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It’s never too early to start thinking about jobs. Even if you have no clue what you want to do yet (totally normal). An after-school job or volunteer position can be a great way to start exploring potential careers. But relax—you don’t need to make any decisions just yet. This is all about getting a feel for what the jobs you’re interested in are actually like. Looking into them now will help guide you toward what will make you happiest down the road.

Ideally, you should start thinking about potential career paths your freshman year, says Patricia Sherrod, a counselor at Boulder Creek High School in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean you have to pick one. Exploring potential careers through classes, clubs, and volunteer opportunities is all about figuring out what you like—and what you don’t. “Even if you’re unsure of what career you want, just try things out,” says Nancy, a senior in Lancaster, California. “Eventually, you’ll find something and it could be fun.”

Young guy shaking hands at interview

Whether you’re considering an after-school job or your future career, there are plenty of things you can do now to prepare for the workforce. “Take the electives you want to take, join the clubs, learn about what interests you,” says Debrie, a junior in Grovetown, Georgia.

Here’s where to start:

Take classes

Classes offered at your school (or even at a local community center or community college) are a great way to start exploring what interests you.

“I’ve thought about pursuing a creative career,” says Meghan, a freshman in Hendersonville, Tennessee. “Taking classes in the arts has helped me come to that conclusion and to guide me on the path to making it a career.”

At the same time, taking classes will also help you strengthen the skills you need for a given career and building a portfolio that will come in handy once you actually start applying for jobs or internships, Sherrod says.

Choose courses that fit your interests and teach practical skills, such as:

  • Computer programming
  • Graphic design
  • Business
  • Writing
  • Art or music
  • Technical classes (such as auto repair or carpentry) 

Get involved

Getting involved in school activities outside of classes—like clubs and study abroad programs—is also a great way to build your résumé. “I took a nine-day pre-college program last summer, and I’m planning on doing a study abroad program this summer in public health, which is what I want to work in,” says Anabelle, a junior in Reno, Nevada.

Joining a club or sports team can build leadership and other skills that employers value. “The activities and participation in clubs can build confidence and direct knowledge and experience,” Sherrod says.

Think about signing up for:

  • Key Club
  • Athletics
  • 4-H
  • A business club (like DECA)
  • A health-related club
  • Student council
  • Starting your own club (which looks great on a résumé and college applications)

Volunteer

“Volunteering helps with gaining knowledge and experience,” Sherrod explains. “It also shows your contribution to the community, which helps during college admissions or internship applications.”

Look for volunteer opportunities that give you leadership points (think: helping to run an after-school program at your local elementary school) or positions that are directly related to the field you want to pursue (e.g., volunteering at a hospital if you think you might want a career in medicine).

Here are some places that are likely to accept volunteers:

  • Churches or places of worship
  • Local food pantries
  • Schools looking for tutors
  • Animal shelters
  • Hospitals or clinics

Talk to your school counselor

It’s never too early to start talking to your counselor or mentor about your career. Even if you have no idea what you want to do, they can help you find things to try.

If you do have an idea of what you want to do, chatting with your counselor can help you take the next steps. “I have spoken to my school counselor and taken a couple of career tests to make sure this is what I want to do,” says Raegan, a senior in Boise, Idaho.

Job shadow

What better way to understand what a career is really like than to shadow someone who does it? “I’ve started thinking about my future career by researching colleges, attending meetings, and evening job shadowing,” says Sinaida, a senior in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Ask your counselors, teachers, and parents if they can connect you with adults they know in fields you’re interested in. Setting up a phone call or even shadowing them for a day can give you useful insight into what a job is really like.

Think about the things you’re interested in doing and go from there. Any extracurricular activities will look great on a résumé or college application. They’ll also help you determine your likes and dislikes, which is super important for helping you figure out what will make you happy in the long run.

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Article sources

Patricia Sherrod, high school counselor, Boulder Creek High School, Colorado.

Access College. (n.d.). Career preparation for precollege students: Getting started. University of Washington. Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/doit/programs/accesscollege/employment-office/career-prep/career-preparation-precollege-students-getting

Choose Your Future. (n.d.). Career preparation. Retrieved from https://chooseyourfuture.cps.edu/high-school-college-career/preparing-for-college-career/career-preparation/

Education Planner. (n.d.). Career planning checklist: High school. Retrieved from http://www.educationplanner.org/students/career-planning/checklists/high-school.shtml

Student Health 101, December 2018 Survey.

Torpay, E. (January 2015). Career planning for high schoolers. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/pdf/career-planning-for-high-schoolers.pdf