Category Archives: career test

Do I Need to Have A Career Plan in High School?


dream-job-nextexitThe old saying “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” means if you do not know about a problem, you will not be able to make yourself unhappy by worrying about it. That belief is supported by the belief “ignorance is bliss“.

When it comes to creating/having a career plan, focusing on it (worrying about it) will actually create a great deal of happiness, help you avoid major stress and save you (and/or your parents) thousands of dollars. Based on almost daily news, the amount of college loan debt has escalated to levels considered very dangerous for our economy and for individuals. Having excessive education loan debt is a personal accountability issue – not a national economy issue.

How much debt do you want or plan to have when you graduate college? According to an article in the Huffington Post, “the average college graduate obtained a degree in 2012 with $29,400 in student debt, up from $18,750 less than a decade before in 2004, according to a new report.” To avoid unnecessary costs (which frequently ends up becoming debt) during college, avoid changing majors and choose the right college or university for you. If you are unsure about a career direction and go into college as an “undeclared major” you are likely to not have any revelations about a career direction by the end of your Freshman year. Whether you put it off or tackle career planning in high school, the only way to avoid unnecessary expense and find true happiness is to do the career planning work.

So, the short answer to the question, Do I Need to Have a Career Plan in High School?, is that you need to be doing the work of creating a career plan. The Career Coaching for Students program looks at this work as developing Decision Making skills. Decision making is a recognized skill of highly successful people and happens to be one of the weakest skills for incoming Freshman in college. You don’t necessarily need to have made a career decision but you need to be well on your way to identifying and understanding your career interests and the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with your career interests.

A career plan is the reward for the work you’ll do to determine your skills and interests, what career best suits your talents, and what skills and training you need for your chosen career.

By developing a career plan, you can focus on what you want to do and how to get there without worrying and without unnecessary expense. To do this well, you must start with a “professional-grade assessment” that helps you understand your personality strengths. Career planning is only one benefit of using assessments to become much more self-aware.  You’ll also find you will have a better understanding of your skills and experiences to discuss with potential employers (on your resume and in future interviews).

To eventually have a defined career goal, get started now.

A career goal can be a specific job you want to do — such as doctor or teacher — or be a particular field you want to work in, such as medicine or education.

Rather than limiting your future, a career goal may help you discover career possibilities you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. There are several job possibilities with any chosen career. For instance, if you choose a medical career, you may want to be a scientist, a nurse, or a doctor.

A career goal can also guide you into doing what you want with your life.

  1. Become Self-Aware.
  2. Identify Career Interests.
  3. Narrow your career interests to a top two or three.
  4. Determine what you need to do to prepare for your chosen career.
  5. Besides the right college major, do you need special training? Some careers need the specialized training but don’t require a college degree. If so, find out what schools offer the training you need. Also, determine what kind of experience will you need to be successful in the career. Consider an internship as a way to get work experience in the career field.
  6. Write your career plan.  Use online tools to help you create a visual career plan.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving Fortune 100 company clients. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Is Choice of College Setting Your Destiny?


Your destiny based on college choiceThe article in the Washington Post, The Resume That Makes for a Top Executive, by Gena McGregor, references a new study published this week in the Harvard Business Review, which provides a snapshot over time of the demographics and career trajectories of Fortune 100 executives. The study shows how much the boardroom is changing. Not all students are interested in becoming the next CEO of Google, but choosing a college continues to be riddled with anxiety for those that have choices. The study’s data reveals some changes that are worthy of noting for any high school student (or parent) struggling over which college/university will be best – regardless of career direction.

The study states the majority of top executives now have undergraduate degrees from state universities, with only a fraction going to college at one of the Ivies. Nearly 11 percent of the top executives are foreign-educated, up from just 2 percent in 1980. And however few women there may be in leadership positions, they actually climbed the corporate ladder faster than men, spending fewer years, on average, in each job and taking a shorter time to get to the top.

The research, an effort by professors from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and IE Business School in Madrid, compiled the backgrounds of the top 10 executives at each Fortune 100 company in 2011 — those who might be called the most powerful 1,000 people in corporate jobs. They conducted the same study in 1980 and 2001.

