When I was younger, I dreamed about being a paleontologist. By the time the sixth grade career fair rolled around, however, I had decided to be a lawyer. By senior year in high school, I decided to be a teacher. Part of growing up is having different career aspirations. While many kids initially focus on very familiar professions, such as teachers or firefighters, part of helping them to grow is exposing them to different kinds of jobs that play on their strengths.
For younger children, career exposure may simply mean bringing up different careers as you encounter them. On a car ride listening to the radio you might mention all the different jobs that are involved in radio broadcasting: DJs, sound board operators, advertisers, marketers, directors…the list goes on. Include kids in conversations you have with friends and family about their careers. You should also talk to your child about what your career entails. Capitalize on bring your child to work day and let your child experience what a day in your shoes is like. If your child has a specific passion, like dinosaurs or trains, talk to them about specific career options that capitalize on these interests. At this point, however, you should make it clear that part of school is getting to try out a lot of different subject areas to learn about what kinds of thing interest your child. While it may seem nice to tell your kid that he would make a great counselor because he listens so well, you shouldn’t try to pigeonhole your children into one career path.
As kids get older, however, career exposure can become more focused. Encourage your high-schooler to try an internship in a field he or she might be interested in pursuing, or volunteering in a similar area. A lot of businesses are very accommodating when it comes to having a high school student shadow one of their employees for a day to see what the job actually entails. If your child is really struggling with what to do after high school, encourage him to ask the guidance office if they offer any career-oriented quizzes that can help guide your child towards something he may enjoy doing.
If your child decides to go to college without a specific career path in mind, don’t push her to make decision right away. It’s better to spend the first year taking courses in a variety of subjects than to be in courses you hate. I had a friend my freshman year who had been told by her father that she was going to be an economics major even though she wanted to be a theater major. After failing a few of her first-year courses in economics and having a blow-out fight with her dad over summer break, she came back in the fall as a theater arts major, with a minor in economics. Every parent has dreams for their child, but pushing too hard can put a real strain on your relationship.
Although college-age kids may not want as much support or advice from parents, there are still resources you can encourage them to consult. Nearly all colleges and universities offer a career services center that offers free support to students in everything from finding internships and writing resumes to finding jobs. Encourage your child to be proactive from his first year and complete as many internships as possible. These real-world working experiences can not only help point your child in the direction he wants to go in, but it can also help boost a post-grad resume significantly.
What are other tips you have for helping your child pursue a career?