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Sturman: Post-College Plans

11/21/11 5:55PM
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(Host) For many parents, the holidays offer an irresistible opportunity to provide career guidance to their sons and daughters. The challenge, according to commentator and former career adviser Skip Sturman, is how to get college students to "hear you now and believe you later."

(Sturman) I recently came across an article I wrote almost twenty years ago. It was directed towards parents who were about to welcome their college students home for the holidays. The article offered some tips on how to talk to students about career decision-making.

At the time, I was working as a private career consultant, having also served as Director of Career Services at Dartmouth College. Then as now, the country was slowly recovering from a serious recession and competition was stiff for entry-level jobs.

So, with the hope that those pearls of wisdom shared long ago, still remain timely - and with the knowledge that students turn first to their parents for career advice - I resurrect the following thoughts:

First, some of the least helpful words a parent can utter this holiday season - or any time for that matter - are, "You're going to do what?" It's important to remember what it's like to be 18 to 22. How many of us knew what we were best suited for at that age?

By all means, practicality is important , especially if there are student loans to be repaid. But peer pressure already does a fine job of touting practicality. The "p" word most children long to hear from their parents is "permission", if need be, to make their own mistakes.

And contrary to popular belief, most young adults are not making lifetime decisions at age 22. At best, they are making two or three year decisions . Early exposure to a variety of work settings and early development of marketable skills - especially through internships - may lead to solid decisions come graduation time.

Think small, not in terms of aspirations but in terms of timetables. It's often disconcerting for students and parents alike to view the future as the Great Void. The best approach may be to have both sides engage in short-term goal setting. Establish some three-, six- or nine-month career planning goals that can begin during sophomore or junior year.

Introduce the big picture. Students often get so caught up in the chase to find work or get into graduate school that they forget what makes them tick. Timely reminders from parents that "you have always hated working indoors" or "you don't do well with deadlines" may be just the right reality check when tempting opportunities come to light.

Try to forget what it was like to be job-hunting 20 or 30 years ago. The rules have changed and parents may do their son or daughter a disservice if they insist on harkening back to the days when they were pounding the pavement.

One thing that has dramatically changed is the variety of career planning services now available on most college campuses. Encouraging the use of these services well before senior year may be the most supportive role a parent can play in easing the post-college transition.
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