Helping Your Child Determine a Career Path
My wife and I have two adult children – one who finished college and is in his first job and the other is on an “alternative career track”. Despite the fact that we’ve moved past the labor-intensive years of parenting, I often find myself thinking and praying about my children’s future and what they may become.
As a Career Coach I frequently work with young people who are struggling to identify their own career path. American society does a rotten job of helping our children understand who they really are and what that says about the kind of work roles that will actually fit them. Typically we go no farther than asking what they are interest in. That’s about as useful as taking a 12-year-old to a buffet and expecting him to “eat healthy”.
“What do you want to do?” and “What will provide the best work-fit for you?” are two very different questions.
How do we prepare our kids to find careers that will fit them?
Know your Kid
Too often as parents we focus either on molding our child to fit our own characteristics and desires or letting their development take its own course with minimal interference from us. When thinking about your child’s career fit the challenge is to objectively think about her or him and their natural gifts and tendencies.
School Subjects: A good start is to identify the school subjects that she or he excels at and which ones repeatedly give them trouble. But then you need to go a bit deeper into why it works that way for her/him. Simple questions that reveal whether she can easily memorize dates, multiplication tables or word spelling and grammar rules will tell you whether she is cut out for managing operational or administrative tasks. Likewise, if your child has difficulty staying focused, sitting still, or maintaining attention it may mean more than he or she struggles with ADD, but that they are actually wired for a career of variety, action and movement.
Outside Activities: Do they enjoy sports? If so, do they prefer team sports for the joy of being on the team or because sports allow her or him to exercise their individual competitive drive? Ironically, this can be a key indicator of whether they will do better in team-driven versus individual-driven work situations or even support services versus sales. Be careful here, as some adults unknowingly visit their own frustrated athletic dreams on their kids, paying little or no attention to what sports give and don’t give their child.
Creativity: How does your child approach artistic creation? Early on it was apparent that my two children approached art in two very different ways – he adapted his artistic and musical creations from things he already knew and could replicate, and she grabbed new musical harmonies and artistic designs out of thin air. Even these simple differences will help you know how much or little structure he or she will need in a work environment.
Other: Characteristics like timeliness, neatness, spontaneity and the like, are often good indications of the kind of jobs that are going to work well for your child but remember, you may unwittingly press your own work preferences on your child. It’s always good to ask, “Is this truly their tendency, or is it my own tendency being reflected back by my child?”
Help him/her maximize his/her strengths and develop strategies for dealing with their limitations
American marketing culture is driven by a focus on our shortcomings. We are told that we “need” products to become successful, attractive, powerful, fun, or to have any of the other attributes that will make our lives “complete”. Unfortunately this “deficit focus” doesn’t usually lead to healthy career paths because we end up throwing so much effort into building up our areas of limitation, rather than maximizing our natural strengths.
What are your child’s natural strengths? What are those attributes that she or he can do as well or better than you, your other kids, or their peers? I’m not talking here about the things that show up on bumper stickers that brag about a child’s accomplishments. Instead, think about the things that indicate the possible roles they might play in the world and help them learn to practice and develop those.
For example, my son has an incredible memory, a love of people, a very systematic approach to work, and he can talk your ears off. Currently he’s working in a job where he helps visitors to a camp by providing them with resources and information, and making special arrangements according to their unique needs. He uses his communication skills, his awesome memory, and his ability to work within schedules and ensure perfect timing to optimize their camp experience. If the group has creative needs, then he directs them to someone better suited to the task because he knows that’s not his strength.
Devise a plan to explore real-world possibilities through summer employment, internships, “job shadowing”, and interview experiences.
When it comes to jobs, there truly is no substitute for first-hand experience. Yet, too often our kids graduate from high school and college without having any real-world exposure to the jobs available in their area of interest or college major.
Instead of stopping at the point of asking about his or her interest, help them get exposed to the kinds of work that peak their interest by connecting them to people in those fields. Job shadowing, interviews with professionals, internships, and even getting them hourly work as an assistant or “gopher” with companies and organizations related to their interest areas will help solidify their understanding of what does and doesn’t work for them.
Think like a coach
Great coaches always begin and end by stressing and practicing the fundamental skills of a sport. They know that good fundamentals are often more valuable than clever strategies. Helping your child develop good work-life fundamentals is a real key to their career success. Helping them develop interviewing skills and an understanding of professional dress, speech and dining etiquette will help her or him build a foundation for a successful career. Opening a checking account and teaching them to (and perhaps making them) maintain their own finances will save them, and you, from a world of frustration when they enter college and adult life. And solid communication and social skills – both written and verbal – are essential in college and work application processes and your child’s post-high school development.
Common Sense is Uncommon
Although many of these ideas appear to be something anyone with good common sense might presume, I never cease to be amazed by how increasingly uncommon common sense is in our society. Your child has a natural advantage simply by being homeschooled, as most home schooling parents have higher levels of education themselves and parental education levels are the highest predictor of child achievement levels. Going a few steps further to help clarify her or his thoughts about career and their career success will ensure your financial and time investments in your child yield their greatest dividend.