Navigating Career Choices

By Ailan Gates 2022-08-08 10:29:59

"We need to encourage members of this next generation to become all that they can become, not try to force them to become what we want them to become ...”

– Barbara Coloroso


Having a positive parental influence can boost your child’s confidence when making career choices. The earliest, most powerful, learning about careers is shaped by the adults in a child’s life. Hence it’s never too early or too soon to talk to you child about careers, qualities, skills, and interests. As parents, you have a key role to play in the decision-making process and the general career path your child chooses to pursue. However sometimes it is difficult to gauge how involved you should be. What is the best advice you can give your child? When is the right time to get involved?


There’s a great song “Que sera, sera.’ by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (1955) made famous by the late Doris Day. The lines we all remember are “Whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera” Although saccharine and innocent in nature, it is advice not applicable today. Thankfully as parents there are countless things to help navigate your child into deciding what’s the right career path for their long illustrious future. According to Michael Rutter (2000), “Young people tend both to share their parents’ values on major issues of life and also turn to them for guidance on most major concerns.”



Nothing sounds scarier to a soon-to-be school leaver than being asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s an innocent question to ask, but to some about to leave the safety net of home, family, friends, and high school, it can be a daunting one to answer. As parents, we need to be aware that our child about to leave school will most likely experience anxiety as they struggle to decide on a life plan. The expectation that our child should have it all figured out is unlikely and can be harmful to their mental health. Therefore, it is imperative as a parent that you guide your child towards a career path that is most suited to them.


Guide, don’t dictate

There’s a fine line between guiding your child in making their career choices and making it for them. Research shows that parental norms and values most often affect children’s career aspirations via parental interactions (Lavine, 1982). Our primary role as parents is to lead our children towards being their very best, and to guide them towards a career path that’s most suited to them to ensure they will lead happy and successful lives.


What is a healthy level of involvement for parents?

Proactive parent involvement is the healthiest approach. Before discussing career choices with your child, parents should reflect on your own expectations, unfulfilled childhood desires, and what had influenced your own career choices, and share with your child.


Parents should strive for their child to do their best, regardless of their career choices. Research shows that children who are expected to do their best become more focused on career-relevant goals and report higher motivational levels. This positively affects their ability to reach certain career goals, leading to a sense of accomplishment.



11 Common mistakes parents make

1. Parents are often eager to see their children settle down in a fruitful and economically viable career. This often leads to decisions that can be short-sighted, where parents get advice from fellow parents or the Internet and insist that their children follow the same.


2. Many parents, while choosing a career for their children, see them as an extension of themselves. Therefore, they want to realise their dreams through their children and enforce their unfulfilled goals and ambitions on them.


“Many parents, while choosing a career for their children, see them as an extension of themselves. Therefore, they want to realise their dreams through their children and enforce their unfulfilled goals and ambitions on them.”


3. Parents are often influenced by market trends rather than focusing on their child’s aptitude or skills.


4. Some parents decide on career choices for their child and the subsequent academic training required even before their child reaches the age of 12. This restricts the child’s exposure to various jobs and careers. Many children lose out on exploring great career options due to a lack of awareness.


5. Children must choose their careers based on their aptitude, skills, and passion. Many parents ignore these important attributes and jump into choosing careers for their children based on their academic performance.


6. Parents often ask their children to choose college courses based on the popularity of the institute or its geographical location. These factors take precedence over the actual course of study that may benefit the child.


7. Many children are burdened with unrealistic expectations of their parents and are forced to attend special coaching classes from as early as Grade 6. Some children may not have the necessary skills or aptitude for the course they are getting trained for.


8. Some parents tend to blatantly reject out-of-the-box career choices of children calling them ‘childish’, ‘whimsical’ or ‘immature’. This demotivates the child and may have a negative impact on their mental health.



9. Often parents do not realise that they can seek the help of career guidance counsellors in choosing the career path for their child. Career counselling for teens will go a long way in identifying their aptitude and matching it to the right career.


10. Parents often compare their child’s career goals to their friend’s professional aspirations and want them to follow the same career path as their peers. They need to remember what works out for one child may not work for the other.


11. Not giving your children enough opportunities to learn from their mistakes. Children learn about their strengths and weaknesses through their own positive and negative experiences. Parents need to help their child grow in self-knowledge by:


• Acknowledging when their child does something right, like being dependable and honest.


