Career exploration

Am I too late? Am I too early? When is the right time for career exploration with your teen?

Parents are always conscious of time. From the very beginning raising our children, we are so aware of those time markers: first words, first steps, potting training, etc. During the high school years, it begins again. When is the right time to take the ACT or SAT? When should we visit colleges? (Our Private Consultations can help answer those questions.) And when should our teens be researching careers? Are we too late? When is too early for career exploration?

Career thinking is definitely not limited to one “right” time!

It is something that we as parents can teach in age-appropriate ways throughout their lives.

First steps

When a child is younger, they may take a dance class or play a sport and then decide that they will be a professional baseball player or ballet teacher. (We wrote a blog about navigating career choices based solely on activities a student participates in.)

At this age, parents can encourage and talk about a day in the life of such career choices. For example, brainstorm the tasks beyond what the child sees a teacher doing (classroom instruction) and discuss that teachers also must work every night, prepare for competitions, develop new routines, etc. Along with expanding the idea of a career and what it looks like, you also start to get at what skills are needed to do that career well.

These conversations are the first steps to recognizing the need for researching careers and matching them with your skills. You’re helping them to expand their thinking.

A little older

We can encourage every interest “flame” (and there probably will be many). During the middle grades, their young teen brain is in exploration mode. Their interests can change daily or even hourly.

For interests that last more than a day, we can discuss what the student finds interesting and how those interests play a role in x or y or z job areas. What are the jobs aligned with a particular interest? Maybe choose an age-appropriate summer camp that tie to interests and skills so they can learn more.

We also recommend that students in grades 7, 8, and 9 take our Heads Up! Equipping Students for What’s Next class. The workshop is a more formalized way for students to be introduced to thinking about preferences, values, skills, traits, etc. and how to connect them to careers.

All along the way, students continue to explore those interests through the courses they select and the activities and experiences they choose. Encourage them to evaluate the experiences to see if they feel more or less connected to the area of interest.

High school sophomores and juniors – they are definitely ready!

Students at this age are ready to think more deeply about careers and what fits them. They start to picture their future life (after school is over) and imagine what will fulfill their goals. That destination is in no way set in stone. The important steps and support during this time can help shape and clarify what options can be right for them. They have amassed enough experiences to really dig into their strengths, values, skills, etc. and research potential careers in earnest. They want to do this thinking!

They need to set aside the time and space to think about who they are. Journaling can help. Think about past classes and experiences. What did you enjoy? What was a challenge? What do I struggle with? After gaining a firmer understanding of who they are, students can then connect those details with potential careers to explore through research and informational interviews. (Our Why Go to College? webinar can provide some free DIY tips on research.)

Because this kind of self assessment thinking and career exploration can be challenging for many students, we recommend families consider our Guided Self Assessment process. This personalized guidance we provide is unrivaled in any other service available to students. Our experts support each student with career exploration, and students gain the skillset required to “self assess” both now and in the future. This 8-10 week investment of time is a powerful gift to students who need this touchpoint. (Learn more in a family meeting.) This process is very effective for students in the range of high school sophomore to college sophomore.

High school seniors are in college search and apply mode.

Yes, seniors are completely enveloped in the college process during this year. They are applying to and deciding between which college to attend. However, it is not too late to be thinking about careers…especially if they have little to no foundation of knowledge about their chosen path. If they do have a major identified, research into the careers and the paths to successfully reach that career should continue. Undecided or exploratory majors have special considerations to keep in mind.

Every year, we will help seniors to complete our Guided Self Assessment process. Maybe they have not done this thinking before? Maybe they are unsure how to sort out the many options? Maybe they need confirmation of the path they have chosen? Families seek out Guided Self Assessment in senior year for all of those reasons, and it can be a game-changer in terms of making the choice of college easier for the family.

Career exploration continues in college.

Of course, we think of careers in college. Some courses will be dedicated to or include this work. College students will quickly seek out internships and other valuable work experiences. We are huge supporters of the Career Services professionals employed by colleges. Too many students don’t take advantage of what their college investment is paying for! College students need to explore the resources they can access. The availability and strength of career planning is a part of your student’s success, so be on the lookout for colleges that recognize and support this important piece. For students continuing to struggle with identifying a major and career path, Guided Self Assessment might be a tool to help those early in their college years.

Career exploration is not something that ends after graduation.

As adults, we all get that. We continue to progress from job to job, maybe even changing career paths along the way. At this point, support can be found from professionals that help adults with career identification, recruiting, resume/interview preparation, etc. When adults ask us for help, we let them know about two teams we trust that work with adults: Crosworks Career and Talent Specialists and First Penguin Coaching.

So, when is the best time to be thinking about careers?

The good news is you are NEVER too early or too late. Self assessment and career exploration can and should be done in age-appropriate ways throughout our lives. Our goal should always be to firm up that foundation of knowledge about who we are and what we want to do, and to remember to do this periodically throughout life. At The Core’s mission is to help students get at the core of what lights them up inside in order to find the right paths on their journey ahead.


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