how parents can help their kids look for a job

We’ve discussed the ways in which parents inappropriately intervene in their kids’ job search here before — filling out applications for them, calling employers on their behalf, debating rejections … all wildly inappropriate and all things that hurt, rather than help, their kids.

But there are some things parents can do that will help their job-hunting kids.

First, parents should strictly observe this list of don’ts:

1. Don’t fill out or send in job applications for your child. Not only will your adult child never learn how to do this well on her own if you take it over, but it can actually derail her in the hiring process – for instance, if the company notices that the initial application is written in a completely different writing style than subsequent communications, or if your child gets a call from an employer that she has no idea “she” applied to.

2. Don’t write your child’s cover letters for her. You can give feedback and proofread, like you might for a peer, but job seekers must write their own cover letters. Otherwise, your child risks getting hired for a job that she’s not actually a good fit for – and struggling or getting fired.

3. Never, ever contact an employer on your child’s behalf – not to ask questions about the job, not to follow up on an application, and certainly not to ask why your child didn’t get the job. Not only is this a wildly inappropriate violation of professional boundaries, but most employers will assume that if a job candidate can’t handle these items on her own, she won’t be able to handle the responsibility of the job itself.

4. Don’t accompany your child to job interviews. It’s fine to offer a ride, but don’t wait in the reception area. Job applicants need to come across as self-sufficient, independent adults, not someone being trailed by a parent.

So then what is an appropriate role for parents who want to help their kids find a job? Here are some helpful things that parents can do behind-the-scenes:

1. Talk to your new grad about what to expect in an interview – what hiring managers are typically looking for, what questions to expect, what a hiring process usually entails, and so forth. Help to demystify the process.

2. Teach your job-seeking child about professional demeanor, what to wear to an interview, the importance of punctuality, and other things that can help ease a transition into the work world. Coming from the more casual world of a college campus, new grads don’t always realize when professional norms are different from what they’re used to.

3. Help them have realistic expectations. New grads often expect the job search process to be easy (which it’s not, at least not in this market) or that their first job will be doing interesting work in their field of study. They might feel dismayed to realize that even with a college degree, their first job will be on the lowest rung of the ladder. Help them realize that this is normal, that everyone starts at the bottom, and that it takes time to work their way up.

4. Remember that job seeking conventions have changed significantlfrom what they used to be. If you haven’t done much hiring yourself in the last few years, you might inadvertently be giving your progeny outdated advice. If your advice includes telling your kid to apply in person or to call aggressively to follow up on an application, this is a sign to seek more current information!

5. Be supportive. And let your child define what supportive means. Some people want a sounding board, some want reassurance that things will be okay, and some want to talk about anything but their job search. Pay attention to your kid’s cues, and if she’s signaling you to back off, respect that.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. A Current College Student*

    Also, at least in my experience, parents can help with networking. I got an internship last summer through a friend of my parents; they mentioned to him that I was looking for an internship in computer programming and passed on to me his email. But my parents were never involved after that – I’d have been horrifically embarrassed if they had been!

  2. Elizabeth*

    Good tips. Hopefully the parents that need that advice the most will stumble on it!

    One thing I really appreciate my mother doing for me when I was job hunting was going to the mall with me to shop for an interview suit. I had never owned a suit before and so her assistance really helped.

  3. NicoleW*

    Networking has been really helpful. Even though I’m 7 years out of college, my parents still want to help. I like what I do, but not the company I work for. My dad was able to put me in touch with friends and coworkers of his who were in HR and other fields I was looking at. These weren’t necessarily companies I was applying to, more informational interviews. These contacts were great to chat with to get feedback on my resume, get suggestions for other fields where I could apply my skills, and learn more about the related industry they work in.

  4. Nethwen*

    I’m one of those people who feel most supported when my parents don’t talk about the job hunt. The idea of silence as support is counter-intuitive and so sometimes I feel rude when I’m annoyed by their “supportive” questions. I’m pleasantly surprised to see the silence-as-support option mentioned in your article.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sometimes I think very well-meaning comments can come across as pressure, and it can be really hard for parents to realize that if they’re not actively paying attention to how the kid might be taking it.

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