What has interested people most about their study has been the details about where executives got their education. “I was surprised that’s been such a remarkably big deal for most folks,” Cappelli says. “I guess it’s something that makes people think about their children. Anyone with kids is thinking about these roles, and it’s an aspect of inequality that’s very noticeable to people.”

The study shows the education backgrounds of top corporate leaders are becoming much more equal over time. In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges. While the percent of Ivy Leaguers has dropped slightly, from 14 percent in 1980 to 10 percent in both 2001 and 2011, those with degrees from private non-Ivies has plummeted, falling from 54 percent in 1980 to just 35 percent in 2011.

Why are we seeing so many more corporate executives from public universities? More meritocratic corporate cultures could be playing a role, Cappelli notes, but he thinks it’s mainly due to history. “It’s a bit of an archaeological story,” he says. “If you think back to when the executives now went to school, around 30 years ago, it was sort of the…golden era of state universities, which really boomed in the late ’60s and ’70s. Schools like Michigan and Berkeley — they were building these fabulous campuses, and pulling people in who would have otherwise gone to Ivy League schools.”

That’s not to say elite schools don’t still hold sway among MBA-holders and the very top leaders. If you look at the three most senior executives in each organization (say, the CEO, CFO and Chairman), 21 percent have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, compared with 10 percent overall. Additionally, 40 percent of all the executives who hold MBAs got them at one of the top 20 ranked business schools in the country, many of which are at Ivy League universities.

Another way the makeup of the boardroom is changing, of course, is in the number of women. Like other studies before it, the Wharton/IE Business School professors counted the number of women at the top, finding that almost 18 percent of the top jobs were held by women in 2011. That’s a massive swing from 1980, when they reported finding no women among the top 1,000 corporate leaders.

More interesting than the stubbornly few number of women at the top, however, was the finding that women are managing to reach the top faster. It took women an average of 28 years to reach the “top-tier positions” (CEOs, vice chairs, presidents and the like), compared with 29 years for men. Women reached “middle-tier” jobs (executive VPs, general counsels, chief marketing officers) in 23 years, compared with 26 years for men. In addition, women were promoted quicker in each of their jobs, at an average rate of every four years, while it took men five.

Cappelli offers three explanations for why this might be. One, he says, could be an explicit effort by companies to get women into top jobs faster. “It’s possible that a type of affirmative action is going on,” he says. Another could be that the talent pool of women in these executive jobs is simply better. Because we see more women than men change work paths or drop out of the workforce in the middle rungs of their career, he says, it’s possible “the women are actually better because they’re self-selecting.”

Finally, Cappelli suggests, the difference may be due to the fact that there are more women in functional jobs — such as human resources, legal or marketing — for which the technical expertise needed means they’re promoted more quickly. In the report, the researchers call it “riding a different elevator.”

“If you’re going up through a functional track,” Cappelli says, “you could be advancing at a very different pace than the folks who are going up through operations jobs” that may require more rotations or longer tenures at each stop along the way.

Quirks about the leadership ranks at different companies, and what they might reveal about the different corporate cultures, may be even more interesting than the broad-based trends the study found. For instance, the average length of a top Google executive’s career is just 14 years (the shortest in the Fortune 100) while at Hewlett Packard and ConocoPhillips, it’s 32 years (the longest). Meanwhile, some companies have outstanding male-to-female ratios among the top 10 execs — at Target, Lockheed Martin and PepsiCo, women hold half the senior management jobs — while as of 2011, there were still 17 companies in the Fortune 100 with no women at all among their top 10 leaders.

To Cappelli, this is among the most interesting of the study’s results. “They’re all just so different,” he says. “There’s a UPS model, there’s a Google model and there’s an Exxon model. The idea that there is a corporate model of leadership just doesn’t seem to resonate any more.”

The take-away – Strategically narrow your college choice

Many high school students choose a college mainly on emotional criteria. The following is based on a study by the University of California—Los Angeles‘s released in January 2013, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012.” The 2012 study is based on the responses of 192,912 first-year students at 238 U.S. four-year colleges and universities who entered college in fall 2012.

