Career Guide 101: How Teenagers Can Make The Right Career Choices

The expectation of what a career path looks like from the outside might stand in sharp contrast to the actual experience of a professional in that field.

Almost every teenager lands in the quagmire of confusion when thinking about suitable careers. Unlike their parents’ generation, their options are endless.  The hundreds of choices available today allow the students to explore and select from different fields of work but the decision can also be overwhelming.

This choice is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows teenagers to find career options that align with their interests and abilities. This is important because every career option comes with its own set of professional struggles - whether you are an office administrator or a famous footballer. It is easier to stay motivated through these periods of struggle when you’re working in a field that is suitably aligned with your skills and interests. 

On the other hand, the endless array of choices, and the rapidly changing environment make it hard to know if some trend is here to stay or if it is a fad that might disappear. Some fields might appear glamorous but have very few pathways of getting there, some fields might pay a lot in the short term, some might take years to pay off, while some might be at risk of getting automated! Uncertainty prevails - the world may change drastically in the six or seven years a student spends between stream selection and placement. Also, information gaps prevail - the expectation of what a career path looks like from the outside might stand in sharp contrast to the actual experience of a professional in that field.

So, here are the three fundamental principles that will help teenagers make sound career choices. 

Find your USP

Identify and focus on core strengths to narrow down career prospects. Everyone has something that piques their curiosity - either a ‘favourite subject’ in school or an activity that interests them. It can be a particular subject, sports, entertainment, theatre, fashion, and even musical skills. These often tell you what the person enjoys - and is a good starting point for career decisions. For instance, early interest in the English language or literature can be the launchpad for a career in marketing or content production. A number of emerging careers in corporate communications, advertising, journalism, etc., require strong language and communication skills. Do you correctly predict whether your friends or family will like a new app or TV show? This could be a valuable skill for careers that demand a deep grasp of user behaviour, such as design. Similarly, a deep interest in cricket statistics may indicate an underlying strength in data-related fields. Hence, the key fundamental is to explore your interests early and find a ‘USP’. This will help narrow down the career paths that align with your interests, passions, and strengths. 

‘Test drive’ of future career options that align with your ‘USP’

Unlike before, teenagers now have the opportunity to explore and experiment with different domains and try out different types of day-to-day projects and tasks. Look out for opportunities to try different career paths. For example, if you know people who work in companies that involve similar fields, ask them for an internship there for a couple of weeks to observe what the professionals in a particular field do and what a typical day or project in that field entails. 

Any time you get some hands-on experience, ask yourself questions like ‘Did I enjoy coming up with something new every day and modifying it in response to feedback?’ or ‘Did I prefer to work on group projects with others, or do I prefer to work alone?’. To answer these questions accurately, you will need to experience these industry roles first-hand. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, there is no way to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ understanding from just books or videos. Questions like these help you align your ‘USP’ to a possible career choice. This alignment is the key to professional happiness because while you can ‘improve a skill’, whether or not you enjoy something is a “trait” that tends to be stable over time.

Showcase your real-world abilities, not just grades

It’s time to prick the bubble. Academic scores are not the only way to have a successful career. Nowadays, a greater number of students choose to advance in their careers by taking up real-world projects. Start by building a portfolio even as you wait for internship opportunities. It can be design, coding, journalism, product development, and logistics. If you are thinking of starting your own business with high school or college friends, do it. A short period of time, even six months, of running a company (however small or big it is) will teach you more life skills than any educational qualification. Additionally, it will give something more concrete to talk about in the interviews. An increasing number of employers care more about your real-life achievements than your academic scores alone.

In a nutshell, selecting from multiple career options can be mind-boggling but it doesn’t have to be. Going step-by-step in exploring your interests to find a USP, test-driving careers that align to your USP and finding innovative ways to showcase your skills will save you several years in misspent time and several lacs in misspent fees.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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