Career literacy

Fighting Career Illiteracy

Our kids are illiterate – CAREER illiterate. And it’s very much not okay.

Some families realize this for the first time when they start college visits. Everyone asks your child, “What will your major be?” Watching your child struggle to answer, it dawns on you: this is really important. You’ve just discovered a gaping hole in your child’s knowledge set. It’s got to be addressed, just as you would any other knowledge gap!

Where did the gap come from?

We often think career literacy should be “covered in school,” but as with many other life-oriented topics like money management, etiquette, home maintenance, etc., our traditional K-12 curriculum just does not have the space for it.

Students in K-12 may naturally turn to a favorite teacher for career ideas and advice. Unfortunately, teachers are trained education professionals and (with rare exception) have no experience with the full world of careers.

Parents and peers are the other sources of career information. Most parents are familiar with their sphere of career knowledge but have little experience with careers in other areas. A child’s peers usually have the same kinds of knowledge as the child—not much!

And finally, the career exposure our kids get on TV, movies, and social media presents skewed or unrealistic images of real-world careers. Crime scene investigators solve the murder in an episode. Many teens expect that they can easily make bank as a social media influencer. These expectations aren’t based on reality.

Wait – are we really talking to TEENS about careers? Don’t they have plenty of time to make decisions?

Our team has witnessed the reality of our teens’ experiences since 2012. We know it’s critical to start the discussions early. Those first college visits reveal the truth – that our students do need to have a sense of their purpose for attending college.

The “why go to college” answer is usually tied to “getting a better job.” The years between age 15-20 race by, and…

  • In the blink of an eye, they’re applying to college and trying to answer that “what is your major?” question.
  • Blink again, and they’re interviewing for a co-op or internship in a career field of interest. Their resume will highlight their skills, experiences, major, and insight into themselves as they interview.
  • Another blink – they’re nearly done with college and applying for full-time work we hope they will love.

We can’t put off learning about careers because in today’s world, choices build on each other, and time flies by too fast.

How do we help our students become more career literate?

As we mentioned earlier, waiting for someone at our child’s school to do this is likely not a good plan. Schools are trying, but they are overburdened. Some schools are more successful, but for many it is a work in progress. We as parents must help.

The good news is that career thinking is absolutely part of each child’s development process. Students think about careers from a young age, and they want to have a sense of direction that’s based in reality. But often, they don’t see themselves in any of the very few jobs they “know.” They can feel lost and without a plan.

Time and time again, we learn from our teen clients that they do want to move toward work they will love and that will be tied to their strengths and interests!

They will benefit from processes, tools, and resources to use. Thankfully, there are many great resources available to your family so you can get traction with career thinking.

To get you started, let’s discuss a framework we recommend.

We teach students to think in this order:

  1. give some deep consideration to who you are (self assessment)
  2. then begin to research careers that can fit your traits, interests, strengths, etc.
  3. then understand the educational path you can take to move toward those interesting careers. Is a traditional college degree required? Or are certifications or credentials the best entry point? Is a graduate degree required?

Given these steps, let’s look at some resources that are available to families.

Self Assessment:

Self assessment is the process of coming to understand who you are—your interests, values, traits, skills, etc. We’re big believers in the power of interviewing a student to get them to verbally consider their experiences. Often, this look back (with the 1:1 support of our facilitator) gives great insight on what’s really important to this student. It solidifies the truths they know deep down, but maybe never articulated this way before.

If our Guided Self Assessment process isn’t a good fit for your student, parents can certainly work to ask some of the same questions and support their teen to really think deeply about themselves. Encourage your child to think about what they learned about themselves in their past experiences—school, activities, personal, etc. Journaling can help.

Can an online assessment work? We’re not big fans because most students don’t receive the necessary counseling to discuss the results. Taking a 35-question assessment will never yield the self awareness that several hours of discussion will. Finally, many quizzes force teens to choose between two options and don’t allow for the sometimes “A” and sometimes “B” type of gray area answers.

For younger students in grades 7, 8, and 9, our Heads Up! workshop is a great introduction to what self assessment is and how it is related to career research.

Many books have been written to support teens like What Color Is Your Parachute? Give a few different tools a try, but no matter what, don’t skip this important step.

Career Research and Exploration:

Career research can happen at any time in a child’s development. You are not too late!

For our do-it-yourself families, our Why Go to College? Career/Major Thinking for Teens is a must-see webinar filled with tips on researching careers. And it’s free. Can’t beat that! We provide this program for free because career research is vital! We don’t want cost to be a hurdle.

In addition, don’t forget the power and the resources available on the internet. Here are a few of our favorites. (We explain these in more depth in our Why go to college? webinar.)

Informational interviews (part of our Guided Self Assessment service), mentorships, high school courses/electives, part-time work, and job shadowing are other tools to use in your exploration.

Because all of this is overwhelming, some families find they need more assistance identifying potential careers. Our Guided Self Assessment process builds on what we learned in our deep self assessment discussions and proposes a wide range of potential careers. Our team of professionals collaborates on every assessment to pool their vast knowledge about the world of work to propose careers families never even considered. Plus, the child’s facilitator gets them started on their next steps in career exploration.

Educational Path Planning:

Educational path planning is a straightforward process of understanding the mechanical steps needed to get you from where you are (middle or high school) to where you want to be (targeted first job). Your path includes choices made in high school and planning for college, military, gap year, or direct to career after high school.

We provide many resources to help families with this planning in our wide variety of workshops and webinars and our personal Private Consultation service. With potential careers in mind, the steps to get there because much easier to plan and work through.

Career literacy depends on self assessment, research, and exploration.

Most families start with and focus on a part of educational path planning (college selection) and miss the important building blocks of self assessment and career research and exploration that support the chosen destination. Career literacy is necessary to successfully head to college and career with confidence and clarity. Encourage your child to do this thinking. We are here to help.


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