Against a backdrop of caps and gowns, your parental pride swells as your child shakes the Dean’s hand and receives their college diploma. Graduation can be an emotional roller coaster of excitement (“The world is their oyster”), nostalgia (“It seems like just yesterday I held their hand on the way into kindergarten”), and perhaps a bit of relief (“Phew, they made it!”).
But after the seemingly non-stop stream of celebrations, it’s time to drop the air quotes when you and your child talk about “real life.”
Finding — and starting — that first job after college spans a period many graduates describe as a volatile time of transition. Parents can help in more ways than they may realize as their child embarks upon their career journey.
From College to Career: 5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Child Make the Transition
As a parent, what can you do to help ease the transition from student to bona fide adult?
- Encourage your child to find the best possible first job — “Parents are so anxious to see their child get a job after college that they often push them into taking any job,” says Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates. “That’s a huge mistake that almost always backfires.” Advise your child to explore a wide variety of opportunities and to persevere in their job search. “The days of accepting a job for the sheer sake of accepting a job are over now that your child has invested all that time and energy into earning a college degree,” Jody says. “Don’t let them settle for a job that isn’t a good professional fit; instead, help your child make strategic career decisions from the start.” If your child is struggling, a certified career coach can work with them to identify a career that best aligns with their skills, interests and background.
- Recognize the new challenges — If you thought it was hard to watch your child wrestle with calculus, fasten your seat belt. Whether your newly minted graduate is living in their old bedroom down the hall from you or in another state, the challenges are myriad. Dylan, a 23-year-old marketing project manager, experienced a wide range of emotions when he accepted his first job and began the transition from college to career. Three months after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he commuted from home, Dylan accepted a marketing job in New York City. Even though he calls it a “challenge by choice,” he faced numerous adjustments. “All of a sudden, there I was,” he recalls, “living in a completely unfamiliar city, where I had no one to really lean on. Not only did I need to get my physical bearings, I also had to learn how to balance my finances — and my time.” Dylan found that he had to make a concerted effort to keep in touch with old — and make new — friends, unlike in high school and college, where social life was automatically part of the landscape. He also says that, especially at first, it felt odd to be the rookie in a workplace where everyone else seemed to know the ropes.
- Don’t check out, just step back — As you’ve learned by now, parenting is a fluid verb. The ways in which you provide support to your child vary in response to their needs. Dylan says that when he first moved to New York, his parents helped by listening more than talking. “Sometimes I just needed to vent my frustrations,” he says. “I didn’t need rescuing, and I enjoyed finding my own solutions, like finding a grocery delivery service after trying to juggle groceries on the subway.” At the same time, it felt good to hear a parent’s voice on the other end of the phone line. “If I had specific questions, I knew I could ask them — and trust their answers,” Dylan explains.
- Cultivate confidence — Starting their first job after college marks a new era of independence for your child — one that is critical in the development of their self-confidence. Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It, says “Encouraging a child means that one or more of the following critical life messages are coming through, either by word or by action: I believe in you, I trust you, I know you can handle this …” Jody reminds parents that this message is just as essential — if not more so — at age 22 than it was in the elementary school years. “Don’t allow your own anxiety or doubts to contradict your words. Somatically convey the messages that you want to impart to your child,” Jody advises.
- Keep your own emotions in check — In a work setting, a team’s performance benefits when a leader manages their mood states. The same principle applies to your family. Whether your child graduating college signifies an empty nest or a boomerang, try to remember that this is their journey. As they make the transition from college to career, there may be bumps in the road. Jody emphasizes the importance of processing your own emotions in order to facilitate healthy communication between you and your child. “You will both benefit if you can make effective requests without the emotional baggage that often accompanies trigger situations — especially in cases where your child isn’t fulfilling expectations.” Avoid emotional ‘landmines’ by taking time to process a situation before responding; in fact, Jody recommends being proactive, rather than reactive, whenever possible.
How have you helped your child transition from college to career?