Student Career Responsibility

Question: What do "helicopter," "submarine," "velcro" and (my personal favorite) "curling" have in common?

Answer: They are all terms used to describe parents who are overly involved in the lives of their college-aged students.

Stories of parental intrusion abound on college campuses. Sadly, the tale of the first-year student whose mother helped her move into her room -- and then never left -- is not apocryphal.

Career services is no stranger to this phenomenon. Over the years, I have encountered well-meaning parents requesting lists of alumni for their students who were simply "too busy" to come to the career center. I have witnessed parents who scheduled career counseling appointments on behalf of their children and who then attended those appointments. When I inquired about a current resume, another senior informed me that his mother kept track of all his important papers.

To their credit, most students are mortified by this behavior. But it's not just embarrassing; it's a poor career development strategy.

Nobody disputes the value of parental wisdom, advice and support, but at a certain point, you've got to take responsibility for your future. Mom and Dad aren't doing you any favors if they're the ones jumping in and running point for your career exploration. Instead, they are actually hindering your accountability and career skill development.

Current college students -- the millennial generation -- indicate that parental involvement in and approval of their lives and actions is more important than it was for previous generations. So, how best for you to leverage this connection?

I offer these simple tips to involving your parents appropriately in your career exploration and job search:

Ask your parents to be supportive and open to your career interests and directions. Ask them to discuss (not dictate) your educational and career goals and make (key word here) suggestions for further inquiry.

Become career literate -- without letting them do all the work for you. There is great benefit to doing your own research after getting a contact, suggestion or idea from your parents.

Go to the Career Center -- without your parents. You'll get more out of an interaction geared specifically toward your interests and goals without a third party in the room. Bonus: your parents will be impressed that you went on your own.

Remember: your degree is only part of the career equation. After going to the career center, involve your parents in your efforts to identify and pursue skill-building internships, summer jobs and other experiential activities.

Ask your parents about their work. Have them introduce you to colleagues at their office, civic organization or volunteer activity. Take initiative and ask about job-shadowing their friends and other family members during vacations, on breaks or over the summer. Value: This is an excellent low-stakes way to get introduced to a career field and can lead to longer-term internships/jobs.

Don't forget networking. Everyone talks about it, but most students don't do it. Your parents can tell you how they personally have benefitted from networking and are likely willing to connect you with their colleagues for informational interviews.

Taken together, these steps are an excellent prescription for college students to hone the skills of career exploration while taking ownership of their future. Parental encouragement and support are important to your success, but it is critical to draw the line at enabling behavior. So by all means, ask your parents for a ride to the interview -- just make sure they wait in the car until it's over.