Helping a child find the right career path begins well before choosing a major or celebrating graduation. Effective parents start to shift gears at the end of high school and during the early years of college. Here are 10 ways to help gently guide (perhaps without detection) your children through a process of observation and self reflection that will build a foundation for long-term career success.
1. Listen to Your Child…in a New Way
As a parent of a younger child, you’re often a problem solver or answer provider. Once a child reaches college, she begins to believe that she has the answers. As a parent, your role may shift to a more reflecting one where you help her understand what she’s telling you. For example, saying, “It sounds like you really learned a lot from your psychology class and really enjoyed the research in particular,” will give her insight into herself, allowing her to correct or confirm your understanding of what she’s shared. This typically works better than making declarations like, “You love research,” which she may resist given a natural inclination to oppose parental opinions.
2. Begin Career Discussions Early…and Often
Older children will usually give parents about 10 minutes for any kind of “deep” conversation. Using these brief conversations to talk about likes and dislikes can let you and your child develop a roadmap to future career options. As time goes by, the outcomes of these intervals can get more specific as you have developed a routine of being a safe resource for exploration and brainstorming.
3. Learn from Campus Visits and Other New Experiences
Pre-college campus visits are a great time to start looking for clues about future career fit. Step back, observe, and look for natural, first-time reactions that your child has to various aspects of a new campus. What engages him? What bores him? Pay attention to enthusiastic reactions. Are they reinforcing what you already believe about your child or are you seeing something new? As the college years go by, you’ll start noticing natural areas of interest. As new experiences abound, you can start discussing ways your child may transition into various career options as they develop.
4. Break the “Canned Questions” Habit
Think back to your young adulthood and you may recall the turmoil caused by friends and relatives assaulting you with dreaded questions like, “What are you going to do with your life?” or “What do you want to do when you grow up?” A better approach is to explore various areas, a little bit at a time. Ask open-ended questions and invite self-reflection: What kinds of things are you good at? What gives you energy? What kinds of projects make time “fly by” for you? Who knows…if you embrace this approach, you may become everyone’s favorite relative at the next holiday gathering!
5. Discuss Realistic Academic Expectations
It’s a tricky area, but one in which adult children often need guidance. If they want to be in Investment Banking, but they have a B-average and most of their credits are in the arts, a vocational mismatch is definitely brewing. This is one of the most dangerous areas for parents and children to discuss because conversations around academic performance are oftentimes laced with emotional expectations. If you sense that your adult child may have unrealistic career goals in relation to his or her academic performance, it may be time to call in outside support from friends, professional career experts, or college placement resources.
6. Understand “The Social Network” Your Child Needs
Everyone is not an outgoing social butterfly—and that’s okay! When you’re in the job market it’s important to come across as excited about the opportunity, but that takes a lot of work for some people who are naturally more subdued and introverted. If your child is not extremely social it’s not necessarily wise to encourage career paths where that personality type will become a roadblock. For example, sales and other client-facing jobs are not for introverts, but jobs in research or technology could be great options. Preparing for interviews and internships can be very daunting for people who are uncomfortable with verbal communication. If your child faces these obstacles, get creative in soliciting resources and practice opportunities to support your child as he transitions into a career.
7. Help Find “Tryouts”
Look for opportunities for your child to shadow people who are already in careers that might be a potential fit. This can be as simple as spending a few hours one day during winter break with a friend, neighbor, or relative who has a job in an industry that’s of interest. A job shadow lets your child try out different career fields to see if there’s a potential match. Calling in favors and using one’s network to create these opportunities can be a great way to offer support without imposing too much or creating high stakes scenarios for your child.
8. Recognize that Mistakes and False Starts are Part of the Process
Your child will probably make some really bad choices in the process of selecting a career. Your best role will be to dust them off and help them unpack the experience, focusing on what they learned and how they can use that experience to make good choices in the future.
9. Discuss the Importance of Financial Rewards
Help your child understand the financial realities of certain careers. For example, if your child has caviar taste and wants to be a teacher, it’s smart to put some theoretical budgets together to compare that career choice against another. Online tools and apps like Mint and GoodBudget can help you illustrate the financial realities between being a social worker and an investment banker to see how they will impact your ability to eat out 4 nights a week or buy the latest iPhone.
10. Look in the Mirror
Realize that launching a child brings up a lot of baggage from your own career choices and outcomes. While it can be tempting to promote certain paths that you wish you had taken, ultimately you want to encourage choices that will lead to career satisfaction for your child. If you find yourself too emotionally involved in your child’s job search, find the help you need to step back and offer the room needed for healthy self-exploration and development.
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