Counselor resources

How to start a career conversation with your students

Advice from a Counseling Foundations Series webinar featuring Robert Shields, Co-Director of College Counseling at Shanghai Qibao Dwight School, and Sudarshana Shukla, Guidance Counselor at Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai

Richard Lord
January 20, 2022
How to start a career conversation with your students
How to start a career conversation with your students

Early counseling conversations with students just starting on their career exploration path can be hard to structure. Here are some tips from two veteran counselors on how to start - and sustain - the discussions in a way that keeps students, as well as their parents, engaged in the process.

Getting the ball rolling

Take the pressure off early conversations about majors and careers by positioning them as exploratory, says Robert Shields, Co-Director of Admissions and College Counseling at Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School. When he starts talking to grade 9 students, he makes it an exploration of their personalities, and emphasizes that they’re not committing to anything.

When I talk to students about their career, a lot of times there’s this sense of they need to have a clear, defined track that’s taking them to one destination. But very few people had a clear vision at 14, 15, 16 years old that they executed.

Robert Shields, Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School

For Sudarshana Shukla, Guidance Counselor at the Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai, managing expectations is key. From grade 7, she meets with students and parents at least two to three times a year – something she says she’s only had the time to do since she started using Cialfo.

“We have a super-competitive set of parents who are high achievers, so whether the child has the capacity or not, they sometimes try to live dreams through the child,” she says. “That’s why we try to step in early. The idea is for students to understand that there are certain subjects which are core requirements in [the] development of the brain, rather than what a college requires.”

Discovering students' interests

Find out what students are already interested in and extrapolate from that, says Shields. It can be as simple as discovering what they like to read or watch; similarly, whether someone prefers team or individual sports might indicate whether they would favor a collaborative or individual working style.

One of the practical steps Shukla takes to educate students about their choices involves participating in career fairs featuring representatives of about 40 professions, who explain them in general terms. She also organizes panel discussions with alumni who’ve had unusual professional journeys.

Resources students can use

Shukla promotes Cialfo as her students’ key resource, starting their accounts in grade 8 and encouraging them to explore independently. Shields adds his own system, simplifying the potentially overwhelming range of career options by breaking them down into three profiles of people and their careers. By asking students to rank them in order of preference, he says, you can discover a lot about what’s important to them. He says Cialfo is particularly strong on tools that help counselors start talking to students about their interests in an exploratory, open-ended way.

Talking to parents about kids' choices

“I encourage parents to keep it real: to support their child without making the child feel inadequate,” says Shukla. She also allows students to advocate for themselves.

Parents and students have different questions, so talk to them separately.

Sudarshana Shukla, Cathedral & John Connon School

Shields adds that it’s important to stop parents from having unrealistic expectations of the counseling process. “The key thing is not to think that you haven’t served your kids if by the end of grade 12 they don’t walk out with a definitive sense of ‘I’m going to go be an equities analyst at Morgan Stanley’ or something like that.”

Cialfo notes

Watch the webinar summary here and log in or sign up to the Cialfo Community of counselors to watch the complete recording:

We are grateful to Sudarshana Shukla and Robert Shields for their time and expertise in putting this resource together

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