Career decision making

Dear Alistair,

My son is in Grade 11 and still does not know which career he should follow after he has matriculated. He talks of becoming a chartered accountant because he says if he doesn’t enjoy the work at least he will be well paid. I am not sure whether this profession will suit him. How can I help him choose a career that he will love?

Your question relates to a very interesting and important aspect of my work; helping individuals make wise career decisions. Although recent research suggests that most of the young people currently at school will change careers as many as eight times during their working lives, it is still very important to choose a career that one has a good chance of loving especially considering that much of one’s waking hours are spent at work! So, I suggest that your son gives a lot of time to reflecting on the following questions before deciding on his (first) career:

1. In which of the following six broad areas of endeavour doe he have an interest?
Realistic: Technical/Practical – Anything to do with building work, construction, processing, or repair of useful things; working skillfully with one’s hands, and/or with tools, machines or apparatus; anything to do with trades or skilled work. This area of interest also involves hands-on work with plants and/or animals.
Investigative: Science – Experimenting, analyzing, discovering underlying principals; work depending on observation; investigation, theory, logic or reasoning and perhaps the use of special instruments in laboratories; work having a relationship to mathematics. This also involves research involving living organisms, such as in the fields of ecology, biology, physiology, etc.
Aesthetic: Art and Language – Anything that is concerned with beautification or the provision of pleasure through the senses; that which makes an appeal as a result of rhythm, symmetry, shape, colour, form or sound. This also involves working with the spoken or written word and the transmission of ideas; or on the ability to speak convincingly or write attractively.
Social: People-helping or ‘teaching’ – Work that involves meeting, mixing with, assisting or dealing with people in some way; involving human relations, talking to people or planning for them, or working with them for their own good.
Enterprising: Business – Anything that is concerned with buying and selling, salesmanship, commerce and trading.
Conventional: Clerical/Administrative – Any work where the emphasis is on the need to be methodical and systematic; on work that involves neatness or orderliness or which provides an opportunity for filing, cataloging, organizing and good office work in general.

2. In which of the areas above do his abilities and skills lie?

3. What sort of personality does he have? (Each “personality type” is suited to a particular range of careers.)

4. And finally, what Matric grades is your son likely to achieve? (This will determine what tertiary qualification he will be accepted on to.)

Once your son has explored all of the above, then he will need to build his knowledge of the careers that currently exist. Without this career knowledge his “self knowledge” will be of little use.