How Parents Can Help Their Kids Look for a Job

Never write any material like cover letters for your children.

By + More

TH_OV_alisongreen.jpg
Alison Green
With so many young people having trouble finding jobs in this difficult market, many parents are struggling with how best to help their kids navigate the post-college job search.

Among hiring managers, horror stories abound about parents who overstep professional boundaries in the name of helping their kids: parents who write their kids’ cover letters for them, call the employer with questions about the job, and even try to negotiate salary on the kid’s behalf! While these behaviors are intended to help, they actually end up hurting—sometimes even destroying—the child’s chances.

[See The 50 Best Careers for 2011.]

So let’s take a look at what parents should and shouldn’t do when they’re trying to help a job-searching child.

First, here's a list of things parents should never do:

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, the company could notice that the initial application is written in a completely different writing style than subsequent communications, and that will raise red flags.

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 he or she is not actually a good fit for—and in the end he or she may struggle or get fired.

3. Never, ever contact an employer on your child’s behalf. Don't call to ask questions about the job, to follow up on an application, or 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.

[See 6 Ways to Stand out in a Tough Job Market.]

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. Discuss what hiring managers are typically looking for, what questions to expect, what a hiring process usually entails, and so forth. Try to help demystify the process.

2. Teach your job-seeking child about professional demeanor. That includes explaining to them 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.

[See 10 Surefire Ways to Annoy a Hiring Manager.]

4. Remember that job search has changed significantly. If you haven’t looked for a new job for 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. 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 he or she signaling you to back off, respect that.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.