Gifted teenagers often have a difficult time choosing the right career path. One common reason for their difficulty is that they may have a wide variety of interests, making it hard for them to narrow down their options. They also may not realize that while they have both an interest in and ability for a specific career, having the right personality and temperament is often just as important, and they may not fully understand the kind of work required in their career choice.
What can parents do to help their gifted teens find the right career path? They can start by looking at their teen’s interests and aptitudes and finding which careers fit those interests and aptitudes. From there, parents can help their teens better understand themselves and those potential careers.
Interests and Aptitude
When your child is in middle or high school, he or she will probably be given an aptitude test, which is a test that measures a person’s ability to do certain kinds of work. That aptitude is then matched to careers. For example, a teen who enjoys working with numbers and excels in mathematics would learn which careers require or use math. If your teen is unsure of the right career, an aptitude test can provide ideas on careers that they might be interested in and do well in. Even if your teen already has a career in mind, an aptitude test can provide career ideas not yet considered. If your teen has multiple interests and abilities, an aptitude test can still be helpful since it matches those interests and abilities with specific careers.
If your teen’s school doesn’t give aptitude tests, you might want to have one done privately at a career center. Some popular tests used to uncover interests and aptitudes are the Kuder inventories test, the Career Assessment Inventory, the Strong Interest Inventory, and the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey.
Personality and Temperament
Although aptitude and interest are both important factors to consider in choosing a career path, personality and temperament can make the difference between loving a career and tolerating or even hating it. An introvert, for example, probably won’t be happy in a career that requires a great deal of personal interaction. An extrovert, on the other hand, probably won’t be happy working alone all the time.
Your teen may not have considered how well suited he or she is for a particular career. And you may be encouraging your child to pursue a career in a field of interest, but that really doesn’t match your child’s temperament. You can talk to your child about the kind of work environment he or she would like. Is working with people important? Does your child like working the concrete detail or with abstract ideas? If you aren’t sure, have your teen take a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs personality, many of which are available on the Internet for free. Personality tests measures several personality variables that combine in different ways to create up to 16 different personality types. Helping teens match their personality type with their interests and aptitudes can help them eliminate careers that may sound interesting and be in an area in which they excel, but that don’t suit their personality type.
If your child has more than one field of interest, it isn’t always necessary for him or her to decide on just one. Rather than choosing a single field of study to pursue, teens can combine interests to create more personalized areas of study. For example, teens who are interested in art and in computers can pursue a career in computer graphics. A teen who is interested in architecture and zoology could combine those interests to pursue a career in zoo architecture. Sometimes a little creative thinking is necessary in order to come up with ways to combine interests, but it is worth the effort. Many of the careers that combine fields of interest don’t show up on the lists of occupations students are given after taking an aptitude test at school.
Once your child has determined one or more potential careers options, help him or her explore those options. Reading a book about careers, such as Exploring Your Future: 200 Hundred Career Options, is a good way to learn about the kind of work required in each career. However, another way to learn about a career is through an “information interview.” These interviews are usually what job seekers do as part of their job searches, but they can be useful in helping teens learn about careers they are interested in. They can talk with someone who has the same job they are considering and get a good sense of whether the career is really what they thought it was.
Information interviews are good ways for teens to find out, not just if a career is what they expected, but also whether their personality is a good match for the job. Help your teen find people to talk to who are working in the careers they are interested in, and then work with your teen to develop a list of questions to ask. The questions should be designed to elicit information not only about the work performed, but also about the personal characteristics important for success in the career.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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