TOP TIPs for navigating a career conversation

Supporting your child with their future career choices isn’t easy. When it comes to career options, young people have better choices available to them now than when you were leaving school or college. And with the bombardment of news headlines about the ever-changing jobs market and rising cost of living, it’s no wonder that many parents feel confused as to how to best advise their teenage children.

As the end of another academic year fast approaches, we have been working with Dr Nihara Krause – a multi-award-winning clinical psychologist specialising in teenage and adult mental health – to provide parents with advice on how to engage their child in the topic of careers, so they feel better able to guide them to a career that’s right for them. Our TOP TIP framework is designed to make it easier to remember the advice in the moment, helping you to get more out of the career conversations you have with their child when it matters.

Our Conversation Cards activity offers further support when having career conversations by helping you understand the decisions that need to be made when thinking about career and further education options for your child.

TOP TIPs by Dr Nihara Krause

#1: Timings: Don’t force the issue

Rather than bringing up the topic of possible future career options when you think it’s most timely (for example in the run-up to important exams or on results day), gauge your child’s openness to discussing the topic before launching into a conversation.

If your child appears engaged and open, then try starting a conversation. If it’s clear they don’t want to talk, leave the discussion you want to have for another time and focus on what you think will get them talking – a sport for example, or some music they like. Once you’ve got a conversation going, try again.

#2 Obstacles (and observations): Consider what obstacles might be getting in the way

Often young people are not able to actively listen or contribute to a conversation around future career options when they are distracted or worried about something else. From them not answering back, or doing so with one-answer sentences, to not listening, being silent or even their posture, these are all signs that as a parent it’s worth being mindful of.

If you do spot any of these signs, the best approach is to recognise these emotions and acknowledge them, rather than try to fix or ignore them. Next time this happens, these acknowledgements can often help: ‘I see you’re worried, can I help?’ / ‘Let’s discuss another time when things are less stressful and difficult for you’.#3

#3 Passions: Focus on their passions rather than practicality

Young people’s brains are wired for reward, and often end-up doing great things if the payoff is worth it in their minds. So, to engage them on what their future career options could be, focus on identifying what they are most passionate about and what truly makes them tick. Following their passions as they grow up, means that you can keep regular conversations going. Good conversation starters include:

  • What subject are you most enjoying?
  • What project were you most excited about doing at school?
  • Are there careers you feel really passionate about?
  • When you think about a career what captures your interest?
  • What sorts of things do you most love doing?
  • What kind of people do you want to work with?

#4 Two-way communication: Learn to listen more than talk

As much as it may go against your instincts, try and withhold any opinions or ideas you may have when you and your child have conversations with regards to future career options. Be open to all ideas and recognise their career aspirations may change over time. The best way forward is to listen and not to judge. And if you don’t understand their goals, do your research and learn about it. Let them know you’ll support them in finding out more about what options are available to them, and what is needed to get into a certain career – from talking to family, people within your wider network, as well as schools and colleges. It may take a few conversations to be on the same page, but the key thing to remember is that this should be done collaboratively – from identifying together what the next steps are and the outcome that you both want.

#5 Ideas & Positivity: Continue to be interested

Above all, it’s so important to have open and regular conversations with teenagers and give them the opportunity to be completely honest about what they want to do with their lives. By listening to your child and educating yourself on the career choices they’re making, you can understand and support them.

There is no one solution, but there are things you can do that will help with the journey – from being prepared to come up with different ideas for conversation; getting comfortable with inevitable uncomfortable periods of silence; pay attention to how you are responding to the situation (are you tense or relaxed?); be open to not being judgmental; take away the pressure on yourself to fix the situation; and – importantly – remain positive about finding the right way to pursue a conversation with your child about their goals and aspirations when they are ready.