The Career Coach's Guide To
Helping Students Discover Their Career Direction
By Michael T. Robinson
If you are helping a young person decide on a career direction, this guide will give you some tips for using the CareerPlanner.com Career Interest Test (CiT).
The Career Interest Report is extremely simple to read and understand. Although we have 50 year old clients who use it and find it very insightful and helpful, it is written for High Schoolers.
The biggest problem with understanding and making use of the report is just getting people to read it front to back. So our first bit of advice is to read it, front to back. It's only 12 pages or so.
Hey Coach, Do You Know What the Goal Is?
Your goal in helping a student interpret the Career Interest Test Report, is to help them discover their best possible career choice.
Students in 8th grade should end up with ~3 top career choices.
By 11th grade, the student should narrow their choices down to one. This would become the college major, or a vocation / trade.
By starting to think about careers in the 8th grade, the student will have 4+ years to make the biggest decision in their life.
The Coach's Objectivity in Discovering the Perfect Career Path
Every human being has within them the knowledge of what they truly want to do for a living.
The trick is discovering what it is.
You want to do the work you will be most passionate about.
Being passionate about work is more important than having a strong aptitude or ability.
When you are passionate about your work you will succeed because you will do whatever it takes to become the best in your profession. You will be driven to succeed.
It is a great feeling to be doing the work you truly love. Conversely, we all know what it's like to do work that is not fulfilling.
Therefore, when you are helping a person discover their true career path, you must be open minded and objective about what they are interested in doing because they hold the key, not you.
The worst thing you can do is lead them to do what you do for a living, or what you dreamed of doing. That was your path, not theirs. You must help them discover their path. That is the Coach's Goal.
As Career Coach, your job is to facilitate the students career discovery process, not to decide for them.
The Key is Listening Very Closely
Since the true career direction is locked or hidden within each person, you have to listen very carefully for clues.
In our over the phone coaching sessions at CareerPlanner.com, I am amazed that during the one hour period I will usually hear a person tell me two or three times what they truly want to do.
Yet they don't seem to hear it themselves.
Thus many people might talk about what they really want to do, but they don't seem to hear it.
As a Career Coach you act like a mirror so the person can see and hear themselves more clearly. You hear what they say and you feed it back to them to see if it resonates. This can be very powerful.
So listen very, very carefully when you talk to the student. They might be telling you what it is they think they will be passionate about.
When you hear a clue, feed it back to them:
Say, "I hear you saying you might want to be a ... TV News Anchor."
"Is that right? What about being a TV News Anchor is interesting to you?"
When you do this, you want to be totally positive and encouraging. If they seem to get excited about the idea, then you should too. Even if you have to fake it.
You want to encourage them to research these career ideas.
Using the Career Interest Test
Let's for the moment assume you are the acting Career Coach, and you are coaching a Junior High School Student.
You would print out two copies of the Career Interest Test Report from CareerPlanner.com. Then you discuss it together.
The student's learning style does matter. If they are Extraverted (outgoing, very talkative) you might do better to read the report out loud to them, and discuss it one part at a time. Many Extraverts learn better and think better by talking and hearing.
If the student is an Introvert (more quiet, shy, reserved, and private) then give them plenty of time to read the report on their own, most likely in a quiet, private place. Just ask them to underline or highlight areas they have questions about or that they want to discuss.
Then you can both go through the report front to back.
Put yourself in a brainstorming frame of mind. Accept anything the student suggests. Never say no or criticize or laugh at their career ideas. You want them to feel comfortable tossing out ideas. If you come down hard on an idea, the student may clam up.
If you happen to be the parent of the student and you find yourself driving in the car with them, this is a great time to have a career discussion. We call it "quality windshield time."
Interpreting The Career Interest Test Scores
In the Career Interest Report, all careers can be categorized as a combination of 6 basic types of work.
Each of these six fundamental types of work is given a letter code (RIASEC). This is explained more fully in the report itself.
There is a score for each letter.
The report will take the highest two or three scores and that becomes what is known as your "Holland Code" or your "Career Type."
Many years ago, Dr. John Holland developed the original concepts that then evolved into the technology we have today.
The maximum score for each letter is 50. The lowest is zero.
A high score implies a high degree of interest in that particular type of work.
A low score represents a lack of interest.
Use the Process of Elimination
Go through the career / job title list in the report with the student.
1) Have them cross out any careers that are obviously not right.
2) Try to get the list down to 10 careers or less.
3) Have the student use his or her gut feel and first impression. Don't think too much at this point.
4) Don't worry about salary at this time.
5) It's OK to add careers that are not on the list.
6) Then rank the top10 careers, 1 through 10, with 1 being the most interesting.
7) Now take the top 3 careers and have the student research each one. This can take a few weeks.
8) If after researching the top 3, none of them work, then go to the next 3.
How to Research Careers
The student should do the research not you the Coach.
Your job as Coach is to facilitate the process and keep it going until you can both sit down and discuss the top 3 choices in detail.
Sources of information:
1) Google each career, see what comes up
2) Look into the future of each career using CareerPlanner's Job Outlook and Top Jobs For the Future
3) Read biographies of people who have been in that field
4) Spend some time (a few days) in the actual work environment (On The Job Discovery Sessions)
5) Call up people who are successful and happy in that career. Interview them.
6) Look up salaries. Salaries can be found on the internet and in many books.
On The Job Discovery Sessions
Item 4 above is very powerful and not all that hard to do.
