A Career Planning Course for Parents
Reprinted from JobWeb (www.jobweb.com) with permission of the
By Sally Kearsley National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.
Your son or daughter just left for (or returned to) • Affirm what you know to be areas of skill and
college but doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what he ability he or she has consistently demonstrated.
or she wants to major in, let alone choose as a career. Sometimes students overlook these and need to
Don’t worry! This is not unusual, although you might be reminded.
wish your student had a little more sense of direction! • Talk with your son or daughter about the courses
Choosing a career is a process students (and adults!) and activities he or she is enjoying and how well
need to go through—and students go through the your student is doing. Students discover new
stages of this process at different rates of speed. The things about themselves throughout the college
steps include: experience. Your willingness to listen and be a
• assessing skills, interests, and abilities (this is an sounding board will keep you in the loop.
important first step to choosing an appropriate • Don’t panic if your student is excited about
career); majoring in something like English, history, or art.
• exploring majors and career options; These can be excellent choices, particularly if
• experimenting with possible career options; and they are a good match for a student’s interests
• organizing and conducting a job or graduate and skills.
school search. • Support your son or daughter’s responsible
You can assist and support your students in each of involvement in campus activities but urge this to
these stages. But what can—or should—you do? be balanced with maintaining achievement in the
Here’s your own career planning timetable! classroom.
• Urge your child to seek assistance in the career
Careers 101 - For Parents of center at his/her college or university. Most
First-Year College Students institutions have assessment instruments and
counselors to help students to define their skills,
During their first year or so of college, students will
interests, and abilities.
be involved (formally or informally) in assessing their
skills, interests, and abilities. They will do this through Careers 201 - For Parents
finding success (or failure) in courses they take, Of Second-Year Students
involvement in campus activities, discussions with their
friends and faculty, and generally being exposed to and Generally, during the second year of college, a
trying out different ideas and experiences. student begins to explore majors and career options
Most students enter college with a very limited more seriously. Many colleges and universities require
knowledge of the vast array of courses and majors that new students take a broad range of subjects to
available to them. When they begin to delve into promote this exploration.
studies that are new to them, even those who entered What’s your role in this step of development?
with a plan may be drawn to different options. This is • Don’t insist upon a decision about a major or
an exciting time for students! possible career choice immediately. If you sense
Here’s what you can do to help: that your student’s indecision is a barrier to
• Support your child’s exploration of new areas of positive progress, urge that he or she look for
study and interests. This, after all, is what educa- assistance in the career center. Students often
tion is all about! have difficulty making a “final” choice because
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they fear they may close off options and make a
wrong choice. Top 15 ways employers
• Suggest that your son or daughter talk with faculty look for new hires
and career advisers about potential choices.
• Don’t assume that if your child chooses to major Organization’s internship program
in English, history, philosophy, or some other
Organization’s co-op program
“impractical” major that he or she will never get a
job. Liberal arts studies sharpen skills which are
critical to the “package” employers are seeking:
strong written and oral communication skills; Faculty contacts
problem-solving skills; the ability to synthesize Employee referrals
information; and excellent research skills. Student organizations/clubs
• Suggest learning a foreign language and develop- Internet job postings (campus web site)
ing computer skills. Both of these skills can be Internet job postings (company web site)
helpful in today’s market, no matter what career
Job postings to career offices (printed)
field he or she chooses!
Resumes from career offices
• Direct your child to family, friends, or colleagues
who are in fields in which your student has an Recruitment advertising (print)
interest. “Informational interviewing” with people Internet job postings (commercial web site)
can be extremely helpful at this stage! Internet resume data bases
• Steer your child toward a source of information. Career/job fairs (online)
Many campuses have a career consultant or
mentoring network of alumni in various career
fields who are willing to share information with • Tell your student that you understand the impor-
students about their careers. These resources are tance of their gaining exposure to and experience
invaluable both in this exploratory stage and later in his or her field of career interest. Broadening
as students are seeking internships and jobs! experience through involvement outside the
classroom is a valuable use of time.
