Teen Career Book

1. What are the big issues in career exploration for teenagers?

Teenagers are in a unique situation. They have the time for considering a variety of careers and yet more and more the schools are encouraging them to specialize even while still in high school. This is a societal change that has occurred during my lifetime and it encourages young people to start narrowing their options at an earlier and earlier age. Our goal was to address the times like summer breaks or winter holidays when they might have more time to consider a variety of options and try out career options while not be constrained by course requirements or expectations of any kind.

The scope of this book is intentionally large and diverse. There are so many career options in today's economy and we wanted to get teenagers started on the path of looking at their own interests and skill sets and maybe go 'outside the box' a little while there is still time before committing themselves to a specific career. We see in today's society that many adults, me included, make career changes in adulthood and even after graduating from college and being in the workplace. While aimed at teenagers, this concept of being receptive to the possibility of finding something you love to do and being paid for it applies to people of all ages.

2. What are the best methods for career exploration, in terms of getting good quality information?

Of course, I would recommend our book, Testing the Waters: A Teen's Guide to Career Exploration as a great place to start. Even if one of the over 1,000 opportunities does not turn into a career exploration activity, I assure you that reading the book will open your eyes to ways to widen your search to include volunteerism, educational programs, travel adventures, and internships as well as the typical part-time job.

For many teenagers, just like adults, networking can open a wide-variety of possibilities. We encourage teens to talk to the family and friends and try to expand that network as far as possible. I had some really unusual career exploration activities as a teenager and all of them were discovered via networking.

The internet becomes a stronger source of information with every passing year. While it is very important for teenagers to be extremely careful and have parental supervision while exploring possible online sites, there can be no question that this technology has changed the way people find jobs and careers at any age.

3. How do they handle the pressures for career choices, while exploring?

This is a difficult topic. As I stated earlier, I believe that the move to require students to specialize earlier and earlier puts significant pressure on them while at times stifling their creativity and imagination. I've know people who determined their career path quite young. My brother chose to be a pilot at the age of 5 and today at age 39 is indeed a pilot in the U.S. Navy. However, it has been my experience that this kind of clarity is rare. If you are a prodigy or have a passion for something early on, by all means focus on that goal. This book is for the majority of students that really don't know 'what they want to be when they grow up.' It is also for the friends and families of teens. Sometimes pressure from family can be a source of stress. We hope that by educating everyone in a teen's life - parents, teachers, family, friends, youth workers, etc. - we can encourage mentors to not apply pressure and instead encourage exploration.

4. Do you think teenagers get adequate training in career paths and options?

This is so dependent on the particular teen and the community where they live. Many schools have excellent guidance programs that provide tests that help students identify possible areas of interest in terms of career. In our research for the book, the issue that raised the most concern was that the variety of career options given to teens tends to be limited. And this is occurring at a time when our society is actually increasing in the diversity of available jobs. It is also very typical to see teenagers approaching work as simply a way to earn some cash while in high school or college. Clearly this is a necessity, but we try to get students to realize that they are not limited to the 'typical' part-time jobs available. We also encourage students that can afford it to consider things such as an unpaid internship or volunteer work. In the short term, these jobs may not bring in cash, but often it gets your foot in the door and can lead to the possibility of advancement down the road.

5. The career goal is much more of a moving target than it was a generation ago. How do career counselors, teachers and students make sure they can hit what they're aiming at?

Sometimes it seems as though well-meaning adults can start backward. They tend to identify jobs and then find students to fill them. We use the subtitle, A Teen's Guide to Career Exploration, because we want to try to encourage teachers, parents, mentors, and students to start with the individual student and their unique skill set and then find a unique career exploration opportunity to fit the student. Obviously every student is different

6. What's the safe way to test careers, without over committing to something where a decision could be tough?

This is one reason the book stresses trying things out when you're a teenager - or even in the early college years. This is a time when a student can try a variety of jobs on for size without having made the choice of a college major. However, I've talked to so many adults that changed their mind even well into college - or during their career. It is never too late to test out something. We tend to feel trapped once we've committed to something. If the career you've chosen, or are currently in, isn't fulfilling, you can investigate other options at any point.

