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Empower your students to make decisions

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Senior manager of UQ Careers, Daniel Capper, explains how to help your students develop their decision making when considering courses and careers.

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Daniel Capper, Senior Manager – UQ Careers

Decisions about going to university, what university to attend, and which degree should be chosen rank among the top 10 most important decisions a person will make in their life. This is because decision making for a career has implications for an individual’s career trajectory, social status, networks and their outlook on life.  Therefore it is imperative that a student undertakes a considered approach for their educational choices, even when under the pressure of time and parental expectations.

As Career Practitioners, we don’t want to see the worst case scenario of a student making their career decision based on fashion or peer pressure. These individuals in effect are determining their preferences based on what they believe other people think. The decision becomes extremely emotive as issues of identity and obligation feature strongly, and the final career and study decision is likely not to be the best choice for the actual student. Similarly if the student lacks awareness of their own aptitudes, in particular their key strengths, their study choice may not be the best fit for them and this will impact on their future success.

To assist students build their skills in career decision making, it is important to develop their awareness of individual personality and attributes, and locate the nexus to possible career choices. Students who possess a greater understanding of themselves, in particular activities which they will excel at and the factors they are motivated by, tend to have a higher level of satisfaction with their overall educational choices and subsequent experiences. This is because students equipped with such knowledge will have an active career decision aptitude filter that screens for the most suitable career fit and best course choices for them.

The career decision aptitude filter

To help you achieve this ideal scenario with your students, whereby they establish their own career decision aptitude filter, I would like to share a technique that I find very useful. This method will aid a student to understand themselves better and support them in selecting a course/career. But please note, it will not totally remove the pain of decision making. As highlighted by Indian IT Industrialist, N. R. Narayana Murthy, "Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong."

So for me to help get students unstuck, I overlay Mark Waldman’s brain-based experiential learning strategy (that is taught to executive MBA students in a number of US based universities) with questions that sit within a personality exploration paradigm. The strategy is as follows:

Step 1

Set a timer to go off at the six minute mark. For each six minute period, request the student to answer each of the following questions (present a new question each time after the completion of step 4):

  • What do you like?
  • What do you dislike?
  • What are your three biggest strengths?
  • What are your three most significant challenges?
  • What are two motivators for you?

Request the student to keep writing for the whole time, and not to stop. Also advise them that there is no right or wrong answer, and they should allow their thoughts to keep flowing. Students will tend to find that their thoughts in the final minutes are often the most authentic and insightful.

Step 2

When the alarm sounds, have the student yawn three times.  This keeps the brain alert for those brief insights and lightbulb moments that they will experience during the exercise.

Step 3

When they find themselves saying “Oh Wow” or “That’s Cool!” have them pick up a pen (for an additional three minutes) and jot down those moments of inspiration. Have them choose a different colour pen so that they can easily identify these insights later in the review process.

Step 4

At the end of the revelation (or Wow moment), ask the student to take a relaxation break, close their eyes for a 20-second ‘nap’ by letting their mind wander and daydream.

Step 5

Now start the next question with a six minute alarm. Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4.

Step 6

After answering all activity questions, get the student to review their insights (looking for common themes, new ideas, inspirations and out of the box thoughts or motivations).

Step 7

Over the course of a few days (after the activity is completed) request the student to re-read their insights so as to create their career decision aptitude filter.

The career decision aptitude filter (in statement form) represents the following:

I am seeking a course/career which offers the following ___ [likes], and limits my exposure to ___ [dislikes]. I want it to provide me with opportunities to display my strengths of ____, and allows me to overcome challenges of ____. The features of the course/career that will motivate me are ____.

The format of the filter does not matter. You can have the student try a variety of options: a statement paragraph, bullets points or diagram with key words.

If the student carries out these steps, they will be armed with a more defined and integrated career decision aptitude filter deeply embedded within their thinking.

In order to elicit a student to begin a screening process, have them research characteristics of the course/career choices under consideration. As a helpful hint to the student, inform them that graduate attributes achieved from courses and programs are often contained within a university’s online program database, course handbooks, and a university or faculty prospectus. Encourage the student to examine if or how these characteristics correspond with their own personal career decision aptitude filter. The higher the match or correlation that they find, the higher the probability of future success with their choice.

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