Career Counseling and Teens

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s the perennial question adults ask kids. When they’re younger, you often hear fire fighter, movie star, and football player as answers. As kids get older, they begin to consider the question more seriously. Still, it’s not unusual for a high school senior to have no idea about a future career.

Unfortunately, career counseling does not get high priority in secondary schools. We push kids to do their best, take challenging classes, and apply to colleges. We don’t, however, spend much time helping students explore how strengths and weaknesses, wants and needs, likes and dislikes, and general personality characteristics can and should influence career choices.

Just because a person is good at something doesn’t mean a career in that field will be the right match. Considering that a person spends the majority of their waking hours either at work or preparing and commuting to work, it would be a shame if they hated what they did for work.

A number of years ago, I wrote a year-long career counseling curriculum for at-risk girls attending an urban high school. As my own children got older, I realized it was time to put some of this work into personal action. The result was a condensed series of career counseling activities that can be used in-class or at-home.

4-Step Career Planning Process

Long before a young person begins applying for that first real job, time should be spent doing a Self-Assessment. The idea is to sort through all kinds of questions, issues and ideas that may (or may not be) important to them. The second step in career planning involves making an Academic Choice to pursue a certain major. Step 3 focuses on getting Practical Experience in a chosen field -whether it’s an internship, volunteering, or part-time job. The final step in career planning is the actual Job Search.

The Self-Assessment phase of career planning should ideally take place between 8th grade and before the college search begins. A student may know they want to go to college. They may even know they want to be an engineer because they really like math and building things. But, they have no real idea what an engineer does or even if it’s the only career choice worth pursuing.

Career Counseling: Sorting Out Options

Ages 13 and up.
For individual, small-group, or classroom use.
13 Page Digital Download

Sorting Out Options offers a series of 6 activities that guide students through a process of Self Assessment. Each week teens are challenged to consider a career prompt. One week they’ll write a list about tasks that they generally avoid or procrastinate doing and then look for themes within their list. Another week they’ll create a series of social tolerance gauges to evaluate introversion and extroversion tendencies.

Throughout this mini-unit, students will engage in independent activities that also allow them to consider topics such as personal strengths; hobbies and personal interests; work hours versus career income; and, just for girls, how they may balance career choices with starting a family. The Self-Assessment exploration culminates with a Values Sort, in which students consider 16 criteria, such as Job Status, Job Security, and Dealing with Supervisors. 

Implementing this mini-curriculum will not result in a classroom full of career-focused students. Instead, success will be measured in students who are more aware of the dynamic questions that need to be answered before they can truly hone in on what they hope to do for work one day. Knowing what those questions are at the beginning of the career exploration process helps a student to be able to more thoughtfully consider career options as they encounter them.


  • FREE Online Personality Test
    A 72-question survey that provides you with instant scoring that’s similar to the Meyers’ Briggs Personality scales of Introversion-Extroversion; Intuition-Sensing; Thinking-Feeling; and Judging-Perceiving. Free.
  • Online Interest and Skills Inventory
    Teens, ages 13 and older, answer a series of 320 multiple choice questions about their interests and the skills they think they already possess. Their answers are compared to almost 6,000 adults working in jobs from art therapists to zoologists. Once completed, families automatically receive an approximately 20-page comprehensive report that breaks down your teen’s answers and matches them with occupations worth pursuing – interests to develop – areas to explore – and jobs they might want to avoid. You also receive an 18-page Career Planner with additional exercises, explanations, and illustrations to help you understand your personalized report. Complete the entire questionnaire in about 30 minutes or over multiple sitings. $20.

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