The Dos and Don'ts of Helping Your College Grad

Calling all helicopter (and other) parents of soon-to-be college grads!

Wondering if it is acceptable to lend a job-search hand to your kids? There’s great news on that front according to placement prosif we rein in our exuberance and let their kids do the heavy lifting.

I like the simplicity of Dos and Don’ts. Ever the optimist, let’s start with the DOs.

DO…be supportive. It takes courage for anyone to pit their skills, smarts and savvy against other qualified candidates – no matter how welcoming the job market. Parents can offer reassurance that our kids are on the right path or provide a tweak in their approach, and that may be all that some college grads want or need.

 DO… encourage your college senior to take every advantage of their college placement office. These pros offer resources to help students launch a successful job search, including resume writing, job fairs and help preparing for interviews. In addition, they can help grads tap into alumni networks. And they’re part of what all those hard-earned tuition dollars fund, so students ought not miss the opportunity to get their money’s worth! If available and affordable, working with a career coach can help them align their strengths and their professional desires.

DO…leverage your network of relevant friends and business associates. Help the college grads in your orbit learn more about available careers and tap into the hidden job market through informational interviews. Not only do such meetings help prospective graduates learn about the day-to-day reality of particular careers, they also provide opportunities to practice talking about their capabilities in a professional setting.

To close friends of the family, you can probably send a group email to share that your child is soon to graduate and to be prepared for a reach out, which of course they are free to decline. I have served in this role for a number of my friends’ children and have enjoyed every encounter and helped make valuable connections.

To business and professional colleagues, I’d err on the side of individual emails asking if they’d be open to hearing from your child who just graduated from [name of university] with a degree in [blank]. Be sure to offer a wide berth for them to bow out if the timing isn’t right or if they’d simply rather not. If they do agree, only then would I send a second email with a cyber introduction to your grad.

DO…offer your grad these fundamental tips about informational interviews:

·      Arrive promptly and dress professionally

·      Use a notepad to keep track of your questions and take notes

·      Keep mobile phones off and out of sight

·      Ask both broad (How did your career get started?) and specific and relevant questions (What is the profile a the person most recently hired at my level?)

·      Inquire about internship opportunities

·      Don’t leave without asking to be connected to another professional (or two) to interview

·      Be responsible for ending the meeting on time

·      Follow up promptly with a written thank-you note if possible

DO…recommend a pre-career lesson in financial literacy. Have them spend a session or two with a financial adviser (some do it gratis in hopes of future business) so they can learn what salary they’ll need to earn in order to meet the demands of their soon-to-be-adult life. Many parents entirely fund their children’s college careers, making our kids entirely clueless just how much it costs to house, feed, clothe, entertain and build a nest egg for oneself. Becoming financially literate about budgeting and how to take advantage of 401k plans are lessons well learned.

DO…remind them that social media is not just about having fun! And while it may seem obvious, it doesn’t hurt to remind our grads to leverage social media platforms for professional networking like LinkedIn, Meetup and Jobcase. In addition, its helpful to remind them that their social media presence is available to potential employers and they should be thoughtful of how they could be perceived based on what they post.

Now, what shouldn’t parents do?

DON’ anything your graduate could and should do for themselves. In other words, don’t write their resume or cover letters; set up appointments, research (or accompany them to) job fairs, asking interviewers for questions in advance or attempting to sit in on interviews. These may sound like absurd acts, but placement professionals say parents have tried to control the process in just these ways.

DON’T… attach your grad’s resume or boast about their achievements and aspirations when you contact your network. Relaying pertinent information is strictly your kid’s responsibility. As is diligently preparing themselves for these interviews.

DON’T… steer your kids into a personally admired or known-to-be-lucrative career. We all want our children to have a fulfilling and rewarding professional life. That’s a given. But when you try to cajole your grad into a career of your choosing, you not only undermine their confidence in their capabilities and desires…you’ll more than likely put them on a path that will require them to retrace their steps once the inevitable dissatisfaction sets in.

DON’T…continue to support them without forethought and communication. If you want to provide financial support for your burgeoning careerists – especially if your kid’s dream job doesn’t pay enough to support them fully – consider several forms of in-kind contributions.

Perhaps you could let them live at home (with agreed upon rules and ongoing communication). You might also agree to keep them on your health insurance until age 26. Or offer the use of an extra family car. If you choose to provide direct financial assistance, set expectations for when the money train will stop or clarify the kinds of expenses you are willing to cover. After all, isn’t helping our children grow into competent, capable and confident adults the end-result we’ve all been working toward?



Adding Up the Reasons to Teach Children About $$$

Think about how many times you have seen a child harangue a parent at the checkout line, begging and whining about “needing” some perfectly positioned treat or toy. Well-rested, unstressed parents simply smile and ignore the beggar at their knees, sticking to their family rule about eschewing impulse buys. The rest of us? We reflexively give in because we are just too tired to argue and/or leverage yet another teachable moment.

But when you add financial literacy to the family toolbox, you won’t need to argue nearly as much.

