Roles of Parents in their Grads Job Search

Despite the snow outside, the season of graduations will soon be upon us. It’s an exciting time both for students and their parents. The students are excited to begin to make their own way in the world. The parents are excited to—hopefully—stop shelling out so much money for books and tuition. But all that excitement can quickly be tempered by the state of the jobs market. This year’s graduates will face an awful jobs market. And the happy parents may have to face having some youngsters return to the nest.

We understand your position. Our 23-year-old son is struggling to find work in this economy and in a highly competitive market—the Washington, D.C. area. We wanted to share what we’ve experienced as our adult child tries to find a job that will support his life needs and begin his career path.

In past blog articles, we discussed some of the things job seekers need to do to be competitive. These include building a network, using that network to gain referrals, and finding people to give support. The supporters need to be people who are great listeners, who will cheer success, and who provide encouragement during the down times. Parents fulfill most of these roles when their adult children graduate from college.

Natural Responses of Parents

I remember my parents’ natural response when I graduated from college and later completed a master’s degree. Their reaction included:

  • Being a teacher is a really safe, secure, and rewarding career.
  • How safe and secure a career is human resources?
  • Go to secretarial school and learn some skills that can keep you employed.

Those reactions were offered to me many years ago. For the sake of full disclosure, my undergraduate degree was in x and my first master’s degree was in Education. (I had actually taken some of the advice and gone into teaching.) You can imagine my reaction as some of this advice was offered. Particularly annoying was the advice concerning secretarial school. I didn’t feel that a college degree was an appropriate prerequisite to attending secretarial school.

Times change and while the details of the advice offered may shift a bit, the core is still based in safety and security:

  • It’s a tough economy; just get your foot in the door somewhere.
  • Don’t worry about your degree. Find a job where they’re hiring. Learn how to work first, and then go find your career.
  • Find a job that will give you health insurance and put a roof over your head.

This last point was our biggest concern for our son. Saddled with some medical issues, he was facing the loss of health insurance coverage. Fortunately, the changes in health care allowed us to maintain him on our insurance. Up to that point, our mantra had been, “Find something—anything!—that will get you health insurance.”

Your adult child’s reactions to your advice are based on a generational issue, since you’re probably a Baby Boomer and they’re Gen Y:

  • I want to find a job in my degree field even if it’s non-traditional.
  • Your experience doesn’t fit the current market. Today it’s all about technology.
  • I want a job that’s meaningful to me and makes me happy.
  • I can do anything I want, event start my own business.

If this sounds familiar, you might want to re-think your role in your grad’s job search. It really takes a partnership to help today’s grads find a job that will help start their career path. You want to ensure that your and your grad’s investment of time and treasure counts for something. But how?

The Five Roles of Parents

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to can help your grad in their pending job search, we’ve outlined some suggestions below. These are based on our experience and are offered in the knowledge that at different points in the coming months, you’ll probably assume them all.

The Five Roles of a Parent are:

  • The Listener is the key role for a parent. As they approach graduation they talk about their hopes and aspirations for the future. You need to listen, and listen carefully. Don’t use your aspirations as a filter for what they’re telling you. For every kid that was inspired to follow in a parent’s footsteps, there’s a kid who is equally turned off. Being a good listener allows you to gather information from your grad and it gives you the opportunity to give advice if invited to do so. Listen to how your grad visualizes their future, their career, their life, and their relationship to work. Sometimes, your grad only wants you to listen so they can hear themselves work through their job search out loud.

  • The Supporter helps the grad to explore and define the career path they want to follow and the type of environment or people they want to work in and with. In the role of The Supporter, you generally promote open communication between you and your grad as they begin their job search. You can encourage your grad to overcome adversity, and continue growing their self-esteem and resilience in a tough world. This role is important to the “heart” and “spirit” of your grad. Most often this role is offered with love.

  • The Researcher is important to your grad because it takes many ears and eyes to identify trends and shifts in the job market that could positively affect your grad’s job search. In this role you need to suspend your expectations and find data that your grad can use to their benefit.
  • The Networker can be critical to the success of your grad’s job search. It’s common knowledge that most jobs are found through an extensive network and by referrals. Parents have a much more extensive network of useful friends, colleagues and acquaintances than do their children. Because networking is open-ended, it isn’t necessary to be in the same career path to have a positive impact on your grad’s job search. Just talk to people about what it is they’re studying. Sure enough, someone is going to know someone in the same area that could give encouragement or a referral. My father found one of the jobs I really enjoyed.

  • The Cheerleader is a role that encompasses all of the roles above with one more trait. Celebration is an important part of transition and change. Celebration is often forgotten or delayed until the end is achieved. A cheerleader knows when to lead celebration events as mini-successes or achievements occur. A cheerleader works to help the grad maintain and even increase their energy to move forward into the next phase of a difficult task or action.


As our children prepare to leave school to make their way through life, we parents need to assume our roles to give them the support they need. Don’t wait until they’re standing in front of you in a cap and gown. Now is the time to begin the discussion. Yes, this will be a tough year for graduates, but start by listening to what it is that they want to do. With your love and support, they’ll make you proud.

Give your grad a special gift that continues to give down the road!  We have a special Graduate Coaching Package which includes intensive, highly focused, and customized job search support from an experienced career coach.

Please post your thoughts and comments. Also, if you want to publish this article or print to share, please keep this copyright permission statement with the article. These articles are joyfully shared to help others, but are not to be used for profit or sale to others. Copyright 2010 Bette Novak, LifePath Associates LLC.


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