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A Career Planning Course for Parents

Your son or daughter just left for (or returned to) college but doesn't seem to have a clue as to what he or she wants to major in, let alone choose as a career. Don't worry, this is not unusual, although you might wish your child had a little more sense of direction. 

Choosing a career is a process students need to go through—and they go through the stages of this process at different rates of speed. The steps include: 

  1. assessing skills, interests, and abilities (an important first step to choosing an appropriate career);
  2. exploring majors and career options;
  3. experimenting with possible career options; and
  4. organizing and conducting a job or graduate school search. 

You can assist and support your child in each of these stages. But what can—or should—you do? 

Here's your own career planning timetable. 

Careers 101—for parents of first-year students

During their first year or so of college, students will be involved (formally or informally) in assessing their skills, interests, and abilities. They will do this through finding success (or failure) in courses they take, involvement in campus activities, discussions with their friends and faculty, and by being exposed to and trying out different ideas and experiences. 

Most students enter college with a very limited knowledge of the vast array of courses and majors available to them. When they begin to delve into studies that are new to them, even those who entered with a plan may be drawn to different options. This is an exciting time for students.

What you can do to help

  • Support your child's exploration of new areas of study and interests. This, after all, is what education is all about.
  • Affirm what you know to be areas of skill and ability he or she has consistently demonstrated. Sometimes students overlook these and need to be reminded.
  • Talk with your son or daughter about the courses and activities he or she is enjoying. Students discover new things about themselves throughout the college experience. Your willingness to listen and be a sounding board will keep you in the loop.
  • Don't panic if your child is excited about majoring in something like English, history, or art. These can be excellent choices, particularly if they are a good match for a student's interests and skills.
  • Support your son or daughter's responsible involvement in campus activities but urge this to be balanced with maintaining achievement in the classroom.
  • Urge your child to seek assistance in the campus career center. Most institutions have assessment instruments and counselors to help students to define their skills, interests, and abilities.

Careers 201—For parents of second-year students

Generally, during the second year of college, a student begins to explore majors and career options more seriously. Many colleges and universities require that new students take a broad range of subjects to promote this exploration. 

What you can do to help

  • Don't insist upon a decision about a major or possible career choice immediately. If you sense that your child’s indecision is a barrier to positive progress, urge that he or she look for assistance in the career center. Students often have difficulty making a "final" choice because they fear they may close off options and make a wrong choice.
  • Suggest that your son or daughter talk with faculty and career advisers about potential choices.
  • Direct your child to family, friends, or colleagues who are in fields in which he or she has an interest. "Informational interviewing" with people can be extremely helpful at this stage.
  • Steer your child toward a source of information. Many campuses have a career consultant or mentoring network of alumni in various career fields who are willing to share information with students about their careers. These resources are invaluable both in this exploratory stage and later as students are seeking internships and jobs.

Careers 301—For parents of "mid-career" students

During the sophomore year and throughout the junior year, it is important for students to experiment with possible career options. They can do this in a variety of ways: internships, cooperative education programs, summer jobs, campus jobs, and responsible volunteer experiences both on campus and in the local community. This is a critical time for your support and understanding.

What you can do to help

  • Encourage your child to use the resources available at the campus career center. Experts there can assist your child in preparing a good resume and finding opportunities to test career choices. Most career centers are in direct contact with employers.
  • Tell your child that you understand the importance of gaining exposure to and experience in his or her field of career interest. Broadening experience through involvement outside the classroom is a valuable use of time.
  • Internships or summer experiences may be non-paying. Also, a good opportunity may be in a distant location. Discuss your financial expectations with your child before a commitment is made.
  • Don't conduct the internship or summer job search for your child. It's a great help to provide networking contacts or names of people who may be helpful; however, making the contact and speaking for your child deprives him or her of an important learning experience—and may make a poor impression on the future employer.

Careers 401—For parents of graduating seniors

The senior year is when organizing and conducting a job search or graduate school search begins in earnest. It is also a time when students are heavily involved in more advanced courses and often have more responsible roles in campus and/or volunteer activities. Balancing these important pursuits and setting priorities is a constant challenge for seniors. 

You are probably anxious for this young adult to make a decision—and yet, he or she may be moving toward closure more slowly than you would wish. 

