TIPS FOR PARENTS HOW TO HELP UNIVERSITY STUDENTS MAKE CAREER DECISIONS By Dr. Jack Russel (counselor, therapist, parent with two daughters, and grandparent with five grandkids) Sometimes the choice of a career can be difficult. Some of our students begin their first year with definite career ideas and a plan while others are uncertain. Frequently, students will change their plan – either they discover they are not interested or that they are not able to successfully accomplish the course requirements at the required level. Students tend to choose what they know. However, with more than 30,000 job titles available, perhaps they might have overlooked an appropriate career. TIPS FOR PARENTS TO THINK ABOUT IN HELPING YOUR FIRST YEAR STUDENT SUPPORT The happy history student may have an easier time finding work than the disgruntled business student. I have counseled many students who have expressed a lack of support from their parents. Several factors may contribute to this. Education is expensive and parents who pay the bills may want to see a return on their investments. The pressure imposed on students however may actually back fire. A parent, who is pressuring their son or daughter to make a career decision, may either be contributing to the rebellious student or the student may make up a career to get the parent off their back. The career they choose will be one the parent likes and not the one that is interesting to the student. Sometimes a parent may impose their values onto the student. Assuming that accounting and business would be more practical, the parent may push this career choice when the student would rather be an historian. Encourage your students to explore courses and careers in which they are interested and to make decisions when they are ready to do so. BE AN INFORMED PARENT Your student may come to you for advice. Arm yourself with career relevant information. A recent national survey of university students and their career needs informed us that approximately 45% of Western students discuss career questions with their parents. You can find most anything you want about career development for first year and upper year students on our web site – www.careers.uwo.ca. Ideas on what students might do with their degree can be found at http://career.uwo.ca/library/index.html?handouts. START EARLY The early bird gets the proverbial worm. Many first year students are dealing with adjustment and transition concerns and the thought of career planning is fairly remote. There are many things your student can do during first year to prepare themselves for their future career. Often the best summer job experiences are posted in the fall of first year. Students who are thinking early about their career and integrating valuable summer work will be ahead of the game. Early in the first term, the University Student Council operates Clubs Week, where students can find ways to follow their interests and further their skills. Students can begin to make it a habit to check out activities at the Career Centre @ Western by visiting www.career.uwo.ca. BALANCE WORK AND PLAY All work and no fun make for an unhappy student. Marks are important and doing the best you can in a course is an excellent goal, but equally important is being involved in campus and community activities through volunteering. Employers inform us that marks are not always what will help a student find work. The students who find jobs are those who have strong communication skills, are able to get along with others through team and group work, are flexible and adaptable, and present themselves with confidence. Students can have fun and develop these skills at the same time. A complete list of employability skills can be found on this web site: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/education/learning- tools/pdfs/esp2000.pdf. CONSIDER INTERNSHIPS AND CO-OPS Many programs offer students opportunities for internships and co-ops. Having these experiences as a goal will provide direction and incentive to your first year student. It is an excellent way to enhance career success. Competition for internship and co-op positions is stiff and good marks and extra curricular involvement will help the student immensely. Internships and co-ops are the deepest form of career exploration. Students acquire hands-on experiences to help them determine whether they have made the right career choice. Often students are hired by the company that gave them their internship experience upon graduation. NETWORKING OR “SCHMOOZING 101” Encourage your student in the art of networking and socializing. I learned more outside of the classroom than in it while an undergraduate. Though I spent plenty of hours in class, it was what I did outside of class that really sticks with me. These outside-of-class activities lead to improved communication skills, self discipline, and increased comfort in dealing with others. These skills are important to one’s self identity and will aid in career planning. Research suggests success in finding work comes from net working and connections with others. Developing an interpersonal comfort level will provide an excellent foundation for career success. REALIZE CAREER CHOICE CAN BE A LIFE CHOICE A career choice is an important one and will impact on a student’s future life style. Many questions need to be asked about that choice but often are not. More time is often spent on shopping for a piece of clothing than on a career. We go to a store to purchase a new jacket. We may go to several stores and will try on a jacket at each store. We first determine if the size is right. Next, we look at ourselves in the mirror. How do we look? Does the jacket present me the way I want to be presented? Does it add to who I am or does it take away from that perception we have of our self? Is the jacket me? Sometimes we will ask a friend to accompany us and give us their opinion about the jacket. A similar process can be applied to choosing a career. A career choice is of course more complicated as students consider the future and life after university. Integrating life and career in a holistic way is complex and may require the assistance of one of the career counsellors. MAKE THE MOST OF SUMMER HOLIDAYS Scooping ice cream at home during the summer may limit opportunities. As a Dad of two daughters who went away to university, their mom and I loved it when they came home for the summer or at least part of the summer. As comforting as that was, we knew that was more for us than for them. Though I love ice cream and could be comfortable scooping ice cream because it is safe and secure, summer can be a time for further career exploration to try out different jobs or to travel to different countries. Future employers will hire graduates who have relevant experiences that will add to the value they bring to the company. Students can be creative about the many ways to make their summer experiences work to their advantage. On the other hand many students are strapped financially and need to make lots of money to contribute to their education. Putting a positive spin on all summer experiences is essential to future employment. Students can visit the career centre to address how to present their experiences to future employers. VISIT THE CAREER CENTRE @ WESTERN Many first year students believe that the career centre is more relevant to older students who are graduating and will put off coming until 3rd or 4th year. The Centre can be a best step or, one could say, stop for any student. The shy and quiet student may find it hard to come for help with their career. A student may be embarrassed to admit that they are uncertain about their choices. A student who procrastinates might keep avoiding the issue. These students can benefit from speaking with a professional who will understand their concerns and be able to assist them with their career plans. Students can also visit the Employment Help Centre on a drop-in basis and chat with professionals and trained student career leaders.