Helping Johnny Find a Job – Career Advice for Johnny’s Parents
Over the past five years, I have helped more than two hundred new graduates prepare to market themselves for their first job, and I can tell you that some of them are woefully unprepared for the job search. It isn’t just that they don’t know how to write a resume or how to behave in an interview. It’s that they lack basic work skills and life experiences, and this puts them at a huge disadvantage over others in their peer group, especially in today’s job market.
Before I go on, I want to set the record straight. I’m not normally one for ‘shoulding’ on parents. Child rearing is hard enough without having a whole lot of experts tell us everything we are doing wrong. I know from personal experience that we are doing the best we can while mostly flying by the seat of our pants.
But several incidents over the past two months have put me into full-blown “what were your parents thinking” mode:
- The following question was posted on Careerealism’s Twitter Advice Project: “Q# 367 I’ve taken all the tests and can’t find a single job I’m excited about. I can’t imagine a job I would find interesting and no amount of money will drive me to do work that I hate. How does one turn around their complete distaste for work?” (My response: Try going hungry for a while. It can turn around your complete distaste for work pretty fast. )
- I had a consultation with a soon-to-be university graduate who has absolutely no work experience. I mean zero. Never worked a day in his life, either for pay or in a volunteer capacity. “My parents told me getting an education was my job.” He (and they) can’t understand why recruiters aren’t beating a path to his door.
- I came to the startling realization that by the age of twelve I was riding the Toronto subway system on my own, while my soon-to-be-twelve year old son is still not allowed off our street alone (granted, our street is a dead-end country lane that connects to an 80 k/ph road with no sidewalks, and the nearest town is 5 kms away, but still).
- I witnessed the completely avoidable failure of a business venture that was launched by a young woman who, at the age of 32, has been rescued by her father from every single roadblock in her life, and has never discovered the need to negotiate, compromise, or develop a business plan.
- I read an article about the negative impact that helicopter parents are having on their children’s job prospects, which included an anecdote about a father who hired a PR firm to complete his nine year old’s school project.
Motivated by these incidents and my experience as a career coach, psychotherapist and parent, I have created my very own
Top-ten ‘should’ list for parents who want to prepare their children for career success.
- Networking & Communicating: By the time your child is 3, stop answering on their behalf in social situations. Too many mothers (and fathers) are tempted to jump in when an adult asks their child a question. Don’t. Good communication skills – the ability to hold a conversation, respond intelligently to questions, ask for customer service, stand up for one’s thoughts and ideas, actively listen while others are speaking – are invaluable life skills that should be learned almost as soon as we can talk. They are the foundations of good networking, and are essential to landing a job.
- Dreaming & Planning: Don’t squash every enthusiastic but impractical idea that your child comes up with. Encourage them to think it through, and help them work out solutions to potential obstacles. As in the adult world, much of the fun is in the dreaming rather than the doing, and in the process of exploring an idea your child will learn for themselves what is practical, what is improbable, and what is possible if you have the right tools, information and attitude.
- Money & Financial Management: It is never too early to start teaching children the basics of money management and the power of delayed gratification over impulse spending. Understanding how money works is essential no matter which career path you choose.
- Fail. Learn. Grow: Don’t try to shelter your child from every painful experience, or rescue them from every mistake. One of the most valuable gifts you can give your child is the knowledge that there are consequences for their decisions, and that from our failures we are given the chance to learn, develop inner fortitude, and survive, overcome, move on.
- Contribute to the Community: By the age of 13, your child should be volunteering somewhere. Whether its in an animal shelter, a church, or a service organization, your child needs to have the awareness that “it’s not all about me.”
- Start Early to Develop Work Skills: Nobody should hit the double digits without knowing how to prepare a basic meal or do a load of laundry. By the age of 15, your child should have a part-time job. If they can’t find a job with somebody else, they can start their own business – babysitting services, tutoring, yardwork, dog walking. Yes, your child’s priority is their education, but some of the most important lessons in life can only be learned outside of the classroom (the correlation between hard work and income ranking high among them). Your child is less than enthusiastic about the idea? Think about cutting them off financially. At a minimum they should be paying for all or part of their entertainment costs, their cell phone fees, their gonna-die-if-I-don’t-get-it-right-now toys and accessories. Ideally, they should be saving for the future.
- Experience Sweat-Inducing Hard Work: At some point between grade 9 and university graduation, steer your child (and especially your daughter) toward a summer job that requires physical stamina – planting trees in backwoods Canada, swilling manure out of barns, painting houses. Why? They will discover that they are stronger than they think, and they will learn why tenacity matters. They will acquire personal stories that are the stuff of legends. And (from my personal experience), every job they get after that will seem like a breeze by comparison.
- Take a High School Victory Lap: If your high school graduate is vague about their university/college goals, don’t push them. One in six university students will drop out before they start their second year. With tuition fees of $10k+ annually, you both can afford to give them an extra year so that they can get clear on their goals. But make sure the year is spent productively. Use it to work, contribute in the community, learn a new skill, travel.
- Study Business Fundamentals: Regardless of one’s major or ultimate career objective, every student will benefit from taking at least one business-related course. Ideally, it should involve a practical project that requires team work and is based on a real-world case study. Even artists and writers need to understand business fundamentals, if they don’t want to be at the mercy of unscrupulous agents.
- Learn Another Language: We live in a multicultural world, and jobs in the future will require the agility to navigate a multicultural business environment. Those who can think in more than one language will have a distinct advantage. Notice that I say think, not speak. Ask anybody who speaks more than one language, and they will tell you that they think differently, depending on which language they use. There are some thoughts, some ideas, some concepts, that can’t be expressed as well in English as in, say, French, or Spanish. Even if English continues to predominate as the language of business, learning how to think from another cultural perspective will be critical for building bridges to international clients and developing global business partnerships.
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Meet Karen Siwak
An award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions, and she is passionate about empowering clients with the tools, strategies and confidence to take control of their career search. Read more...
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