What you can do to help

  • Suggest that he or she use the campus career center throughout the senior year. These offices provide assistance in preparation for the job search. Offerings may include:
    • Workshops and individual help with resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, and other
      job-search skills,
    • Individual and group career advising,
    • Job-search resources,
    • On-campus interviewing opportunities, and,
    • Alumni career consultant or mentor programs.
  • Don't nag your child about not having a job yet. This will often have the reverse effect. Use positive reinforcement.
  • Offer to assist by sending information you may have found about your child’s target career field and/or job listings that may be of interest. Listen for indications from your child that you are getting carried away—and back off.
  • Don't call potential employers to intervene for your child. Contact with potential employers is the candidate's responsibility.
  • Be prepared to support your child through the ups and downs of the job and graduate school search. It can be a bumpy road—not every desired job or graduate school acceptance will come through. Your student will need reassurance that for every door that closes, another opens. 
  •  

Final Thoughts

The college years are a time of exploration, experimentation, and learning on many levels for students and their parents! Some student challenges may seem more positive than others, but all contribute to the educational outcomes of the college or university experience. 

Throughout these years, students are developing a "record of achievement" that will be evaluated by employers and graduate schools as they move beyond college. There are several pieces of this record: 

  • Academic achievement. The grade point average (GPA) is one factor considered by competitive employers and graduate schools. It is one of the few tangible indications of a student's ability to learn and perform effectively, at least in the academic environment. Therefore, students need to do as well as possible in the classroom, especially in courses in their majors.
  • Responsible work experience. In today's competitive employment market, many employers seek students who have related internship, summer, cooperative education, or part-time job or volunteer experiences. In fact, employers often look to their own such programs as primary sources for their new hires. These experiences are particularly critical for liberal arts students whose majors may not appear to be directly related to their areas of career interest.
  • Responsible involvement outside the classroom. Extracurricular activities provide the opportunity for students to gain many valuable and career-related skills, such as the ability to work effectively with others in a team environment; leadership; planning and organizational skills; and priority-setting and time management. These are part of the package of skills employers seek in their new hires.

Best of luck to you in navigating the challenging waters of parenting a college or university student. 

By Sally Kearsley. Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder. www.naceweb.org 

 
A Parents' Guide to Career Development

The most valuable things parents can do to help a student with career planning are:

  • Listen
  • Be open to ideas
  • Help your student find information

Here are eight more things you can do to help:

1. Encourage your child to visit the career center (and you go too!)
Next time you visit campus, drop into the career services office and pick up a business card from one of the career counselors. When your son or daughter is feeling anxious about his/her future, offer the card and say, "Please call this person. He (or she) can help you."

Many students use their first semester to "settle into" college life, and so the spring semester of the freshman year is the optimal time to start using career center services. Ask your student (in an off-handed way), "Have you visited the career center?" If you hear, "You only go there when you are a senior," then it's time to reassure him/her that meeting with a career counselor can take place at any point—and should take place frequently—through out a college career.

Many centers offer a full range of career development and job-search help, including:

  • Mock interviews
  • A network of alumni willing to talk about their jobs and careers
  • A library of books (including an online library of information) on a wide range of careers
  • Workshops on writing resumes and cover letters
  • A recruiting program
  • Individual advising

2. Advise your student to write a resume
Writing a resume can be a "reality test" and can help a student identify weak areas that require improvement. Suggest that your student get sample resumes from the career center.

You can review resume drafts for grammar, spelling, and content, but recommend that the final product be critiqued by a career center professional.

3. Challenge your student to become "occupationally Iiterate."
Ask: "Do you have any ideas about what you might want to do when you graduate?"

If your student seems unsure, you can talk about personal qualities you see as talents and strengths. You can also recommend:

  • Taking a "self-assessment inventory," such as the Myers-Briggs Type
  • Talking to favorite faculty members
  • Researching a variety of interesting career fields and employers

A career decision should be a process and not a one-time, last-minute event.

4. Emphasize the importance of internships
The career center will not "place" your child in a job at graduation. Colleges grant degrees, but not job guarantees, so having relevant experience in this competitive job market is critical.

Your son or daughter can sample career options by completing internships and experimenting with summer employment opportunities or volunteer work.

Why an internship?

