson, M.Ed. | Career Coach

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