Imagine your child is nearing high school graduation, a time when they’re hearing that all-important question: “So, what are your plans?” Is she going to college undecided, or very sure of her career path? What are some actions you could take now to guide your student in choosing a career?

  1. Remember your experience in choosing a career and consider what may have been helpful. And no, having your parents tell you what to do would not have been helpful. Just because you had an incredible college experience at your alma mater or your company is in huge demand of software engineers does not mean you should talk about that all the time, mom! Recognize that your child is their own person; encourage exploration of options.
  1. Explore careers together. Two online career search tools are MyNextMove.org and CareerOneStop.org. Both sites offer an interest inventory, which links to a slew of career profiles. But sometimes skipping directly to the careers videos can get you and your child talking about a variety of options. And it can be fun for you to take these inventories too, and let your child see your reaction to the various options recommended for you. Watching you process out loud can guide them in how to start thinking about their options.
  1. Guide your child toward an internship – yes, as young as high school. If an internship is not possible, try to get an opportunity to job shadow or at least interview a professional in their interested fields. What if you don’t know anyone in your child’s interested field? Ask friends. Ask teachers at your child’s school. It’s all about who you know…
  1. Don’t let your child just “hang out” this summer, and encourage him to try out different activities during the school year. This will allow your child to see what he enjoys – and wants nothing to do with. Particularly focus on finding a place to volunteer. One 8th grader recently told me he had hoped to work in the medical field, but after volunteering at a local hospital restocking supplies, he realized it was a place he couldn’t imagine working in every day.
  1. Try the Seven Stories. I love this example from the New York Times. Robert Hellmann, a career consultant, encourages young people to identify 20 times in their lives they liked doing something and were good at it. Then pick the top seven stories that you as a parent can ask more about: Why did you like this? What were you good at? Why choose this story? See where it leads you…hopefully to a career field to learn more about.

Most importantly, know that whether your child has a clear path or absolutely no clue at age 17, shifts can occur. Majors can take a sharp turn in another direction, and many of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do at age 40. The key here is to be a great listener for your child so he knows you are a constant, nonjudgmental ear when it’s time to get some perspective – and direction toward choosing a career.