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Staying Calm and Confident: Guiding Students Through Career Discussions

Ever found yourself in an unexpected career conversation? I know I had – one minute you tell someone you’re a Career Adviser, and the next minute you’re getting their life story, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and questions about becoming a marine biologist.

I know that the prospect of career discussions with students can sometimes feel a bit like stepping into a labyrinth. Where do you start? How do you guide without leading? And how on earth do you keep those stress levels in check? Well, I’m here to share some tips that can help make these conversations more comfortable, meaningful, and even enjoyable for both you and your students.

Tip 1 – Embrace Exploration

First things first, let’s dismiss the myth that students need to have a concrete career answer right away. Many adults are still exploring their career paths, so it’s entirely normal for students to be unsure or open to exploration. It’s okay to just have a general direction, an area of interest, or even a few ideas of what to explore further. As guides, we can encourage this exploration and celebrate it as a natural part of the career discovery process.

Tip 2 – Concentrate on Immediate Steps

While talking about the future is exciting, it’s equally important to bring the focus back to the here and now. Encourage your students to think about the next steps rather than getting overwhelmed with creating lifelong plans. For instance, what subjects might they want to take next term, or what work experience could they gain this summer? Breaking down the journey into smaller, more manageable steps can make the whole process seem less daunting and more achievable.

Tip 3 – Identify Strengths and Interests

Now, this is my favorite part! Uncovering a student’s strengths and interests can be like piecing together a unique puzzle. It’s not just about academic strengths or favorite subjects, it’s also about what they love to do outside of school. Maybe they’re a whiz at solving complex problems in video games, or they have a knack for organizing family events. Even daily tasks like caring for siblings or keeping their room tidy can hint at valuable skills. Encourage students to lean into their strengths, whatever they may be. After all, our passions often guide us towards our most fulfilling career paths.

Tip 4 – Harness the Power of Side-by-Side Conversations

It’s surprising how a change of scenery or the way we sit can affect the quality of our conversations. Sitting side-by-side, rather than face-to-face, can make career discussions feel less like an interrogation and more like a shared exploration. Try going for a walk around the school grounds or sitting next to each other while looking at a career resource together. You’ll be amazed at how this simple tweak can take the pressure off.

Tip 5 – Keep the Pressure Off

Speaking of pressure, let’s take a moment to address this. Conversations about the future can unintentionally stir up anxiety if we’re not careful with our words and tone. Avoid phrases that might make career decisions seem overly monumental or anxiety-inducing. Instead, reassure your students that it’s okay to take time to think, to change their minds, or to be unsure. Remind them that everyone, yes everyone, struggles with career decisions at some point.

Tip 6 – Empower Student Choice

When a student opens up about their career thoughts, let them lead. Their ideas may seem unconventional or surprising, but that’s okay! It’s their career journey, after all. By encouraging them to explore their interests, no matter how unconventional, we’re showing them that their ideas are valued and respected.

Tip 7 – Ask Open-Ended Questions

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a well-placed, open-ended question. “What do you enjoy about that?” or “Can you tell me more?” can open doors to deeper thought and exploration. These questions don’t corner students into yes or no answers but allow them to delve deeper into their thoughts and feelings.

Feeling ready?

Guiding students through career discussions doesn’t have to be a stressful task. In fact, it can be a fantastic journey of discovery if approached with an open mind, patience, and the right strategies. Remember, it’s not about having all the answers or making big decisions on the spot. It’s about exploration, understanding, and taking one step at a time.

Embrace the unknown, celebrate small steps, and remember that these conversations are just that – conversations. They’re a chance to learn more about your students, to guide them in their self-discovery, and to reassure them that it’s okay not to have it all figured out. So, the next time you find yourself about to embark on a career discussion with a student, take a deep breath, remember these tips, and step confidently into the conversation.


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