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Building Career Awareness Can Help Teenagers in College and Beyond

Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, once said: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”

Career Awareness Can Help Your Teen Go Far

Jobs, who died in 2011, was the poster boy for the notion that when we do what we enjoy, career success and satisfaction can follow. But, are parents effective at helping their teenagers discover it?

Not especially, say the experts. The rising cost of college, combined with the competitive admissions landscape, has pushed parents to focus more on getting their offspring into college and less on the bigger picture of what their teenagers will do once they’re there. Teenagers without career awareness, who have given little thought to potential careers, can stumble when they get to campus.

“If you look at the graduation rate after four years of college, it’s about 37 percent. Because so many students switch majors, often more than once, most take five years. And some actually take six,” notes Jack Gannon, managing director of Crossroads College Counseling in Norton, Massachusetts.


Connecting Interests And Careers

So, where should parents begin? Simple. With your teenager’s interests.

Classes, clubs, volunteer opportunities and even summer camps can help your teen discover what they like and don’t. But, don’t stop there.

“Start the conversation about what they find meaningful,” explains Kay Levandowski, a counselor at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. “Say your teenager enjoys playing soccer, well you can talk to them about teamwork in the job setting. Or, ask them what exactly they like about science or being on the debate team.”

In other words, try to connect the dots between interests and careers. “We need to plant the seeds with our teenagers early on that they’re developing a career,” says Carol Christen, co-author of What Color is Your Parachute? for Teens. “Anytime a young person expresses interest, an adult should sit with them and say, ‘Hey let’s look at what jobs go along with that.’ The start of career development is career awareness.”

Christen also recommends that parents take it a step further and, in tenth or eleventh grade, help their teenagers find opportunities to try out the careers that interest them.

“Help them get an internship or a shadowing experience, so they can go deeper and really explore.”

Self Assess for Strengths and Interests

While it may feel like our teenagers are tested enough, there are assessments, like Gallup’s StrengthsQuest and the Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator, which can help teenagers understand more about themselves and the type of work that may suit them.

Take StrengthsQuest. This assessment asks teens to express a preference for comparable items within 20 seconds. “This gets at their gut-level response,” explains Shane Lopez, a senior scientist with Gallup.

The results detail the areas in which they scored well and “help them think about what they do best. Here’s where you find flow and energy,” Lopez adds.

For example, a teenager may learn he has something called, “Woo”—yup, Woo—which is “a person who just loves to meet new people and engage in new relationships,” says Mark Pogue, vice president for higher education at Gallup. Parents can use this result to help their teens pursue a career that fosters this “Woo” versus work that requires them to operate on their own.

Experts say that while these types of assessments can’t provide all the answers, they can be helpful. “It’s not an exact science, but there are ways that students can explore more deeply what they think they might be interested in,” says Gannon, who routinely recommends clients take both StrengthsQuest and Myer’s Briggs. Both are available online for less than $100.

A Teen’s Potential Careers Are Not About Us

While parents want what’s best for their teenagers, experts say that they will not guide their teenagers toward success if they push them into a career (and college major) that they’re not passionate about.

“It’s about what’s meaningful for the student, not the parent,” Levandowski notes. “Your teenager will be happy doing what she loves.”

And, as an added perk, the end could result in the very thing that parents like to guarantee: their teenager’s financial independence.

“The research shows that people who follow their interests are much more likely to be financially successful than people who choose a job for money,” Christen says. “Few people can do the amount of work it takes to be really successful in a field they don’t like.”

We think Steve Jobs would agree.

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.

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