Enhancing the Delivery of Career-Related Information with High Schoolers
By Ann Couyoumjian
Students no sooner enter high school, and the daunting question begins, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The repetition of the question escalates as students progress through the high school years. Some welcome the questions. Anxiety sets in for others that find themselves wrestling with indecision.
Prior to being a high school Career Development Facilitator, I worked in college admissions. Attending a high school career fair event, a dynamic speaker addressed an audience of seniors at the high school and asked, “How do you feel when asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” The audience responses were alarming. Sure, some said “Excited.” However, the range of answers covered the full spectrum of human emotions, tragically down to, “Suicidal.” This presents an opportunity, a challenge, and a responsibility for Career Development Facilitators and other career practitioners working with impressionable youth, to set an objective to elicit a more positive reaction so that youth look forward to engaging in career exploration. Though anticipation of impending change ranks high as a primary trigger for career-related anxiety, preparation and knowledge reduce the associated anxiety.
Visually Enhanced Career Exploration Presentation
Powerful visual images can significantly enhance communication. This belief inspires the visual emphasis of the career exploration presentation. Having utilized visually driven, Holland-based presentation and assessment with individual high school students to address career-related anxiety and received positive feedback, the next challenge became to reach a larger number of students using a visually-based approach successfully. An opportunity arose to give a career presentation to approximately 600 first-year students and sophomore students. The visual images of the RIASEC hexagon model embedded in John Holland’s Vocational Choice Theory served as the foundation for the career exploration presentation. Other learning modalities were combined to enhance the presentation delivery (audio, tactile), including storytelling, biographical case study, and other engaging activities.
First, students were introduced to the overall objective of the presentation, which was to increase their comfort and confidence as they ponder career-related questions. Second, students were asked to recall the big career-related question directed at them as soon as they started high school (i.e., “What do you want to be when you grow up?”). Students were assured that it is okay not to have an answer to career-related questions this early in their high school years.
Combining Learning Modalities
Next, students watched a short video clip of a top successful CEO’s career journey. The purpose of this was to inspire and motivate students to approach the career exploration process in a positive and hopeful manner. The audiovisual story-telling approach allowed students to understand that success looks different for everyone, hence each individual may explore their unique dream confidently. Emphasis on distinctive, individual stories guides students’ realization that being true to oneself ranks paramount to success and happiness. Thus, career exploration starts with increasing students’ self-knowledge utilizing a combination of learning modalities that include research, self-assessments, and other resources.
Having set the tone through inspirational career success stories, students were introduced to the work of John Lewis Holland. Holland’s Typology. His hexagon diagram was shared, including individual slides for each Holland Code: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Each code was displayed on the screen with examples of jobs that match the respective code. On each slide, next to each of the job lists appeared an embedded video link to a speaker elaborating on what each code may look like. For example, inserted were video links from YouTube, TEDTalks and TEDxTeen that offer material for future consideration.
The individual RIASEC slides appeared a second time and students raised their hand if they identified with the displayed career personality type or job. Students began to see themselves fitting into respective RIASEC typologies. The presentation ended with a short motivational video clip that provided life-like success tips from a well-known media personality. As a concrete takeaway for the students, a handout with Holland Career Clusters, stating job examples on one side and career characteristic descriptions on the reverse side, was provided. The handout also includes links to the Holland Code assessment and vocational information supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Students gained an understanding of the Holland codes, their connection to careers, and how certain jobs match each code. With this new knowledge, students considered the type(s) matching their current interests.
Outcome with Implications for Career Service Delivery
While exiting the auditorium at the conclusion of the presentation, a student stopped to express his appreciation. This student made a connection to his love of science classes and potential careers. He shared his excitement in seeing himself as having an Investigative personality and how this matches exciting career options. His eyes lit up understanding for the first time the possibilities that the future presents.
The presentation led to a growing interest in individual career counseling sessions in my career office. Attendees we now anxious to expand on the idea of their personality types, further explore careers, and curiously take a Holland-based assessment. This additional exploration time with students furthers the dialogue and increases students’ overall engagement in their career exploration journey. This lessens and/or dispels the anxiety typically accompanying student’s career-related concerns. Students’ fears of the future dissipate, replaced by increased excitement to explore future possibilities.
Moving From Anxiety to Confidence
High school career facilitators have the privilege of being in the position to positively impact students. Utilizing a combination of delivery method and well-researched empirically derived tools, validity is added to career exploration work. The critical goal is to lead high school students in receptive self-discovery to prepare for and explore satisfying career possibilities. Finding unique ways to present career materials helps high school students to visualize brighter futures. Optimally, continued emphasis on capturing the attention of high school students resulted in increased readiness for career exploration. This readiness breaths confidence and appropriate reactions to the frequently asked question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
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Ann Couyoumjian, M.A., is a high school Career Development Facilitator in South Lyon, Michigan. Ann has over 20 years of experience in education including college admissions representative, high school paraprofessional, and elementary teacher. Ann worked in various marketing and management positions in her previous business career. She finds inspiration helping students find purposeful career paths. Ann holds a M.A. in Education, B.S. in Education, and a B.S. in Business Administration. She can be reached at email@example.com