During the past 100 years, career counselors have identified the important role of family members. For example, Ann Roe (1956) and family system theorists (Lopez & Andrews, 1987) suggested that family interactions influence occupational selection, while Tyler (1953) proposed that families’ expectations may deter students’ career decisions. Pioneers in the field have also demonstrated family members’ influence on individuals’ self-concept (Super, 1949), self-efficacy (Hackett, 1995), perceptions of sex typing, and views of occupational prestige (Gottfredson, 1981).
Even today university students are more likely to engage in career exploration if they have support from others. In fact, relational support is a better predictor of participating in this process than achievement motivation (Cheung & Arnold, 2010). Students’ self-efficacy, work change adjustment, and persistence may also increase if parents are supportive (Restubog, Florentino, & Garcia, 2010; Shoffner Creager, 2011). For these reasons, university career specialists should foster strong working alliances with students’ families. The following suggestions will help develop these partnerships and advance both the career exploration and development of students.
Be inclusive. Students come from diverse backgrounds. Using the term “family” ensures that you are addressing everyone in your audience. Be attentive to your own culture and avoid imposing your own values. Invite students to assess the importance of their voice and the needs of others. Some cultures value independence, while others emphasize communal decision making.
Manage your apprehension about confidentiality. Sometimes our anxiety is elevated when students have not signed for a release of information. Although the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits us from sharing specific details with others, we can still speak in generalities. Share information about the services that are available and the process that encourages adaptive decisions. You can do so without ever acknowledging a specific student.
Educate family members on helpful interventions. Start early, especially because family members are often your best source for referrals, reinforcement, and early intervention. Working together, you can help students avoid foreclosure on career choices. Speak with your Student Orientation or Admissions Office. Consider hosting a breakout group during campus visits, family weekend, or registration days. Write a letter or family guide for parents about the resources that exist. Develop a webpage, LinkedIn subgroup, or e-newsletter to keep families of current students informed. Create relevant content depending on the time of year. For example, include an article about the items they can give as gifts during the holiday season to build a student’s professional wardrobe. During registration, share information about exploring academic programs and careers. As graduation approaches, outline the assistance you provide to seniors who are looking for employment.
Normalize uncertainty. Family members may not realize that many students are unsure about their major or that many graduates have not secured employment by graduation. Share statistics to dispel these misconceptions (Gordon & Steele, 2003; National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2011).
Demystify the career exploration and development process. Increase family members’ peace of mind by emphasizing that this process is founded on a body of scientific research and that staff advise students to align their decisions with these best practices. Provide specific resources they can use to learn about majors or careers with their students. For example, inform them about the information that exists in your university’s catalog, O*Net (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.), or the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012). Encourage families to share information about their own career decision making and development. They can also identify individuals within their network who are working in the occupations that students are considering. This can help students arrange informational interviews, job shadows, employment, or internships.
Encourage students to thoroughly share the information they have collected about themselves and their options to dispel any beliefs that they made a decision impulsively. Students may practice asking for others’ support by role-playing the conversation. Ask students to identify potential concerns or questions.Remind students that family members often ask tough questions because they want them to be successful and happy. This reframing may help establish a common ground.
Some family members may wonder if changing majors will extend students’ time to graduation. Students who anticipate this question should meet with their academic advisor to develop a plan of study. If undeclared students learn that the job outlook is only growing at an average rate in the occupation they are considering, they can outline the internships, employment, or co-curricular activities that they will obtain to gain a competitive edge. Deciding students can also highlight the activities they will pursue to verify their decision, such as finding a part-time job related to their new major, volunteering, or enrolling in an introductory class.
Acknowledge that family members may need to grieve. Career exploration and development is not only difficult for some students, but also for families. If students are coping with a nonevent, share some suggestions with families about the support they can offer (Streufert, 2012). Parents may also share students’ disappointment if they are denied admission into graduate programs, never drafted for a professional team, or rescinded from their degree program. A few may have foreclosed on the aspirations they had for their child, and letting go of these dreams when students change paths may be painful. Others may be ready to explore alternatives before students. Be sensitive and patient. Help everyone understand that grief is a process, not an event.
Families share our desire to help students discover professional success and satisfaction, which can make them one of our most effective partners. By channeling their energy through these positive initiatives, career specialists equip families with the tools they need to be supportive resources throughout students’ professional careers.
Cheung, R., & Arnold, J. (2010). Antecedents of career exploration among Hong Kong Chinese university students: Testing contextual and developmental variables. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 25–36.
Gordon, V. N. & Steele, G. E. (2003). Undecided first-year students: A 25-year longitudinal study. Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 15, 19-38.
Gottfredson, L.S. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28 (6), 545–579.
Hackett, G. (1995). Self-efficacy in career choice and development. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Self-efficacy in changing societies (pp. 232-258). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Lopez, F.G., & Andrews, S. (1987). Career indecision: A family systems perspective. Journal of Counseling and Development, 65, 304–307.
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2011). The class of 2011 student survey report. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from http://www.naceweb.org/research/2011_student_survey_summary/
Restubog, S. L. D., Florention, A. R., & Garcia, P.R. J. M. (2010). The mediating roles of career self-efficacy and career decidedness in the relationship between contextual support and persistence. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77, 186–195.
Roe, A. (1956). The psychology of occupations. New York: Wiley.
Shoffner Creager, M.F. (2011). Practice and research in career counseling and development – 2010. The Career Development Quarterly, 59, 482–527.
Super, D.E. (1949). Appraising vocational fitness. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Streufert, B. (2012). Counseling students who need a plan b. Career Convergence Magazine. National Career Development Association. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/63788/_PARENT/layout_details_cc/false
Tyler, L. (1953). The works of the counselor. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). The Occupational Information Network (O*Net). Retrieved March 28, 2013, from http://www.onetonline.org/
U.S. Department of Labor. (2012). The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012–2013 Edition. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Billie Streufert is the director of Career Services at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and Student Personnel from Minnesota State University and has more than ten years of experience in career and academic planning. She may be reached at email@example.com.