  • Employers are interested in communication, problem-solving, and administrative skills, which can be developed through internships.
  • Employers look for experience on a student's resume and often hire from within their own internship programs.
  • Having a high GPA is not enough.
  • A strong letter of recommendation from an internship supervisor may tip the scale of an important interview in their favor.

5. Encourage extracurricular involvement
Part of experiencing college life is to be involved and active outside the classroom. Interpersonal and leadership skills—qualities valued by future employers—are often developed in extracurricular activities.

6. Help your student to stay up-to-date with current events
Employers will expect students to know what is happening around them. Buy your student a subscription to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

7. Teach the value of networking
Introduce your student to people who have the careers/jobs that are of interest. Suggest your son or daughter contact people in your personal and professional networks for information on summer jobs. Encourage your child to "shadow" someone in the workplace to increase awareness of interesting career fields.

8. Help the career center
Call your campus career center when you have a summer, part-time, or full-time job opening. The staff will help you find a hard-working student. If your company hires interns, have the internships listed in the career center. Join the campus career center's career advisory network and use your "real world" experience to advise students of their career options. 

By Thomas J. Denham. Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.


Help Your New Grad Find a Job

As parents of graduates facing a tough job market, what can you do to assist your son or daughter in transitioning from the secure world of classes and residence halls to the unknown reality of what lies ahead? Here are some suggestions: 

Ask how you can help.
Your son or daughter may have specific ideas about ways you can assist. Your editing skills may be the second pair of eyes needed to critique a resume; your managerial skills could be useful as a mock interviewer; your research skills might uncover some new job leads. Think about how your role as something other than mom or dad could be helpful. 

But don’t be pushy: Let your new grad take the lead. 

Suggest a visit to the campus career center. 
The campus career center provides a wealth of job search resources—job postings, career fairs, resume assistance, and career counseling, just to name a few. Make sure your son or daughter is aware of the office. If your new grad isn’t near his or her alma mater, suggest that he/she call the career services offices at local colleges and ask if help is available. 

Offer networking contacts.
Networking is one of the most effective ways to find a job. With your child’s permission, talk to your co-workers about your son or daughter’s job search. Discuss it with neighbors and friends. You never know who may know of a job opportunity. 

Be ready to hear new ideas.
Your new grad may mention attending graduate school or raise a new career goal. Listen to new ideas with an open mind, making positive suggestions when appropriate. Ask open-ended questions to show your son or daughter that you’re interested—and the answers will help your new grad think through the new ideas. 

Provide a sounding board when frustrations overflow.
The nightly news about unemployment is stressful. Imagine trying to complete your studies and conduct a job search, too. If your child calls to talk, but really needs to vent, listen. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all. 

Give an early graduation present with the job search in mind.
Don’t wait until May to say congratulations. Now is a great time to give a graduation present that will be used during the job search and first year on the job. Looking for ideas? Interview suits, briefcases, portfolios, and memory sticks are great gifts for the new grad. 

Reassure your new grad that a tough job market is temporary.
The ebb and flow of the economy is constant, and brighter days lie ahead. You’ve likely experienced similar ups and downs. Convey your experience to your new grad. 

Look and listen for signs of depression.
If your son or daughter talks about skipping class, exhaustion, or loss of appetite, he or she might need some help. If your student is still on campus, contact appropriate campus representatives (residence life offices, counseling centers, and so forth) for help. 

Remind your new grad that you are proud of his or her accomplishments.
A sour economy should not take away the success of earning a college degree. Be sure your son or daughter knows that you are proud of this achievement. Send a card or make a phone call to specifically convey this message.

by Kelli Robinson. Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.  

 

 

What Parents of Prospective College Students Should Know

Get insight into 10 career-related items so you can help your son or daughter plan for a career.    

1. Choosing a career/choosing a major

Security vs. adventure. Accountant, Peace Corps volunteer, journalist, college professor.  

Ultimately, your son or daughter should make the choice. Of course, you may want to mention factors to consider, such as job-market demand, salary ranges, long-range opportunities, skills required, and so forth. Just because an occupation is "hot" now does not mean it will be equally in demand in 10 years, or that your child has the aptitude or motivation for it. 