Strategic Reasons Emotional Reasons
1. College has very good academic reputation (63.8 percent) 5. A visit to this campus (41.8 percent)
2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (55.9 percent) 6. College has a good reputation for its social activities (40.2 percent)
3. I was offered financial assistance (45.6 percent) 10. I wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
4. The cost of attending this college (43.3 percent) 11. Information from a website (18.7 percent)
7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.8 percent) 12. Rankings in national magazines (18.2 percent)
8. College’s grads get into top grad/professional schools (32.8 percent) 13. Parents wanted me to go to this school (15.1 percent)
9. The percentage of students that graduate from this college (30.4 percent) 16. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)
  18. Athletic department recruited me (8.9 percent)
  19. Attracted by the religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.4 percent)
  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.8 percent)
  20. My teacher advised me (6.8 percent)
  22. Private college counselor advised me (3.8 percent)

To make the best choice, identify your personal preferences for industry and career direction first (you can still be somewhat general but the more clarity the better at this stage). Then research which universities are tied into those industries and are academically highly ranked for the major you are wanting. Look for major corporate donors to a university to see the connection. As they say, follow the money trail. Another way is to call the placement office and ask which companies consistently hire interns (in your major) from the university’s student population.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

This Is Your Time


dream-job-nextexitThe world of work is Darwin at its’ best…survival of the fittest. Ask any recent college grad or professionals that have lost their job within the last 6 or 7 years. As a student career coach (and in adult coaching sometimes as well), most high school students and many college students are challenged to engage in researching and planning for their future. For some, lack of confidence or fear makes the entire idea of investigating and planning for a future to be very intimidating. I use the following questions when I see a person struggling to engage or seems to have a lack of confidence:

Low level of confidence/lack of engagement

  1. What makes you think this isn’t the best time to do career exploration and planning?
  2. What makes you think that you have a low confidence level?
  3. What do you want to do about it? Something? Nothing?
  4. If you are not going to do something about it, who will?
  5. If you are going to do something about it, how will that help you reach your goal?
  6. What are your goals?

Help for those that don’t know what they want to do

  1. Know that a goal without a plan is merely a dream. Dreams rarely become reality. Plans almost always become reality.
  2. What DON’T you want to do? There may be options or a “plan B” that others are suggesting you pursue. Think with integrity about what you don’t want to do. Own it. Move on.
  3. Examine the current job market supply-and-demand ratios. Within Student Resource Central, we offer several excellent career research sites that provide quick information about high growth jobs and industries.
  4. How does your current interests and background fit with these ratios. Use assessments (for high school students or for college students) to provide a more structured and valid approach to examining your interests and “fit” to different career possibilities.
  5. Choose a career field to research – research it thoroughly. You aren’t making a decision here, just research.
  6. How can you gain more insight (talk to people in the career) and experience (internships) to further investigate the career of interest?

It should be reinforced that even if a student does everything above (as well as much more) there is no guarantee of employment today or tomorrow. Be prepared to reexamine and reinvent as you walk the path.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Look Past the Now to Understand What You Should Be Doing Now


Advice for both high school and college students

Students who can see the future will be more successful doing things nowAs a student, it is absolutely normal to be focused on the here and now. You may even think you have no capacity for anything else. If you have clear academic goals for yourself, achieving a good GPA, active in a few extracurricular activities, etc. you are certainly on the right track. Things may seem to be going very well.

One of the areas we focus on in the Career Coaching for Students™ program is networking. In the high school version, we introduce the concept of networking to find people in the career of interest. Students are assisted in finding and holding informational interviews to learn about a particular career. In the college version, we go much deeper. Career informational interviews are still important but just the beginning. Networking has a much bigger role to play in your success, perhaps as much as the high GPA you are working so hard to get. If career centers are bringing in employers hungry for your skills and knowledge you may see networking as unnecessary and time consuming. If you take that approach, you are most likely cutting off 80% of job opportunities, including internships that may be within reach if you were to take networking seriously.

For high school students, use career exploration as a reason to do the networking. Adults in careers that you are interested in are very willing to talk about what they do. Once you get to college it won’t be so easy to get that interview. Many will think you are just trying to get a job.

