Millennials Should Avoid These 5 Ways to Choose a Career

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Sometimes, we focus on the right way to do a task. But other times, it is helpful to look at the wrong way to do something.

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As a career coach, I have worked with students and adults of all ages, and I have seen some troublesome patterns in the ways that people attempt to choose their career directions. Rarely do these approaches work.

Today, I want to take a look at those bad approaches so you (or your children or grandchildren) can avoid them:

1. 'I Saw It in a Movie' (or on T.V.)

The problem with trying to pattern your real life after movies or television shows is that they are, by nature, unrealistic. The image of a job in a movie or on T.V. will either be overly dramatized or, more likely, overly glorified. If you think you know what a therapist does because you saw Good Will Hunting (or my favorite, What About Bob?) or what the police do from watching America's Most Wanted, you will be sorely disappointed.

It may sound silly, but you would be surprised how often young people give me this reason for choosing a career.

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2. 'Ever Since I was Little, I Want to Be ...'

I'm sorry, little Johnny, but your six-year-old's image of what a firefighter does isn't anywhere near reality. (Some of them don't even drive red trucks anymore!)

And although Karen may have enjoyed playing school and teaching her younger siblings when she was 10, that doesn't mean she has a clue about the realities of managing 20-25 third-grade students or what the job outlook is like.

3. 'My Parents Think I Should ...'

Now, I think most parents have pretty good understandings of their children's strengths and abilities. And parents of students often have good ideas (I know, because I am one).

But, most of the time, this approach reflects the parents' desires for the child more than the child's own preferences. As a result, the student won't have the motivation to persevere through difficult times to reach the goal, and their career will fall flat.

A variation of this theme occurs in family-owned businesses, when parents desperately hope for a child to come into the business. Unfortunately, the results can be disastrous because the (frequently oldest, compliant) child doesn't always have the capabilities to be successful in the position.

4. 'I Didn't Know What Else to Study so I Chose ...'

This is a common response among college students, especially those who are sophomores and juniors. They feel pressure to choose a major (rightfully so), but they don't know what they want to do, so they default to a general major like business, education, psychology, or "general studies." Many times, these students are "lost" because they have never worked and don't know what is "out there." It would be far better for them to take a semester or year off to work in the area they are considering (not in the family business). This experience will give them far more valuable information than continuing to take classes would.

5. 'I Took the Intro to XYZ Class and Didn't Like It, So I Changed My Major'

Aaggh! This one drives me crazy — and unfortunately, it is one of the most cited reasons for changing one's major. For example, imagine a student who has had a long-term interest in some form of medical work (nursing, physical therapy, etc.). The student goes to college and takes Biology 101, taught by a graduate teaching assistant. Then, because the class is boring – or difficult – they change their major to music education (or whatever). What a poor way to make a career choice!

Ask any professional to see if the introductory courses have any relevance at all to what they actually do in real life (business, psychology, education, engineering – anything). Making career decisions based on coursework is a good way to make a bad choice.

Paul White, Ph.D., is a speaker, trainer, author, and psychologist who "makes work relationships work."