Graduation season is here. After the parties dwindle down, it’s time to get down to business.

Choosing a college major and deciding what you want to become can be incredibly challenging. In her recent interview on Good Day Chicago, Jody Michael shared her insights on how to best prepare your child for college and their career.

How can you prepare your child to answer the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

The earlier your child can identify their innate talents and abilities and articulate them, the sooner they can research and identify the jobs and careers that use those talents. Knowing those two things will allow them to not only choose their college major, but determine their best career fit.

Then, it’s game changing – they know the classes to take, the professors to align with, the internships to target and the experience they need to gain in order to land that job when they graduate.

What if your child is really struggling to identify what they want to do?

First and foremost, have them take an aptitude test administered by a professional. Most students don’t have enough work experience, life experience or self-awareness to accurately assess their aptitudes. At Jody Michael Associates (JMA), we use Highlands Ability Battery. It’s highly reliable and millions of people have taken it.

Next, they should perform in-depth career research. If they’re in the Chicago area, they can visit the career/business section on the fourth floor of the Harold Washington Library. Or, if they prefer to conduct their research online, they can start by visiting O*Net, which provides detailed descriptions of a wide range of jobs, including the education and training they’ll need, the number of people employed in that profession, salaries, projected job growth, personality types and work styles that are a fit for the job, general work activities and more.

Once they start to identify careers they’re interested in, they should work on getting an inside look of each. For example, they can:

  • Set up informational interviews with people who currently work in those careers
  • Volunteer with an organization in their areas of interest
  • Shadow a professional in each field or industry for a day
  • Apply for paid or unpaid internships

And last but not least, consider hiring a career coach. A coach will expedite the career discovery process and help your child identify their best career fit with much more accuracy than if they were to try to figure it out on their own.

What are the most common mistakes students make in this process?

First, they don’t spend enough time and energy trying to identify the right college major. And, second, they don’t know to reach out to a professional for help.

In 2012, Rutgers University released a report based on their survey of recent college graduates. The number one thing that the graduates said they would have done differently is to have been more careful in choosing their college major. And this echoes what we hear from the majority of the career professionals we’ve coached over the past 20 years.

Do college career centers effectively help students identify their right major and career?

You would think they’d be very helpful, but they are actually very ineffective for one primary reason: They are incredibly understaffed.

On average, there are 1,889 students for every one career services professional. When we at JMA coach a student, we spend an average of twenty hours one-on-one with them, getting to know them, helping them identify their talents, values and interests, and guiding them through the process of finding their best career fit. College career center staff members just don’t have the manpower and the time to do that.

Any suggestions you’d add for how to best prepare for college and career?

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