The reality for today’s teens is that they keep their heads down. They move from task to task, class to class, assignment to assignment, activity to activity without pausing to lift their heads up and look ahead.
And yet, everyone hopes that they will magically select a path at the end of school grounded in an understanding of their strengths, interests, values, etc.
Add in this fun fact: career illiteracy is very, very real.
Illiteracy is defined as a lack of knowledge in a particular subject, and teens will tell you that this word describes their understanding of the world of careers perfectly.
Career thinking is not on their radar. They resist using high school as a time of exploration because they just want to fit in with their peers and what they are doing. Teens assume learning about careers will happen at some point in the future. They simply have too much going on right now, and they don’t recognize the downside of not doing this work.
What they do understand about the true range of careers is quite skimpy, and that’s mostly due to having insufficient exposure to what real career professionals do in their daily work life. Their perceptions come from watching TV shows like CSI or Grey’s Anatomy, watching their teachers, going to physical therapy, and listening to their parents talk about their careers.
Actual career exploration is valuable but limited.
We love the recent increased focus on career exploration for teens! Some schools are spending more time peeling back the curtain to expose students to the types of careers available. Every little bit helps; however, without an understanding of their own traits and interests, career exploration activities can completely miss the mark. A student must be able to see the connection between who they are and what this or that job is like.
Let’s explain what we mean.
Say a student is handed a menu for dinner, and the only choices are Thompson Salad, Steak á la Probst, and Supreme Chicken. The student has no clue what ingredients are in each, so they are unable to compare the food against what they know to be the things they like and do not like. Does the salad have tomatoes? What sauce is on the chicken? They must know what their preferences are before they can choose an item from the menu.
Now, replace the menu items with career names. In the same way, if a student does not know their strengths, interests, values, challenges, characteristics, etc., they cannot say, “yes, this career sounds like potential fit for me.”
What are some things we have learned in over 10 years of helping teens with self assessment?
We have been honored to sit with teens for thousands of hours of conversation to help them tease out what they know about themselves. The experiences our team has had with these young adults have been so impactful. We have learned many, many things from teens over the years. Here are a few that can help families:
1) Teens want to make good decisions.
Once they get started, they are really into considering their strongest traits and interests. We use the technique of pairing 1:1 with the student to encourage their evaluation of their experiences while challenging them to clarify and connect. They quickly realize the value of the work and are deeply engaged. We often hear them say, “I’ve never thought about these questions before!” Encourage and work with your student to do this thinking.
2) For teens, simply telling them something about themselves (“You are so good at that!”) is not enough.
When a teen articulates that trait for THEMSELVES, they KNOW IT on a level that is completely different than if someone else told them that.
3) Generating a list of lifestyle goals is an angle we have used for years.
Often, the ability to really see themselves in a specific job role is hard for teens, but they absolutely can articulate some lifestyle goals that are related to the work they will do. Teens will say “I want to wear comfortable clothes,” “I don’t want to sit at a desk all day,” “I want to travel,” “I don’t want someone’s life to depend on me” – all are excellent clues for a student. Our interview technique captures the subtleties that go even deeper in each of these statements.
4) If they can learn early to evaluate experiences, they understand the task and its value, and they get better at it.
If they collect the findings in one spot, they can refine their “What I Know about Me” list over time. (Our Heads Up! workshop helps those in the middle grades get started.)
5) Their self-knowledge will help guide the many, many choices in high school – electives, part-time work, dual enrollment, career tech, clubs, and activities.
This basis of knowledge makes it easy for the student to take a small step to explore a known interest during high school.
Self assessment is key to career exploration.
Every single student has a different “self assessment portfolio” and will find a different set of career options to be a fit. As a result, we prioritize in-depth and 1:1 relationships in our Guided Self Assessment service.
Every family can encourage their student to lift their head up and pause to consider themselves. We must recognize why self assessment is so vital to career exploration. You cannot successfully have one without the other. Teens cannot make selections from the menu of careers available without a firm understanding of their preferences.
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