by Sue Hay, Career Coach
As parents it is helpful for us to remember that it is our students’ developmental task to be separating from us and becoming more self-reliant. So as parents we are all clearly walking a bit of a tightrope here when we try to coach and advise. I have first-hand experience as a parent in how hard it can be to support, let alone coach, your student as they transition from college into their career. My son graduated from college this past May, and while he is happily working in pretty much his dream job, it wasn’t all smooth or easy. I knew that my son believes in what I do, (he refers his friends to me) and yet there were still times when I could absolutely feel his eyes rolling through the phone.
Pay attention to what they say about what they are doing. Think about where they have thrived and what seems to have brought them joy. Ask them open-ended questions and offer (gently) your observations. If they tell you that they really enjoy their tutoring work, explore with them what they like about it. See if you can get them to think about the skills they are using when they tutor. Reflect to them what they have said to you. Instead of saying “I think you should be a teacher” ask them “have you ever considered teaching”?
Hiring managers report that today’s students have real and relevant skills and experience but that they are not articulate about what they are capable of, nor are they able to connect their strengths to job openings. Share what you see, offer them words to describe their strengths, and, if you can, help them see how those strengths could be of interest to a hiring manager.
In terms of weaknesses – they are theirs to work out. We all have them. Did you want your parents sharing their perceptions of your weaknesses to you when you were just starting out? Let this go – they are worried enough about them.
What is right behind this suggestion, of course, is avoiding trying to solve your student’s problems for them. To avoid rushing in, a good place to start, no matter what the issue, is “who on campus can help you with this”. College is a place to build muscle in developing problem-solving skills. If the first person they try isn’t helpful – help them keep looking until they find one who is.
Hiring managers ask questions to understand when applicants have overcome obstacles for a reason – they want to see some grit and some independence. Students make mistakes — and some of them are costly – but if they are robbed of these learning experiences, they can have trouble answering questions like: “give me an example of when you learned from a mistake, or when you overcame an obstacle or when you failed.”
The most confused and inarticulate students we work with are those who feel forced into a major of their parents’ choosing. They have less passion and joy, and that is hard to fake in an interview. Too many of them are stressed to the max trying to do two majors – one for them and one for their parents. In our experience it matters less what a student majors in, than whether they can connect that major with actual jobs and whether they have had quality internships. And all majors can be connected to real jobs. So, do expect that they can answer basic questions about why and how that major will translate into jobs. If they can’t, here comes the magic question again: “who on campus can you help you with that?”
There is nothing that they can do to prepare for going into their first job that will be more helpful than doing quality internships. I could write a short novel about this, but it is a clear and persistent expectation across most any field. Hiring managers want to be able to ask them questions about experience they have had in the working world. A way you can help them here, is to be clear that this is an expectation and then to be willing to open up your contacts and help them network into an internship where they can learn and grow.
There are a multitude of professionals on college campuses who are there, in part, because they genuinely like connecting and supporting young people. It is a missed opportunity if your student doesn’t develop some relationships here that will last into the future. These are future references, people who have networks, etc. I am full of stories of young people whose first or second job was facilitated by someone whom they built a relationship with while at college.
The connections we talked about in 6, above, are the beginnings of a professional network. A very real way you can be helpful to your student is to introduce them to your network; to friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc., with whom they can do informational interviews. At all career levels, people who move into a new opportunity are three times as likely to have that move facilitated by someone than they are to have gotten that opportunity by applying cold to a job or answering a recruiter’s call.
Your student may tell you that they will do this after they graduate, or that they don’t have time now, or that they are too stressed to do this now. We know that if students wait until after they graduate to get started, that, on average, it can take them six months from when they got started to find that first professional job. Also, somewhat counter-intuitively, we have found that getting started with this work lowers their stress level. As they develop a plan, they get more confident, more focused, and less anxious.
Back to not solving the problem for them, in most cases you are not going to be the one that they let help them through this work. But you can encourage them to get someone whom they will be willing to work with. We push our clients to work with their career center. Some centers are great, some are terrible, and most are in between, but they all have something to offer. So that is one option. Is there an older sibling, a trusted aunt or uncle, or an ex-boss that they could reach out to? We recommend that you expect them to have a plan and offer them ideas about resources that they might consider.
We would be honored to be on that list of potential resources. We would be happy to have a free consultation with you about your student and our program and see if our services could be helpful. We might work with your student in a month, or in a year, or we might never work with them. But we know, whether we work with your student or not, parents who contact us pretty much always find that free consultation helpful.
We know from talking with hundreds of parents that many of you can visualize your student’s eyes glazing over when you try to initiate some of these conversations. If this is your situation, here are four tips on how to get into better conversations with your student:
About the Author
Susan Hay, LaunchingU Career Coach
Susan is a Founder and Managing Partner at LaunchingU, where she works with college students and new college graduates, helping them launch their careers with power and focus. This work integrates her background as a therapist, over 18 years in key human resource leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies in the industrial manufacturing, energy, and financial services industries, and in executive search.Preceding her successful career in the corporate sector, Susan was a partner with Strategies, Inc., an organizational development and training consulting firm. Before that she worked for a number of years as a therapist in residential treatment programs for adolescents, and had a private practice in New York City. These are Susan’s credentials, but at the heart of things, it’s always been about working with people. Throughout her career she has had the privilege of coaching people at all levels as they moved into new roles and/or companies. She is passionately committed to her current work with people early in their careers, helping them to establish their career direction and to thrive during periods of transition. Read about her expertise in the New York Times. Susan has a BS from Lycoming College and an MS from the New School for Social Research and resides in New Hampshire with her husband and son. Contact Sue to Learn More.
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