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Parents and Educators: 5 Career Questions Twenty-Somethings Need Our Help To Answer

The world of work has changed.

Career counsellors and coaches know the changes aren’t recent, but there is a signifcant number of people still struggling to come to terms with the changes – and the implications of these changes.

I’m among the oldest of the Gen Xers. I was born in the mid-60s and graduated university (the first time) in the late 80s. I worked for a decade in the biotech sector before retooling for a teaching career in the early 2000s which I’ve since transmogrified into self-employment as a Youth Career Educator.

I was lucky because while I was still a young Twenty-Something my parents explained that theirs was the last generation that could expect to have one full-time job for life; a ‘proper job’  with benefits and a pension. I was told that the ‘new normal’ was to be one that would involve not just multiple employers, but different job roles and careers.

My parents saw that the traditional idea of job security was changing. They were savvy enough to understand that the changes my father had encountered in the workplace were part of a larger societal trend.

The traditional idea of job security is now a myth.

The myth of traditional job security has some profound implications for all of us. We can all expect to have to source new work situations more frequently than in the past. This means that we need to become proficient with effective job hunting skills.

Career counsellors and coaches find themselves working to educate youth while concurrently helping adults learn these skills.

Parents often find themselves struggling to understand how best to advise and guide their young adults to find success in an unfamiliar labour market.

One thing’s certain: effective career education for our children is now no longer optional.

The great news is that parents don’t have to become career practitioners in order to start helping their children become more successful in their careers – whether it’s in finding or retaining that first great job. They do need to better understand the importance of a few essential personal leadership skills!

Future-Proof Careers: Expert Advice For Guiding Your Young Adult Towards Life/Work Success

During my recent book-writing project, I personally interviewed 11 prominent and experienced career experts to get their advice for parents. Nobody spoke about resume writing skills! In fact, most of the advice centered around helping parents understand the implications of the changes we’ve been seeing in the world of work and of how to better prepare our kids in areas such as resilience, communication and self-understanding.

No small undertaking!

As I worked through the expert interviews, I realized that the key pieces of advice were posed in 5 questions. Questions that we can all use to keep us and our children aware of and reflecting on our experiences.

  1. WHO are you? A difficult but critical question to answer; but considerably more useful than the standard ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’  Remember: we will have more than one career over the course of our lives, so the ‘whats’ will change. Who we are won’t.
  2. PEOPLE, INFORMATION or THINGS? These are the standard skills categories found in ‘What Color Is Your Parachute’. My preferences haven’t changed since I was a kid: information > people > things. I help people best by organizing information. The younger we are when we can make this kind of self-assessment the better!
  3. HOW can you do this? Reframing the question ‘CAN I do this’? to ‘HOW can I do this’? makes all the difference in meeting a challenge. In terms of careers, it’s our job as parents to help our children plan for life/work success – not to ‘burst their bubbles’. If your young adult wants to follow a path you don’t think is viable, encourage them to explore it more fully. What DOES it really take? Who can you help connect them with? What are the realities? Does it fit with who they are and what their skills and preferences are?
  4. WHAT is the ‘work you can’t not do’? Help your young adult see the connection between their passions and hobbies and future career options. What activities do they get lost in? What are the activities they plow through even when they hit obstacles? How do these activities help other people? The ‘work you can’t not do’ comes from internal motivation. This is the motivation that will get you through the tough times.
  5. WHY are you doing what you’re doing? When Scott Dinsmore ( asked his adult friends this question, many of them answered that they didn’t know. They didn’t have a spark – there was no real internal motivation. They were on autopilot. When (not ‘if’) they have to find another work opportunity, they’re going to experience real difficulty in pulling together effective personal marketing materials and strategies. In a competitive labour market, employers are looking for a ‘fit’ with their organizations. They’re looking for employee retention. They’re looking for enthusiasm. They’re looking for your ‘why’.

The traditional definition of job security is a myth. In today’s labour market, job security comes from knowing how to successfully source work opportunities. It comes when we know what strengths and skills we have to contribute. And it comes from our ability to differentiate ourselves from the others who are looking for similar jobs. Job security today starts with being clear on who we are and what kind of work situations we’re looking for.

Creating effective personal marketing materials and strategies requires us to have answers to the 5 key questions above. Certainly, career counsellors and coaches can help people discover their own answers to the 5 questions, but think how much farther ahead our children will be when they know the answers to these questions for themselves – before they choose a post-secondary course of study or appear at a campus career center for help with their personal marketing materials and strategies.


Profile photo of Beth Campbell Duke
Beth Campbell Duke is a 'High School Teacher dropout' who is now a Youth Career Educator. She works with youth, their parents and teachers in the areas of Personal Leadership and Personal Marketing. Beth also provides workshops and speaking to PACs and Pro-D days - and has a curriculum suitable for youth ages 15 and older. Learn more about her programs and services at

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  1. Profile photo of Victoria Driver
    February 25, 2014, 4:47 pm   / 

    This is an excellent well written article and something most parents need to read. Whether they will understand it may be another matter. Parents of students at this school want their children to be in prestigious professions such as Doctor regardless of whether they are well suited to that work or even likely to complete the necessary post secondary educaiton and training.

    • Profile photo of Beth Campbell Duke
      February 25, 2014, 8:17 pm   / 

      Thanks Victoria. I agree with you – parental expectations can be an issue – even those that are well-intentioned (which most are I hope). I’d love to see more career education in high school that focuses on determining and building on strengths in conjunction with more authentic career exploration – on an ongoing basis – so that our students can develop a voice and direction for themselves as they mature.

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