We once had a client who was considering becoming a medical doctor. So between 10th and 11th grade she volunteered at a local hospital for a few days.
After three days she decided she did not like being around so many sick people.
Now that was revealing.
Better to discover that now while in High School than after spending 4 years on an expensive pre-med undergraduate degree and then an expensive medical school.
The Coach can help set up these "On The Job Discovery Sessions."
If you want to be an engineer, spend a few days hanging around an office full of engineers.
If you want to be a plumber or an electrician, offer to help one for free for a week or two.
If you want to write game software, spend a week or two volunteering at a game software company. Even if all you do is get the programmers coffee, tea and Red Bull, by being in the environment you will be able to tell if that job is right for you.
If you want to be an actor, you should be in all the school and community plays you can be in.
If you want to be an auto mechanic, volunteer to help out at a local dealership. Take night classes in auto repair.
If you want to be in fashion design, find a fashion design studio (it helps if you are in New York or California).
See the point. Try to get some experience in the actual career of your dreams, while you still have time to change your mind.
Don't wait until you are a senior in college to ask what kind of job you can get with the major you just spent four years studying.
Ongoing Dialogue with Between the Coach and the Student
After the initial careers are researched and the student is comfortable with three career choices, it's up to the Coach to keep up a continuing dialogue with the student.
As a Coach you should see the student moving closer and closer to one of those three careers as they move through High School. Their interest should be developing and becoming more obvious and more strong.
The classes they take in school should be in line with their career choices. If they want to be an Electronics Engineer, they should be taking college prep classes in math and science.
If they want to be a carpenter they should be taking all the wood shop, metal shop and drafting classes the schools offer.
The student should also be having outside activities that are in alignment with the career choices. The future engineer should be building radio kits, telescopes etc.
A student who wants to learn a trade should be moving in that direction by taking a part time job in the field.
As a Coach you should help create events where the student can become more exposed to their top 3 career choices.
The more early exposure the better.
Building a Strong Vision of the Future Career
The stronger and more clear a person's career path is, the more likely they are to stay on that path and not fall off when the going gets tough.
When I was in engineering school, I saw many freshman students drop out in the first year. Of the 40 students I started with, three of us were at graduation four years later. There were times I wanted to drop out or change majors. Seven semesters of Calculus and 5 semesters of Physics almost did me in.
Getting an education can be very hard. Holding down a job while trying to get an education or training is even harder. There are times one wants to quit.
We have found that by having a clear vision or dream of the future, it helps keep one going when times are bleak. Looking to the future helps one get through tough times.
The Coach should help the student paint such a clear picture.
One way to do this is that "On The Job Discovery" that we talked about. By letting the student get a small taste of what their future job might be you can help solidify their vision of the future. Spending a few days in that engineering office could do it. Working in an auto mechanic shop is great. Volunteering at a hospital will give you can idea what it's like to be a doctor or a nurse.
Another way is to build a "Vision Board" or "Dream Board." This is a sheet of paper at least 8 1/2" by 11" on which the student cuts and pastes pictures that represent their future after they graduate and start working.
For the wannabe actor it might be a picture of the lights on Broadway New York with their name in the marquee.
For the wannabe plumber, it might be a picture of a white van with their name printed on the side. i.e. Joe's Plumbing Contractors. Or it could be an entire fleet of plumbing vans.
This Vision Board is a tool that business consultants use to help change the direction of a business. There is no reason a 16 year old can't use it to set the direction of their career.
After pasting a few pictures, and perhaps writing a few words in large letters, the trick is to look at this Vision Board twice every day.
It needs to be the last thing you look at before your head hits the pillow. It should be the first thing you look at each morning. This way, you drive the vision into the subconscious where you can get the other half of your brain to work for you, for free.
When in Doubt Aim High
If the student has trouble deciding between two career choices, pick the one that requires the most education.
It's always easier to step it down a notch than step it up.
Also, you won't know if you can succeed at something until you try it.
So we say, "aim high." You can always adjust your aim down a bit later.
For example, let's say the student was torn between being a scientist or an engineer. Being a scientist usually requires a four year BS degree followed by a two year Masters degree, followed by two more years to get a doctorate.
The engineering degree will usually take four, maybe five years. So start out with the vision of being a scientist and then if that is too hard drop to being an engineer.
Try to Get It Right the First Time - No "Do Over's"
It's important to pick one's first career right. The time and expense of getting an education is so huge that you usually only get to do it once in your life. So you have to give it everything you've got.
Picking one's first career is probably the biggest and most far reaching decision in a person's life.
Not many adults are able to go back to school and start all over. First, once you start working for a living, raising a family and making house payments there is rarely time or money to go back to school.
Second, as you get older, learning gets harder. Studying and doing homework become even less attractive.
Whether the student is looking at a four year college degree or an 18 month vocational program it's critical you do everything possible to help the student pick the right career.
One Final Note on The Career Interest Test
If you run into a case where the test taker's scores are all very low, or all extremely high, you may need an additional test. This occurs when a person is not aware of their own interests, or where they are interested in almost everything. When this happens, we use the CareerPlanner Personality Type Test and the resulting Advanced Personality Type Career Report.
This is a 35 page report based on technology developed by Myers, Briggs and psychologist Carl Jung.
When using this tool it helps if the Coach has training to help ensure the correct Personality Type has been identified. The system is fairly complex compared to the Career Interest Test. There are several organizations that provide 4 day training and certification in Myers-Briggs assessments. CareerPlanner is trained and certified.