If you’re a parent, you’ve likely given your children the confidence to make their way in the world. But what should you do to offer comfort if your recent graduate can’t find a job or your not-so-recent grad just lost one?
It’s a growing concern. A recent survey by the consulting firm Accenture of more than 1,000 young adults who graduated from college in 2011 and 2012 found that 32 percent of them don’t have full-time jobs.
First, Do No Harm
Well-meaning parents, unfortunately, may inadvertently make the situation worse by saying or doing the wrong things.
If you want to be more helpful than hurtful, here’s what I suggest, based on my experience as a career coach and a parent:
Let’s start with what not to do.
Don’t ask more than once a week how the job search is going. If your child has news, he’ll tell you.
Don’t constantly fret over how your son or daughter is going to pay his rent or monthly bills. Your anxiety will make your kid's anxiety worse — and I'm assuming you’re not paying those expenses or your child isn’t living with you gratis. If your son or daughter is living with you, try not to constantly express concern about the added costs you're incurring as a result.
Don’t offer to connect your child with business contacts who aren't relevant to his or her career goals. That’ll just put your son or daughter in an awkward position if he can’t make use of the introduction.
Don’t encourage your child to get a graduate degree just to avoid being idle. Unless he or she truly wants to pursue higher learning, the amount of debt they'll incur may not be worth it. Sadly, there are many out-of-work grads who are discovering that their pricey degrees from a business school or law school don’t guarantee a job.
6 Ways to Be Helpful
Now here’s what you should do to comfort your unemployed adult child (and maybe yourself as well):
1. Treat your kid as an adult, capable of making informed decisions. Show him or her the same respect you would a colleague or friend.
2. Ask if your child would like help before offering it. This is harder than it sounds.
You may be tempted to tell your son or daughter that they’re going about their job search the wrong way. And it’s natural to want to ask your professional network for leads or assistance. But your child may prefer to go it alone, even if that means making some mistakes along the way. Or he might not have the same timeline you do (i.e.: Get a job today!).
(MORE: No, Parents Aren't Sabotaging Kids' Job Searches)
He might also have a different idea of the type of job that would make him happy. Trying to help my college-age son get a summer internship showed me the wisdom of the saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
3. Be sensitive to your child’s need to feel independent. This is especially true if he’s been living on his own and has just moved back in with you to cut costs. Returning to a childhood home can make any adult feel like a dependent child — and you can easily find yourself in full-on parent mode.
Be willing to create a different kind of relationship from the last time your child lived with you, one that will work for both sides. It can be as simple as stating there’s no expectation to eat meals together.
The best way to suss out the new parameters is by asking your kid what he needs from a relationship with you. If the answer is financial support and you decide to lend or give money, be sure you don’t attach guilt to it.
4. Listen more, talk less. If your child asks for help in the job search, take the time to hear what he needs before offering advice. He may just want to spill his feelings to get your support, rather than learning your tips on interviewing well.
The friendly shoulder you provide may offer the validation he’s looking for, even if it won’t “fix the problem.”
If your child requests assistance with the nuts and bolts of finding work, consider offering to hire a professional resumé writer or a career counselor who specializes in working with job seekers and career changers. A neutral third party’s advice may be better received.
5. Encourage your child to do things that reinforce his self-esteem and make him feel productive. This could include anything from volunteer activities or picking up a childhood hobby to working out at the gym and brainstorming a start-up.
The job search can be rough on the ego, especially for someone who has never gone through it. There may be little or no feedback after submitting a resumé and your kid's friends may add to the pain by talking about how they've also struck out.
(MORE: 6 Ways Colleges Help Alumni Find Jobs)
It’s hard for a parent to see a deflated child, knowing all that he has to offer. But try your best to be not just a cheerleader, but a wellness advocate for his spirit, heart, mind and body.
Find something to celebrate each week with your child, whether it’s the number of applications he has submitted or a milestone he achieved on a personal project. Your kid will be at his best during interviews when he feels good about himself.
6. Adapt your comforting techniques. Some people respond best to competition; some prefer gentle encouragement; some like to work with an accountability partner to keep their job search on track.
You know what makes your son or daughter tick, so take your cues from him or her.
You’ll be a true ally for your child when you forge new ground in your relationship. He’ll be grateful for your support during a difficult time — even if, like many people in their 20s, he can’t quite bring himself to say the words “thank you.”