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Metro News
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Career Planning: If I knew then, what I know now

By Elizabeth J. Phillips, Regional Extension AgentPosition

FutureNothing can match the excitement and anticipation of new graduates’ hope for their futures. With educational obligations behind them, high school or college graduates begin the search for the perfect job to catapult them into their anticipated life-long career paths. Some find their way quickly while others awake to an economic reality that does not match their dreams. Still other graduates settle for unrelated jobs in retail or other service sectors or question their academic choices. Where are the jobs? Is it me, or are others experiencing this same challenge?

What can make the difference between educational preparation and success in the workplace? The answer is research, which should begin in middle school. Parents may assume that schools offer adequate career planning resources. Many school systems do offer career assessment and planning services, but can parents be sure that students are internalizing the information and applying it in their lives? Not necessarily, but they can take proactive positions by regularly researching careers and communicating with children about their ultimate career goals and interests. When parents involve themselves in their sons and daughters career planning formative years, they give their children one of the greatest, most empowering gifts.

An initial probe of workplace trends is essential in steering toward a successful life after schooling for those students entering middle school and the parents who support them. Delaying this research leaves students aimlessly wandering into academic choices in high school, and later, in community colleges, training programs, or universities. There is probably nothing more discouraging than investing time, money, and intellectual effort in a program of study or training only to find that students are not interested, are ill-suited, or are not well-matched to a profession they chose.  Parents do not welcome a “change in major” or a decision to quit a training program from the young adults in their care.  Such changes are costly and also frustrate students who may interpret their mismatched fit to a specific academic major, occupation, or profession as a personal failure. How many students graduate high schools and colleges each year never having researched and evaluated the job market? It is sobering to talk to new graduates to learn that many, if not most, did not do remedial research on the state of the market, job trends, and especially jobs that are on the decline in America.   

The Two-Step Process
Two key initial steps should be part of career planning strategies. First, assess interests and skills.  Typical career assessments align personal characteristics, interests, and traits with existing occupational groups, and even job titles to suggest a likely fit between an individual and his or her place on the career ladder. The second step in the initial career planning process should include the study of identified occupations and professions for basic explanations of what a particular job entails, the minimum education or training required to enter the field, and even a review of the average salaries. Such information can be obtained from the website of the United State Department of Labor (DOL) at www.dol.gov.

The DOL’s Careerinfonet.org site provides a Career Resource Library section with links to assessment guides along with free online assessment and tests. The Occupational Information Network, also called O*NET OnLine (www.onetonline.org/), is another DOL resource that offers career exploration and job analysis tools. Or parents and students can visit the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics at www.bls.gov to find additional resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov/ooh/.

As parents or guardians, it’s important that you periodically reassess career interests with your children. It is not unusual that interests change over time. However, staying attuned to the potential best possible matches between what students want to be when they grow up, and the realities of the world of work, can mean the difference between failure to launch, and maximizing their full potential as adults.

While middle school is an ideal time to begin the career planning process, it is never too late to begin. This personalized career assessment and planning process can prove valuable throughout high school, college, or in later life if a mid-career change becomes a goal. The success of this process is the same at all stages of a career. Do your homework by conducting your own personal assessment and career research. Know the job market or possibly risk settling for far less than you deserve.


National Center for O*NET Development. (2017, May 31). O*NET online. Retrieved from https://www.onetonline.org/.

United States Department of Labor. (2015, December 15). Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational outlook handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/.

United States Department of Labor. (2015, Janaury 16). Career exploration. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/k12/content/students/careers/career-exploration.htm.

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