Counseling on Careers needs to include family’s aspirations and circumstances. Not just student’s aptitude and grades.

I am not a trained career counsellor and SECONDLY I believe that in the last 22 years I have met with thousands of young school leavers and their parents that I can write on this with full conviction.

Most “Career Counsellors” use a couple of key tools to maximize their interaction with the students. These tools are primarily the inferences from an aptitude testing and then a library of guides that indicate that what aptitude link up to various careers. Some also look at the grades that the student has been getting in the subjects being attempted. To most this will look as a good game plan. Now consider…

An aptitude test can only give you a desired result if it has been taken with full sincerity. Even then there are several instances where the aptitude testing mechanism which has been developed in another culture and circumstances actually give very inaccurate results. One student told me that he consulted two vendors of aptitude testing and both came up with contrasting results. My son who is in a reputed private residential school showed me the result of his own aptitude test which indicated low numeracy skills and hence did-not give him any recommendation for the areas that he wanted to pursue. I found that to be odd since he is amongst the top 5% of his class in Maths and Computers and so I immediately disregarded the test… However it got me thinking on what if many parents and students plan their careers based on inaccurate aptitude tests. It is possible that the test was not attempted with the desired seriousness or the way the questions were framed didn’t have the desired goal.

Hence, my suggestion to parents who do want to get their wards to take aptitude tests is to follow what they do with pathological testing. Very often if one lab test comes up with a result, we do try and repeat the test from another lab at some other time. Then both the results are compared. The lab tests are like the aptitude testing as they allow the specialist to come up with his own diagnosis using the test results.

There are career counsellors who may agree that the aptitude testing can be faulty but then do they advise the student to undertake another testing from another vendor! If they take their counseling seriously and believe that the leads should be accurate, they must cross check the results this way in all cases.

Another HUGE mistake that career counsellors make is disregarding the family circumstances that come into play. They do need to also have a detailed session with each of the parents and understand the career aspirations.

The world today is not as clinical and certainly it doesn’t offer equal opportunities and complete fair play. We may want it to but it doesn’t. The son of a Doctor (or of Lawyer, CA, Architect…) is likely to get a significant head-start in the same occupations and at the same time many young students do-not want to pursue the same profession as their parents which sometimes is due to a closer observation of the profession at their homes and the fact that “the grass looks greener with other occupations”. The need to understand that there are pros and cons in all occupations. A closer counselling of the student keeping practical circumstances, idealism and aptitude will do the trick.

Parents donot want to “impose” but they almost always forget to “expose” their children to actual professionals in the desired occupations.

The family circumstances and aspirations are important also for others. I have now done a small sampling that is broken up on the various regions in India and communities in India and it helps me with any career advise. By looking at the surname and family background, I can say with 90% certainty if the student will study overseas and if yes, in which country and whether he would like to settle there or return back to India and then to be a professional seeking a job or will want to be self-employed at some time in his or her life. A boy who has parents as entrepreneurs and in business, tends to be a little more “risk taking” and could possibly want to be self employed at some time in his life. Some career options will allow self-employment easily while others will not. Factors such as 1)is it a joint family, 2)are there elders other than immediate parents who have a larger say in the way things happen and hence need counseling, 3)is the student eldest in the family, 4)does he have siblings, 5)is there a migration history in the family and 4)financial situation… need to be given foremost attention.

With the risk of being accused of gender bias, I want to remind that often the aspirations of an Indian family for a career for a girl differs from a boy. Not saying that they donot want to invest in careers for girls but it is just that they often want a different type of a career for a girl and want the girl to be sensitized to this. Some parents believe that the career counsellors who base their advise only on aptitude testing and college requirements are doing a disservice if they donot understand the realities of today’s world and Indian circumstances. Girls do very well in several careers and do better than boys. On the other hand there are careers which seem more suited for boys. Most importantly, most Indian parents firmly believe that girls should get a portable skill set and should be professionally able to survive on her own in any adversity. A life of a girl changes several times in a short few years after college in India and maybe even in the world. I do believe that this is a just thought.

Now let me give a few real-life case studies from recent days that I have come across where I firmly believe that the counseling was inadequate.

