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?



Should Your Child Take a Gap Year?

The idea of taking a “gap year” – born of the independence of the post-war 60s generation that challenged themselves to create a life different from their parents – has come a long way in 70 years. Since the new millennia, it’s been taken up by parents and young people alike who have lived through the accelerating pace of the new world order – and see little chance for such an extended pause once they start college and forge fledgling careers.

If you read my post in late 2017 about coming face-to-face with my empty nest, you’ll recall that all three of my children took a gap year between high school graduation and the start of their college career. And they did so with my blessing – and strong encouragement.

As I write, increasing numbers of high school seniors are in the process of planning their upcoming gap, which is typically defined as deferring college acceptance for a year to pursue a variety of travel, volunteer and/or non-academic activities and interests. While it’s becoming increasingly more common, parents still have a lot of questions about its wisdom and benefits, such as:

·      Will my child fall behind his grade-level peers?

·      What if they decide against college all together?

·      Isn’t it scary when your child is in a foreign country far from home?

·      Is it expensive – and is it my responsibility to fund it?

·      What does a “successful” gap year look like?

Before I elucidate why I believe a gap year is valuable (wearing my Human Development and Learning specialist hat), as parents we have to redefine success as navigating the entirety of the experiences, no matter how (or when) it ends. Ultimately, a successful gap year is about giving our children a unique opportunity to grow, developing the skills necessary for navigating our modern world and becoming resilient, capable people.

In that vein, success doesn’t mean that each program you child embarks on will meet their expectations. Nor will the people they meet along the way necessarily lead to career connections or lifelong friendships. For some families, financing a gap year is an essential part of the planning process, in part driving what the gap will look like. Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities to volunteer for nonprofits the world over that include room and board. 

Above all, a successful gap year certainly doesn’t mean that there will be no bumps on the road. The most amazing result in my family’s experience is what a parent might least expect. Namely this: All three of my children say their gap year was successful not in spite of the missteps and challenges, but because of them!

Clearly, nailing resiliency is just one reason to consider a gap year. Here are some others:

Developmental Maturation. Four years of college go by quickly, and all parents want their children to use their time well as they figure out their majors and navigate a different kind of independence. But not all 18 year olds are created equal. A gap year allows kids who are less developmentally mature to grow up a bit more. Then there’s this: there is both anecdotal and increasingly quantitative research that demonstrates that gap year students out perform their non-gap-year peers.

Academic Refresh. Some kids have burned the candle at both ends during high school, and frankly, they are burned out. A gap year enables them to take a break from academic pressure and scholastic demands so they can enter college renewed and reinvigorated.

Interest Exploration. Most 18-year-olds don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. A gap year can expose them to career options, internships, personal exploration and more.

World View. We live in the most interconnected and interdependent world in our history, yet many of us know little about our global community. Gap year students fortunate enough to travel or pursue an opportunity in a different country end up with greater global awareness and often develop fluency in a foreign language. 

Tool Belt. Undeniable benefits are the skills learned, the resiliency discovered and the confidence acquired. All of these get added to the metaphoric tool belt our children need to succeed in the college environment – and beyond.

Many of the greatest gains from a gap year are intangible, and some benefits only reveal themselves as a result of the experience. My youngest son completed his gap year (and documented it on his blog) before starting college in Fall 2018. Here, in his own words, he shares the surprising things he learned that year that he simply did not expect.

1) Everyone I encountered who were also taking a gap year had their own rationale, none more significant than the other, but it was interesting to see what motivated people and how diverse the population of gap year students is.

2) I was amazed at how different foreign culture really is. Though I had traveled internationally and extensively, the opportunity to really immerse myself in foreign culture showed me that my narrow American perspective is not the only way to live life.

3) I was surprised by how much I grew as a person
and an intellectual. Most people think that a gap year is a break from the intellectual and educational world, but I found myself learning more than I ever did in a traditional school. The magic of experiential learning is real.

 Enough said.