In Their Footsteps

Students, counselor examine how parents influence career choices

As a result of having parents who work in the business field, junior Jessica Wang said she also hopes to pursue a business-related career.

“Growing up, I’ve always watched my parents (have jobs) in the business industry and food industry,” Wang said. “When I was younger, my parents were like, ‘Business is a great field to go into because there are many job opportunities,’ and that if I really wanted to, I could choose to start my own business which gives me a lot of freedom.”

Wang is one of many students who want to go into the same field as their parents. According to a New York Times article, daughters are 1.7 times to 1.8 times as likely to have the same career as their father and mother, respectively. Melinda Stephan, College and Career Programming and Resources Coordinator, said there are certain professions that are more likely to continue through generations.

“In terms of the students that I’ve worked with over the years, I’d say medicine is probably a pretty popular one. Teaching (as well) although sometimes I will say, you know, teaching is a hard profession—I mean, a lot of professions are hard—(so) some parents try to steer their kids away from it just because they don’t necessarily want them to experience the same struggles that they have,” Stephan said.

Along those lines, Wang said seeing her parents work has discouraged her from pursuing a food service career.

Wang said, “(At our family-owned restaurant), I saw how hard they worked and I kind of helped out too. That’s kind of why I don’t want to go into the food service industry because I know how hard it is, and I think seeing them work so hard kind of also impacted my decision with what career I want to pursue.”

Freshman Mahitha Konjeti said she agreed with Wang and said she wants to pursue a different career from her parents.

“My parents are both software engineers in the tech space,” Konjeti said. “My dad works at home right now because it’s tech and it’s easy to do. I just see it and it’s incredibly boring just to look at it. The idea of spending (my) entire adult life working behind a computer coding and stuff is just incredibly boring to me and that’s just not something I want to do with my life.”

Stephan said exposure to a parent’s career can be informative for students in deciding what they want and don’t want in their professional life. However, she said parental influence on career choices can also be disadvantageous.

“When students have such a strong influence in a particular career because that’s what their parents do, they don’t always see what else is out there. There are literally new career fields being created daily that I think keeping an open mind could be one challenge when you have that heavy influence of, ‘This is what my parents do and I’m going to the same thing,’” Stephan said.

Likewise, Wang said she sometimes feels like she is unaware of other potential careers she could be interested in.

“A lot of times during school, the counselors will be like ‘Oh, you should look at a lot of different careers,’ but for me, I usually stick to anything business-related. And I feel like I do enjoy (business), so I’m slightly interested to look at other fields but also not really,” Wang said.

Regardless, Wang said her parents would support her decision if she wanted to go into a different field.
“My parents tell me, ‘You should pursue business,’ but (at the same time), they’re supportive of whatever I choose to do. I think mostly, it’s because they want me to enjoy what I do for the rest of my life,” Wang said. “They don’t want me to do something that they want me to do but I don’t enjoy and (being forced to) do that for the rest of my life and just (being) unhappy with it.”

On the other hand, Konjeti said her parents have tried to push her into pursuing certain careers.

“My parents have…given me the pressure to pursue a career in the medicine field, which is typically one that’s pushed, but they’ve also encouraged me to look into the (technology) field because it’s an easy way to make money that doesn’t require a lot of time,” Konjeti said. “I think (they encourage those careers) because of the financial stability and security (that comes with it) for your entire life basically, but that’s just not what I’m interested in and it’s not the way I feel like I can impact the most people.”

Stephan said she encourages students to have conversations with their parents about their career interests.

“Sometimes, it’s easy (for) parents to sort of brush off the dreams of their child because they want to do things that seem lofty and big or maybe popular,” Stephan said. “They’re not always easy conversations, but talk early and often about (what you want to do) and have a plan moving forward so that your parent knows, ‘Oh, they’re not just saying they want to do this; they really know how to get there.’”

Ultimately, Konjeti said she hopes students will pursue a career in what they’re truly interested in. She said, “I don’t think your parents or society should really impact what you want to do and what your skills are and what your habits and talents are. I think it’s really just understanding what you want to do with your life and not taking in the societal pressures or parental pressures. I don’t think you’ll be happy if you don’t do what you love.”