Helping young people identify their next career steps: the importance of asking the right questions

Young people’s needs around careers and making decisions about their future can arise at any time. In an ideal world, any student asking such questions will be pointed to the school’s career guidance adviser who may or may not be the careers leader. With this not always a realistic scenario, which questions can you ask to give advice to students about moving forwards with their career thinking?

The mindset question: “How ready are you to do this?”

Or, put another way, “how confident are you feeling?”

If you’re a Careers Leader or teacher, asking this question will help you identify the career mindset of your student. It’s an important question to ask because if your student lacks the confidence or motivation to move forward then it’s unlikely they will follow through on any action points. Being aware of this may be the difference between continuing on the conversation or referring them on to a qualified guidance practitioner.

One useful exercise to identify the career readiness of your student may be a scaling question. For example “On a scale of 1 to 10 how confident do you feel about doing X?” Their answer may help guide you to what appropriate and personalised interventions they might need.


The decision-making question: What else have you thought about? What ideas have you had in the past? What happened to those ideas?

These can be useful questions to ask to gain a better understanding of how your students take in information and make decisions. This question will allow you to identify if the student holds particular beliefs and career stereotypes and allows you to challenge these if appropriate. They can also help identify who their key influencers are and the key messages they have received that may impact on how they make an important career decision. For example, a student may perceive that apprenticeships are low-level training and only for people wanting to work in a trade profession.

The ‘self’ question: What impact would you like to have in your future career?

Getting your student to be ‘future focused’ in an imaginative way can help them feel more ownership of their career action plan. I like to ask the question: “If you were to imagine going home at the end of a good day at work, what would have needed to happen for you to believe you had a good day?” Another way to ask this question could be “If I was to wave a magic wand and you could be in your dream job…what would you be doing?”

Removing perceived barriers and allowing them to be more imaginative as they explore their preferences will open the conversation up and allow for a conversation based on curiosity and what could be possible. Truly understanding what their frame of reference is as they explore possibilities will give you some significant clues on where their strengths may be best suited.

The implementation question: What career-related information do you need?

Identify practical sources of support and career information that student may need to refer to. Our links4careers is a fantastic resource that offers extensive sources of quality careers information on areas such as higher education, apprenticeships, funding, gap year, CVs and interviews.

What practical support do you need?

Consider the ongoing practical support your student may need moving forwards. This could be liaising with a form tutor or the school careers coordinator or an independent careers adviser in your school or college so that they can follow up any further needs. It is always good practice to get your student to identify their action points (so they own their progress and not you!). Remember to record this so that if and when the student is seen again it’s possible to review their progress and hold them accountable moving forward.


If you’d like to find out more about Ideas4careers and our services for schools, colleges and Careers Leaders we’d love to hear from you.


About the author

Rebecca MarshallBecky joined Ideas4Careers in 2015 after over 12 years in the education-based careers sector and is responsible for the performance and development of all CEIAG delivery contracts. Becky is passionate about driving innovation forwards in the sector and exploring new creative ways to engage and work with students. She brings with her experience of working with a diverse range of students in schools and academies, and college students at risk of becoming NEET (not in employment, education and training). She is a trained assessor for The Quality in Careers Standard and is experienced in delivering information, advice and guidance within the higher and further education sectors.