Insights from Career Day…

Jul 21, 2015
Activity, Career, Current Events

I co-teach a 6 week personal finance course for incoming 9th graders every summer at Eastside College Prep. in East Palo Alto, California.  Over the years, I have developed a 25-hour project-based curriculum that teaches students the basics of saving, budgeting, investing, credit cards, credit scores and careers.

One of my favorite sessions is Career Day which has the following structure:

Class before Career Day:

  • The students prepare for the session by reading the biographies of each mentor guest and reviewing videos which provides some background on their specific field.  This architect rap entertained the students!  This is a good opportunity to describe how LinkedIn works too!
  • I teach the students the basics of informational interviewing which is how the Career Day session is structured.  Students prepare a list of general questions and specific questions that demonstrate to our mentor guests that our students have done their homework.
  • I invite 4-5 professionals from a variety of fields for each of my three sections.  This past Friday, we had professionals from engineering, medicine, finance, real estate, architecture, non-profits and accounting attend our classes.  This year we invited some alumni from Eastside Prep which provided students with a two-fer: not only did they get career advice but they also learned about how to succeed at Eastside Prep.

Career Day:

  • The classroom set-up allowed for small group discussions as each guest mentor met with 4-5 students at a time. I have found this to be a better set-up than the traditional panel where the professionals sit in front of the class and answer questions.  Smaller groups require every student to get involved in asking questions.
  • After 15-20 minutes, a bell went off and the guest mentors moved clockwise to talk to the next group.
  • Students were asked to take notes during the discussions as they were asked to complete a writing assignment that detailed the lessons they learned.

Class after Career Day:

  • We did a debrief of the session and had students reflect on what they had learned.  We divided the feedback into three categories: people, process and advice.
  • Students learned how to write a Thank You note and we divided students into groups to complete a note.

Why is this my favorite session?  Let me count the ways:

  • Students get first-hand experience learning an incredibly valuable skill:  how to run an informational interview.  You can literally see their confidence build as the session unfolds and they get comfortable carrying a conversation.
  • Students learned about the concept of a career path.  One student was surprised that one guest mentor had started as a bank teller and now managed over 200 people.  “I thought people who started as tellers would retire as tellers.”
  • Students learned that it was OK to not have a career goal in mind as a 9th grader.  One student wrote a page about how relieved she was to hear this as she had constantly been asked “What do you want to be when you go to college?”
  • Students learned about the importance of passion vs. compensation when it came to choosing a career. “I may be working for fifty years so I better like what I am doing.”
  • Students learned about how to make the most of their high school experience to help uncover their passion (they were particularly interested in grilling the alums about this):  take on leadership roles, take advantage of electives and try different things, get to know the Career Pathways coordinator to try and get an internship, get to know your teachers, advocate for yourself and step outside your comfort zone.

The class ended with our guests raving about how impressed they were with the students; their preparation, professionalism and curiosity.  Who knows, maybe this will lead to a future internship opportunity…Thanks to all of our guest mentors for making this day possible!!!  Please contact me at if you want to organize a Career Day in your community and have questions.

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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