Most parents have a genuine concern for their son or daughter making informed career decisions, but parents are not always the most objective career counselors. Students don't appreciate being badgered about their career plans. However, parents can listen, be open to ideas and try to help them find information. Here are ten ways parents can help:
1. Encourage them to visit the career center
Most college students don't know what they want to do with the rest of their lives and they are rarely interested in the career services office until the last minute. As a parent, you should become knowledgeable about the many services the career center offers. Gently ask them, "Have you visited the career center?" They may respond by saying, "You only go there when you are a senior." The discussion that follows should not be heavy on content, but do reassure them that career services is not just for seniors, and meeting with a career counselor can relieve a lot of stress later.
2. Advise them to write their resume
Having them write their own resume can be a "reality test" and can help identify weak areas that require improvement. Be sure that they have it critiqued by a career center professional.
3. Challenge them to become "Occupationally Literate"
Carefully ask your son or daughter "Any ideas about what you want to do when you graduate?" This is not your opportunity to nag. If they seem unsure, highlight their assets and strengths. If they appear "clueless", recommend that they get more focused by taking self-assessment inventories. Since a career decision is a process and not an event, discourage them from putting this off until their senior year.
4. Let them make their own decisions
While it is helpful for you to ask about their status, too much prodding can backfire. Make suggestions about majors and career fields, but let them be the ultimate judge. Finding out what they want to do is a lengthy process that evolves. It's okay if they change majors. Many students end up doing something very different than originally planned, so don't freak out when they come up with an outrageous or impractical career idea. Chances are plans will develop and change. Be patient, sympathetic and understanding, even if you don't agree with their decisions.
5. Emphasize the importance of internships
Since colleges grant degrees, but not job guarantees, having relevant experience in this competitive job market is critical. Your son or daughter should sample their career options by completing internships. Having a high GPA is not the be all and end all.
6. Support their extracurricular involvement
Part of college life is to be involved outside the classroom where interpersonal and leadership skills can be developed. Parents need to provide supportive motivation and resist the urge to provide strong recommendations or criticism.
7. Persuade them to stay up-to-date with current events
In our global society, employers will expect that students know what is happening around them. Buy your student a subscription to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Discuss with them some of the major issues.
8. Expose them to the world of work
Most students have a stereotypical view of the workplace. Show your son or daughter what you do for a living. Help them identify organizations of interest to them and engage them in career discussions. Perhaps after experiencing a particular workplace they might recognize the need internships or for a graduate degree.
9. Teach them the value of networking
Help them establish contacts by introducing them to people you know in careers that interest them. Teach them how to network by allowing them to watch you interact with colleagues. Suggest that they contact people in your personal and professional networks for information on summer jobs. Encourage them to "shadow" someone you know in the workplace to increase awareness of career fields of interest.
10. Help the career center
Call your campus career center when you have an internship, summer, part-time or full-time job opening. The staff will help you find a hard working student or graduate. Each year career centers work with dozens of employers eager to hire college students and graduates from their recruiting programs. Join the campus career center's career advisory network and use your "real world" experience to advise students of their career options, or participate in a career panel or workshop.