Look Past the Now

J. T. O’Donnell, Founder and CEO of CAREERREALISM.com and nationally syndicated career expert posted a blog on LinkedIn titled No Job Posted…Send Resume Anyway?  She is speaking directly to people in the work world who are actively looking for a job. The question a reader presents is fixated on the resume and how to submit it. Ms. O’Donnell tries to educate you to the barriers that will stop your resume from getting seen. She recommends a different approach that most don’t follow. Look at what she is saying and see how you can be doing the “planting of networking seeds” now so you have a high-quality network later when you need it.

She starts her article with a quote from a reader:

In one of your webinars recently you said go straight to the companies and avoid the postings. My question is: Do you make sure that a company is hiring or do you just send your letter and resume and hope for the best? Some companies do not accept resumes if they don’t have a specific job opening.

The answer is “no.” You shouldn’t blindly submit your materials. But, not because a company won’t accept them. They will. However…

Here’s Why Your Resume Won’t Get Seen…

When I tell people to go straight to the company, what I mean is there’s no point in applying online unless you have someone you know in the company who can walk your credentials into the hiring manager and ask them to pull your resume from the thousands they’ve received online and take a closer look. Yep, I said THOUSANDS. Today, applying via job boards is the easiest way to look for a work – so, everyone is doing it. Yet, it also happens to be the least effective method for getting noticed. Why? The ATS (applicant tracking system) employers use to gather applications automatically screen you out for not being an exact keyword and experience match for the job. Still, people continue to waste hours upon hours filling out online applications only to be shocked and disappointed when they never hear back from the employers. They say to me, “But J.T., I was perfect for the job.” I respond, “Yes, you and hundreds of other people.” The reality is your chances of making it through the online process and into the hands of a human being are only slightly better than you winning the lottery.

Effective Job Seeker Rule #1: Submit Resumes to Actual People

Want to improve your odds of getting noticed by employers? Only submit your resume and cover letter to human beings. How? Network and connect with employees of the companies you desire to work at. Then, when a job gets posted you are a match for, instead of going into the ATS blackhole, you can reach out to your contacts and see if they can help you get your credentials in the hiring manager’s hands. There’s a reason 80%+ of jobs today are gotten via referral – it works!

No Job Posted? Even More Reason to Network

When there’s a company you’d like to work for but they’ve no jobs posted, you’ve got an opportunity to prepare for the day they finally hire for your skill set. You can start the networking process now with employees and get to know first-hand what it will take to eventually earn a position at their company. Better still, you may learn about the “hidden” jobs at the company. The ones that are open but not posted anywhere online. While sending a resume to HR will likely end up in the circular file. (a.k.a. trash can), connecting and having meaningful conversations with employees will result in you being fully prepared to fast-track your resume to the right hiring manager.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

I Want to Quit (My Career)


Talent Management MagazineThe July 2013 issue of Talent Management Magazine, a respected journal for human resources executives, highlighted some new statistics that reinforce what I’ve been trying to communicate to parents, high school administrators and college and university career centers for some time now – “what you are doing isn’t working!”

Here are excerpts from the article…you be the judge


First there was the Gallup survey that came out in early June 2013, which found the majority of American employees (70 percent) were either not engaged or actively disengaged with their work.

As if that wasn’t enough to raise red flags for employers who care about and are tracking employee engagement, a new Harris survey for the University of Phoenix in Arizona that was released July 8, 2013 showed that more than half of U.S. employees want to change not only their jobs, but their careers.

Apparently, only 14 percent of workers say they’re in their dream careers.

Some of you may not be surprised to learn this feeling is more pronounced among workers in their 20’s (80 percent), but it’s certainly not specific to this demographic alone: Sixty-four percent of those in their 30s want to change careers and 54 percent of those in their 40s reported the same.

Is this the classic “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the unstable economic environment coupled with debilitating student loan debt coerced many graduates to scrounge up any kind of employment they could secure just to have a steady cash inflow. Consider that nearly three-fourths of those surveyed (73 percent) said they didn’t end up with a job they had originally anticipated when they were younger.

