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Helping kids find the right career path

Published On: Jan 28 2013 09:44:17 AM EST   Updated On: Mar 04 2013 11:56:48 AM EST

career pathways

Every child gets asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Eventually, that child turns into a teenager and really has to think about the answer to that question.

And sometimes the answer isn't so easy.


Some kids know exactly what they want to be but career counselors say that's pretty rare. They say most young people struggle to find the right career path.

But there are a few things that can make the process a little easier.

Jenelle Henry, director of the Career Planning Center at Cedar Crest College says, " I think the best thing they can do is go out and experience. A lot of students try to learn what's out there but they don't go and experience it."

Henry says students needs to find job shadowing opportunities to help them see what different careers are really like.

"Sometimes if they're way at the beginning of the process, I'll go back and I'll say what did you want to be when you grew up? What can you see yourself not doing?" she says.

Lizzie Martin is a student who has decided on medical school. Shamara Rhodes is a criminal justice major. Sarah Pilkington is in communications. They all say choosing was difficult.

"It took a lot of hard work," says Lizzie.

" I went from journalism to social work to criminal justice," says Shamara.

" I started originally as an education major," says Sarah.

They all seem comfortable with their choices now and offer this advice to younger students:

Shamara says," Make sure you write down all the things you're good at."

Lizzie says," Always keep an open mind."

Sarah says, " Try not to stress too much about it. You'll figure it out eventually."

Counselors says students should ask themselves these questions:

What are my natural talents?

We all have natural talents, certain tasks that come easy to us. When we use our natural talents, time moves fast and we tend to receive compliments for our abilities. Knowing where your natural talents lie is key to choosing the right career.

Of course we’re capable of doing other things, but those other tasks usually feel more like work. What do you always enjoy doing, and how can those skills be applied to a job?

What’s my work style?

Each of us has a preferred work style, even if we don’t realize it. That style can sometime conflict with a career choice. For example, a flexible work environment might allow you to deliver projects on various dates, while a structured environment would require specific deadlines and strict guidelines. What works better for you? In which environment do you tend to thrive?

Where do I like to work?

What’s your preferred work location? Your preference could vary from a small regional office to corporate headquarters to a home office, an airport hotel in Buffalo or a beach suite in South Florida.

How often do like to work away from home? Do you mind traveling for your job? If living out of a suitcase makes you cringe and you need a consistency in your workplace, avoid careers that require a lot of moving around.

Do I enjoy social interaction?

Do you like working with others or as part of a team? Are you motivated by the needs of others and your ability to provide a solution?

This is critical because some people shy away from that connection and would rather deliver value behind the scenes—without the complications of interacting with colleagues and clients. Know your social needs so you can choose a career that matches them.

How important is work-life balance?

Do you value a short commute and a home-cooked meal every night? Do you live for weekends out at the soccer field watching your kids play?

If you need those creature comforts on a regular basis, pick a career that will give you the time to enjoy them. Look for jobs with regular hours and little to no requirements to work overtime or on weekends.

Am I comfortable in the public eye?

Certain careers encourage or even require employees to have a public persona. You may become known in your local community.

If you’re a spokesperson, that recognition could extend to a nation level. Or if you serve as your company’s representative at trade shows or special events, you may become known in that niche community.

How does this strike you—as an opportunity or an obligation? If you thrive on recognition and the chance to build a personal brand while promoting your company’s work, look for careers that allow you to stand out front.

How do I deal well with stress?

Some of us thrive on big deadlines, or being on the hook for important projects. We like being the glue that holds everything together.

In this role, people trust you and expect that you’ll suck it up and deal well with the pressure. Of course, we all have different stress thresholds. If you thrive under the gun, you may do well in a high-stress career. But if stress makes you want to run the other way, look for jobs that are more laid-back.

And they caution, don't just sign up for a major that's popular. Make sure there will be a job waiting after graduation.