• Pointing out successes your child can see, such as improved grades. • When your child makes mistakes, instead of judging or blaming, discuss instead what they could do differently next time.


9 Tips to help you guide your child to choose the most suitable career

You have your child’s best interest at heart. Your primary role is to support them as they traverse through this difficult time of searching for their ideal career. You help them reach for the stars, but it’s up to them to reach for different possibilities.


Avoid hovering and helicopter parenting. Take a supporting role, not circling above and directing their every move. It’s their career and their happiness at stake, so now, more than ever, they need to take the lead.



1. Converse with them, don’t speak for them


Discuss your own experience in the workplace, the trials, the triumphs, and what’s required to apply for jobs, such as resumes, cover letters, job applications and interviews. Yes, it might be easier to fix their resume yourself than to coach them on how to fix it, but please resist the temptation. It’s an invaluable learning experience.


2. Focus on strength spotting


One key step in helping your child choose a career is getting them to understand themselves by discussing their strengths on a micro level. As their parent, you instinctively know your child and what areas they excel in.


Focus on ‘strength spotting’. This is advocated by psychologists and there are methods to identify your child’s skills in key areas for successful employment. These skills include being organized, a team player, adaptable, meticulous, and energetic. Official strength-spotting exercises are easily attained from aptitude and personality tests such as Myer-Briggs, Caliper Profile, and the DISC personality test. However, these tests shouldn’t be seen as absolute but instead as a guide.


3. Understand the current global employment marketplace


Understand that the global employment market is vastly different from when you were navigating through it, and that you might not be equipped with the resources to give advice or guidance to your child.


Be aware that new job opportunities are being created all the time and jobs that were available when you were first starting are no longer available, and many jobs that are open to young people today didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Your child may be facing some of the same social challenges and decisions you did at that age. But your child is also preparing for a world of work that will be very different.



Understand that most of today’s workforce are expected to experience on average 12-15 job changes in their work lives. Various occupations in up to five different industries have planned and unplanned gaps in employment.


Realise that two out of three new jobs in the 21st century will require post-secondary training and many of the occupations that your child will pursue have not yet been created. Good examples of this are, the growing field of social media marketing like Tik Tok, Instagram, WeChat, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu, just to name a few.


4.How do you spark inspiration in your child?


One of the best ways to approach career options with a child who doesn’t have any idea what they want to pursue is to keep an open dialogue with them. A great way to facilitate this is by asking thought-provoking questions about their future. By acting as a springboard for their ideas, you can spark inspiration around what career they might want to pursue.



Some guiding questions to ask your child:


• Ask open-ended questions that give your child a chance to reflect and share their general views. Questions such as “Do you think about your future much and what aspects do you think about?”


• “What are your dreams and aspirations?” Does your child already have goals in mind they want to achieve? This could be related to careers, family, travel – anything that’s important to them. These conversations will help them determine where their priorities lie.


• “How big of a role do you want your work to play in your life?” Some individuals are suited to jobs that require a heavy number of hours each week. Others prefer a greater work/life balance and the ability to leave work at the door. Starting to think about how big of a role in life work will be will help focus their options.


”Encourage your child to choose a career that they’re passionate about and remind them that the world doesn’t rest on their shoulders.”


• “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” This is a common question that gets asked in job interviews, but it can also help set the scene of where they want to end up.


• “What activities do you do at the moment that give you energy?” Identifying what sparks joy in your child could be the key to working out which industry they might find appealing.



How you respond to the above questions as a parent depends on the different stages of development of your child. Below is some useful information about your child’s stages of development:


Early adolescents (about ages 11 to 13) are influenced by what their friends think. They know what they can and cannot do well. Many believe that university is their only option for post-secondary education. You can help your child begin to explore the many varying options of post-secondary programs.


Middle adolescents (about ages 14 to 16) are more apt at believing in their own abilities if they’re visible or measurable. Good examples are: scoring a goal in soccer or getting a part in a play. If they don’t find school socially or academically rewarding, they may consider dropping out early. Therefore it’s imperative that you build their self-confidence by helping them set achievable goals. When the time comes for high school, encourage your teen to take courses that are needed for many post-secondary programs. This will keep your teen’s options open.


