On WSO, we're frequently presented with a given career situation. For example,
"I'm a senior in high school and I want to be a banker - which school is better?"
"I'm a rising sophomore at a nontarget - which internship should I try for?"
"I'm two years out of college and in aposition - what should my exit strategy be?"
But what if you could start all the way back at the beginning, when your kids are starting high school and beginning to consider their career? What advice would you give them? Here's what I would say:
1) Start building your extracurriculars from day one of high school.
The earlier you start, the better chance you have of getting a leadership position. Also, you have to do at least one year each of speech, drama, and a sport. The ability to be a comfortable public speaker is invaluable, drama will get you to step out of your comfort zone and think about human behavior, and sports will teach you important skills like perseverance, strategy, and intuition.
2) Make sure you have a 4.0 high school GPA, or at least close. GPA is a function of how much you work, not how high your IQ is (although having a higher IQ will mean it takes less work for you), so you have no excuse not to have a good one.
3) Take as many AP classes as you can, and enroll in an early placement program if your college of choice has one. You have only four years in college, and you want to be spending that time running student organizations, interning, building your resume with winning competitions, starting a business, etc., and taking classes that lead to something valuable (e.g. minor in behavorial economics, second major in math, etc.), not taking dumb classes like Lit 101.
4) Start interning every summer after you turn sixteen. (Hopefully I can pull some strings at that point, and at the very least a position in the mailroom will get a name on the resume.)
5) Start studying for the SAT early in high school and make sure you get close to a perfect score. The SAT can be studied for and learned. I'll pay for classes, then buy every practice book I can find. Skip the ACT - it's much more difficult to study for.
6) Go to a good school. I hope I can make money a non-factor for you at that point, and you want to be surrounded with smart, ambitious, hard-working people. You want to have lots of class options, and when the professor teaches to the middle of the class, you want that middle to approximate your level of ability. Your school name will follow you throughout your career. Plan accordingly.
7) Get a STEM major. College is for building real skills to get a job, not for learning. Take lots of quantitative courses and use your electives for lots of psychology, sales, and behavioral economics classes. Take at least one completely random class that has nothing to do with your major but looks awesome. However, make sure that most of your classes are focused. Have a plan to get at least a minor, and work with the powers that be to design a program that works for you. University officials can be surprisingly willing to bend the rules if you know the right way to ask.
8) Get out of the country. College is the perfect time to travel cheap, and experiencing other cultures will make you a much bigger person. When you consider that you can get credits for a lot of it, it can actually be free.
9) Make sure you get a graduate degree, again from a good school. You're going to need it to get a decent job.
10) To start off your career, spend a couple years working at a big company with a good name and great people... For the rest of your life, your career bio will read "808 Jr. began his career with [insert firm]..." You want people to recognize that firm. You also want to learn about the corporate world, politics and all, and to have your abilities pushed by people who are smarter than you.
11) ...then get a job with a startup. Succeed or fail, the experience will be invaluable. With a good name starting off your resume, the risk to your career is low, and you want to take this opportunity while you're still young. You will learn things at a startup that the corporate world will never teach you.
12) And lastly, don't lose yourself to your career. Family and friends are more important. Don't sell your soul, but if you have to lease it out for a couple years, that's OK. Just make sure the contract has a definite end period, with no BPO clause. And don't lose sight of the little things that are important to you personally. Keep playing the guitar, or rolling at the dojo, or whatever it is that helps make you you.
I think that covers the basics. What would you guys add? Disagree with anything?