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Hey, kid – get a job!

by Scott Goodman

It’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. More than just a day for kids to miss school to hang out with their parents on the job, this day is meant to help kids discover the possibilities for creating a fulfilling career and inspire them to share a vision of their own future.

As a kid, I always had a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up: astronaut, professional football player, actor. And even though industrial-organizational psychologist was nowhere near my radar as a science-loving, football-playing, aspiring actor, that’s where I’ve landed. And while I would still take a call from NASA, I think things turned out just the way they should have for me.

Thinking about career options can be challenging for young people, especially today when there are so many different options and career resources.

What are you doing to foster career awareness and job fit for the kids in your life?

There isn’t a magic formula, but having conversations with your children about what they might want to do is a great starting point. Exploring ideas and options early (even as young as 10) may help guide them in choosing school subjects that interest them and are relevant to their career aspirations.

Below are some suggestions for helping your children with career awareness, understanding job fit, and selecting a career path that best suits them.

  • Encourage them to learn about themselves.
    Helping your children understand what they enjoy and are good at is the first step of career exploration. Young children may not be able to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but are likely to be able to identify what they like to learn about. Knowing what they’re interested in can help direct learning goals and may be the path toward a career.

    Numerous self-assessments can help teenagers assess their personality and types of occupations that might suit them. Such tools are designed to help individuals understand themselves and the suitability of certain careers. They can be incredibly helpful for understanding the type of work environment that best fits a person’s style and motivation.
  • Cultivate their interests.
    Talk to your children about what excites them. Their ideas may be different than yours, but remember: it’s their career and their choice. Fueling their passions and connecting them to career goals will start them on the path to living a life doing what they love—and being able to separate what they want to do from what they think others want them to do.
  • Ask them what their future looks like.
    Inquire about the kind of life they envision—the lifestyle they want, where they want to live, what their daily life looks like. Determining where and how they picture living can be an important part of putting together the pieces of the life they imagine. Such considerations are especially worthwhile for jobs specific to particular climates or parts of the world.
  • Insist they think big—and deep and wide.
    Emphasize the importance of broadening instead of narrowing possibilities when thinking about careers. Urge them (often) to keep an open mind. Career-day programs, mentoring, and other development opportunities offered through school and community organizations can help them learn more about the world of work and the role they want to play in it.
  • Share your journey.
    Tell them about your own career path. Your story may inspire and provide clarity about the patience, flexibility, and commitment required to build a career. Suggest they talk with other family members, friends, neighbors, and your colleagues.
  • Remind them to look beyond their assumptions.
    Encourage them to explore as many resources as they can to learn about careers in which they are interested. Urge them to research the career paths of people they admire. Suggest they speak with their career advisors and teachers to learn about what other students have done and what their paths looked like.
  • Help them get up close and personal.
    If your child is interested in a specific field, help them find people to talk to and events to attend to learn more. Go to career fairs and skills shows with your child. Take them with you to your own job so they can experience what working life is like. Emphasize the value of gaining real-world experience through internships, employment, volunteer opportunities, and other hands-on activities.

Remember, everyone’s path is different, and there is no right way to start a career. Today’s professionals change jobs frequently, moving between companies, teams, and industries throughout the course of their careers. Many prefer to freelance their talents rather than commit long-term to one particular employer or course of action. Innovations in how to create and sustain a rewarding career will only continue to evolve.

Remind your children it’s okay to reconsider their path, that they should forgive the cliché and follow their dreams. Recognize that your children are likely to change their minds multiple times, perhaps even after they enter the workforce. And some of tomorrow’s careers do not even exist today.

Meaning astronaut-football player could still be in the cards for any one of us.