How to Choose the Right Job for Your Teen’s Strengths

At a glance

  • Vocational testing can help identify a teen’s skills, strengths and weaknesses.

  • Your teen’s passions and interests can help guide his work choices.

  • It’s important to understand the tasks and the work situations that will help your teen thrive.

Finding work that empowers your teen after high school is important. But the right vocation is never “one size fits all.” Your teen’s particular learning and thinking differences may make some jobs a better fit than others. Here are some things for you and your teen to think about as you look for jobs that play to his strengths.

If your teen has an (IEP), it should include a transition plan. One purpose of this plan is to help your teen clarify his strengths, challenges and interests and think about how those will apply to work. Your teen will want to explore the topics below with his IEP team.

Try vocational testing.

Vocational testing can identify your teen’s skills, strengths and weaknesses. It can also help him discover what fields and roles might interest him. These assessments take into account your teen’s long-term goals in order to find the best fit in his immediate future.

If your teen has an IEP, vocational testing should be part of his . If he doesn’t have an IEP, his high school or a local community college may offer this kind of testing.

Help your teen pinpoint his passions and interests.

Ask your teen to look at, say, five different job possibilities. Which would he like to pursue, and why? If your teen loves food and cooking, the culinary field could be a good fit. If he tinkers with mechanical projects for fun, there are many trades could use his “engineering genius.”

Understand the work setting.

Your teen will want to choose a work environment that matches his needs. For instance, a teen with may have had trouble sitting still in school. But he might be engaged when working at a computer. A job in computer technology might be worth a try, especially if it combines computer work with walking around an office.

“If your teen loves food and cooking, the culinary field could be a good fit. If he tinkers with mechanical projects for fun, there are many trades could use his ‘engineering genius.’”

Consider size.

A small “mom and pop” company with few employees might appear like a comfortable fit at first glance. But a larger firm may be work better for someone with learning and thinking differences. Employees at big companies tend to specialize, often working on one job at a time rather than floating through different tasks. That would allow your teen to find and focus on a task he enjoys and is good at.

Know the full range of a trade.

Your teen may want to ask someone working in his field of interest about the full range of jobs and tasks it offers. If your teen has an IEP transition plan, he may be able to gather this information from employers in your community.

Research the requirements.

Most trades and careers require certifications, an associate’s degree, or an apprenticeship. Your teen will want to understand what is required and decide if he’s willing to work toward that. Be sure there are openings for those jobs, as well. There’s no sense being trained for a field with little or no work. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupation Finder offers helpful comparisons of growing fields.

If your teen has learning and thinking differences, it’s important for both you and him to be realistic about job prospects. Taking small, strategic steps can keep him from feeling overwhelmed.

Start by helping him shadow people working in a trade he is excited about. Then, he can find an entry-level position that fits his abilities. Doing a good job will help him grow and advance, with support from his supervisors.

Key takeaways

  • If your teen has an IEP, he can explore his strengths and interests with his transition team.

  • It’s important for your teen to find work that plays to his strengths and interests.

  • Your teen may need to try out several possibilities to find the right fit.