Categorized | Job Hunting

How Parents Can Help After College Graduation

Posted on 01 November 2009

MY SON DAN, a Dartmouth College senior, wants to be a political consultant. Or maybe a journalist. Obviously, he could use my career guidance.

As a baby-boomer parent, I know too well the importance of landing a good job after graduation. And I certainly could open plenty of doors for my firstborn. But I hesitate to help him too much. A conflict of interest looms if I ask my news sources to consider him for employment. More importantly, cushioning my fledgling adult’s attempted leap into the job market could deny him the chance to soar on his own. On the other hand, I worry: Am I a parental failure unless I make sure my son succeeds? It’s a dilemma countless parents face.

Some go too far in trying to shape their children’s occupational choices. Certain Dartmouth students must pay for humanities courses themselves because Mom and Dad believe those subjects don’t prepare them for, say, an investment-banking career. “I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve met whose parents have pushed them into [the wrong] field,” reports Kate Wendleton, a New York career coach and founder of The Five O’Clock Club, a job-search strategy group. The result can be burnout by age 30.

Making Choices

Manipulative boomer parents often tout what they did when they started their careers. “They’re 30 years behind the times,” complains Marilyn Moats Kennedy, owner of consultants Career Strategies in Wilmette, Ill.

In July, a midlevel manufacturing executive demanded that Ms. Kennedy persuade her son, a fresh Ivy League college graduate, to accept a $45,000-a-year post with a major management-consulting firm. The young man preferred “to go to California and hang out with his girlfriend,” the career adviser recalls. She refused his request, feeling the son should make his own choices. The youth turned down the job.

When University of Colorado graduation loomed last spring, the anxious parents of environmental biology major Jordan McClelland repeatedly offered to introduce her to their pharmaceutical-industry friends. However, the Westfield, N.J., student wasn’t ready to job hunt — much less don a white lab coat. “I really like the outside. I’d rather not spend my time in an office or a lab,” the 22-year-old explains. “A job may pay $75,000 a year, but what good is it if you’re unhappy?”

Her stubborn resistance frustrated her parents. “I want her to put that degree to use,” insists her mother, Susan, a teacher of gifted elementary-school pupils.

For now, the biology-degree holder is living at home and working as a waitress. She intends to save money while exploring internships and outdoor-education graduate programs. “I don’t see any harm in that,” Jordan McClelland says. “But it [was] hard to get that across to my parents.”

Her mother, 50, agrees. “Pushing her into something won’t help,” she says. “It was a learning experience for all of us.”

Career counselors suggest parents should walk a fine line between doing too much and too little. Introduce your son or daughter to your fellow alums from college, for instance, rather than suppliers and customers, to avoid conflicts of interest. You might also offer reciprocity, agreeing to meet your friends’ job-hunting progeny if they meet with yours.

Just Enough Help

You can encourage your new grad’s initiative by recommending him to an acquaintance only after he makes the first call. Being a good parent “doesn’t mean you get him the job,” cautions Adele Scheele, career-center director of California State University, Northridge.

Ron Crompton, a Dayton, Ohio, Internet marketing executive and a 13-year veteran of Lexis Nexis, tried to strike a balance in assisting his daughter Kristin, 23.

He asked a former Lexis Nexis co-worker to talk with her after 100 resumes she sent seeking human-resources jobs elsewhere had generated few responses by the time she finished her Ohio University degree last November. His ex-colleague, an HR official, met with the young woman to discuss opportunities at the database unit of Anglo-Dutch publisher Reed Elsevier NV.

Because Ms. Crompton lacked HR experience, the official forwarded her resume to the company’s customer-support department. In June, she started work as a customer-service representative there. Despite the six-month delay, Mr. Crompton avoided troubleshooting on his daughter’s behalf at Lexis Nexis. “I wanted to get her started off in a nice company so her outlook on life would be upbeat from the get-go,” the 51-year-old executive says. Once she became a serious candidate, he adds, “I was no longer in the picture.”

So what have I done for my confused college senior? I unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a get-together between him and a former boss of mine. I supplied the name of a prominent political consultant I know in Washington. (Our family link won’t be apparent because my son uses my husband’s surname.)

In coming months, Dan says he mainly will seek my help revising his resume and cover letters. “I would consider it a blow to my self-confidence if I was getting a [job] interview just because I’m your son,” he explains. “I want to be hired because of my skills.”

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