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More than a Lemonade Stand: Preparing your Student for the Pursuit of a Career With/ Without College

Several years ago when our oldest son was about six years old, being the ever-budding entrepreneur that he has always been, Nathan set up a lemonade stand at our family’s annual garage sale which was the way I would pay for the homeschool curriculum that we’d need for the following semester.

At the end of the first day, when his dad got home from work, Nathan ran to his dad holding the $8 in change he had earned at the lemonade stand. “Dad!” Nathan said, “I don’t even know why you go to work?! I made $8 today selling lemonade. Just set up a lemonade stand, Dad.” 

If only it were that easy for our young adult children to establish a career path that can sustain them as an adult. Then we wouldn’t fret about how we are going to propel these grown kids into their future careers. Stress is high because we as parents know that life is way more expensive than any lemonade stand! The launching of your young adult child once he has graduated from high school is an overwhelming season for both parent and student. Mapping out the plan can be a daunting task.

For 13 preparatory years of education this time seemed far off and exciting, but suddenly it arrives with both of you staring at the daunting challenge of making many life-altering decisions, not the least of which is the choice of whether or not to go to college or how best to move ahead with solid footing toward a career job.

In general, there are four “places” after high school for our students to head toward when seeking a career:



Trade/Skilled Work,

or entering the Military.

This article will look at nine categories of powerful steps that your student can take to be a standout candidate in his career field, regardless of formal post-high school education.

First, though, for those of you not interested in a philosophical essay on the subject, I’m going to give this quick reference list on which you and your student can focus. For more details about each of these items, read on into the nine steps. Also at the end of this article, you will find many additional resources to show to your student.

Quick Reference List of Post-Graduation Activities to Build Experience, a Professional Network, and a Strong Resume:

* College or Trade School Yes, this is the obvious step that everyone thinks of pursuing, but it is not the ONLY option nor is it always necessary, depending on the career field your student is considering.

*Apprenticeships/Internships/Job Shadowing/Career Mentorships These don’t have to be currently existing opportunities. Your student should brainstorm and research some places she would love to eventually work and then begin networking to create one or more of these opportunities at those businesses. Many executives are flattered to have someone “shadow” them for a day or a week and that can open doors for a mentorship, apprenticeship, or internship. My daughter did this with a veterinarian when she was 16 as she wanted to become a vet tech. Beginning with shadowing the veterinarian for a day, one step led to another and eventually resulted in a permanent position as a veterinarian technician at that clinic.

* Certifications Many certifications are offered free if you get them through on-the-job training so encourage your student toward full or part-time jobs in fields related to his long-term career goals. Another one of my daughters had various side jobs during her college years that built her cache of certifications for her resume. All of these were free to her because they were needed in her part-time jobs. These certifications made her much more marketable by her senior year of college, resulting in her being hired in a top-choice position. Of course, a graduate that isn’t attending college has even more time to hold multiple jobs that can add to his list of certifications. On a side note, employers are looking at the length of employment at each job. With that in mind, your student may want to reduce hours rather than end a job when he thinks it’s time to move on. For example, in addition to my oldest son’s full-time employment, he has retained a part-time job for about five years even though he now only works there a few hours a week. He hangs on to that very part-time position because longevity matters on a resume and because he values the personal and professional experiences it provides. If your student has proven himself to be an exceptional employee, an employer will often be quite flexible in doing what it takes to retain your graduate’s job even if your student needs to reduce to a minimal number of hours.

* Associations Associations, such as TYPros -Tulsa Youth Professionals,Organizations, and Professional Seminars Related to Desired Career Field Goals (The more memberships and affiliations the better. This will help expand not only your student’s understanding of that field, but will build her resume while simultaneously building her network of people in the field).

*Social Media Personal Branding/Marketing/Networking/People Skills/and Hustle! Students must not take this last part of the list for granted. In fact, every working adult should be building these last five pieces as a safety net for any future job hunting. Not only that but if parents are also doing this, it can help to generate job opportunities for their grown children as well. For one of my grown sons, these last five skills come naturally. Some people just have a knack for building professional bridges where ever they go, but for most of us, this must be a developed skill.

Okay, that was the short answer to the question of what your graduate can do to help him obtain a quality job in his desired career field. Now I’d like to share my heart on this important issue by giving you a list of career success essentials for you and your student to consider.

Nine Steps Essential for Helping your Young Adult Achieve a Successful Career, Regardless of their Post-Graduate Education Choice

1. Long Before They Leave the Nest Before your student even gets to the place of deciding whether she is heading to college, a trade or self-employment, there are things you can do that will affect her decision-making.

First, equip and enable your student to pursue experiences within her passions and hobbies.  If you’re a homeschooling family, one of the great benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility to shape classes and time to fit such experiences into a student’s life.

At our house, we had an unwritten “rule” that basically went something like “if a temporary opportunity comes up for a quality experience that you’ve never had before, you are expected to sign up, register, participate in that experience. Just do it!”

This resulted in national and international mission trips, volunteering at a rest home, being in worship bands, being counselors at camps, an apprenticeship as a vet tech, apprenticeship as an electrician, welder, CNC, Audio Visual Technician, Youth Ministry and so much more.

Mission trip to the Philippines.

Mission trip to Haiti

Andrew Piano Competition

Nathan on electric, Andrew D on drums, Tori acoustic and singing

Hiking in Colorado

Seeking experiences in as many fields of interest as possible serves to:

a) give her a bigger view of the world (real life education),

b) improve her comfort level with the unexpected,

c) generate much greater awareness of potential career fields,

d) develop her ability to communicate and interact with a greater variety of people in a wider variety of settings and

e) build her network of people, businesses, and organizations and it is that network that often leads to the job for which she is best suited.