2. Choosing to double major/choosing a major and minor

Most employers do not place a premium on a double major. It usually requires an extra one or two semesters to obtain a second major and does not particularly enhance a student's marketability. Exceptions would be a second major or a major and minor chosen for a specific career, such as English and chemistry for technical writing, or a health policy major and business minor for hospital administration. Of course, some students may choose to double major primarily for academic/intellectual purposes. 

3. Grade point average (GPA)

Some students who get off to a rocky start eventually pull up their grades; however, this can be difficult to do. Advanced placement credits and study-abroad courses generally do not count in the computation of a student's GPA.  

Some employers use GPA cutoffs in considering applicants for job openings. Others stress the student's overall background: experience, number of hours worked during the school year to finance college, leadership activities, and other key skills or attributes. Encourage your son or daughter to make academics a high priority beginning with the freshman year. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that it may take him or her a while to adjust to the rigorous academic demands of college. 

4. Obtaining marketable skills

Most employers today put more emphasis on graduates' skills than on their academic majors. Encourage your son or daughter to develop strengths in at least two or three of the following areas:

  • Quantitative skills (e.g., accounting, statistics, economics);
  • Communication skills (e.g., written and oral);
  • Marketing/selling skills (e.g., sales, publicity, fundraising);
  • Scientific skills (e.g., lab skills, scientific research);
  • Leadership skills (e.g., supervisory, extracurricular leadership roles, teamwork/team leader).

5. Leadership activities

Many employers rate leadership activities even more highly than GPA. Students who were very active in high school activities may be less involved in college extracurricular activities. However, employers regard high school as "ancient history" for a college senior. It is more valuable for a student to be involved in a few meaningful leadership roles on campus than to be in a "laundry list" of many campus clubs. 

6. Experience

You may want your son or daughter to work in his or her hometown every summer. However, the experience gained as a lifeguard or ice cream shop counter clerk does not compare to that which comes from an internship in the career field that he or she aspires to enter. Future employers will seek graduates with relevant, real-world work experience. Some students have little to write about on a resume if their summers were spent in school, traveling, or working at low-level jobs. We strongly suggest that students seek career-related experience for their sophomore and junior summers. 

7. Graduating early, graduating late

Some students graduate early through advanced placement credits, heavy course loads, and summer school courses. The advantages are lower educational expenses, and the ability to start employment or graduate school earlier. The disadvantages may include the sacrifice of academic honors, work experience, and extracurricular and volunteer activities that may contribute to a student's maturity level and qualifications.  

Other students graduate late due to light course loads, academic difficulties, changing majors, poor academic advising, lack of direction, or reluctance to leave the cocoon of the college environment. Advantages to late graduation include the ability to improve grades with light class loads, extra time to change majors, the ability to take additional electives to improve marketability, and extra time to gain more career-related or leadership experience. Disadvantages to late graduation are increased college costs, and possible disapproval of employers and graduate schools. 

8. Planning for graduate/professional school

Students aspiring to graduate or professional school should:  

  • Be clear about the reasons they want to go on for further education; 
  • Research the qualifications required for admission and be realistic about their chances of acceptance; and 
  • Have a "Plan B" or back-up plan in case they are not accepted. 

Students should discuss their interest in graduate or professional school well before their senior year with their academic adviser; the college's graduate or professional school adviser (e.g., the pre-law or pre-med adviser); and a college career adviser to obtain advice and guidance from three different perspectives. 

9. Taking time off

Many students want to take time off after college graduation and before attending graduate school or taking a career-related job. Future employers will want to know how the student has spent the intervening time. Do activities during this period demonstrate relevance to future career goals and/or a good work ethic?  

While short-term travel may be personally broadening, it does not increase a student's marketability to employers unless it is seen as career related. Therefore, the time off may result in a longer job search. For example, management trainee programs, which often begin shortly after graduation and hire large numbers of new graduates, may be filled by the time your child is ready to begin a job search. 

10. Using the college career center

Students should visit the career center no later than their sophomore year. Most career centers provide individual career counseling/advising, workshops, internship assistance, and career fairs and programs—services designed specifically for underclassmen. 

Your son or daughter should seek help early with choosing a career and preparing for it. Competition for good jobs, particularly in certain fields, is stiff. The career center can advise students about how to become strong candidates for their fields of interest. 

By Marcia B. Harris and Sharon L. Jones. Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder. www.naceweb.org.