That’s why I sat down with a friend and expert in finance who has coached over 3,000 people through bankruptcy. He knows the value of financial literacy – and the downside of ignoring this crucial life skill first-hand – and he agrees that it is never too early to start teaching our children about money.

He shared his three-step approach with me, which I’ve filtered through a parenting lens. But first…let’s turn that lens on ourselves and explore what a good parental mindset about money looks like.

BE CONSCIOUS.  Before we can teach our children about the value of money, it’s critical that parents are clear about our own relationship with it. Here’s how:

Know your values.  Being clear about your parenting values is the first part of the consciousness-raising equation. Your values serve as a sort of built-in parenting guide, so extending those values as part of your decision-making around money will make every financial choice clearer and easier. For example, if your children’s education is an important family value, you know you will need a plan to save enough to pay for private school and/or college.

Be mindful of emotions.  Be attentive to emotional spending, which gets many parents in trouble. Impulse buying, whether in the checkout line or online, can easily blow a budget – and you won’t even remember where the money went (or probably have anything to show for it).

Communication is central to being conscious about money. Have ongoing conversations about financial compatibility and financial decision-making with your partner. With financial infidelity on the rise, you also want to be sure that you and your partner are a money match. Don’t wait for a problem to arise to discuss financial issues because it can make the conversation unnecessarily dramatic.

BE DISCIPLINED.  Start with an assessment of your needs – and be sure to separate your needs from your wants. An assessment can also help you identify short-term, intermediate and long-terms goals. A simple assessment begins with tracking all your expenses (fixed, variable and periodic) for several months so you get an understanding of where your money is going.  

Make savings a family affair. Let’s say you need to save for retirement and you’d like to plan for a family vacation this summer. Set your goals and make them explicit. Agree on areas to pare back so that larger goals get met, and then create a spending and savings plan that makes the entire family accountable. Be sure to put it down on paper in black and white. Remember the Chinese proverb, “The palest ink is stronger than the sharpest memory.”

Another important tip: create an emergency fund. People get into trouble when they don’t account for unanticipated expenses like unforeseen home repairs or medical bills. 

BEWARE. We are bombarded with seductive advertising everywhere we go: the gas pump, online, backs of buses, on the train. These retail tricks are designed to get us to open our wallets – and they work! Protect yourselves by being conscious of the ways in which you can be influenced by media and empower yourself to stay on track.

So how does this approach relate to how we talk to our children about money? Let’s take being conscious. What are you modeling for your children? Do you mindlessly toss items into the grocery cart? Does Amazon regularly drop off packages filled with your impulsive purchases? How does your metaphoric checkbook reflect your parenting and financial values?

BE A MODEL AND MENTOR. This is my addition to my finance pro’s advice.

Beyond what your kids observe you doing, begin having an active conversation with them even when they are young. Recent studies show that children as young as 3 and 4 can understand the basic financial concept that you need money to buy things. Believe it or not, they can also learn the difference between the things they want and things they need.

There are myriad opportunities to engage our kids in age-appropriate ways that teach them about the value of the dollar. Give them an allowance and have them allocate their money into three buckets: save; spend; donate. Get children involved in philanthropic endeavors big or small. This could mean having them donate an outgrown toy or coat, a family outing to serve food at a shelter or service agency or coming up with a proposal all their own to present to your family foundation.

Kids will respond to a financial education if it’s consistent. So take advantage of everyday opportunities to involve your kids in age-appropriate financial discussions. Ask them to tally the grocery tab while you’re going through the aisles. Task them with researching vacation destinations when provided with a budget. Make them calculate the tip when you are out for a meal.

When I was a teen, my currency was cash. And when my wallet was empty, I was done spending. I had to wait until the next allowance or baby-sitting job to fill my gas tank or head to the movies. Today’s kids rarely see or use cash. They live in a Venmo, CashApp, and ApplePay world. Most of their financial management is conducted on their phone, not in a bank. This makes financial literacy all the more crucial because money is often invisible to them – especially understanding the difference between debit and credit.

When it comes to kid-specific money strategies, I believe that once a child is old enough to be out and about without parents, they should have a debit card to use for emergencies as well as for expenses that everyone agrees on. With this privilege, of course, comes the responsibility of reviewing their spending with you regularly. If it aligns with your values and you are able to do so, provide teens and college-age kids with a low-limit credit card in both their name and a parent’s. When they are earning their own money, let them get their own credit card so they can start to build their credit rating.

NOTE: Experts suggest separating a joint card from your primary card and opening individual cards if you’re providing this for more than one child. That way if a card is lost or stolen, it only impacts one child – who also gets to experience the natural consequences of not being mindful.

Talking about money and finances with kids should not be taboo. Nor do you have to share the cost of your home or the balance in your savings account to start having real money conversations with your children. Remember, transparency and honesty are not synonymous. You can be honest with your children without disclosing private information that is not age appropriate. 

The most important takeaway is to start teaching financial literacy to children as early as possible. It is never too late to start and the benefits are huge and relevant for their lifetime.