NC State Extension Publications

What is Career Exploration?

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Parents may think of career exploration as the process by which people learn about different jobs and what each requires. But career exploration by children starts at birth! It happens at the dinner table when you share about your day at work! It happens even earlier when you read stories to your infant or toddler. Books about trains may open children’s minds to working with vehicles, to careers with travel, or to managing rapid mass transit systems. Goodnight Gorilla may seem to be only a very funny story about bringing your work -- the gorilla at the zoo -- home with you. But it opens toddlers’ eyes to zoos and zoo animals. When parents connect the book with the real world, toddlers learn about careers. Toddlers who visit the zoo, learn about animals, and talk with their parents also learn about people who work at the zoo. Those people have careers at the zoo. Why is this important?

  • Children and teens become more aware of careers and occupations.

  • Career-aware teens choose careers that fit their interests, abilities, and personality.

  • Finding a good match leads to career and life satisfaction.

  • The sooner career exploration happens, the better!

Recognizing exciting potential career interests early helps your child see that careers are fun! And it gives you more time to encourage your child to learn about options in their area of interest.

While older children may benefit from more formal efforts to increase career awareness such as career days at school, career fairs, job shadowing and internships, their ability to understand the world of work begins much sooner than the teenage years. So don’t wait until then to help your child understand why people work and the different kinds of work that they do. Start early!

Development of Career Understanding

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In the United States, children are not part of the adult workforce and so their experience with jobs is limited. This is why you are important to your child’s career development! You are an important source of knowledge and beliefs in this search and this is true even when you might not be aware of how you are doing this.

  • How do you talk about your own job and career?

  • What kinds of things do you say about your co-workers?

The answers to those questions are important because what you say about how much you like or dislike work is a daily news bulletin for your child about the specific work that you do and the world of work in general. Even so, honesty is important. If you love something about your job, say it! Your child will learn the importance of working hard and loving a job! If you dislike something, explain why and tell your child what you are doing to make things better! You are one of your child’s first and best teachers in this process.

General Parenting

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While career-specific parenting is important, general parenting practices also contribute to career development in your child. Develop a relationship with your child so that they are comfortable coming to you with issues and concerns. You can support this kind of relationship with your child by being consistent in responding to your child’s needs and setting high expectations for their behavior:

  • Pay attention to and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Children need to feel safe, be heard, and be valued. Children and teens want to know that you care and that they matter. Know that it is okay if your child does not share your feelings on something. What is important is that they feel safe sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. When this happens, they may even ask for your advice!

  • Be encouraging. We all make mistakes, rarely get things right the first time, and experience hiccups in the process even when we are doing the right things the right way. It is important that children and teens know that an unsuccessful grade or attempt at something new does not mean that they cannot excel in those areas. Instead, it is just a sign that more practice is needed, new approaches should be used, or new areas of interest should be explored. Encourage your child to persevere and try new things.

  • Set high expectations. Being responsive is a characteristic of great parenting but it is only part of what makes great parenting great. Setting high expectations for academic achievement, getting along with others, and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions -- good or bad -- are all important to your child’s development. When parents set high expectations, their children tend to do much better in school and in relationships!

  • Be consistent. Good parenting is also consistent. Try to be consistent in responding to your child’s feelings and thoughts and setting high expectations for their behaviors. Follow up on how your child is doing. Doing so will not only assist you in knowing how to best help children and teens assess how they are doing; but it will also show them that you truly are listening. Be consistent by also following through with the expectations that you set. Setting high expectations about academic performance, relationships with others, and taking responsibility should be supported and expressed often. Children and teens need to know that you really do expect and believe that they can rise to your expectations. Remember to thank them, or better, say something like “I saw you clearing up the table and loading the dishwasher.” I am so grateful!

Supporting children and teens in career exploration is like all parts of parenting. It takes time and effort but spending that time and effort is always worth it!


Skip to References
  • Bryant, B. K., Zvonkovic, A. M., & Reynolds, P. (2006). Parenting in relation to child and adolescent vocational development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69, 149-175.
  • Chávez, R. (2016). Psychosocial development factors associated with occupational and vocational identity between infancy and adolescence. Adolescent Research Review, 1, 307-327.
  • Buzzanell, P. M., Berkelaar, B. L., & Kisselburgh, L. (2011). From the mouths of babes: Exploring families’ career socialization of young children in China, Lebanon, Belgium, and the United States. Journal of Family Communication, 11(2), 148-164.
  • Porfeli, E. J., & Lee, B. (2012). Career development during childhood and adolescence. New Directions for Youth Development, 2012, 11-22.


Assistant Professor & Human Development and Family Science Extension Specialist
Agricultural Education and Human Sciences
Regents Professor & Extension Parenting Speciliast
Human Development & Family Science -- Oklahoma State University
Human Development & Family Science -- Oklahoma State University

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Publication date: Feb. 7, 2022

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