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C is Careers

Alphabet Summer provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the many jobs that make up our nation and world’s workforce.  As a career counselor, I believe gaining career exploration skills will benefit children as early as preschool age on up to college and beyond. I do NOT believe that children should focus on one job area or be encouraged to narrow their career exploration to only one or a few occupation.

It is natural for children of all ages to get excited about certain jobs and identify with them on their own. However it is our job as caregivers to help them continue their exploration.  I used to teach a college level career development course for pre-med majors to assist them with confirming their choice to pursue a job in the medical field.  Several students realized over the course of the class that they really did not want to become a doctor, surgeon, or nurse despite believing this was their career ambition since the age of five.  Often time parents encourage their children to over-identify with some job types and not others because it serves their own needs. It’s natural for us to want the best for our children, however encouraging a child to pursue a specific career at an early age can hurt their ability to develop important skills and identify their own interests, values, and skills which in the long term makes for a very unhappy person. 

Caretakers face the need for a delicate balance as they attempt to assist their children with exploring the job options that may or may not even be in existence by the time these same children are ready to enter the world of work.  It’s important not to push a child to focus on the world of work too much, or encourage them to define their identity based on job titles.  It is best to encourage children to learn the skills that will help them navigate their career, which as most of us know wind like a river and not shoot like a star.  In other words, careers are typically not plotted out; there are typically quite a number of unexpected twists and turns to each of our career lives.  Helping children gain career skills at developmentally appropriate times will help them navigate that winding river.  The goal of assisting children with career development should be age and developmentally appropriate tasks to help them explore jobs, meet people, interview people, be interviewed, and to become more and more acquainted with their own personal talents, skills, values, knowledge, experience, and limitations. 

My recommendations are as follows for children based on age.  You know your child best so please use discretion in choosing the career exploration tasks that I suggest based on your child’s maturity, development, and interest. Not all of the ages and tasks are appropriate for each child.
The following should serve as only as guidelines:
Ages 2 – 6: Focus on exposure mainly through stories and pointing out job titles and tasks that you, your spouse, relatives, and friends have.  Richard Scarry’s Busytown What Do  People Do All Day? book is a fun way for children of this age group to learn about different job fields.
Ages 7 – 10: Focus on research and exposure, introduce the idea of informational interviewing to learn more about jobs and career fields.  Ask a trusted friend or family member to tell your child about their work days and if they are willing, allow your child to shadow them at work for an hour or so.
Ages 11 – 15: Continue to focus and build on informational interviews, introduce the concept of network building by gathering business cards or keeping a notebook filled with the names
and people they know, where they work, and what they do. This is also a good time to encourage entrepreneurial skills by helping your child start gaining skills in the field of  marketing services they are willing to provide.
Ages 16 – 20: This is a great age to introduce the importance of volunteering to not only benefit your community but to help your child gain skills and experiences that will help them grow personally and professionally.  Many teens start their first jobs at this age in retail or food service and this provides a great opportunity to help them write their first resume and collect items from school, volunteering, and part time jobs for their portfolio.  It’s important to help them learn interviewing skills perhaps through a practice interview and to introduce self-assessment tools such as personality inventories, interest and skill assessments.  Make sure you have trained staff assist you with this.  Many individuals have been hurt more by career assessments than helped.  You may want to have your child who is nearing graduation meet with a career counselor at a local college.  College career development centers are usually happy to provide assessment services to individuals who plan to apply to that college or university. Be sure to explain to your teen the importance of information shared online through blogs and social networking.  What is placed on the internet cannot be easily removed and can having a lasting impact on their professional careers.
When I was in 8th grade I took a required career assessment. The guidance counselor simply administered it and provided the results which made no sense to me and my parents.  At that time I was only 13 or 14 years old and knew very little about my own skills and interest.  The one thing I recall was that the number one suggested job was Funeral Home Director which was both funny and frightening to me because, well, how do I put this, I don’t like working with dead people.  Even as a teenager I knew this about myself.  Years later, I worked with a skilled career counselor who taught me how to interpret the very same career assessment and amazingly the top job more than 10 years after I took the assessment the first time was Funeral Home Director.  I thought this was hilarious when I received the results.  The counselor helped me to see that it’s not necessarily the job title that I should focus on but the functions of the job. For instance, as I started to realize my interest and calling as a career counselor myself, the counselor I was meeting with showed me all of the similarities that a Funeral Home Director has with a Career Counselor.  Both of these jobs work with people in times of great transition (different types of transition obviously, but still transition and often times stressful transition).  Both jobs require the ability to organize special events and to do public speaking.  Both jobs require both one-on-one and large group contact.  I was truly amazed by the counselor’s ability to correctly interpret the assessment once she showed me how to get past the job title and to look more at the function of the jobs listed in my results.   

Click here for informational interview question suggestions and different job titles.
Click here for information on helping children to build entrepreneurial skills.

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