7. How do teenagers test the funding situation for qualifications?

I think what you're getting at here is the question of how much you can get paid for various types of career exploration opportunities. There are two parts to this answer. The first question would obviously be to assess how much money you need to make at a given point in your life. The second would be whether you are willing to work for little or no money to get a really valuable career experience.

When you are younger, you may be more flexible - but when you're in college the stakes are a bit higher financially. If you are like me, you may have to find paying work that also gives you the opportunity to investigate different careers. This can be a bit more difficult, so start your search early and anticipate getting ahead of the curve when it comes to vacation time and summer break. A lot of the best opportunities fill up quickly so don't procrastinate. That being said, you can still make the money you need without settling for the typical 'summer' job if you're willing to put in some work. At one point in college I was considering law school, so I networked and found a law firm that needed to have all of their files catalogued and organized. Yes, it was really boring, but the pay was what I needed and I got to spend my summer in a law office. Because the work required very little brain power, I was able to spend time listening, watching, and soaking up the atmosphere. For me, it convinced me that it was not the career I was looking for personally.

Now, if making money is not as critical an issue for you, you've got a lot more options open. If you can volunteer or maybe take an unpaid position with someone who could serve as a mentor then go for it. This is an option that most people completely overlook. I can almost guarantee that if there is a particular company you want to work for or someone that you want to intern with, it will be very hard for them to pass up on your offer of taking an unpaid position. Don't be shy about it, just make the call and explain why you want to work for them. This can be unsettling and a bit scary, but they will admire your initiative and be flattered that you are interested in them specifically. Of course, if you can do a little networking and find someone to give you a personal introduction or recommendation, then that is even better. And the great secret to this is that if you work just as hard as if you were being paid, it can often lead to a paid position at some future time.

8. We've had a few people on our site where they've made the choice, done the degrees, and found out it just wasn't what they wanted to do, or that career options were truly lousy. How do people avoid those situations?

It is so important to really understand something about the career you've chosen before you commit. This sounds really simple, but I can't tell you how many people fail to do this step. There are also so many people who decide and then don't ever stop to think while they're preparing for the career, 'Is this really something I want to spend a large portion of my life doing?' Internships, part-time jobs, educational opportunities, travel, and volunteer work are great ways to investigate a wide-variety of options before the choice is made or the degree earned. Even while students are in college, and even if they have declared a major, there is always the option of continuing to investigate other options during breaks and summers before a firm commitment is made.

9. At what point should you start thinking this career isn't for me, and move on before you sign anything?

The minute that you are thinking 'this career isn't for me' you've probably already answered that question. It doesn't matter whether you've declared a major and have second thoughts or whether you've graduated from college and just find that the career isn't what you expected. Life is too short to be stuck in a place that you don't want to work. If you are fortunate enough to have this realization before graduating - even if it means some extra time in college - by all means change your course of study. So much of the career decision process is based on the individual's talents, interests, and goals in life. These are fluid. They can change over time. A major focus of our book is to try and prevent someone from getting the point of thinking they've decided on the wrong career. But I would encourage students to listen to their own instincts and never be afraid to change course - no matter when that realization occurs.

10. Is it realistic to set a time for making up your mind about a career? Or can you afford to wait until you're really mossy and ancient, like 18 or 19, before deciding?

Even at the 'ancient' age of 18-19, there is still so much more time than students today are taught. So many have been raised in school systems where they were forced to choose a major during high school. I am a big advocate of the more classic liberal arts education. A really well-rounded student will have so many different and unique areas to study that he will have a greater chance of clearly seeing that one career or another is of great interest to him. I would urge students to wait as long as possible before choosing a career or declaring a major. With the wide variety of careers available these days, there is no limit to their choices. This is why we encourage them to test the waters.