Late adolescents (about ages 16 to 21 for girls, 17 to 21 for boys) are more aware of who they are. They are also less influenced by what other people think. Their interests may broaden which will encourage them to be greater risk-takers and exploring different courses, programs, and jobs.


5. Use your network, but don’t push your agenda


Once your child has named some careers they are interested in, you can leverage your contacts to help by finding professionals to interview or shadow for a day. More importantly, you can find them a mentor or internship which will give them greater insight into the occupation they might be interested in pursuing.


Don’t insist that your child follow in your footsteps. If they truly do take after you, they will be much happier figuring that out on their own.




6. Encourage summer internships


Encourage your child to take on as many internships, relevant work experience, or apprenticeships as humanly possible in an array of professions. There’s no better way to find a suitable vocation where your child can thrive. Some companies even offer paid internships which is a bonus to your child, as they will learn the concept of earning whilst working.


Don’t get preoccupied on your child finding a paid position. Your child could always intern part time and work part time. Twenty hours a week is plenty of time for them to figure out if they’re passionate about a profession. Working a typical summer job, as waiter or as an assistant coach, will instil valuable career lessons, like how to multitask and be responsible. Additionally, they’ll receive invaluable feedback to help them identify what they’re good at.


7. Encourage passion and to dream big


A survey by titled ‘Job Satisfaction 2016’, stated that 60 percent of employees were not satisfied with their jobs while 80 percent were looking to change jobs. Out of the total respondents, 30 percent stated ‘meaningless work’ as the reason for looking for a job change. Thus, it is crucial that your child chooses a career that interests them and that they are passionate about.


Encourage your child to choose a career that they’re passionate about and remind them that the world doesn’t rest on their shoulders.


Encourage self-discovery, and the development of new skills and talents. Tell them that it’s okay that they haven’t realised what they want to do yet, as very few of us were lucky enough to know what career we wanted when we were 18. The main thing is to be proactive and to give them space and time to discover their passion.


Guide your child rather than direct them. Avoid making specific career suggestions, and be aware that your child may want to imitate their parents’ own norms and values before developing their own sense of self.



Let them know there’s no pressure to simply choose one career and be committed to it for the next 50 years.


Encourage them to dream big and remind them it’s likely they will have several careers over the course of their life. Explain that it’s perfectly okay to defer, switch courses, or change their degree. They can do something entirely new if they decide a few months or even years later that the program they chose isn’t for them.


8. Create a challenging and supportive environment


When parents help create a challenging and supportive environment, they are in essence allowing their child the opportunity to explore their own interests.


• If the opportunity arises, allow your child to explore all careers of interest by letting them shadow you at work for a day, as well as other people.


• Encourage your child to attend asmany career days as possible at school.


• Encourage your child to talk to people from different careers and ask questions about their work and responsibilities.


9. Cognitive vs non-cognitive 


The Education Endowment Foundation found that non-cognitive skills are increasingly seen as just as important as cognitive skills, or IQ, when assessing career success. Other equally important elements included character, persistence, the ability to cope with failure, the ability to make connections, critical thinking, and big picture thought. Encouraging your child to think about their future will hopefully get them into developing a vision of what they want their life to look like, and what they need to do to get there.



Child to young adult


Children are incredibly perceptive and observant. As parents, you are best to lead by example by building a career that you love, and doing it with great gusto, passion, and integrity. If they observe you enjoying your work, they too will realise that they can find work fulfilling.


The major role for any parent is to instil three core values to help their child in their career choice - self-belief, resilience, and discipline. With these three skills developed over time, your child will find great joy and satisfaction in any profession they choose. Parents need to draw from their own experience with thesethreeskills,andteachtheir children that it won’t be a straight path. There will be many bumps along the way, with varying moments of low motivation. However equipping them with the mindset to overcome the challenges and to move forward will be the best gift anyparentcangive.Alsoremind them it’s not a solo adventure. Use their network of teachers, career counsellors, mentors, coaches, and tutors for guidance and inspiration. They don’t have to work it out by themselves.


“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” -Amanda Gorman, 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate


As parents we have preconceived views about what constitutes being successful, what it takes, and what defines a good job or having an ideal life. We want them to have a life that’s fulfilling, rewarding and brings them joy. We all recognise the value of having a good education. That’s a given, but we also need to acknowledge a lot has changed since we were at our child’s age. So we need to be wary of imposing our bias, and allow them to find their own purpose in life.