Monday, May 4, 2009

Helping Your Child or Grandchild Choose a Career

The parent's nightmare: having spent a fortune to send a kid to college only to find her or him, after graduation or dropping out (half do,) back on the sofa career-clueless.

What to do?

To preempt the problem, start encouraging career exploration early--age 5 isn't too young. The schools should do this but alas, they're ever more obsessed with just preparing students for more school. Start by taking your child on field trips to see people doing the sorts of work you could envision your child doing. For example, if your child is a people person, you might visit a corporate salesperson and a nonprofit manager. If your child is a hands-on type, you might visit a biomedical equipment technician and a surgeon. Too busy to take such field trips, find on-target career videos using GoogleVideo.

Encourage your child, whether in elementary school or college, to ask the teacher's permission to do term papers and projects that would help them explore a career. For example, if teacher assigns a term paper on the use of the doppelganger in literature, your child might ask if he might instead do one contrasting the way architects are treated by various authors.

During the summers, I recommend against sending a high schooler to a prestigious college's summer program for high school students. The last thing teenagers need is more school and it will have little or no impact on their college admissibility. I would also discourage classic teen summer jobs such as scooping ice cream in favor of asking yourself, "What friend or relative might give my child a paid or volunteer opportunity that would allow him to explore a possible career?"

I suggest that your child select a tentative major before deciding which colleges to apply to--it can help determine what college to attend. A great master list of majors and the colleges offering them are HERE.

Also remind your child that college is a bad place to try to figure out what you should be when you grow up. Remember, professors are people who deliberately opted out of the real world so they can pursue arcane research projects of interest to only the handful of other similar researchers. Instead of relying on courses and professors to guide your child's career choice, encourage your child to play around in the campus career center and/or have them identify candidate careers by perusing the annotated lists of careers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, (bias alert here), my Best Careers lists on, and the 500+ careers in my book, Cool Careers for Dummies. Each of those offers a profile of lots of careers followed by a suggested website or book for additional information.

But what if it's too late for all that? Your kid is back on your sofa, career-clueless, still trying to "find himself," perhaps even proposing that cliche of cliches: a trip overseas to "find myself." Beware: Having been career coach to many such people, seeking beyond the summer after graduation usually increases inertia and confusion. A second warning : Do not encourage that inaction by supporting your child through his "period of discovery." It usually engenders the same torpor than renders trust-fund babies and welfare recipients inert.

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