Another thing you as parents can do prior to the career path decision is to pay attention to the ways you are talking about trade industry jobs. Our society has been speaking negatively of most service jobs for a few decades now and it is beginning to show in the shortage of workers to fill these needed professions. We hear derogatory comments about plumbers or truck drivers, for example, but we all depend on these workers. How are you speaking about trade careers around at your house?

2. “Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Teach your high schooler or graduate to be constantly building a resume and a social-media personal brand for marketing himself. He needs to learn the important lesson not to WAIT until he NEEDS that exceptional professional and personal reputation to begin working on his personal brand. On the contrary, a personal brand requires TIME and CONSISTENT EFFORT. There are many YouTube videos and plenty of books written on “personal branding.” This is more critical than ever in today’s marketplace as employers are increasingly researching applicants through social media in the hiring process. Something I repeatedly teach my Practically Speaking class is the reality that “we are constantly sending messages.” Your student needs to be INTENTIONAL about the messages he is sending through his appearance, his verbal and nonverbal communication, and in his personal and public interactions both on and off a screen. 

3. Know WHY He is Choosing the Path He is Choosing 

Whether heading to college or entering a trade or if he plans on becoming an entrepreneur, your student shouldn’t choose a path simply because it seems to be the “easy” path. As we parents all know, there is no easy road to a successful job/career as an adult and there’s no fast track to a lasting lucrative profession.

To have a reliable, sufficient income that can support a household it will require a lot of effort to get there and to maintain it. We don’t want our student heading toward a goal because he is AFRAID of other paths, or because he doesn’t feel ADEQUATE, or because he thinks it sounds HARD.

In our home, for our students who were more trade-bound than college-bound, we made it a requirement that they had to take SOME college to prove to themselves that college classes are not something to be feared and that they would be capable of succeeding in college. We also wanted them to be familiar enough with college that they could re-enter a university setting at any point in their future if God redirected them there. We didn’t want fear, or feelings of inadequacies to shape their future decisions. If they were experiencing fear or inadequacy in an arena, be it the thought of college, interviews, or anything else, the best response to those feelings is to make the unknown known. Make college known to your student even if she doesn’t currently see it as a part of her future.

(Put great consideration into the first couple of college classes your student takes. Help him select classes in which he will thrive so it BUILDS his belief in himself. Especially when doing dual-credit classes in high school, I don’t recommend that parents choose those first college-level classes as the moment to let your student “sink or swim.” You want him not just to “swim” but to excel in those first couple of courses, if possible so that he knows he can do just fine in higher education courses. Once he has some self-confidence in college coursework, then you can consider letting go of the reigns.)

Just as non-college-bound students need to feel capable of tackling college classes and need to know that it remains an option in their futures, likewise, college-bound students need to know that college is not the only path to a successful life nor is it a freeway to success. In fact, in today’s job market, a degree or even a master’s or doctoral degree is not a sure-fire ticket to landing or keeping a great job. Ideally, helping college-bound students to develop trades would give those students a safeguard, a “fallback plan” if college or their intended careers aren’t working anymore at some point. Having marketable skills would help them to know that college or certain degree fields aren’t their only options and that a pivot in the plan is doable. No matter what your students’ post-high school plans are, try to help them identify WHY they are choosing their paths and make sure it isn’t a reaction to feelings of fear, inadequacy, or even laziness. Yikes!

5. Practical Career Development Most of the time, a college or trade school doesn’t adequately prepare a student for her career field. It gives INFORMATION, but not too much WISDOM (wisdom is the ability to apply information in the best way possible) and it doesn’t generally teach the necessary skills to ACQUIRE a job in her career field. Obtaining a job, whether she has a resume containing a college degree or containing trade experience, requires so much more to stand out among the other applicants. There’s a lot more to getting the right job than just getting the right education. Help your student establish the right HABITS for CAREER SUCCESS. Practical career development would include such things as obtaining association affiliations, related certifications, internships/apprenticeships/shadowing/mentoring, as well as skills in networking, resume building, personal-branding through social media, people skills, and hustle! These practical career development tools, especially if she doesn’t have a college degree, are most essential.

6. Yes, God Sees Her Heart. What Do People See? All of those skills and practical career development will not help students to sustain long-term success if they do not possess principled CHARACTER. Having integrity, a strong work ethic, and a humble spirit, for example, are critical character qualities for career success. Is your student’s character clearly revealed to others?

Your student must have strong people skills to ensure that the message of her heart is connecting with her potential employers, coworkers, clients, and professional connections. 

Too many times, a person’s good heart is masked by outward communication weaknesses that send false impressions about someone’s character

Help her to establish the habits of constant self-awareness and others-awareness which will help her accurately portray her God-honoring heart of goodwill and good work. This is one of the primary reasons why I teach a Practically Speaking class, to help students learn more about themselves, how they come across to others, and how to build rapport with the people that God has brought into their lives. A wonderful way to open your student’s eyes to how she is perceived by others is to have her take self-assessments such as the DISC profile (, the Five Love Languages (, the Languages of Apology ( ), and StrengthFinders (

Once he’s utilized these assessments to learn about himself (so that he can modify and balance out his unique qualities) then he should use these same resources to begin to communicate to others with intentionally empathetic modes that are effective for others and not just in ways that are comfortable for your student.

For example, if his DISC personality profile suggests that he is fast-paced and task-oriented, he should use that realization to be aware of those he is interacting with who may be slow-paced and people-oriented, being empathetic to the differences of those around him.

Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some” (I Corinthians 9:22, ESV ). Applying that principle to career-building, our students need to be able to flex in their interactions with people if they don’t want to alienate people who may be key links to their job development.