And before you go on a rant about how flaky millennials are, you may be surprised to learn that those in the upper echelons of corporate America are among those who want to sign up for a different career. Nearly half (43 percent) of C-level executives said they were somewhat interested in switching careers, while 26 percent expressed a stronger desire to do so.

Offering lateral moves and defining a clear career path for employees might not be the silver bullet when it comes to engagement and retention problems, but it’s a start.


Employers can’t fix this. And then there are high schools and colleges continuing to do the same things they’ve been doing for the past 10+ years, only now the high schools have teacher productivity work flow tools in the cloud (Naviance, XAP, etc.) to help track high school student college readiness tasks.

This is a wake up call. Want to decrease student loan debt? Get smarter about planning career and educational strategies. You can delegate career exploration and career matching to an overworked high school counselor with outdated assessments or delay this work until college where students are going in undeclared, changing majors 3 or 4 times and taking 5 years to graduate at a cost of thousands of extra dollars. Or you can take a proactive approach and do something different.

Better Career Planning Better Lifehttp://www.careercoachingforstudents.net

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study student career coaching package.

How to Have an Effect on Student Achievement


visible-learning-infographic-whatworksinschoolsFirst, let’s put this in context. I am a career coach. I designed a career coaching program, Career Coaching for Students, that I hope is provided to every high school freshmen or sophomore student in the future (I’m not over shooting here am I?).  I am not one to think my hammer is the tool needed for all situations. Student academic achievement is a very complex issue. And ironically, many students would excel if everyone and everything got out of their way.

This article is trying to find why Career Coaching for Students is more effective than what is now offered in high schools and why it has a positive impact on student engagement and achievement.

A very high percentage of students that go through the Career Coaching for Students increase their academic achievement after completing the program. Besides the anecdotal evidence (common sense) that a person who really understands themselves, has identified a potential career that matches their talent design (found a passion) and has developed their own plan for their future tends to be much more engaged – are there more predictive specifics related to why this program works better than other programs?

Osiris Educational in the UK produced an info graphic that reports many statistical findings about what has a positive and negative effect on student achievement. As I examined their data, I became very excited to see many of the strategic pieces in the structure of the Career Coaching for Students program were matching up to the top effects. The authors of the info graphic gave their short explanation of why the top effects work to increase student achievement. I will use their explanations (posted in italics) to form the basis for my comments here.

Top Effects and Why They Work for Career Coaching for Students

1. Self-reported grades/student expectations. This means they are more likely to be successful than other learners as they will be the active element in their learning. Students experience the Career Coaching for Students program like a journey. A coach is not a teacher or parent. We co-create success in examining post-secondary education and career options based on the student’s personal interests. The coach has the methods and tools for the student to quickly identify and learn about high-potential career ideas and engage in research. We don’t leave it to a career assessment listing of job titles found in many assessments. We find the student quickly feels in control and is able to set their own expectations at every step. We just make it easy – it’s all about the student.

2. Teacher credibility. Students are perceptive to which teachers can make a difference to their learning. Teachers who command this credibility are more likely to make a difference. There are two areas of credibility that are crucial to student career coaching. First is the coach’s credibility. It is very difficult for a teacher or counselor whose career has been entirely in the academic world to have a full perspective. Those career coaches that have the greatest credibility tend to have experience in human resource management and/or business management across diverse industries. The second is the assessment’s credibility. Students are perceptive when it comes to reading the different assessments offered through schools. If the assessment produces garbage – or the student perceives the information as less than helpful, you’ve lost the student. Our assessments provide over 40 pages of insights about the student. Our most common comment from students – “This is incredibly accurate.

3. Feedback. Speed of learning doubles following effective feedback. Praise, punishment and rewards are the least effective forms of feedback. Feedback should be just in time, ‘just for me’ information and delivered when and where it has the best benefit. I couldn’t write a better statement to describe the design of the Career Coaching for Students program. Our feedback comes in many forms. First there are the assessment reports (about 40 pages of feedback about who you are). Then there is how to use that information. We unfold the information and integrate it strategically so that the student can connect the dots quickly and easily. ‘Just for me’ is a perfect description of the feedback at every step.

