Hello parents! Perhaps your college student was home for Thanksgiving? If so, we hope the holiday was full of good cheer, family and, for your student, sleep. Our guess is that you were interested in having conversations with your student about their future, especially if they are seniors. For some of you these were great conversations and you are feeling comfortable that your college student has a viable plan for moving into a career, and that they are starting to execute it. For others this was a less productive conversation and you are still concerned. You are worried that they don’t have a plan, that they are not yet sure what they want, and that they are too overwhelmed to figure out how to get there from here.
Making the transition from college to their careers is challenging. Even the most confident of college students feel that they are not fully prepared for the next step. As parents you walk a bit of a tightrope. You are clearly not the driver in this situation and it is important to understand that. We recommend working towards the status of trusted advisor, one of many. Someone who listens, someone who is respectful of their thoughts and concerns and someone who has experience that they can benefit from.
We want to share some warning signs that should raise some red or at least yellow flags of concern that your student is avoiding this transition.
1. They tell you they are thinking of staying another semester to add a double major or second minor. I understand that sometimes they are so close to having a double major or a second minor. But having listened to these stories and rationales for quite some time now, I can say with confidence – they almost always mask a huge amount of anxiety about getting out into the world of work and presenting themselves as job-ready. Unfortunately, another semester at college does not do much to make them a more attractive job candidate. And a second minor, achieved through an extra semester, is rarely as compelling as a well-prepared candidate who knows what they want, can sell their accomplishments and can convince a hiring manager that they will add value to their organization.
What can parents do? Expect them to do the work they would be doing if they were not going to stay another semester. Expect that they will build a network and job shadow people in their field of interest, learn how to interview well and develop a strong resume. Ultimately they need to convince you that this is a valuable use of time and resources and not just a delay of game tactic.
2. They have not done an internship or job shadowed anyone in their identified field of interest. Often students tell their parents that they are going to work in a research lab, or get a job in financial services, or work in a software company, etc. But often there is no real evidence that they know what that work entails, and whether it would actually be work they would enjoy and be good at. Sometimes they are just throwing out a direction to have something to say as more and more people start asking them “So Ryan, you will be graduating this year, what do you plan on doing after graduation?”
What can parents do? Start talking with them early about internships. In today’s very competitive marketplace, strong stories about an internship helps to differentiate a candidate. Expect that they work with career services and/or their professors to identify appropriate internship experiences. If they are seniors and it is too late for an internship because of course requirements etc., encourage them to do as much informational interviewing and job shadowing as possible so that they develop a strong understanding of what a job in their field of interest actually looks like day-to-day.
3. They tell you they want to go right to graduate school. While there are a few (very few) careers where it makes sense to go to graduate school right after college, too often today’s students are postponing figuring out what they want to do by going to graduate school. We are particularly alarmed when a student can’t tell us what experience they have had that allows them to be confident that this degree will lead them to a job where they will thrive. The experience we look for includes summer jobs in the field, internships, or at least substantial job shadowing, as evidence that this is a well-thought our move. Most college graduates benefit greatly from a couple of years of work experience before they go to graduate school. Their graduate school experience is much richer when they can bring real world experience to the next phase of their education.
What can parents do? Ask probing questions re: the kinds of work they would do when they graduate. Ask them to speak with professionals they admire (not just professors) to get their feedback on graduate school and timing. Google “Is graduate school immediately after college a good idea” to get a sense of the pros and cons, and the dangers of using graduate school to avoid figuring out what they want. Suggest that your student do the same.
4. They do not have a strong resume or a LinkedIn profile set up. They can’t be ready to launch their careers without both of these. A resume is an obvious tool and one of the first ways that they will be judged by prospective employers and even by people who could be of assistance to them as they get started. Excellent resumes tell a story about the individual and prepare an interviewer to ask the questions that will highlight his or her strongest accomplishments and attributes. LinkedIn has quickly become a required place for business people to present themselves to the broader professional universe. If their resume is well-done, creating a LinkedIn profile is not difficult, but understanding how to use it takes a bit of learning and this is what turns LinkedIn into a powerful business tool.
What can parents do? Expect that they have these tools, have them yourselves, offer to help if you are able and if you are not, point them in the direction of people who can help. Ooh and ah when they get it right!
Contact us for more ideas to help your college student successfully launch their career.