Career Advice for Kids

This is the time of year I start to get calls from panicked parents and, now, grandparents, too. Always the topic is the same: the twenty something kids' careers.

The situation is either the kid has graduated in May and is now beginning to look for a job. Or, if the kid, has been out of school longer, in a job, but is wondering what to do next.

Is there some wisdom these calls can provide other parents? Is there some wisdom these calls can provide me, for when my daughter graduates in two years?

First, I am the wrong person to call. I am a headhunter. Parents should get their kids to a career counselor or coach. The best way to find one is to ask for recommendations. The other option, which is free, is for the twenty something to contact (via phone, email) the campus career counselor who, increasingly, is serving alumni. I assume it is the parents who will pay for the career counselor and that relatively small sum of money (say three appointments at up to $125 each in cities like New York) is a rounding error on what parents have invested in the cost of the degree.

Second, parents have to realize some of their advice is useless. (My daughter tells me this all the time.) Much of - even most of - your offspring's hunt will be conducted online. (When I remember how people used to agonize over ivory or white paper....and forget about envelopes.) They will research jobs and companies online. They will trade openings and intelligence online. They will apply online. They will have telephone interviews that are the serious first-step, not an indication of any lack of interest. Here are two pieces of parental advice that still abide: If there is an in-person interview, candidates still should take hard copies of their resumes with them. I still like to see a thank-you note emailed after an interview, and many parents might agree with me.

Third, if they don't know what they want to do or if they've taken a path they don't plan to pursue forever, they are completely normal. I don't believe that any job step at age 24 constitutes much of a mistake. Each can teach a lot. If the twentysomething attends graduate school later, as many do, those initial jobs will be meaningless in that they will be newly-minted onto another track. What will matter is that they can talk about the jobs somewhat intelligently.

Fourth, parents should expect that the pattern of unpaid internships that their children pursued during college may persist after college. (Of course, I am assuming either an affluent parent group or a motivated younger group who will moonlight for pay.) In this economy, and in certain fields the unpaid post-graduate internship is prevalent. Parents also might need to assume that at first their children will be hired as contractors (on a time-limited and benefit-free basis) which often can convert into the kind of employment with which parents are most familiar.

Fifth, and most importantly, parents need to discard any expectations about the kinds of careers their kids should pursue. I know a woman who still thinks her daughter would make a great doctor. She may be right but since the daughter is a number of years out of college and has yet to take any pre-med courses, Mom's energy might be better spent elsewhere.