Worried about your kids’ career plans?

job hunting by Robert S. Donovan

job hunting by Robert S. Donovan

I’ll admit it. I’m worried about the costs of my kids’ education. Tuition fees go up every year, so by the time my 6 year-old gets to college or university, it’s hard to know how far the savings will go! Obviously, I’m hoping that they’ll have some idea about their career path, so they can find a program and stick with it. But I didn’t stick with my original plan, and I know a lot of people who changed programs before finishing their degree. Is there a way to improve the odds that your teenager will choose a post-secondary program leading to a career that he or she will love?

Two studies appearing in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Vocational Behavior provide some potentially helpful information. Larson and her colleagues examined the personalities and interests of 368 college students to see if their majors could be predicted based on information commonly gathered in career counselling programs. Personalities were predictive of choice of major, with the largest predictive power for education and engineering majors. Students who scored high on social closeness or agreeableness were more likely to be elementary education majors and less likely to be engineers. Interests were also important in predicting program choice. Of course, this was only a small sample, all of whom were undergrads, so more research is needed.

Sheu and colleagues took a different approach. Rather than collecting new data, they took data from multiple previous studies to see how strongly interests predict career goals. The information provided by questionnaires used in career counselling was predictive of one’s career path. The Strong Interest Inventory is one example. It provides information about someone’s preference for working with people, things, data, or ideas; adults, along with high school and college students, can fill out the Strong online at Discover Your Personality. Self-efficacy was also a factor in choosing a career. As Dr. G reported yesterday, supports – which might be provided by parents – also play a role in career choice.

So, one’s personality, interests, self-efficacy, and parental support all predict career choices. What are the implications for parents whose kids are trying to decide what to do after high school? I think, if you want your child to choose a career that they’ll want to stick with, it would probably be helpful for them to find something that’s consistent with their personality and interests. If a youth isn’t sure where they stand or which careers might be a good fit, career counselling questionnaires could provide valuable information. Parental support can be helpful in making an appropriate choice as well. If your child lacks self-confidence, he or she might be reluctant to choose a career that would be a good fit; for example, students are more likely to choose a career in the physical sciences if they believe in their academic capabilities. Kids who lack self-esteem might benefit from counselling to address this.

Parents and youth will need to remember that a teen’s personality and interests are still developing, so while career counseling and interest inventories can provide important data when choosing a career, the information is not written in stone. Your child might choose to change majors before he or she completes a degree, but having more data before making a life-changing decision is usually better than having less!

You can find Larson’s and Sheu’s studies here.

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