Since the time I was in high school I’ve been perplexed by the lack of resources available for helping kids figure out what they might want to do.
I say might, because planning a career is one long experiment with many twists and turns, and it’s a bad idea to paint yourself into a corner too early.
Now that my eldest child is 15 and in high school, and I happen to be a career advisor by trade, I am paying close attention to his anxiety about his potential career choice. He’s been asking me for years what I think he will be/do, and recently I decided we were ready to take some steps.
So he’s become a client. Pro bono, of course.
Now just as I do with my adult clients, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the kinds of activities he enjoys, and specifically what parts of those activities. And knowing him as I do, I recognize that the focus began very early. Sure it’s changed and grown, but what he likes now is simply a more grown-up version of what he liked when he was little.
So to illustrate, I will provide this concrete example.
When my son was little, he was a Pokemon fanatic. He played with them, he illustrated them, he knew every song of every episode. He always liked to draw, and he most often drew characters. He still does.
He also continues to love hand-held games and has always loved to design things on the computer.
To that he has added a keen interest in board sports: skiing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, kiteboarding. He’s interested in the design of the equipment, and he still draws characters, but now they’re pictured on the boards.
A few months ago he started reading about aeronautics, which he said came from his learning how to kiteboard.
And then he told me he thought he might want to design boards for Burton or one of the other board manufacturers. Well, that got my attention.
We went online to LinkedIn, and started an exercise I regularly do with clients: find people who work for the companies you’re interested in and review their background and credentials. You will then know a) the education and training required for the field, b) the title (s) that matches that education and training, and c) some potential contacts in the field.
Where did we net out? He might want to be a product designer. From there, we looked at design schools like RISD and Parsons to see what they were all about. We attended an open house at Parsons and he signed up to take a course. He’s shifting his schedule at school to incorporate more art classes. And with my help, he’s conducting some informational interviews with board designers.
He feels pretty excited at having a plan, just like we all do. Of course he may ultimately choose something else, and that’s fine. The point is that, no matter how old you are, having a strategy to help you achieve your goals is what career planning is all about.