Over the course of a decade as a career leader in higher education, I had the opportunity to answer questions from thousands of parents about their college students’ professional prospects. What does the job search environment look like for today’s grads? Have things changed much since I was job hunting? And, most commonly of all: How can I help?
These questions are more pertinent than ever in today’s remote-first job market, and the right guidance and support from a parent can make a world of difference for college students embarking on their career journey. And while some of my advice for parents has changed over the years, especially given the current pandemic climate, much remains the same.
If the college student in your life could use some support in the first stages of their job search, keep these guiding principles in mind.
Four tips for college students in their first job search
1. What you say matters
The job search can be stressful under normal circumstances, especially for young people who’ve never done it before. At the height of a pandemic, tensions are naturally even higher for most new grads. It’s important for your college student to feel comfortable asking questions about their future career path, the job search, and the hiring process without fear of judgment. As you navigate these conversations, be empathetic and try to communicate effectively.
One framework that might help guide your initial conversation could be to think about their future career in the same way that you discussed schools during the college application process. Many considerations when choosing a job are akin to looking for the right fit in a school. Think beyond a company’s reputation, or a lucrative salary — brainstorm together about what truly makes your child thrive. Use that knowledge to weigh the pros and cons of possible work environments, team dynamics, and position types.
- Do they prefer a smaller environment where they might wear multiple hats, or are they excited by the prospect of a large, complex organization where they might specialize more?
- Would they prefer a close-knit team with high levels of collaborative work, or a very focused position within a larger infrastructure?
- Do they see themselves thriving in a remote or hybrid setting, or are they set on in-person work when circumstances allow?
Establishing answers to these questions will give you and your college student some common ground throughout their search, which will help foster even more productive conversations.
2. It’s not the same as it used to be
Today’s job market is not the same as it was when you were their age. In fact, it’s not even the same as it was last year! It’s more important now than ever to show flexibility and support.
Today’s college students face an unprecedented set of challenges as they emerge into adulthood, and circumstances continue to change at a rapid pace. With this in mind, it’s vital to remember that great opportunities can come out of situations or places you wouldn’t have considered previously.
Your student might have had their heart set on a career with a company that’s enacted a hiring freeze, or in an industry that’s struggling amid COVID-19. While it might not feel ideal to expand their horizons so early on in their career, they could discover new interests, find a location they love, or build a valuable skill they never knew they had an aptitude for.
3. Their first job will not be a “forever” job
Your college student’s first job out of college likely won’t be where they spend their whole career! Gone are the days of landing one job straight after graduation and spending the next 40 years with the same company; a 2020 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average 33-year old American works more than eight jobs between ages 18 and 32.
Instead, try to think of their first job like a first home. After a few years of happy memories, you might outgrow a house when you need more bedrooms or outdoor space; that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great starter home.
Similarly, even if they decide to move on from a first job or decide the industry isn’t a good long-term fit, they’ll gain valuable experience and build new skills in their first role. Each job opportunity is a learning experience that will help your student refine their goals and plan the next steps.
4. Take advantage of career planning resources now
One of my biggest pieces of advice for any parent is to encourage their student to take advantage of the resources at their disposal while they’re still in school. College career centers are included in the cost of tuition, staffed with experts who can help prepare job-seekers for the steps ahead with resources and individualized guidance.
After college, services like this come at a huge cost — sometimes to the tune of hundreds of dollars per hour! College career centers aren’t placement services that hand out jobs. Instead, career advisors help students build lifelong skills, teach them to find opportunities, and connect them to employers. Encourage your child to be patient and put in the work; it will serve them well for the rest of their career.
You can also help your college student get a head-start on career planning by encouraging them to activate their Handshake profile. Handshake, designed especially to help students connect with career opportunities regardless of where they’re from or who they know, is the #1 place where college students and new grads get hired for jobs and internships. Your teen can not only apply to internships and jobs using Handshake, but also attend virtual career fairs, research companies, connect with recruiters and alumni, and much more.
The way you approach career planning with your college student can have a big impact on their mindset about the future. There’s a world of possibilities waiting for them after they receive their diploma, even if it looks a bit different than they might’ve imagined as a freshman.
Stay positive, let them know you’re proud, and always highlight their potential. With you in their corner and the right tools at their disposal, your college student’s future looks bright.
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