What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

by Felicia Bechtoldt

October 10, 2017

What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I was asked this question repeatedly when I was growing up, and for some time I thought I knew the answer. I wanted to be a professional dancer. During my childhood, I spent a lot of time dancing at a dance school. I dreamed of traveling the world dancing on beautiful stages in front of large audiences. I could hear the thunderous claps of the crowd cheering me on at the finish of my performances.  

The Evolving Answer

As I grew older, career exploration helped me realize that there are limited employment opportunities in dancing, not to mention the low wages this occupation offers. Later when I learned about the history of World War II and the millions of people that lost their lives, I was inspired to become a diplomat, as I understood that through diplomacy, wars can be averted and countries can work together in harmony. By my high school graduation, I decided to enroll in an economics degree program, thinking that the economic interdependence between countries was changing the nature of diplomacy and politics. As I have reflected on my career exploration, I realized it is normal for middle and high school students to change their career ambitions multiple times, even after they enter the workplace.

Simon Hobson, a sophomore at Cascade High School in Turner, Oregon, would like to be a police detective or a journalist. “It’s exciting,” says Hobson when he thinks about catching criminals. His father, a police investigator, has given him advice related to detective responsibilities. Hobson used the Oregon Career Information System to explore the career path for this occupation. As he reflects on his plans after graduation, he also considers journalism as a possible path since he would like to share his views with the world.

Explore Your Interests

Seventh graders from Grant Union High School in John Day, Oregon start exploring careers and identify their interests, skills, and work values through the Oregon Career Information System, which helps to match them with potential careers. Students can also find related school and training programs, identify financial resources, and learn more about occupations.

Grant Union High School students are encouraged by Elizabeth Shelley, the school career coordinator, to participate in job shadows, résumé building workshops, and mock interviews. “We have students going for job shadows at local veterinary offices, welding shops, hospitals, community colleges, the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon Department of Transportation,” says Shelley. Once students identify possible occupations, Shelley advises them to visit local businesses and ask if they offer job shadows or informational interviews. She also encourages parents to use the Oregon Career Information System as a springboard for conversations on careers and colleges.

Get Experience

After identifying possible occupations, the best way to get career-related experience in high school is through internships, employment, career fairs, job shadows, informational interviews, and other activities. Taking part in various career experiences helps students develop skills that are critical for most occupations, such as arriving on time, completing tasks within deadlines, working in teams, and providing excellent customer service. These experiences can also help students understand if certain occupations are a good fit for them.
Career Fairs

Career fairs offer excellent opportunities to get career information, connect with employers, and find job openings. Lonnie Martinez, a business and employment specialist with WorkSource Tualatin, helps students get ready for job fairs. Besides arriving on time and having a well-written résumé, he says, many applicants do not know they must have a pen for filling out applications, providing contact information, and taking notes. To prepare for a job fair, one needs to learn about employers who will be attending the fair, look for employers that match their career interests, prepare questions in advance, and be prepared to communicate their career objectives, background, interests, and skills.

At career fairs, students sometimes make the mistake of asking questions about salaries, benefits, and information that could be found on an employer’s website. It is helpful to practice a 30-second concise message about oneself and one’s professional goals and to use a professional e-mail address for résumés and applications. Even if most applications are submitted online, attendees should have around 20 copies of their résumés available to give to potential employers. “Employers do not want to hire someone that has a crumpled résumé in their backpack or that just hangs out with a bunch of friends,” says Martinez.
At a career fair, it is important to speak clearly and confidently, engage with company representatives, have a positive attitude, make good eye contact, and have a firm handshake. Appropriate attire and good manners are essential when meeting a potential employer. Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak with many employers is a good idea, because it teaches important skills, such as initiating a conversation in a business environment and conducting oneself professionally. It is crucial to collect business cards, as it is important to send follow-up letters or emails to the employers.

Job Shadows and Informational Interviews

Job shadowing and informational interviews are great ways of learning about an occupation. Job shadows can help individuals learn about different occupations, which can lead to informed decisions about career choices. During a job shadow, students learn firsthand the role and the responsibilities of an employee and may perform simple tasks, and interact with the staff. Job shadows typically last one day, but some companies offer job shadows that last for several days.

Informational interviews help students learn about job responsibilities, career paths, and educational requirements. Before a job shadow or an informational interview, one must research the employer and the career field, be familiar with the products or services the employer offers, and be ready to discuss their career goals and interests.

Train for a Career and Follow your Dream

Getting a solid education is an important foundation for any career. Many skills used in the workplace are skills developed in an academic setting, including researching information, organizing and prioritizing work, communicating with customers, developing objectives, and solving problems.   Most occupations require additional education or training beyond high school. Various levels of college degrees, apprenticeships, non-degree awards (certificates), or on-the-job training are often required to enter an occupation. Physicians and surgeons; lawyers; physical therapists; pharmacists; and mental health counselors have the highest number of openings that have a master’s degree or higher degree as the typical entry-level education. Registered nurses; general and operations managers; and accountants and auditors are among the occupations with the highest number of job openings requiring a bachelor’s degree. Occupations with a high number of job openings that require  postsecondary training (non-degree) or an associate’s degree are truck drivers; nursing and medical assistants; automotive service technicians and mechanics; and computer user support specialists.  

There are many online resources available to help people decide upon and plan their career, find job openings, and provide information about education programs and how to pay for them. These include:  

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