The generation gap is alive, well and may be kicking in the door of your home — especially if you’re the parent of a young adult. Chances are, you’ve been on the receiving end of the “You just don’t understand!” accusation at least a couple of times in your parenting experience.

And it may be true. Especially when it comes to helping your child choose a career. Understanding the differences between the factors that influenced your career journey and those affecting your child’s experience may help bridge the gap.

How the Career Journey Has Evolved: Then Versus Now

The furiously evolving career landscape — along with a variety of other factors — is making your child’s career journey very different from your own. Following are just a few of the ways the process has changed.

Then: You had career options.

Now: There is a seemingly unlimited — and ever-growing — number of career options. This is especially true for women, who are no longer culturally driven to traditional female roles such as nurse, teacher or secretary as many were, even through the 1970s and ‘80s. Advances in technology have resulted in a plethora of new and different jobs entering the realm of possibility over the past few decades. U.S. News & World Report’s list of The 100 Best Jobs of 2023 includes Information Security Analyst (#5), Market Research Analyst (#15) and Database Administrator (#29) — just a few of the jobs that were not likely on your radar.

Then: You were up against many qualified candidates when you applied for a job.

Now: Competition for jobs is fierce. Job openings are no longer advertised in the local newspaper, but are promoted online, where qualified candidates all over the country — and the world — can find them. In addition, the pool of qualified applicants is much bigger due to the increase in educational attainment over the past decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1975, 13.9 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 25 held a college degree. In 1985, the percentage had risen to 19.4 percent — and in 2015, it stood at 32.5 percent.

Then: Choosing a career wasn’t something you talked about; it was something you just did.

Now: Teaching kids about careers starts at a much earlier age, from cultivating emotional intelligence to encouraging curiosity to explore the wide variety of opportunities beyond the family business or your own professions. From reality shows that spark interest in entrepreneurship (think Shark Tank) to sitcoms and dramas that glamorize a variety of professions, TV can provide great food for thought and conversation around career choices. You’re also more likely to share your own career triumphs (and tribulations) with your kids than your parents did with you.

Help your child achieve career clarity

Then: Take a job — any job — to pay the bills.

Now:  With employee engagement standing at roughly 33 percent, the majority of U.S. workers lack enthusiasm for their jobs. Identifying the right career fit is an essential first step. But within their chosen career, finding the right job (rather than any) job is equally important. Encourage your child to take the time, do the research and put forth the effort to land the right position at the right company.

Then: Testing, what testing?

Now: Most students lack the self-awareness and life experience to make informed decisions about their future in their late teens and early 20s. Yet this is the time in their lives when they are being asked to make critical choices:  Where will they attend college? What major will they choose? Which classes will they take? From there, the stakes get even higher when it comes time to apply for internships and, eventually, to launch a successful, satisfying career.

Aptitude testing can help guide these decisions by identifying your child’s innate abilities, including their thinking style. While you can find many versions of “career tests for kids” online, we recommend incorporating these assessments into a Career Discovery process. A certified career coach can help your child understand the nuances of the results, providing depth and perspective that they might miss in their own interpretation.

Then: “I’ll figure it out.”

Now: Maybe you did … and maybe they will. Many kids have a very clear idea about their career path, and they follow it. Others do not. Parents can help their child avoid the stress and frustration of pursuing a college major — and career — that is the wrong fit. Career coaching can provide your child with the clarity to make choices that align with their innate abilities, interests and values. More importantly, the process provides them with the ability to steer their own future, managing the ebb and flow with greater confidence and resilience.

In what other ways have you found your child’s career journey different from your own?

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