Parents Guide to Career Exploration and Planning


It isn’t possible for every high school student to benefit from the Career Coaching for Student program (maybe some day). If it were, you’d be sure to receive assistance in all of the areas listed in this article and your teen would be on solid footing for the path ahead. Short of that honorable goal of serving every student, the following ideas are for parents of incoming high school students and any teen ready to consider and explore their future.Happy Teens

Parents are a teens primary counselor. As much as teachers, school counselors and other professionals try, parents play a crucial role in drawing a study plan and shaping the career direction and future of their children. Entry into high school is the time parents need to acquire knowledge about educational options, objectively understand their teens interests and skill sets and “parent” them through the exploration and decision-making process. Decision making doesn’t have to mean “choose” a career while in high school. Decision making needs to be focused on strategic direction. That may result in a career decision or it may set the student on an informed path to explore and evaluate the best potential opportunities that lead to happiness and success.  Either way, a good career choice will be made.

Why parents’ guidance is important for student career exploration

  1. Because parents have rich knowledge and experience. The teen’s interests and talents may be very different from a parents, however, the parent has the knowledge and experience to bring greater wisdom to the process.
  2. Many students choose their school or college of study after a brief, mostly subjective look at a few choices, without research and due diligence, often times going by just the hearsay. In this situation, parents can encourage their teen to gather all relevant information to make a more informed choice, considering both the short- and long-term benefits and prospects.

How parents can help in career selection

  1. A parent’s attitude matters a great deal! Stay positive and focused on a future of success. The work place today is always changing and may seem scary. Don’t make the past seem perfect and the future terrifying. Encourage your teen to develop a positive attitude and learn about a variety of industries. Many career choices can be applied in diverse industries which present very different experiences.
  2. Do not shoot down ideas that your children may come up with on their educational and career choices. If you react negatively, it will likely shut down or reduce the communication process. Keep the lines open as you encourage information gathering and informed choices rather than “your” choices.
  3. Jump on opportunities. Informal discussions about the world of work with your teen can be productive. Current news and websites like www.ted.com can be a catalyst to a rich discussion.
  4. Provide guidance and blind encouragement. Do not impose your ideas against theirs. Your goal is to help your children find their own way based on their interests and skills and not follow your ideas and interests, which could prove counter-productive. By discussing interests, dreams and goals, you can get to know your children better, which will help you guide them.
  5. Encourage your teen to set goals. By starting early with goal setting and action planning, simple and rewarding goals will lead to extremely valuable skills for life and more consistent achievement of goals as an adult.
  6. Be practical and realistic in your approach but don’t assume something isn’t possible. Examine and find out whether their interests are genuine, or mere aspirations influenced by external forces.
  7. Encourage your child to explore their options through work experience and by talking to people in occupations that interest them. Visits to relevant businesses will help. Putting your teen in contact with those in a career of interest is extremely valuable. Meeting multiple people to gain “inside” career information can be more valuable than a summer job.
  8. Let your teen identify and select their area of interest. Parents can help students to identify the broad area of work that interests them, what sort of environment they would like to work in and then link it to their skills, interests, abilities and values. Be wary of popular assessments used for students. Many are not effective and can create confusion. Their validity and reliability may also be questionable.

How to begin

1. The best way to begin career exploration with your children is by talking about your own career. What do you do in your job. What decisions did you make that led you to this point in your career. Teens aren’t always overly interested when parents begin to share their wisdom with them. Be patient. When it comes to “telling”, asking questions more often is a better strategy for opening the door to rich discussions. Discuss a variety of occupations that you observe in everyday life and what those jobs may involve.

2. Emphasize personal accountability and self management. These are two critical skills consistently found in highly successful people – regardless of what career they choose to follow.

THE ACTION PLAN

The career decision-making process described below includes activities that can begin pre-high school and go through high school and post-secondary education.

Action 1 – Enable self-awareness through valid and reliable assessments. When it comes to assessments, start with yourself. Evaluate the assessment administration experience and the results.

