I remember the pressure I felt as I approached graduating high school, thinking I needed to know exactly what I wanted to be for the rest of my life. Growing up, everyone always asked me what I wanted to do, but until that point, my answer always seemed like a far-off dream. My family told me I could be anything I wanted, which was great because there were so many possibilities—but then I realized that there were so many possibilities.
With a multitude of careers out there it can be hard to help your child choose the “right major” for them. Understanding their strengths and interests to help guide them into lifelong careers is no small feat. Would they be happier studying art or architecture? Law or linguistics? How can your child confidently choose a major when they don’t even know what a particular job will be like?
The answer is experience.
Experience is the master educator, which is what I found to be true in choosing a major and a career path. I wish I could say this revelation came to me easily, but it took many years of stumbling around—or “failing forward” as I like to call it.
Now that I’ve found my path, I wanted to share some tips to help your child find their career path. These tips made all the difference in my search, and I hope to help your child avoid some of the same mistakes I made.
1. The Importance of Experience
Hands-on experience can do three things: It will confirm what your child does and does not like about a job, which will allow them to weed out certain career paths and home in on positions they could visualize themselves in. Experience can also add valuable depth to their resume and can be highlighted in their personal statements, college applications, and future job interviews. And, perhaps most importantly, it can open new doors and opportunities. These opportunities may come in the form of personal connections for future jobs, internships, or potential letters of recommendation. They may also come in the form of tangible attributes, like having learned a new skill that they can apply in a different situation down the road.
2. How to Get Hands-on Experience
Now the question remains, how does your child go about getting hands-on experience? As it turns out, it’s pretty easy!
Start by sitting down with them and helping to write out a list of all the things they think they’d like or not like to do in a job. Then, use the Internet to brainstorm some career ideas that might align with their likes and interests. Once you have a list of occupations, look for local businesses that are willing to allow your child to visit in person (or to set up a virtual tour). By visiting the business location, they’ll be able to get a sense of what the work environment is like and their interest in working in a similar setting.
The last step is to speak with someone at the company to discuss what it’s like working in that career. Have your child let the company representative know that they are interested in pursuing an occupation in that field and would like to know more about it. Your child can talk to them about opportunities to interview, shadow, volunteer, or even intern at the company so that they can learn more about that profession.
It might be a bit scary for your child to reach out and ask for opportunities like this, but just remind them the worst thing anyone can say is no—which is not a loss (except maybe of a little pride, which is overrated anyway). If someone says no, they’ll be in the same position they were before they asked and can just move on to ask someone else.
3. Keep a List
My last piece of advice is to encourage your child to keep editing their original list. They may be lucky and find a field they love on the first try, or they might find many they don’t like, which is okay too. Each time they try a new experience, have them edit their list to include the skills they found enjoyment from and remove the jobs they realized they didn’t like or need. By continuing to seek out new experiences, they will eventually come to find what their true passions are and build a network of skills and resources along the way.
By using this process, I came to find my calling as a science communicator and consultant, a job I didn’t even know existed at the beginning of my journey. I always knew I enjoyed science but I also appreciated teaching, performing, and helping others. These were attributes that I used to build my list. Careers in science, medicine, and teaching were of interest, so I volunteered at local hospitals, allowing me to shadow physicians and learn what medicine was like; I tutored within my school district and acquired a teaching aide’s certificate to learn if I liked teaching, and I joined a research lab at my university to gain hands-on science experience. Through these opportunities, I discovered my likes and dislikes about each job—helping me to refine my list and eventually reveal my true passion.