Questions Answered: Help! My son’s a college senior and hasn’t started job searching.

“My son is a senior in college and he hasn’t started his job search yet. I can’t seem to get him to get in high gear. I’m tempted to write his resume for him and just start sending it around but I’m pretty sure that’s a bad idea.Any suggestions?”

First of all, let me say that your son is fortunate to have a parent who is so invested in his future. You are right, however, that it would NOT be a good idea for you to write his resume for him, or to conduct his job search on his behalf.

There may be a number of factors contributing to your son’s apparent disinterest in starting his job search.

Workload:
As a senior, your son may be feeling overwhelmed, or at least, consumed with the task of graduating. Many seniors can get bogged down with research projects, term papers, presentations, honors theses, etc. That “bogged down” feeling may be exacerbated if he is also working part time, involved in extra-curricular activities, athletics, volunteering, or is committed to other duties. Since conducting an effective job search can be a full time job, in and of itself, your son may not feel like he has the time, energy or resources to start his job search.

Fear:
There’s a lot to fear related to conducting a job search, especially these days. There’s fear of failure, of new or added responsibility, of change, of rejection, of leaving the familiar. While all perfectly reasonable fears, they can act as an enormous stumbling block for anyone intending to start their job search.

Lack of Experience:
Let’s face it, many college students leave college with a lot of knowledge but not a lot of experience. The workforce requires BOTH. The job search can be particularly daunting if your son is not sure that he has sufficient occupation-specific experience. Even with internship experience, the Class of 2009 will be competing against ’08 grads who may just now be entering the job market after taking a year to travel, intern, or shore up their skills in other ways. ’09 grads will also be competing against the many professionals who were laid off this past year who will have significantly more experience than new grads.

What should your son, and others like him, do to “get in high gear”?
If workload is the issue, or if various fears may be hindering his job search, then it would likely benefit your son to break up the job search processes into small, tangible, accomplish-able tasks. If your son is very busy with other things, incorporating small job search tasks may feel more manageable, and less scary. He might start by committing just 10-15 minutes a day to job search activities. For example, he might spend 10 minutes looking for job postings in his field of interest on a mega job search engine, like Indeed.com. After the 10 minutes are up, he moves onto a different, non-job search activity, whether or not he has found any positions to which he would like to apply. (Using the Internet as his sole job search strategy would NOT be particularly effect, but it might be a safe starting place.) Or, your son might spend ten minutes creating the basic structure of a resume. Whatever steps he takes initially, he needs to start somewhere and build momentum. Once there’s momentum, there are a number of job search-related activities that I discuss in an earlier article that your son could pursue that would demonstrate to potential employers that he is genuinely interested in his field.

If your son lacks experience in his field what he really needs is TIME so that he can gain that experience. However, since graduation is just around the corner, there are a few things he might consider doing before commencement to gain some of the experience he needs. He should begin reading through job descriptions for entry level positions in his field and become familiar with the specific duties he would be expected to perform. Then, he’ll need to identify where the gaps exist in his experience and then look for ways to get the experience in the next few months. When I first applied for the Career Information Specialist position for my current employer, experience with MS Access was an important requirement. I had used Mac’s FileMaker Pro, but had never built a database or maintained one, and had not touched MS Access. Before I was even offered an interview, I installed MS Access on my computer and set about creating a basic database (to maintain my job search contacts and leads). By the time I interviewed for the position, I could confidently say that I had a working knowledge of MS Access. I could not say that I had significant experience with it, but my employer was impressed that I took the initiative to learn the software.

Keep in mind, however, that there are some skills that simply require time to develop and it might not be possible to acquire a sufficient level of proficiency before graduation. This brings me to my next point – your son needs to have a Plan B, and C, and D, and so on. He might NOT find a job right away. Even if he had started his job search in the fall, he might still not find a job in his field immediately upon graduation. You will both need to be prepared for him to explore other employment avenues. Unfortunately, according to the most recent Recruiting Trends presentation, the traditional fall-back jobs, such as retail, sales and marketing, have dried up. Your son’s backup plans may need to consist of “non-traditional” forms of work, such as splicing together multiple part time jobs, temping, volunteering, interning, or job-sharing. It will be important for your son to remain flexible and open to a variety of work options.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, encourage your son to connect with the career services office at his institution. Their professionals can work with him to identify an effective and tailored action plan for getting his job search started and on the right track. They are likely networked with recruiters in your area as well as alums of the college who may be willing to offer advice or leads to your son.

Kudos to you for supporting your son – continue to do so, but definitely fight the urge to do the work of job searching for him.

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