4. Classroom management. Teachers who have well managed classrooms can identify and respond quickly to potential issues and are emotionally objective. Whether we are delivering the Career Coaching for Students program in a classroom or workshop environment or in a more personalized one-on-one setting, the structured approach to “peeling the career exploration onion” with the student enables us as coaches to identify and respond quickly to questions and issues. Remaining emotionally objective has more to do with being non-judgmental about the student’s aspirations. Our approach leaves very little room for subjective reactions to career ideas. We ask great questions that make the student think for themselves. We don’t tell them anything.

5. Parental involvement. Active and positive parents who help students to have high expectations have a positive impact on student achievement. Surveillance or supervision can have a detrimental effect. The Career Coaching for Students program encourages the student to welcome parental involvement and encourages parents to be involved at the right level. Parental involvement is a two-way street that can be more like a slippery climb up an icy road sometimes. Parents who quickly react negatively to career ideas will kill the student’s engagement. We’ve seen it happen more than a few times. Helping the student recover from that slows down their progress. Career exploration is a journey. The student needs to know they are free to explore and will be encouraged throughout the process. With that said, parents have a huge impact on student self esteem and healthy development of responsible independent thinking. We refer often to the program as a “How to make big Decisions” skill development program. It just happens to be focused on career exploration. Parents play a big role here.

6. Cooperative Learning. Students learn better cooperatively than alone or competitively. This form of learning also increases interest and the ability to problem solve through interacting with peers. This one explains why I like the workshop venue. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The student-coach relationship exists to co-create success for the student. Alone doesn’t work – we’ve seen that with the web portal (XAP, Naviance, others) solutions that many high schools subscribe to (see earlier blog article for more about this). In the workshop venue, we see many students with friends in the same workshop. They sit next to each other. Given that career exploration is a very personal exercise, the relationships with fellow attendees in the workshop is very supportive.

The six effects above help to explain why the Career Coaching for Students program is highly effective with all types of students. When it comes to improving academic achievement, I still think the anecdotal evidence is the most valid – that a person who really understands themselves, has identified a potential career that matches their talent design (found a passion) and has a plan for their future tends to be much more engaged – and therefore, much more interested in their own academic achievement.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from parents is “Wow! I wish I had this when I was in high school.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Career Coaching for Students. He is also an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, and creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study coaching package.

7 Myths About Career Exploration in High School


5 Myths about Career Exploration blog picAround 2004, as a parent with kids approaching high school, I found myself curious about the “state-of-the-art” in career exploration and coaching that the students would receive. As a corporate organizational development consultant and executive coach, focusing mainly on adults either in career transition or executive/high-potential development, I had some insight into “talent” and success in life and work.

My adult clients would ask me to coach their “graduating senior in college” who hadn’t figured out what they wanted to do with their life. That was a warning sign to me – not about the person but about the system. How could a student go all through high school, choose a major, complete an undergraduate degree in college and not have a clue about what they wanted to do? What was the root cause of the failure? What was being done to help students and why was it not working?

Fast forward to 2013, and nothing has changed. Students continue to struggle with who they are and how their personal talent design connects to career choices and educational strategy. In some ways, it comes down to something even broader – learning how to make big decisions. But I am finding the same assessments used in 2004 are being used today. And schools are letting technology deliver career coaching.

Based on what I am seeing and hearing from school administrators, parents and students, I’ve put together a list of myths that are in desperate need of being corrected. These myths are prevalent with teachers, counselors, school boards and parents. See if you carry some of these myths as your own beliefs:

