How To Do Life

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How to Help Your Unemployed or Underemployed Adult Child

Often, a parent is needed to jump-start a young adult’s career. Here’s how.

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Today, so many young adults are living with their parents, including those with college degrees. According to a report in The Atlantic, as of 2012, 53.6 percent of college graduates under 25 were unemployed or doing work that doesn’t require a college degree.

And to their parents’ frustration, many such young adults aren’t exactly killing themselves to find professional-level work. They may work as a barista or cab driver but their parents didn’t spend a fortune on college for that. 

Helping your child choose a career

Unless your child is a go-getter, you might suggest these relatively easy approaches:

  • Play around on ONetOnlne, CareerOneStop or MyNextMove, which have self-assessments linked to profiles of careers. If your child is interested in a job or internship in government, there’s Pathways.
  • Scan a book that profiles lots of careers, for example, the authoritative Occupational Outlook Handbook and/or (bias alert!:) my book, Cool Careers for Dummies, which offers quick hits and one or more URLs for additional info on 500 careers, many under-the-radar. Or simply scan the index of your Yellow Pages.
  • You set up informational interviews for your child with your friends and relatives.

For many people, there is no one career that is a much better fit than are other careers.  Especially in those situations, it isn’t wrong to invite your child to consider your career, especially if you like it and are good at it. Your child may have inherited your genetic predispositions and so may be more likely to be good at it—Think of all the professional athletes whose children became professional athletes. And you’ll be able to teach them the Inside Baseball that outsiders don’t as easily acquire. Plus, you may have connections that could open a door for your child. Some kids don’t like to use their parents' connections but the following sort of explanation may persuade:

It is extremely difficult to land your first professional job on your own, especially now with the oversupply of college-degree holders at the same time as employers are automating and off-shoring ever more jobs. So millions of young adults rely on their parents to open a door. You’ll have to walk through that door and succeed on your own. I’m merely giving you the chance to prove yourself. And when you’re a parent, you’ll want to do the same for your kid.

 Helping your child land a launchpad job

Who knows? Maybe your child now is finally on fire, having created an irresistible LinkedIn profile, resume, and job applications, networking and cold-contacting dozens of employers. If not, you may be needed to light said fire under your child. Apart from further tapping your connections, here’s what that might look like:

1. Ask your child how s/he feels about your becoming their loving taskmaster, a gentle, tactful, but effective nag. Assuming you get some measure of permission, you might do one or more of the following:

2. Get your child’s butt out of bed and at the desk by 9 AM.

3. Get your child to make a to-do list that will fill at least four hours each day: finding and making contacts, a webinar to gain some important skill, research target employers, write customized compelling cover letters, etc.

4. Monitor. If you’re at work, call every couple hours or at least have your child log his or her time. Of course, s/he can cheat but that monitoring may work, at least work well enough. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

5. Review drafts of cover letters, resume, and LinkedIn profile. Do not rewrite them—That conveys the message that expedience trumps ethics. Do, however, note major weaknesses and ask your child how s/he wants to address them. Doing that not only engenders integrity but conveys the message that you believe s/he has the ability to land a job without someone doing his or her work.

6. If it becomes clear that more schooling will significantly enhance your child’s employability in her chosen field, if you can afford it, offer to pay the lion’s share. Many kids feel guilty about hitting up their parents for another fortune when they haven’t shown they’ve benefitted sufficiently from parents spending the first fortune. But in today’s era of degree proliferation, alas, more education may indeed be necessary for candidates who otherwise would not shine.

Do at least some of these things and when your child lands a job, not only will you likely be relieved that s/he can finally afford to move to their own apartment, it can often be a shared success that can restore or deepen the bond between you and your child.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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