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Execs Help Their College-Grad Kids to Launch Careers

October 23, 2008
Related Topics: Career Development, Employee Career Development, Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
Parents like to offer their children help in most everything they do, whether it’s fifth-grade math or the perfect technique for shooting a free throw.

That desire to lend a hand even extends past the college years as these now-grown children launch their first meaningful job search. Experts laud folks who reach out to their Gen Y offspring, but advise parents to bone up a bit on job hunting in the new millennium. After all, they note, looking for a job these days bears little resemblance to the time when Mom and Pop initiated their first big job search.

"Parents need to recognize that 2008 is not 1978," says John Salveson, a principal of Philadelphia executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group. "They must understand it’s a different world for young people today. Careers are going to be radically different for them—serial, more global, more flexible, more independent."

Salveson has four tips for parents who want to help their college-graduate children:

• Teach the nonlinear concept of networking.

• You are your child’s best networking resource.

• Connect them to trusted, independent advisors.

• Help your children figure out who they are and what they want.

Allan McKisson, vice president of human resources for staffing giant Manpower, helped his son understand networking. Chris graduated in 2006 from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in environmental science. His goal was to live and work in Santa Cruz, California.

McKisson advised Chris that when networking, it’s important to be likable, have strong interpersonal skills and be clear about his goals. So Chris applied for a job at a golf resort in Santa Cruz. Based on a similar position he had held at the Boulder Country Club, Chris was hired immediately.

Don’t see a connection between environmental science and golf? That’s where the nonlinear networking came in.

"After Chris had been on the job [at the golf resort] for about nine months, he started networking with the members," McKisson said. "Through that networking, Chris got a reference to a small environmental consulting company. He went to work for them in May 2007."

Salveson’s second tip is that you are your child’s best networking source. Salveson proved that when he introduced his daughter, Kate, to people with whom she could discuss career options. Kate graduated in 2007 from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in psychology and a minor in art and was considering careers in art therapy or human resources.

"She talked to people about art therapy and found that she’d have to have an advanced degree and there were no jobs," Salveson says. "So she abandoned that and pursued recruiting instead. She also learned about consulting companies who hire smart people from the Ivys without business degrees for entry-level jobs to learn the business."

Kate found a job a year ago through one of Salveson’s contacts. "She loves it," he says.

Salveson also urges referring children to trusted independent advisors. It’s how John Sorci, vice president of global operations at information storage and solutions company Symantec, helped his son, Paul.

As a senior in high school, Paul had difficulty choosing between architecture and civil engineering for college.

"I took him to lunch with two civil engineers and also [introduced him] to the president of an architectural engineering firm," Sorci says.

The civil engineers discussed how their discipline differs from architecture. The president of the architectural firm, whom Sorci and Paul met in his high-rise office, pointed to a toll bridge and told Paul, "The toll-takers on the bridge made more than starting architects," Sorci says. Paul chose civil engineering.

When Paul was a college senior, he and Sorci lunched with the same two engineers, who discussed the range of options for new civil engineering graduates.

"I told Paul to interview as much as possible with many different companies," Sorci says. Paul did that, finding a job with a large civil engineering company with varied projects. Today, Paul works part time for the company, which is paying him to obtain a master’s degree.

Salveson recommends helping children discover what they want to do. Steve Vesce, managing director of Endgame Advisors, didn’t need to help his children find jobs, but he enjoys helping the children of friends and colleagues meet their job goals.

Vesce has a process. First, he asks new graduates what they don’t want to do and then what they do want to do. "My favorite question is to ask them if a genie comes out of a lamp and you could do anything you want, what would it be?" he says. "I use that as a platform to identify what they love about, for example, being a musician, or what they find attractive about their ideal professional role."

Once Vesce finds a pattern, he opens up his mental Rolodex.

"I start with people who can offer further guidance or who need the person’s skills," he says.

Even though connections are still the best way to find a position, today’s job market is not what most executives remember.

"It’s a different world, a changing world," Salveson says. "[Parents need to] be open and flexible, try to walk in their kids’ shoes and embrace the future."

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