03 February 2020

Helping young people make tough choices – a careers advisor’s perspective

Having worked as a Careers Consultant in the UK and overseas for many years, my career has centred around helping young people make well-informed decisions about their future. 

Whether that’s helping them understand their post-16 options, where to go to university, or how to start their career afterwards. 

I know how tough it is for them to make these choices and the sort of guidance that can point them in the right direction.

Decision making has always been tough – but now it’s more difficult than ever. There are more options at post-16 with the introduction of T-Levels and the increase in apprenticeship opportunities; more Higher Education providers and degree courses; and a rapidly changing labour market that is evolving fast.

Plus – there is an abundance of information. The Internet has made an enormous amount of information available in a few clicks. This overwhelming quantity of content has the effect of making decision making harder, rather than easier.

Helping a young person with their decision making is not easy. Based on my work within careers guidance, here are my five top tips.

1.Self-Awareness

The absolute first step in helping a young person make well-informed decisions about their future is to help them reflect on the following three things:

  • Interests – what do they enjoy doing at school and outside of school?
  • Aptitudes – what are they good at? Are they better with practical tasks or more theory-based tasks? Are there any particular subjects they excel in?
  • Personality – what kind of environments or tasks best suit their personality?

If they don’t understand who they are, what they are good at, and what they enjoy doing then it is very difficult to make effective decisions.

2. Opportunity-Awareness: through impartial Information and guidance

Research is vital at this stage of the career planning process. However, finding good quality, impartial information is very hard. 

Universities are marketing to young people constantly, and parents and advisors sometimes have motivations or metrics that mean they guide a young person towards a particular profession, type of university, or course.

A lack of quality information and impartial guidance can have a hugely detrimental effect on good decision making. 

Some of my favourite information resources to signpost young people to are: 

3. Taking a holistic approach to making decisions and embracing peer-to-peer

It’s important that young people seek out a range of activities and experiences before finalising their choices.

UCAS Fairs, University Open Days, work experience, and insight events are all great ways to help with the decision making process.

Seeking out advice from a range of different people is also important. Young people tend to turn to their parents, teachers, careers advisers and their peers. 

Peer-to-peer is particularly effective because their peers are either going through, or have recently gone through, exactly the same process of making life-changing decisions about their future. 

The most frequent request I had from students I advised was “can you put me in touch with a student at my preferred university”. Peer-to-peer is something that young people want to embrace and it can be a very powerful tool in decision making.

In fact, a recent report by Intead revealed that for many young people it is more influential than even family and friends.

4. Personalised Advice and Guidance

Advice and guidance should not be generic – it must be personalised. It should be based on a young persons’ own unique personality, interests, and aptitudes. 

This is why step one is so important! I was often asked by students “what job should I do” or “what university should I go to” and, as any careers adviser will know, this is not actually the job of a careers adviser! We are here to empower young people to learn more about their own unique skills and interests and then help them explore opportunities that align with these traits. 

This is not an easy process and the earlier a young person can be encouraged to start thinking about their future, the better. 

I often got asked “what if I change my mind about what I want to do in the future?” and my response was always the same – you probably will and this is a perfectly natural part of the process. 

There are, of course, specific courses and professions that require a very particular set of qualifications, yet the majority of courses and professions in the UK are more interested in the transferable skills you have gained from a course or job.

Indeed, over 70% of graduate employers in the UK are open to applicants from any degree discipline. This is because they value the transferable skills gained from any degree subject.   

5. Tech-enabled decisions

Let’s face it, young people love technology (maybe too much at times!). 

Technology is contributing to the problem of overwhelming young people with too much information, but it can also be such a powerful tool in making good decisions and therefore it needs to be embraced.

Throughout the decision-making process, technology is invaluable. There are some excellent psychometric tools to help young people reflect on their personality, aptitudes, and interests. Plus, you can find lots of excellent career and university exploration tools online to help with the opportunity awareness stage. 

There are some great tools, such as our very own peer-to-peer technology, that can help a young person gather personalised information to help confirm and refine their options during the decision making process.


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