There is a request I make of the students in my business professional development class at the beginning of every semester: You don’t have to get an internship but promise me you will do something this summer related to career development. We spend the rest of the semester talking about how they can do this.
But as much as I offer my guidance and training as an instructor, career choice is by far the topic that students mention their parents’ influence most often. Because one or both parents (and other significant adults in their lives) have been their models of and basis for understanding the professional world, many students see this as a journey they are on with their parents.
And the summer is a great opportunity to move these conversations into action, even if your student is not interning or working. I’m not talking about setting up interviews for your child, writing their resume (or paying someone to write it) or calling up an employer to ask why your child didn’t get a job. Please do not do any of those things. But there are concrete ways to be a partner as they navigate and explore what comes after college.
How to help your teen with career advice
1. Help them build their network.
Let’s get one thing clear from the beginning: You do not have to work in–or even fully understand –the industry in which your child is interested in order to be helpful. If you’re an accountant and your child wants to be an accountant, you probably don’t need to read this article. But just because you don’t have experience in your child’s field(s) of interest, does not mean you can’t connect them to people who do (keep reading if you are thinking, “But I don’t know anyone!”).
Job shadowing and informational interviews are a couple of the best ways a student can learn about a potential industry and make connections to build their network for future internship and job opportunities. The students in my class are required to conduct an informational interview with someone they don’t know and write a reflection paper on the experience. Many write in their essays that it is one of the most valuable assignments they have ever completed.
And while students tend to find their interview subject on their own through faculty or the university’s alumni network, many also start with their families. Again, I’m not saying you should do all the work for them, but making an introduction is exactly what networking is.
I have seen people post in my various Facebook moms/parenting groups about their son or daughter who is looking to learn more about X field. If I can assist–most of the time not even knowing the parent–I let them know I’m happy to try to help and to please have their child contact me. Think about your network and be generous with your introductions—then let your child take over!
2. Help them build their brand.
Even if they are not interning this summer, they will need to be thinking about them in the future. Internships have become the key recruiting pipeline for companies, with them preferring to grant full-time offers to interns. And recruiting at universities starts as early as September. The summer is a great time to make sure all of their materials –resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters –are professional, error-free and ready to be tailored for specific opportunities.
While it is beneficial to have someone within the chosen field, anyone can be an extra set of eyes. I review about 350 resumes per year, and I have yet to see one that will be used for higher education jobs (my expertise). However, I have had students turn their resumes in with their name spelled wrong. Our eyes correct mistakes like that which makes proofreading our own work challenging. If all you do is check for proper spelling and grammar, I promise you that your child’s resume will be one step ahead of many I see. Here is a good resume checklist if you want to delve deeper.
3. Help them buy a suit.
A candidate has to look the part. I’m all for a student purchasing their own wardrobe, but if you want to throw money at your child’s job search, have it be for a nice suit. It does not need to be Armani, but it should last. Hopefully your child will be interviewing throughout their college career and a basic dark suit (pants or skirt for women) is essential. Department stores have great sales and many retailers give discounts for college students. (Check out this list for student discounts.)
And if a new suit is not in your budget, check with the university career center. Many have “closets” with donated professional clothes that students can borrow or take for interviews.
4. Help them talk it through.
While learning about different industries, summer is also an excellent time for self-exploration. I encourage students to think about their different strengths, interests and values as they pertain to career development and then talk about it with people they trust. There are free personality and interest-based assessments online that can serve as a jumping off point for self-reflection, but they don’t need fancy tests to tell them what they should do.
In my experience, the best way parents can help is to listen, share what they think are their child’s strengths, and reassure them that it’s okay (and normal) if they don’t have all the answers or if they feel confused. I always tell my students that I’m middle age and I’m still confused about what I want to be! Encourage them to try new things and see what they like.
5. Help them make their own decisions.
Every time I watch my four-year-old son focus his attention on the Lego tower he’s building, I think how nice it would be if he wants to be an engineer when he grows up. When his twin brother gets so excited to go to the dentist that you would think we were on our way to Disneyworld, I imagine him 20 years down the road in dental school. Because we all want our children to be happy. And wouldn’t it be nice if that happiness came with a healthy paycheck and job security?
But while the journey might be shared, the destination is theirs alone–and so must be the ultimate decision. Remind them that nothing is final and they can always change their mind (I’ve seen plenty of accounting majors enter fields that are NOT accounting). Let them know you can’t wait to see what comes next.
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