Helping Others Make Good Career Decisions

by Laurie Edwards, Director of NSCC Career and Counselling Services

These days, it can be so hard to make a career decision. If you are a parent, friend or family member of someone who needs help making the one right choice for their future career, you may experience some pressure. The problem is that there isn't a one right choice for a future career. A high-demand occupation today may not be in high-demand 10 years from now. The labour market has changed a lot and the opportunity to stay in one role in one workplace is no longer the norm. Change is constant and being flexible and adaptable is a key to career success.

How can we help prepare people, especially when they are young, to make decisions that will enable them to embrace change and to realize that training and learning will always be a part of their life? How can we help them find work that connects with who they are, and that allows them to live the life they want?

First, remember – you can't tell someone else what to do. You can help them learn how to make a career decision. It's important to balance how much you want to help and how much help your career-seeker wants. As parents, significant others or influencers, we think we may know what's the best fit. Often times, however, this is based on our own desires or experiences and not what the career-seeker wants or thinks they want to do. The young person who says they want to be "rock star" may not really want to be a musician; they may be saying, "I want to find a job that uses my creativity, my unique personality, and my willingness to think outside the box."

The dream job is out there, that pathway or journey to find it isn't a straight line or a series of tests or steps. It's about exploring and trying on roles. It's about learning and experiencing disappointments and success.

With this in mind, here are some things you can do to help:

  • You can offer to help them make sense of the overwhelming number of career options available today. This may mean reminding them of their skills and talents (or the things they enjoy doing) and developing a list of occupations that match their interests and skills.
  • Using career exploration tools like will help code their interests and skills. They can then use the information to sort through career options so they can find an education or training path that fits them.
  • Don't give advice – help them find and use information and resources that support career decision-making. Going to school costs money and many people are afraid of giving bad advice that may lead to attending a program that isn't what the career-seeker wants. Locating good career exploration tools, resources and people who can help is a great way to support your career-seeker. Remember career advice is not about telling someone what to do. Career advice is about helping someone get the accurate and up-to-date information they need to make a good career decision.

When a career-seeker is exploring career options, here are three simple things you can suggest:

  • Encourage them to talk to someone about that option and learn about their career story and what they like about their work. (You can use your network of friends and colleagues as suggestions of people to contact.)
  • Read about the type of work it is, the education required, the training path and what the future outlook or career ladders might be. (You can highlight news stories or web sites and blogs that contain labour market information.)
  • Try it on by volunteering, job shadowing, getting a part-time job, or taking an NSCC Continuing Education course to see if they like learning the skills necessary for their potential career choice. (You can use your contacts to identify opportunities where they can experience work first-hand.)

There are other ways you can help your career seeker in developing their career-building skills. Today's employers want workers who can quickly upskill and adjust to new technology and processes. This means focusing on important building blocks such as math, reading, and document use (often referred to as "essential skills" or learning how to learn skills). Employers also want workers who communicate well, are team players, have positive attitudes and have a good work ethic (sometimes called "employability skills"). Remind your career-seeker that these skills can be developed and practiced through experiences such as participating in extracurricular activities (sports, clubs and associations); volunteering in the community; or building skills through part-time or full-time employment.

As a final note on how to help, you are not alone. There are many community resources and services that can help your career-seeker in planning their future. Guidance counsellors, Careers Teachers, Career Practitioners in Career Resource Centres, Librarians and others have access to resources, tools and services to help career-seekers build their career plan. As well, Career Development Specialists are available at each NSCC campus and can help sort through the labour market information, identify and provide tools to help with career decision-making, and work with your career-seeker to develop a personalized career action plan.

Interested in learning more? Contact Student Services at your local campus to speak to a Career Advisor.

Download a PDF copy of "Helping Others Make Good Career Decisions" by Laurie Edwards (PDF 41KB)

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