Career Exploration and Development

A Parent's Guide to Career Development

One of the most valuable things parents can do to help a student with career planning is to simply listen: be open to ideas, try to help your student find information, and be nonjudgmental. Here are ten other ways you can help. 

Many students use their first semester to "settle into" college life, and so perhaps the spring semester of the freshman year is the optimal time to start utilizing Career Exploration and Development (CED) resources. However, if a Winter Term project is on the horizon, look to CED in the fall to explore our Winter Term internships sponsored by alumni, friends and parents.

Any time your student is feeling anxious about his/her future, suggest that they visit the office and speak with a Career Advisor. Career Exploration and Development is not just for seniors, and meeting with a Career Advisor can take place at any point during their college career. The sooner a student becomes familiar with the staff, resources, and programs, the better prepared they will be to make wise career decisions.

Career Exploration and Development supports students’ career development process through services that:

  • Enhance self-awareness of interests, values and talents
  • Encourage exploration of future paths
  • Provide opportunities to acquire knowledge and experience
  • Develop skills for effective self-presentation

Writing a resume can be a "reality test" and can help a student identify strengths and weak areas that require improvement. Suggest your student get sample resumes from Handshake. You can even review their resume drafts for grammar, spelling, and content, but recommend that the final product be critiqued by our trained staff of Peer Career Advisors.

Ask: "Do you have any ideas about what you might want to do when you graduate?" If your student seems unsure, you can talk about personal qualities you see as talents and strengths. A career decision should be a process and not a one-time, last-minute event: Discourage putting this decision off until the senior year.

You can also recommend:

  • Talking to favorite faculty members about opportunities,
  • Job shadowing a professional or completing an internship in an interest area,
  • Researching a variety of interesting career fields and employers,
  • Visiting Career Exploration and Development

Even though it is helpful to occasionally ask about career plans or choice of major, too much prodding can backfire. It's okay to make suggestions about majors and career fields, but let your student be the ultimate judge of what's best. Career development can be stressful. Maybe this is the first really big decision that your son or daughter has had to make. Be patient, sympathetic and understanding, even if you don't agree with your student's decisions.

Myth: A student must major in something "practical" or marketable.
Truth: Students should follow their own interests and passions.

Myth: Picking your major means picking the career you will have forever.
Truth: That's not true anymore. "Major" does not necessarily mean "career", and it is not unusual for a student to change majors. Many students change majors after gaining more information about specific fields of study and career fields of interest. Many students end up doing something very different than originally planned, so don't “freak out” when they come up with an outrageous or impractical ideas. Chances are, their plans will develop and change. It's okay to change majors—and careers.

Career Exploration and Development will not "place" your student in a job at graduation. Colleges grant degrees, but not job guarantees, so having relevant experience in this competitive job market is critical. Your student can sample career options by completing internships and experimenting with summer internships, employment opportunities, or volunteer work. At any year during their Oberlin education, Winter Term is a perfect time to pursue an internship that will help them to explore their interests.

Employers are interested in communication, problem-solving, and administrative skills, which can be developed through internships. They also look for experience on a student's resume and often hire from within their own internship programs.

Part of experiencing college life is to be involved and active outside the classroom. Interpersonal and leadership skills—qualities highly valued by future employers—are often developed in extracurricular activities, and through on-campus employment and community service.

Employers will expect students to know what is happening around them. Encourage your student to subscribe or read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or other applicable journals and publications. When they are home on break, discuss major world and business issues with them. There are also a wide variety of performances and presentations to attend on campus.

Most students have a stereotypical view of the workplace. Engage your student in conversations about the world of work. Explain what you do for a living. Take your student to your workplace. Additionally, demonstrate the value of networking by interacting with your own colleagues. Help your student identify potential employers and internship sites.

Introduce your student to people who have careers/jobs that may be of interest. Suggest they contact people in your personal and professional networks for information on summer jobs, internships, or simply for an informational interview. Encourage your student to "shadow" someone in the workplace to increase awareness of interesting career fields. Both Winter Term and summer are ideal times to pursue such opportunities.

There are myriad ways to partner with Career Exploration and Development to help Oberlin students make the challenging transition from college to career. Your experience, credibility, and advice are invaluable as complements to the programs, services and resources offered here on campus.

Adapted from an article by Thomas J. Denham of
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