  • Myth #1 The high school has this covered. They’d like you to believe they’ve got career exploration covered. Even community colleges and universities want you to think they’ve got it covered. Be wary of the high school’s use of buzz words and descriptions of programs. For example, “all students take one or more career assessments to help them identify careers” may be technically true as a task they have the students complete. Ask your son or daughter what they thought of the assessment results. Ask them to show you the report. Ask them how the results are being used and what are they doing for career exploration. And for the bottom line question, ask them if they feel they are getting appropriate and tangible support for identifying and evaluating personal career options.
  • Myth #2 The assessments used by your high school are valid and insightful. The best way to check this myth is to take the assessments yourself and check your reaction to the report. As for technical information about the validity and reliability of the assessments, the school’s website will point you to the organization’s website that produces the assessments. With a little digging, you’ll find some kind of statement about validity and reliability. Some assessment companies will actually state “this type of assessment does not fit the criteria for validity and reliability studies”.  Taking the assessments yourself will surely enlighten you to the horribly designed assessment that is expected to “tell” your student which careers will be best for them. But even if you were to accept the quality of instrument as credible, what insights has it produced for the student?  What insights has the student learned about themselves after taking the assessment?
  • Myth #3 Counselors and teachers are focused on this. Ask a counselor about the amount of time they focus on coaching students in making career decisions and they will start explaining (after they stop laughing) how their day, week and semester is spent. It isn’t focused on coaching students in career decisions. Some counselors are leaving schools because their job isn’t about helping students, its about pushing paper.
  • Myth #4 The paid-with-tax-dollars school-site subscription to a cloud-based software program (Naviance, XAP, etc.)  is focused on helping the student find their path in life. Actually, many of these site-licensed “portals” are administrative tracking systems to help teachers be more productive. It is possible they also help students to be more productive with the college application process too. However, the primary focus isn’t on helping a student gain insight into who they are and what they want to become (even though the web-based marketing lingo sounds like they do focus on this). These systems are more focused on workflow management, specifically, “the process of getting students into college”. Who cares if the reason they are going to college is faulty or once they get there they change majors 3 times and graduate in 5 years. Put the ladder on the wrong building and you get to the top of a building with no purpose for being there.
  • Myth #5 High school students are too young and immature to focus much on career exploration or make any kind of career choice. This one is mostly on the parents. All I can tell you is if you think this, you are wrong. I am consistently amazed at the level of engagement and deep thinking that students put into developing a future direction, career exploration, choosing a major, choosing the right college for what they want to do and setting goals for themselves. Even those students that start the Career Coaching for Students program with less maturity quickly shed that cover and engage effectively. Watch for the colleges and universities to  empathize with the “high school is too early to know what you want to do with the rest of your life” thinking. The standard language at on-campus college visit presentations is to tell the student and parents it is perfectly fine to come in “undeclared” and take a year or two to decide what to study. Sure, you can start taking the “required Freshman classes” and a few electives to see what floats your boat. In the meantime, some students are figuring out a lot while still in high school and walking into college with a clear plan that may include double majoring, targeting specific companies for internships and obtaining summer jobs that will give them experience that makes them a top prospect upon graduation. In the meantime, being undeclared seems like a slow path to nowhere, and let’s not to mention the extra expense (thousands of dollars) for changing majors and extending the college stay by just one semester. Oops, I guess I did.
  • Myth #6 High achieving students don’t need as much career exploration support. One of the most challenging (and exciting) situations in coaching students is when the student is “All American” (or “All Canadian” for my Canadian readers). You know the type – very high GPA, active in sports, band, club officer, outside activities, loved by the teachers, respected by the administration, etc.).  The fact that these special individuals have so many capabilities, they have the most choices available to them. Many of these report feeling that they are expected to just know some how what they are going to do. The pressure to have a career direction figured out “on their own” is tremendous. From where I sit, there is no class of students that holds some special psychic ability to know what they want to do. All groups of students from under-achievers to over-achievers need professional career coaching.
  • Myth #7 Career exploration and planning is a “nice to have” but not the primary purpose of high school so it doesn’t deserve the funding or attention in high school. Many research studies have shown a clear connection between a student’s clarity about their future and their level of engagement in school. The result – higher academic achievement. If a student is under-performing academically, there is a good chance it is because they don’t see the potential in themselves and how that potential relates to a future. Many parents have reported back to me that their son/daughter raised their GPA the very next semester after going through the Career Coaching for Students program. But it doesn’t stop there. Students who were never on the academic honor roll in high school, and went through the Career Coaching for Students program their senior year were found two years later to have been on the Dean’s list at college every semester. The studies say this happens with credible career coaching at the high school level. Our experience is saying the same thing.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, career coach and author of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students. For information about career direction and job search coaching for college students, check out Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads. Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer.