Parents want their children to be safe and secure as they venture out in the world as adults. As a career coach who is very interested in career testing for high school students and young people, in general, I have observed how critical a parent’s role is. One of the most important ways to help a child choose the right major, school or career is to guide, but not pressure, them into making an informed decision.
College students change majors, often many times. How are they able to select a major and career, if they have no life experience to help them? It is an expensive activity to change majors and it often results in time and credits lost. If a child enters college or technical school with an understanding of what the career option might offer, he or she can make a choice that is right for them.
To assist with this process there are several things a parent can do, starting in the middle school years:
Encourage volunteer work, extracurricular school activities, and part-time jobs. The more exposure a child gets to different tasks and work environments, the more she or he can decide if this is a good fit. Young people develop a “career anchor,” which is when one is comfortable and satisfied with work. The main way people define their anchor is to “try things on for size,” to see if they are happy and do well working with their hands on a project or selling a product for a school fund-raiser.
Try to reduce the pressure on the child. Many adolescents become immobilized during the career search process; They feel that they have to select that “one perfect career,” that will match their every needs. Since the current generation is expected to change careers multiple times in their lifetimes, there is no way to make that perfect, “forever,” selection. I have always called my practice, “First Choices,” because I believe that the first career is only that first step in a world that will offer many opportunities, chances to shine and be noticed, and offered a path that might not even be anticipated today. The more the parents can recall what it was like to be a teen trying to make one’s first adult decision, scared and unsure about what is right, the less pressure will be exerted. This gives room for a child’s own interests and desires to surface.
Get mentoring support. Help your child be in situations where a more experienced family friend, teacher, community member or leader can offer advice and counsel. Professional assistance through school guidance offices or private career coaches can be extremely useful in pointing out different paths and explaining the reality of many professions.
Assist your child in doing online research. There are websites, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook online at http://www.bls.gov/oco and America’s Career Info Net at www.acinet.org which can inform about different career options, the typical duties, responsibilities, and training, if the profession is growing or shrinking, the jobs with the most openings, the highest pay, etc. There are excellent websites that can show what careers may be prepared for through different college majors. Just keyword search “What can I do with a major in?” and there is a great deal of information available. It can be fun to explore these websites with your child, learning together all the options which are offered.
Make sure he or she starts networking at an early age. Encourage your child to get to know different professionals from a variety of fields. Often young people are a bit shy about talking to adults, letting them know their special talents or desires. This is where parents can help. Over 75% of jobs are found through contacts, people who may know others who are decision makers, have hiring power. Encourage your child to keep in touch with anyone who helps along the way. In the far future, he or she may be the one who knows about the perfect job lead when your child is ready to job search.
Taking those first steps is a very exciting and frightening time for youth. Although he or she might not say so, they are taking cues from parental activities and attitudes. If career exploration is viewed as an exciting adventure, but one where information and contacts help make choices, your child will be able to develop the confidence to make an excellent decision. If it is assumed that he or so will succeed, do well in a career, find a niche, a child will take on that winning attitude.