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How to manage career advice from your parents

For most of us, our first experience with career advice comes from the people who raised us: our parents. And it doesn’t usually stop at casual conversations over the dinner table or advice on whether you should choose chemistry or biology in VCE.

Research shows parental involvement is one of the biggest influences on career choice and how we perceive the world of work.  One recent study examining ways to attract girls in the Asia Pacific to STEM careers – a historically male-dominated domain – found 68% of girls who chose to study or work in the field cited their parents as most influential in their decision.

It’s not hard to figure out why your parents may have a lot to say about what happens after Year 12. Deciding what to do ‘when you grow up’ can be really hard, and after all the effort your folks have put into raising you, it’s understandable they want you to have a secure and successful career.

The trouble is, of course, that even though your parents know you best, it doesn’t mean they always know what’s best for you. So, what’s the best way to balance career advice from the parentals with your own hopes, dreams and desires?

What influences parents’ career advice?

At Lauriston Girls’ School, parents have a very significant influence on students’ career choices, says careers coordinator Jenny D’Altera. ‘About 70% to 80% of parents accompany their children to the Year 10 and Year 12 subject selection interviews,’ she says. ‘The assumption is they will all go on to university, and a lot of parents want their children to study law, medicine or commerce.’

There’s no denying parents’ educational and career experiences influence attitudes to further study, but director of career development at Melbourne Grammar, Kirsten Larn, says a growing number of parents from all walks of life aspire to seeing their children work in professional jobs as these are often perceived as offering more certainty and security.

‘Parents can fall into two main areas,’ she says. ‘One is they’re keen for their child to pursue a career at a similar professional level to them if they’re a professional themselves. And if they’re in a blue-collar environment, the parents often have higher aspirations for their children.

'The assumption is they will all go on to university, and a lot of parents want their children to study law, medicine or commerce.'

Jenny D’Altera, Careers Coordinator,
Lauriston Girls' School

‘Generally, there’s been much more of a move towards parents wanting students, if they’ve completed Year 12, to go on to do some sort of further study, and for a lot of parents that is university.’

But gone are the days of your parents expecting you to follow in their specific footsteps or take over the family business. Recent research by Facebook found that while people within a family are slightly more likely to choose the same occupation than unrelated people, the vast majority of people choose a profession different to that of their parents.

How to make the right decision for you

What happens if you’re set on a career in animation, early childhood education or architecture while your folks want you to pursue law or medicine? Both experts say these are common sticking points in many families. The solution? You guessed it: communication.

‘The vast majority of parents are motivated by wanting to do the right thing by their children and if it can be a two-way conversation, where the parents facilitate the conversation rather than take it over and the student has done their homework on the course or career, you’re likely to get the best outcome,’ Larn says.

She says it helps to show your parents why you want to follow a particular career path and how you’ll reach your goal. ‘Show your parents that you can justify why it’s the direction you should go in,’ Larn says. ‘Find the reasons why you should be able to pursue what you want rather than what your parents might want.’

If you’re stuck in a stalemate, D’Altera suggests recruiting a neutral third party. ‘Sometimes it can be great to have a mediator, whether it’s a careers counsellor, a good friend or another parent, who can stop it becoming an “I don’t want to, but you have to” sort of conversation,’ she says. ‘It takes a bit of the heat out of it.’

Still confused about which course to choose? Discover why making a wrong choice isn’t the end of the world.

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