4 steps to helping a college student find a career

Your college-age son or daughter, statistically speaking, is likely clueless about the vast range of careers on offer in the world.

Oh sure, they know what you and the spouse do, we hope, and maybe have in mind a half-dozen occupations they’ve either come into contact with or admired from afar. A survey of 600,000 teens by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found them narrowly focused on a tiny handful of occupations, from the plausible (teacher, doctor, engineer) to significantly more unlikely (designer, actor, professional musician).

If your kid is approaching college age, or already enrolled, you might have wished your heavy lifting — helping with the algebra homework, critiquing the essays — was over. But now, if you value your current or future status as a happy empty-nester (that couch; all that’s in your refrigerator; honestly, your liquor cabinet), your job is to help acquaint your adult child with the working world in all its complex glory.

Yes, it’s quite possible that your offspring isn’t taking your suggestions quite like they did a few years ago, and it might seem more comfortable to let them work all this out on their own. Unless they’re already dialed in to a high-demand, higher-income vocational track — nursing, pre-med, engineering, computer science — don’t. The country is awash in underemployed liberal arts grads, and you want to help your kid avoid a similar fate.

This list will get you and them started finding a satisfying career.

Get a job now: No matter how demanding the field of study your child is in, they should be working part-time during college. To learn to show up on time. Do what’s asked. Work with others no matter how annoying they are. It matters less what job they do at this point and, in fact, having a crummy job is a great motivator to seek a good one in the future.

Discover occupations: It’s fine to say, “Dear, ask your Uncle Al about his work as a CPA.” But it’s best to be more systematic. Bloomberg, the world’s largest business news organization, and its fabulous weekly magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, feature countless companies you and your child have probably never heard of, and those firms have jobs you’ve likely never imagined. Make it a monthly conversation (you can save up a few articles on interesting employers) to discuss what each of you has read.

Businessweek costs $99 per year, so $198 for the two of you. It’s old-fashioned to subscribe to a print publication, but having the thing land in your or your offspring’s mailbox weekly will prod you to have a look. Sound expensive? Think of the $100,000 to $200,000 you’re likely shelling out for college.

The yearly Bloomberg 50 list (Google it) profiles fast-growing employers whose business is often part of a large economic trend. Learn about legal cannabis, direct to consumer retail, the booming world of batteries and more.

And about that liberal arts major: It’s OK — even tech companies hire more of them than they do engineers. Learn all about how liberal arts grads fit into the modern economy in a book by career expert George Anders: https://www.amazon.com/You-Can-Anything-Surprising-Education/dp/0316548804

Learn to look for a job before you need one: Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder, USAJobs and more exist to match workers with jobs, but learning to sort through the literally hundreds of thousands of postings is a job itself. Your collegian has time and should spend some of it subscribing to daily and weekly emails (and then perusing them) from these services. Keywords around industry, roles, entry level, location are used to build the email you receive. Truth is, even the well-employed mid-career person should always be looking: https://www.rate.com/research/news/looking-better-job

You can post a resume on most of these platforms, too, and you should learn what to include: https://www.rate.com/research/news/include-items-resume

And what to leave out: https://www.rate.com/research/news/things-leave-off-resume

College career counseling offices: They’re only useless if you don’t use them. Your kid should be on a first-name basis with someone in this office, to inquire about internships and job fairs and career paths.

The college also might refer your kid to affinity conferences: O4U, for instance, connects high-achieving LGBTQ+ undergraduates to top employers. ALPFA helps support Latino leaders at any stage of their careers.

Once your offspring begins to think of college as, golly, a place to prepare for a career, they may want to spend more time with like-minded classmates, chat up professors and guest speakers in the outside world, and generally geek out on the job market.

You’ll only know if you ask, repeatedly. If you find yourself losing motivation, and cowering in the face of young adult pushback, think of your couch.