Professional athletes understand the importance of training during the “off season” in order to help them become stronger, smarter players when the pressure intensifies.

Likewise, summer is the perfect time for high school and college students to take advantage of their “downtime” to start identifying their best career fit. With the stress of exams and papers off the table, students can focus on the phase that follows school — and make adjustments to their academic plans, if necessary.

Parents, with a delicate hand, you can encourage your high-school- or college-age student to engage in a variety of career exploration activities.

Encourage, but don’t push

Tip number one: Know how to navigate the fine line between nudging and nagging.

The best time to offer advice to kids in this age range is when they ask for it. It signals their openness to listen, which may be limited at other times.

Encourage career discussion by listening

Depending on the nature of your child — and the dynamics of your relationship — you may have to be the one to gently introduce the subject.

If that’s the case, avoid words and phrases that sound like commands, orders or obligations. Telling your daughter that she “really needs to get going on her career plans” or your son that he “has to spend X hours a week on career exploration” will, in the end, be counterproductive.

Once you plant the seed, let it grow. In other words, don’t nag.

One of the hardest things for parents to keep in mind throughout this process is that while you can offer tools and strategies, this is their work — not yours. As such, your role is coach.

We need to encourage members of this next generation to become all that they can become, not try to force them to become what we want them to become …”
– Barbara Coloroso, Parenting Expert


Andrew Clark, who graduated from Drake University a few years ago, has continued to make use of the skills he garnered in school and during his summer internships to make a career shift. After spending two years at a major pharmaceutical corporation, he decided it was time for a change. Andrew now works for an upscale restaurant chain within their Brand Marketing department.

While he says that his career exploration was somewhat self-driven, he also believes that his parents and mentor “played a significant role in guiding me.” From early on, Andrew says that his parents always encouraged him to reach out to family friends to learn about their lines of work.

Chicago career coaching encourage child best career fit


“During high school summers, I worked in a customer service role, which allowed me to learn about a variety of personality types and how to deal with different situations. In college, I made it a point to gain experience in a lot of different industries so that I could determine which industry I enjoyed the most, and where I could make the strongest contribution. To find those internships, I leveraged connections, attended networking events sponsored by the university, sent messages to people in my personal network, and joined LinkedIn groups for alumni of my school and for industries in my areas of interest.”

Career exploration ideas

The following strategies can introduce your child to a variety of career opportunities:

1. Volunteer — Many websites, like, allow your student to search for, or browse through, volunteer opportunities in their local area based on their interests. Also, LinkedIn often lists unpaid internships and volunteer job openings that could be a great way to dip their toe in the career waters.

2. Shadow a professional — Has your child ever wondered what a Veterinary Technologist does all day long? There is no better way to learn about a job than to spend a day shadowing someone in that profession. Many high school and college career centers can help coordinate a job shadowing visit, but your son or daughter can facilitate one on their own, so long as they follow the appropriate protocol. If they want to shadow a relative or neighbor at their workplace, for example, they should ask if they need to contact the company’s human resources department for permission ahead of time. (The friend or neighbor may be able to initiate this inquiry on their behalf.)

They may need to be patient; many companies take time to review these requests. In addition, guests may be required to complete a few forms and show appropriate identification prior to a visit as standard operating procedure, particularly in any regulated business or industry.

Explore career ideas for best fit

3. Arrange informational interviews — If your child thinks they might enjoy a career as a City Manager, encourage them to look into arranging an informational interview with someone who works in local government. They may learn about other interesting, related positions as well. Most high-school- and college-age students think inside the box, along the lines of college majors: marketing … business … engineering. Informational interviews can help introduce them to an array of job titles that may be unfamiliar — but of potential interest — to them as they consider their ultimate career.

4. Conduct online research — Many websites provide varying degrees of career information, tools and guidance. A few stand-outs include:

  • O*Net Online — A service of the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes job descriptions and occupational data
  • MyNextMove — A service of the U.S. Department of Labor, specifically designed for the job seeker who wants to browse career opportunities by keyword or industry
  • Career Exploration — Hosted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a great entry point for students to explore occupations by industry
  • Career Essentials — A career exploration gateway sponsored by the University of California – Berkeley Career Center, which includes links to career profiles, guides and industry resources

5. Network —Andrew found it extremely valuable to begin networking early in his career exploration. Yet understandably, many high-school- and college-age students are intimidated by the thought of building a network. “How can I do that?” they wonder. “I haven’t even started my first job yet.” As Andrew found, there are many opportunities beyond formal, job-related situations to build a network before officially launching your career.

“Whenever I flew or took a train, I made an effort to strike up a conversation with people around me. You never know who may be sitting in the seat next to you,” he said. “In one instance, it led to an internship offer! Ask them for their business card or contact information, and use that information to connect through LinkedIn, and maintain contact on a regular basis. As a general rule of thumb, I tried to reach out every other month or so to keep in touch.”

6. Hire a career coach — Consider working with a certified career coach who specializes in helping high school and college students navigate the overwhelming maze of career possibilities. A great coach will help your child gain greater self-awareness of their talents, interests, values and passions to identify their best career fit. This, in turn, allows them to more effectively determine which colleges to apply to, which major to choose, which classes to take, and which internships to apply for.

If Andrew could offer one piece of advice to parents looking to help guide their high-school- or college-age students to discover their best career fit, it would be this: “Encourage your kids to find someone who inspires them. These individuals have so much influence, and probably offer much of the same advice that you would … However, if your kids are anything like me, they want to hear it from someone other than their parents.”

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