Engaging Youth in Career Conversations

As my daughter enters her final year of high school and begins to seriously contemplate the next steps in her career journey I can’t help but notice all of the people influencing, or trying to influence, her decision making process and all of the options she is navigating. What high school courses to take; what kind of part time / summer job to get; whether to attend post-secondary, or not, and if so, when; to volunteer or not volunteer; and what area of study to pursue are big decisions to make. There is often a perception that there is only “one” chance to make the “right” decision. The pressure to make one right career decision can be so overwhelming that making any decision is a challenge.

Think about the questions we typically ask the young people in our lives:

  • What are you going to do when you grow up?
  • What university/college are you going to?
  • What program are you going to take?
  • Where will you work when you are done school?

For some these questions can be easily answered but for most they cannot. This line of questioning implies that firm decisions have been made and that a solid ‘school to work’ or ‘school to school to work’ transition plan is in place. My daughter and her friends have commented that they feel like they need to know the answers to these questions and when they don’t that they are doing something “wrong”. The reality is that even the most well laid plan may face some detours along the way. How might the youth in your life respond to different types of questions? What can we do as influencers to get them engaged in career conversations and exploration rather than simply decisions? Rather than asking questions that demand definitive answers why not consider some of these conversation starters that reinforce knowledge, skills, abilities, interests, and values:

  • I’ve noticed you have really taken an interest in leadership through your various school and community activities. How can you see yourself using the skills you are developing in the future?
  • You are a very talented _____ (fill in the blank). Is this something you have thought about incorporating into your career?
  • I know that you are interested in travel. I recently heard about a program where you can travel and work abroad. Is this something you would like to explore as an option?
  • All through school your teachers have described you as being very _____ (fill in the blank). What kinds of occupations or industries do you think could use those skills/abilities?
  • You seem to know a lot about _____ (fill in the blank). Tell me more about how you gained that knowledge and how it will help you in the future.
  • Being able to help your friends with their problems is really important to you. What kind of volunteer or paid work would allow you to practice those skills more formally and to see if you might like to take some related courses?
  • What are you most proud of in your life so far?
  • What would you like to accomplish in the next year or two?

Beyond helping youth to identify and embrace their strengths, interests, and passions it is also helpful for them to understand that “career” is not a destination but a “life journey”. Equipping youth with the confidence to make the best decision for them, at a particular moment in time, and with the best information available will help them to navigate the twisty and bumpy road called life. Let me ask you this: did you know at 16, 17, 18, 21, 25, 35, 45, 55, or 65 that you would be doing exactly what you are doing right now? Let’s help today’s youth, and ourselves, to explore and experience the world around them and to celebrate the decisions they make along their road.

Above all we must realize that each of us makes a difference with our life. Each of us impacts the world around us every single day. We have a choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place – or not to bother. ~ Jane Goodall

Recently I had the privilege of meeting Denis Luchyshyn and Clinton Nellist, founders of Road to Employment. Denis and Clinton are travelling across Canada to “develop actionable employment advice for students and graduates to help them find meaningful and relevant work.” They are interviewing graduates, career experts, and employers; documenting stories, opinions, and employment strategies; and developing a documentary about what they learned. Their journey is inspiring and entrepreneurial. I encourage you to check out what they are doing and to follow their road to employment.

Enjoy the journey!


For a FREE 30 minute job search consultation please feel free to contact Paula directly at or 780.589.2245.

For a FREE 30 minute consultation please feel free to contact Paula directly at or 780.589.2245. Connect with Paula on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Please feel free to post your career and employment questions, engage in discussions and conversations about world of work issues, and share your experiences and resources – we want to hear from you!