Good career counseling is not fortune telling
As adults know well, not all practitioners in any field are either outstanding or even competent. My field, career counseling and development, is no exception. Parents, who simply want the best career advice for their teen, are too likely to meet up with career practitioners who are mediocre, incompetent or out right charlatans.
Helping Teens Choose a Career Path, a recent MSNBC article, is a case in point. The career advice touted in the article, for which one parent paid $800, is barely worth the paper it’s printed on.
The point of this blog is not to deride any particular career service provider, but to educate teens and parents about what to expect from excellent career practitioners. What sounds good to the ear can too often not be relevant in reality.
Before the dissection begins, kudos to this mom for being proactive. With one child already in college, she knows her 16 year old needs a clear career path in order to be one of the 32% that actually graduates in four years. I wish there were more parents like Mrs. Cameron. She understands the need for her son to have a career plan. I didn't let my daughter go off to college without a plan and no other teen should either. Research has shown that teens with detailed career plans go to and finish their higher education in greater numbers than those whose career plan is simply, “I’m going to college.”
My most squeamish readers might want to skip to the end. The dissection of this career advice is going to get graphic.
Point #1 – Timing: No 16 year old should be given one or two job goals. Fifteen and sixteen year olds should be identifying their interests and exploring what jobs might match those interests. Freshman, sophomore and first part of the junior year should be spent doing research on careers of interest, talking with people who do those jobs, learning about these jobs online, from other printed resources and job-shadowing. Spring of the junior year or the summer before becoming a high school senior is the time to turn these explorations into a comprehensive blueprint for post high school plans.
Point #2 – Irrelevant conclusions: That John Cameron, at 16, does not have finger dexterity is a non-issue. Sixteen year-old boys--unless they play piano, a brass or wind instrument, have hobbies requiring finger dexterity or are athletic prodigies--are notoriously clumsy. And, this is not said in any sort of belittling way. For young males the mid-teens are a time of furious physical growth. Neurons that were only several inches long a few months ago may now stretch to over a foot. One can’t blame them that their neurons and synapses may not always be in communication.
As a young male’s growth rate slows, or at least takes a break, he can begin to assimilate all the changes and get in charge of the machine that is his body. This can take months or several years. Coordination can be accomplished faster with specific exercises, but for most, time and nature will take care of seeing young men through clumsy to coordinated.
Point #3 – Misinformed and missing the point: This is the second biggest ding against the person who did the interpretation of this young man’s ability battery. In the best of all possible scenarios, John Cameron won’t need to be choosing what kind of doctor he wants to be until ten years from now.
That’s right. Assuming John still has an interest in becoming a doctor, is able to pass college level classes in inorganic chemistry (many who want to become physicians cannot), higher mathematics hoops such as calculus or trig, gets admitted to medical school and doesn’t drop or flunk out before his senior year, only then will he need to decide what kind of doctor he wants to be. Only as an MS4, when medical students must pick what kind of residency to apply for, will John need to make a choice about what kind of doctor he wants to be. In addition, any medical student who wants to be a surgeon will spend their first year of residency doing general medicine.
This is why it can be a decade or more before John will need to make a choice about his preferred medical specialty. Between gaining a BS and enrolling in medical school, taking time off to work in a medical related field is highly recommended. Ten or twelve years from now, unless his hands grow to be the size of hams, John’s finger dexterity should be just fine.
#4 Most important point: Substituting short-term career goals for real career development. Just looking at that big notebook of page after page of information may warm a parent’s heart and make them feel like they’ve spent their money well. Sorry to inform that unless that big folder introduces a teen to the fundamentals of career development, their money hasn’t bought nearly what it should.
What that folder should contain are the basics of career development: the steps and strategies that allow one to develop and be in charge of their a career. Since this is National Career Development Month, it’s an appropriate time to cover this vital information.
To be continued…
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