Parents as Partners in Career Planning

The transition to university studies is an exciting time! Your son or daughter will be engaging in academic study and experiential opportunities that will help them learn more about themselves - their preferences, strengths and how these align with their career ideas. For some students this will solidify their career pathway, while others may make some minor adjustments or discover new career ideas.

Parents are very influential in their son’s and daughter’s career planning and parents are the most frequently identified people that university students consult when career planning.  At Career Services we encourage parents and families to provide support, while empowering their son/daughter to take responsibility for their own career exploration and decision making process.

We also know that while parents want to help their sons and daughters career plan, they may be uncertain about how best to partner to help plan for career success. We have some suggestions for you!

Parents’ Hopes, Dreams and Worries

Parents express many hopes and dreams for their sons and daughters success and want to support them in their career decisions. It is important to know that first year of university is often a time of self-exploration. Students are exposed to new experiences and information that allows them to further explore themselves and the many opportunities available to them. Many students will reconsider their current plans and seek to find options that align with what they have learned about themselves.  Encouraging your student to explore options by gathering information, taking courses that align with their interests, seeking career advice and mentorship, and strategically engaging in on and off campus employment and volunteering will help them connect to the array of opportunities in their future.  

Parents express many worries about career planning and some of the most common that we hear are:

  • “I’m concerned that my son/daughter will feel or become lost on such a big campus and feel lonely, unsupported and discouraged.”
  • “I’m worried that my son/daughter won’t achieve good grades.”
  • “I’m concerned because my daughter/son doesn’t yet have a career plan yet and hasn’t identified an occupational goal.”
  • “My daughter/son is taking a program and pursuing a career goal that I’m struggling to support.”

These are legitimate and serious worries and you need a way to address them. There are many resources available at the University of Manitoba to assist including the Student Counselling Centre, Career Services and the Academic Learning Centre.

Suggestions for Parents

1. Use existing career resources so that you and your daughter/son are informed Our webpages on Career Decision-making and Researching Occupations share information on how to approach these tasks – being knowledgeable about career planning resources can help parents encourage helpful strategies.

2. Listen to ideas, plans and decisions. Be prepared to be a listening partner for your son and daughter and acknowledge their ideas, interests, values and identity. Provide support and encouragement but also point out the importance of plans and decisions. This is an area where you can be extremely helpful because of your life experience. You understand the implications of decisions in a way that is likely not yet possible for your son or daughter. For example, you will likely have a better understanding of the impact of shift work on lifestyle and family. .  If you question your son/daughter’s direction be careful to challenge the plan, not the person.

3. Provide information and contacts. You can be an excellent source of career and decision-making information for your son/daughter. Consider talking about your career and how you decided and share what you would do differently. Provide books, magazines and other literature and encourage use of the credible online resources. Provide people contacts – you might know people working in occupations that they are considering. And especially, encourage use of University of Manitoba resources, such as the Career Mentor Program where over 700 professionals volunteer their time to meet with U of M students and share industry insight and advice.

4. Control your ambition.  Parents need to be careful to not impose their ambitions on their sons and daughters. We encourage you to honour their career ideas. Support thorough exploration into a career idea to empower your son or daughter in their decision-making.

5. Build self-confidence. Your daughter or son’s career decision-making self-efficacy (i.e., self-confidence for career planning) may not be particularly strong and may be easily susceptible to criticism. As such, we encourage you to criticize sparingly and to make plenty of positive comments throughout their process. This does not mean that you cannot question your daughter or son’s career plans; rather, be aware of the process and manner you use to do this.

6. Teach Decision-Making Skills. Decision-making is a learned skill that people develop in unique ways. Your son or daughter will need to develop their own strategy for decision-making, but you can help. Encourage them to:

  • Consider a wide range of alternatives when career planning. For example, don’t just consider well known occupations (e.g., medical doctor, accountant, teacher, engineer). Why not respiratory therapist, industrial designer or social policy analyst?
  • Consider the outcomes of choosing different alternatives. You can help point out the different outcomes because you may have lived these – keep in mind that what you consider a positive or negative may not be perceived as such by your son or daughter.
  • Gather information where possible. Many, many people make career decisions based on little information!  Students should make well informed decisions and know the facts when they are planning.  Career Services has a respected occupational library to support students in finding good career information.
  • Implement an action plan. For example, what can your son or daughter do to facilitate success in career? What are the “extras” that could be beneficial or even essential?

7. Encourage an engaging student experience at university. Employers and program admissions committees (e.g., Faculty of Medicine) look for more than just good academic achievements in candidates for employment or admission. Consider for example what you have looked for when hiring a new employee. We guess that you want someone who is affable (able to work well with others), available (reliable and interested in working) and skilled. Participation in student groups, volunteer experiences and additional campus experiences are a few ways that students can add to the skills that they will attain from their academic program. This overall skill development will create more possibilities and leave them less vulnerable to change.

Final Messages to Consider

  • The transition to university studies is challenging for most students, including the highest achievers from high school
  • Voluntary withdrawl from courses can be a good thing for students who do not want to attain low grades or failures that can affect their admissions to faculties or programs which solely base admission on GPA
  • Incoming university students feel great pressure to be career decided and to succeed.
  • There is great competition to gain entry into many programs at universities (e.g., Clinical Psychology, Pharmacy, Medicine, Physiotherapy). Not gaining admission is not a sign of failure or poor commitment to studies.
  • Lots of students take more than the minimum time to get a degree. It seems that the majority of students take 80% of the maximum course load to allow more time for academic work and other commitments.
  • “Gap” periods can be a great thing. Students frequently take time off from studying to pursue other interests and these pursuits are often helpful in clarifying identity and career goals. Gap periods used to earn money for studies or to explore interests (e.g., volunteering in a developing country) are common.
  • It is common for university students to change their career plans.  All experiences, including enrollment in academic courses, can help us to determine our preferences and strengths.
  • There are no “sure” things (i.e., career choices that guarantee employment, success, etc.); all degrees can lead to gainful employment.
  • Strategic planning for success does not necessary need to start with identification of a specific occupational goal
  • Peer pressure still exists
  • Your expectations carry weight – most university students care about what their parents think.