Careers 301 - For Parents • Internships or summer experiences in some very
Of the “Mid-Career” Student competitive fields may be non-paying. Also, a
good opportunity may be in a distant location.
During the sophomore year and throughout the junior Discuss your financial expectations with your
year, it is important for students to experiment with student before a commitment is made.
possible career options. They can do this in a variety of • Don’t conduct the internship or summer job
ways: internships, cooperative education programs, search for your child. It’s a great help to provide
summer jobs, campus jobs, and responsible volunteer networking contacts or names of people who may
experiences both on campus and in the local community. be helpful, however, making the contact and
This is a critical time for your support and understanding. speaking for your child deprives him or her of an
Here’s what you need to do: important learning experience—and may make a
• Encourage your child to use the resources available poor impression on the future employer.
at the campus career center. Experts there will
assist your student in preparing a good resume and Careers 401 - For Parents
finding opportunities to test their career choices, Of Graduating Seniors
including internships, cooperative education
programs, and summer job listings. Most career The senior year is when organizing and conducting a
centers are in direct contact with employers. job search or graduate school search begins in earnest.
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It is also a time when students are heavily involved in
more advanced courses in their majors and often have Qualities/skills employers
more responsible roles in campus and/or volunteer look for in new hires
activities. Balancing these important pursuits and setting
priorities is a constant challenge for seniors! Communication skills (verbal & written)
You are probably anxious for this young adult to
make a decision—and yet, he or she may be moving
Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)
toward closure more slowly than you would wish.
There are a number of ways you can lend support
during this challenging time. Strong work ethic
• Suggest that he or she use the campus career Teamwork skills (works well with others)
center throughout the senior year. These offices Analytical skills
provide assistance in preparation for the job Flexibility/adaptability
search offering. Computer skills
• Workshops and individual help with resume and
cover letter writing, interviewing, and other job-
• Individual and group career advising. Organizational skills
• A library of books and bookmarks to web sites Self-confidence
with links to job resources. Friendly/outgoing personality
• In many cases, on-campus interviewing opportuni- Tactfulness
ties. Well mannered/polite
• Alumni career consultant or mentor programs may
also be a part of their services.
GPA (3.0 or better)
• Don’t nag your child about not having a job yet!
This will often have the reverse effect. Use positive
reinforcement. Sense of humor
• Offer to assist by sending information you may
have found about the career field of your student’s
choice and/or job listings that may be of interest. and their parents! Some student challenges may seem
Listen for indications from the student that you are more positive than others, but all contribute to the
getting carried away—and back off! educational outcomes of the college or university
• Don’t call potential employers to intervene for your experience.
child. Contact with potential employers is the Throughout these years, students are developing a
candidate’s responsibility! “record of achievement” which will be evaluated by
• Be prepared to support your child through the ups employers and graduate schools as they move beyond
and downs of the job and graduate school search. college. There are several pieces of this record:
It can be a bumpy road! Not every desired job or • Academic Achievement. Although it is not (and
graduate school acceptance will come through. should not be) the primary factor in determining a
Your student will need reassurance that for every candidate’s success, the grade point average
door that closes, another opens. (GPA) is one factor considered by competitive
employers and graduate schools. It is one of the
A Few Final Thoughts few tangible indications of a student’s ability to
learn and perform effectively, at least in the
The college years are a time of exploration, experi- academic environment. Therefore, students need
mentation, and learning on many levels for students to do as well as possible in the classroom,
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especially in courses in their majors. • Responsible Involvement Outside the Classroom.
• Responsible Work Experience. In today’s com- Extracurricular activities provide the opportunity
petitive employment market, many employers for students to gain many valuable and career-
seek students who have related internship, related skills such as the ability to work effec-
summer, cooperative education, or part-time job or tively with others in a team environment; leader-
volunteer experiences. In fact, employers often ship; planning and organizational skills; and
look to their own such programs as primary priority-setting and time management. These are
sources for their new hires. These experiences are part of the package of skills employers seek in
particularly critical for liberal arts students whose their new hires.
majors may not appear to be directly related to Best of luck to you in navigating the challenging
their areas of career interest. waters of parenting a college or university student!
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