I make a request for 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 related to career development this summer. We spend the rest of the semester discussing how they can do this.
But as much as I offer my guidance and training as an instructor, career choice is often the topic that students mention their parents’ influence. 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 an excellent 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 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
Let’s clarify from the beginning: You do not have to work in — or even fully understand — the industry in which your child is interested 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 among the best ways a student can learn about a potential industry and make connections to build their network for future internships and job opportunities. The students in my class must 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 wants 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 ensure all of their materials — resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters — are professional, error-free, and ready to be tailored for specific opportunities.
While having someone within the chosen field is beneficial, anyone can be an extra set of eyes. I review about 350 resumes per year and 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 names spelled wrong. Our eyes correct mistakes like that which makes proofreading our work challenging. If all you do is check for proper spelling and grammar, I promise your child’s resume will be one step ahead of many. 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 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 strengths, interests, and values about career development and then talk about it with people they trust. Free personality and interest-based assessments online 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 every day) if they don’t have all the answers or feel confused. I always tell my students that I’m middle age and 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.
Whenever I watch my four-year-old son focus on the Lego tower he’s building, I think how nice it would be if he wanted 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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