Action 2 – You and your teen may also want to consider lifestyle implications and the overall impact that lifestyle preferences will have on career choice. For instance, will the job require irregular hours? Will the salary support the lifestyle your child wants? How much education does the occupation require vs the desire for continuing education? It’s important for your child to understand the relationship between lifestyle, personal preferences, occupational choice, and educational pursuits. Help your children understand and balance the difference between wants and needs.

Action 3 – Help your teen stay focused on career exploration.
Help your child to explore a variety of options with the goal of narrowing those options to a manageable few. Most students want to look at college choices first, major second and career third. Help them avoid that mistake.

Action 4 – Evaluate educational strategies that support a career direction. Evaluate educational options before looking at college choices. Schools vary greatly in their reputation for different areas of study. The best employers know which schools are at the top for a subject and which are not.

Action 5 – Research school choices based on career direction and desired post-secondary education. No school has everything for everyone. Even the most prestigious schools such as Harvard might not be the best school for what your teen is interested in. Choosing a college or university takes a little work.

Action 6 – Make choices based on quality information. Encourage your child to explore a variety of career areas, before making a choice. The economy, demographics, and technology will continue to change the workplace. Some jobs become obsolete while other new jobs emerge. Some occupations may maintain the same title, but they may change or evolve so drastically that they no longer resemble what they were a decade earlier. As the workplace continues to change, it will be more important to focus on personal soft skills and how they can be applied. Some soft skills are more important than others depending on the career. Decision making has been identified as one of the most important soft skills required for career success. It has also been identified as the weakest of soft skills of incoming Freshmen in college.

Action 7 – Create an action plan

Planning is much easier to do when a passionate future view exists. The passionate future view serves to motivate your teen to take challenging courses.

Action 8 – Begin planning for the expense of college. Motivation goes up when a teen sees that excellent grades will pay off in significant scholarship money and improved odds of being accepted to their first school of choice. Don’t think you can afford the most expensive colleges and universities? Explore all options available to get scholarships, financial aid, fellowships and interest free students loans. Why? Many of the scholarships will be based on achievement and required courses through the high school years. Many students of lower income families are provided significant financial support.

Action 9 – Take action. Encourage your child to stick with a rigorous school curriculum to build a strong foundation in math, reading, writing, computer skills, and science. The stronger the foundation, the more career options will be available later in life.

Action 10 – Review and revise. As your child matures and gains more knowledge and experience, his/her interests may change.

Course selection in high school will determine what opportunities are presented and the available course of action after graduation. For instance, if your child wants to go to college and she/he hasn’t taken the required advanced level courses, remedial courses may be necessary.

Help your child to stay on target by taking the necessary courses. Remember that all plans should be flexible in case your child wants to change some of the goals she/he set earlier on.

It is your child’s future, not yours! It is your role to separate your innermost desires and wishes from that of your child. Help them reach their own dreams.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and in group and on-one-one offerings through certified career coaches throughout the United States, Canada and other countries. Contact Carl Nielson at carl@successdiscoveries.com or call 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs. Or visit us at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net

4 responses to “Parents Guide to Career Exploration and Planning

  1. Very interesting insight on this from the perspective of a parent. Have you written any blogs about the plan for an educator or outside influence to do something similar?

    • Hi Timothy,
      In response to your question, I created Career Coaching for Students to help educators, career coaches, counselors and parents. My studentcareercoach blog is for anyone interested. Parents and students are certainly the end target but it would be great if more school administrators, counselors, teachers and professional coaches were reading and leveraging ideas from my blog. Thanks for your question!

  2. Jonny Peterson

    A great bit of advice here, there are numerous paths one can take in life. College is not for everyone, a lot of my friends who didn’t fancy college started doing Apprenticeships when they left school and now they’re very successful.

    • Hi Jonny,
      So many students see themselves as “less worthy” as they approach high school graduation due to average academics and not finding that “career passion” to propel them into adulthood. Apprenticeships, or in the U.S., vocational technical paths are an ideal strategy for the person who doesn’t enjoy the academic rigor of college. The key is to find the one that matches with their talent. In Student Resource Central, we have identified several websites that provide excellent information about vocational career paths. Career exploration isn’t about going to college, it is about finding that career that you love.

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