When Should Career Management Start?

When Should Career Management Start?Over this past school year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to partner with a local library by meeting with their teen group. We’ve discussed résumés and will soon be getting into job interviews.

Working with them, as well as thinking about my own young children, has caused me to reflect on the question posed in the title of this post.

So when exactly is a good time to start laying the groundwork for one’s career?

In thinking about it, I realized there are opportunities that middle school students can capitalize on to help them with their future careers. Activities that middle school students can do include:

1. Working.

There is a lot of work that can be done at this level. Babysitting, dog walking, pet sitting, mowing neighbors’ yards, shoveling snow, and delivering newspapers are some of the jobs that are available at the younger ages.

I know of one industrious young man who is currently a freshman in high school; last summer, he got a job working at a local store, and he is currently in the process of getting certified as a youth sports referee to find employment this summer. As he gets older, being able to show that he has had a strong work ethic from a young age will serve him well.

2. Keeping a job journal.

Job journals are important for students for many reasons. They can:

  • ensure that dates of employment are accurate when filling out job applications and creating that first résumé.
  • serve as a record of accomplishments and challenging situations that have been overcome. This information can then be used to shape answers when interviewing for future jobs.
  • be a place to reflect on what is liked and disliked about a current job, which can help with guiding future decisions about career paths.

3. Volunteering.

Increasingly, middle schools are adding community service to the curriculum, which is a great thing!

In addition to volunteerism being beneficial to understanding the importance of helping others and being able to include it on a résumé, it can do one of two things:

  • provide an opportunity to gain more background in an area that may fit with the career that the student is considering, or
  • expand the experiences that s/he has had, perhaps hitting on a previously unexplored interest.

Not sure where to find opportunities? Two great resources are VolunteerMatch and the United Way‘s volunteer centers.

4. Building and nurturing their network.

You never know how people who have been met early in life will affect folks later on, so it’s good to maintain connections to them. This network can come from a variety of places: places of work, volunteer experiences, extracurricular activities, houses of worship, neighbors, family friends, and so on.

For example, I have written letters of recommendation for former babysitters to help them get into the schools of their choice or to support their applications for scholarships. I have also served as references for when they turned 16 and wanted to apply for jobs.

As these individuals continue to prepare for their careers, I envision providing applicable connections to my network for those who have stayed in contact with me. But if they don’t stay in touch? It will be hard to make that connection because I won’t necessarily be comfortable vouching to my network for who they are now.

5. Job shadowing.

Depending on the person, this may or may not work out while still in middle school. Some kids know what they want to do at a young age and doggedly pursue it.

Case in point is my seven-year-old son. From the age of 12 months, he has shown a very strong interest in trucks, farm equipment, and construction machinery. Literally everything has centered around this interest — his daily conversations, the toys he plays with, the pictures he draws, the items he builds with his LEGOs, the poems he writes in school (I’m not kidding; one poem he wrote in kindergarten talked about how a truck “growls and roars.”)

If this is the case, job shadowing is a wonderful thing to help learn more about a particular field overall, as well as the different niches within that field.

If not, that’s OK, too. Sometimes, it can take a while to figure out what the future may hold, and job shadowing in middle school won’t be important.

If you are reading this and thinking, “My kids are already in high school — it’s too late for them,” don’t lose more time by fretting. Show your children this post, start talking about ways they could start implementing career management into their lives, and offer to support them in ways that make sense for them.

Career management is hard at any age, but putting the pieces of it in place in the early teen years lays a firm foundation and will give young people the chance to access opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been available.

Image courtesy of laura.ouimette

Melissa Cooley of The Job Quest, LLC unearths clients’ career examples to showcase the talents and results that make them must-hire candidates. Click here for more information on ways to partner with Melissa for your career success!

Melissa is a contributor to the book Nourish Your Career, has been quoted on Monster.com, Dice.com, and Quintessential Careers, has interviewed numerous times for The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, and has written guest posts for multiple job seeker blogs.

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