Career decisions start early

August 24, 2017

“How can I help my three children with their decision-making? I don’t know where to start.”

The parent of a 17-year-old FE college student.

Some decisions we make have an immediate and significant impact on our lives, and others can influence us long after the decisions are made. To ensure future career decisions are based on wise, early educational decisions, parents have told us they need to know when they should be prompting decisions with their child aligned to what is happing in schools at a given time.

I recently met with a friend for a coffee to discuss some of the options her daughter (just completed A-levels) was considering about where to study and types of courses available. She was worried that her daughter wasn’t making any decisions at all, as it seemed that there was an understanding at school that if a decision couldn’t be made about a career then it would be okay for a bright student to delay making a decision until it was absolutely necessary. Making decisions is not an exact science, and young people and their parents need to understand that an appropriate decision at aged 13 based on knowledge at that age is exactly that. Aged 15 or 18 other decisions can be made based on new knowledge and different options. Managing a career throughout life is an ongoing decision-making process, working on the basis that there is unlikely to be one job for life for parents or their children.

Parents I have spoken to find the School system to be confusing, with changing options and the need for choices to be made at different ages and years. The infographic provided gives an overview of what happens when with some general advice for parents. However, this does not address the key more important issue here, how to make these key decisions.

Young people and their parents need to raise their awareness about how they make decisions as early as possible, together with the background to their thinking. Making a decision about educational choices is often the first and most important strategic decision a young person makes in life.

My coffee companion’s daughter has a combination of a fatalistic approach to decision-making – “what will be, will be” and denying that there is a decision to be made for some reason or another, often because of the fear of making a wrong decision. In this scenario, inaction may mean that ultimately the decision will be made by someone else on her behalf.

There are many ways to make decisions. Some of the most common, including the above examples, can be summarised as follows:

  • Impulsive – usually the decision maker wants an easy process. We need to be aware that we have a bias to trust the first piece of information we are given. It’s similar to never having a second chance to make a first impression. It takes an awful lot of persuasive power to shake the first opinion. Some young people will stick with one idea about a career for many years.
  • Agonising – There is a need to look at all the alternatives and not leave any stone unturned. To keep asking “what if” and considering all the scenarios, eventually becomes overwhelming. It i snot possible to make a perfect decision, so frequently the decision maker disengages from the process completely.
  • Intuitive – Going with your “gut”. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For some people, moments of insight can happen when it seems as if everything has fallen into place.
  • Cautious – The decision maker doesn’t want to do anything too risky, and selects the safest option.
  • Delayed – The decision is put off until, usually, the time has run out and the last minute, rushed decision is made.
  • Compliant –  The decision maker allows others to decide and either go along with their choice or make a choice based on “what is expected of me”

(Decision descriptions adapted from work on decision-making by Northern Virginia Community College USA

You may like to consider some of the decisions you have made in the past e.g. which car to buy or what kind of hobby to pursue. Do you have a dominant style or a combination of approaches? Does your son or daughter follow your example?

It is important to recognise that talking about making career decisions based on little understanding of a young person’s goals, motivation, interests, strengths, values, skills and personality is like expecting to make a cake and omitting some of the essential ingredients!

We would recommend, after a period of personal reflection and research, a planned approach is a good place to start. This is where you weigh the facts, consider the pros and cons of each option and then make a rational choice. This usually involves comparing and contrasting two or more options. However certain types of decision made may merit one method over another.

Did you discover a preferred decision-making style?

Watch out for the Parent Career Coach website coming in September and workshops in October that will include more exercises and information about wise decision-making.