  • A school leaver from a leading residential school who is likely to get around 85% in ISC and a desire to join the Indian Civil Services was advised that since the requirement to join the civil services is that one can be from varied backgrounds and should have a Bachelor Degree, he can join a good Hotel Management program where he will get admission with his percentage. The student’s father is a bank manager. Technically the advise can be followed but the fact is that one who studies Hotel Management is going to find it very difficult to clear the Civil Services examination later. Almost impossible. Hotel Management programs are more hands-on and less academic. They have internships too. Post the program the student would take up a placement and enter in low positions in the hotels which are taxing on the student physically and leaving him with limited time to put in for any other studies. On the other hand, Civil Services require a certain academic direction and dedication. The choice of subjects at the Bachelors level and thereafter do matter. I found the advise and the career path being planned by the said student to be very odd though am not sure if the student will follow my advise and join a Bachelors Degree in one of the Humanities or Social Sciences area of his interest and then put in the desire preparation. I have done my job but I guess the career advise that he received at school will finally count and we can hope to see him at one of the leading hotels in India or world but certainly not as the District Magistrate of my city.
  • A girl student from another leading school who studied Commerce in Year 12 was referred to me by her mother. The student was academically brilliant and following the aptitude testing was advised to consider Architecture. There are no architects in the family and she has never been exposed to the profession too. She now wants to pursue it in US at a top University where the cost will be in excess of Rs 1.5 Crores. She has not studied Physics but understands that it is only a recommended subject and not a mandatory requirement. Should she pursue her passion (or is it a passion indeed as she has not been exposed to it at all)? Despite the fact that the mother is a single parent and may have to sell a property to fund the education, should the student be funded? This was clearly a difficult counseling that I handled recently though am not sure whether the result of the aptitude testing on a student who was set to pursue a career in accountancy or economics should be given such weightage. Practical realities need to be included in career counselling for sure and this is where the counseling is less prescriptive.
  • Indian students also need to check on the AIU (Association of Indian Universities) website on the equivalences of the degrees sought overseas even if the Universities are well regarded. AIU, the Indian peak body for the purpose, I am told, is now not giving equivalences to 1 year British Masters and requires engineering degrees to be of 4 years or more. I have done a seperate blog on this and have provided the links to the appropriate sites to cross check this. Students studying other professional degrees overseas should also check on the professional membership post the course of study in India. For example, only a few of the Architecture degrees from overseas are recognized in India. If a student wants to join his family business too, he needs to ensure that the degree is valid in India or else it is just a fine piece of paper. Fair or Unfair, this is our country.
Also there are times when the desire for a particular career path is taken on the basis of reasons that seem absurd…
  • A student who loves John Grisham’s courtroom dramas decided early in his life to become a lawyer. However when he first visited an Indian courthouse he immediately decided that this is not what he expected.
  • A student took up Hotel Management just because of the attractive brochures and the impression that it leads to a glamorous life. I asked him to find out about the stipends that the interns get and the salaries that even hotels like Oberois and Taj pay to fresh Hotel Graduates. He just couldnot believe it.
Remember that “a wrong diagnosis is worse than no diagnosis !”

8 Comments

  1. Actually , the reasons are not absurd. Young adults grow up with certain images of what they read and what they watch in films/ on TV and what they encounter in glossy brochures/ hyped websites. Since the exposure to real life has not happened, romanticised notions are harboured. With real life juxtaposing; comes shock, then acceptance and then a customised balance. When it comes to making a career decision, practical exposure is necessary, which should act as a dipstick to evaluate if the love for a certain career stays or goes out of the window or packs in some room for negotiation 🙂

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  2. A good article. I had similar experiences while working as a career counsellor at a prominent boarding school. One of the major counselling agencies recommended a modelling career for a large proportion of the boys.

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  3. Another aspect commercialisation of career counsellors in schools. Most career counsellors in schools today are in the take from different colleges in India/Abroad. This problem is widespread and is there at every level of schools. Forget Indian Universities , even foreign universities have corrupted these counsellors by various means. These counsellors have experience ranging from 6 months to a year as counselling executives in some agencies and than join the schools. Usual traits to look out for ” snootiness with a know it all attitude”.
    Its time schools addressed these problem seriously, students careers are being damaged by these career counsellors for pecuniary gains

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    1. To an extent, I agree with this being a problem too. There are no real preperatory training available and so the career counsellors who have worked in the area of overseas education consultancy tend to have a little advantage over the others especially in schools that are aimed at international curriculum.

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  4. is she honestly insane?! i’m pretty sure about that. there are so many nice colleges in our country which offers a course in architecture, yet she want to take up a liability of 15 million bucks. some people are just mad after the big fat american dream.

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    1. Certainly there are many fine colleges in India but then an overseas qualification does add value. Whether it is a cost and benefit equation after spending 15 million Rupees is another issue and depends on family circumstances and aspirations.

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