Career planning is a tough subject for adults. How much more so for kids? Learning how to help a child choose a career path that is lucrative and rewarding is one of the most important jobs a parent performs. Don’t leave it to a generic career test!
Objective Career Test vs. Subjective Observations
It is true that a career test – oftentimes offered at the high school or college level – is an objective guide to a child’s measurable aptitudes. That being said, it does little to help a child find a career path for which s/he has the aptitude and interest. Remember also that children quickly learn how to take tests, and inevitably may ‘know’ how to answer the questions in such a manner that the tester receives the results he is looking for.
Tip: Ask friends, family members and others who know your child what they see as her strengths and weaknesses. Different folks will highlight diverse areas that can then help the parent during a career planning session.
Do Not Choose a Career Solely Based on Grades
A career path in accounting may sound great for the math whiz, but if his personality does not lean toward number-crunching, any pressure to enter the field may result in a detested career. By the same token, a gifted English student should not automatically be made to take a career test for teaching or law; there are plenty of unrelated career paths that also capitalize on language prowess.
Tip: Look to grades as a way of ruling out a career or modifying a career path. For example, a child who has little interest in history, social studies and related fields will most likely not become a great archeologist.
Help a Child Choose a Career by Asking Questions (lots of them)
Do not assume a child wants to go into the family business or follow in the footsteps of the generations before her, if all women in the family held the same type of job (i.e. teacher). Moreover, recognize that from the first day when the child realizes that he has a choice of career, the ultimate career goal will be refined consistently. Asking once – and receiving an answer – should not be taken as the final word on the subject.
Tip: Use active but non-judgmental listening skills when talking with a child about career planning. If she states that she wants to run a restaurant and write poetry, do not dismiss the one over the other or weigh her down with the nuts and bolts of what it takes to make it in any given career. Instead, find out what specifically she believes she will enjoy about these activities.
Match Likes with Facts and Figures
The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a career information home page that helps kids choose a career based on general interests, such as sports, helping people, computers or reading. These generalities can be whittled down to more specific – but still general – categories, which then also reveal the pay, the kind of training required and what the general job outlook may be. Related professions are referenced, which is great to encourage a child think outside the box and choose a career that may be non-traditional.
Tip: Remember that a career path does not have to be a lifelong commitment. Even so, it can have disastrous consequences to attempt and force a child to choose a lucrative career path over one that may not be as well paid but offers a lot more personal satisfaction.
Volunteerism – the Ultimate Career Test
Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR) strongly encourage parents to let children take an active hand in career planning by engaging in volunteerism. A child who wants to ‘work with people’ may discover the he enjoys working in a setting specifically catering to seniors or children, while a child interested in science may find that volunteering at a natural history museum opens the door to a previously not considered career path, such as conservation, archaeology or education.
Tip: Enable the child to experience a number of related yet dissimilar volunteer opportunities. It is better to find out – after volunteering for a summer at a local soup kitchen – that social work is not the field a child wants to enter, than entering the field after college only to recognize that the supposed calling was little more than a passing fancy.