Work & Purpose

Are Boomer Parents Giving Their Kids Bad Career Advice?

4 of their outdated tips and updated advice for today's job market

Part of the Readers’ Picks: Best Work & Purpose Stories of 2019 Special Report

If you’re a boomer parent, you want the best for your children. So, it’s understandable if you can’t resist offering your kids advice when they’re looking for work. But if you base your tips on your own decades-old job search experiences, you risk doing more harm than good.

Many of the historic norms surrounding the job hunt  —  like interview attire, the “best” places to work and the perils of job-hopping —  no longer hold. A recent viral tweet suggested that it would make a comical reality show if boomers followed their own 30-year-old job-search advice.

To bring you up to speed, avoid the wrath of your millennial children and help you find a job yourself, I turned to two sets of experts. First, I asked my daughter Juliana and a few of her classmates at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to share the outdated job-search advice they’ve received from their parents. Then, I asked my career-coaching colleagues to weigh in on useful advice to tell your kids.

“Yes, working for a startup can be risky, but it also can also result in gaining a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Here are four dated job-search tips some boomers give their millennial kids and the updated advice (from the MBA students, other career coaches and me) that’s much better:

Outdated Tip No. 1: Don’t be a job-hopper. You need to stay at a job at least a few years (even if you’re miserable) to be an attractive candidate for future employers.

Updated Advice: “Recruiters are still skeptical of job-hoppers,” advises Thea Kelly, a career coach and author of Get That Job! A Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview. “But what that term means varies according to the person’s age and occupation.” For example, it’s more acceptable to move around in certain professions like sales, than in professions like law and architecture.

Also, whether you’re considered a job-hopper depends partly on your reasons for making a move.

“Repeatedly moving to higher levels of responsibility looks a lot better than moving around in an aimless way, as if you have trouble fitting in or don’t know what you want,” says Kelly. Indeed, recruiters recognize that making frequent moves can sometimes provide a boost to your career. “It can give you a broader perspective on your industry, your occupation and yourself,” says Kelly.

But staying put also has its advantages. So, remind your kids that sometimes it’s best to tough out a job for a while. A 2017 study of millennial employees by workplace culture consultancy O.C. Tanner found a strong association between how many jobs they had and their level of discontentedness with their company.

Serial job-hopping can become a destructive cycle, where you leave because you feel underappreciated, but never stay long enough to connect with management and advance.

Outdated Tip No. 2:  You can’t dress too nicely for an interview.

Updated Advice: That old saw simply doesn’t cut it anymore. The young MBAs I talked to said dressing up for work doesn’t apply in many industries these days. So, looking buttoned-up in an interview could be a turn-off for a casual employer, suggesting you don’t understand its culture.

Job-search and resumé specialist Virginia Franco says: Dress just a bit nicer than what a prospective employer’s workers typically wear. For example, if jeans and T-shirts are the norm, men who are interviewing might opt for nice slacks and a polo shirt and women could go with a casual dress.

Do your research before you show up to meet with the interviewer. Look over the employer’s website to determine the level of formality in its workplace. And consider the industry: If you’re looking for a corporate position in finance or law, it’s typically best to wear formal business attire. For men, this means a conservative looking suit and tie. For women, it means a tailored dress, pantsuit or skirt suit.

Outdated Tip No. 3: Always take the safest or best-paid offer. It’s better to go with an established company than a “risky” startup.

Updated Advice: My daughter said: “Lots of ‘safe’ companies can also go through massive layoffs and hard times. Look at AIG and Lehman Brothers and GM.” And, she said, for younger people: “Taking a lower-paid or riskier role can mean you take on more responsibility early in your career. This can translate into better opportunities down the road, instead of taking the entry-level role at a blue-chip company.”

Job-search strategist Hannah Morgan of CareerSherpa.net agrees. “Every opportunity is risky in today’s world of work,” she says. “Yes, working for a startup can be risky, but it can also result in gaining a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Startups are often high-risk and high-reward, and what they lack in salary may be made up for with stock options. It could be a career-defining opportunity, so don’t dismiss it without thorough research.”

I want to add two caveats to Morgan’s advice:

First, the long hours and fast-paced startup environment can be grueling. So, job seekers need to be honest with themselves about their lifestyle before making a commitment. Not everyone is temperamentally suited for life at a startup.

Second, for young people, an established company that offers training, a 401(k), opportunities for advancement and an impressive name can provide useful boosts. Remember to point out those benefits to your child if he or she is deciding between competing offers.

Outdated Tip No. 4: Be sure to “sell yourself” in the interview.

Updated Advice: “Please stop telling your kids this,” says Steve Dalton, program director for daytime career services at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of The 2-Hour Job Search: Using Technology to Get the Right Job Faster. “Nobody likes doing it and nobody likes being sold to. It baffles me why that advice sticks around.

Instead, Dalton believes it’s far better to demonstrate strong listening and learning skills during the interview. In other words, do your homework about the employer and share what you know; ask smart questions and be an active listener, responding to new information you hear from the interviewer.

As Dalton told my Next Avenue colleague Kerry Hannon in her “How to Job Hunt if You Haven’t in Years” post,  “When you embrace the humbling process of no longer selling yourself and instead dedicate yourself to listening, you will get so far, so quickly.”

That sounds like timeless job-search advice to me, no matter your age.

Nancy Collamer
By Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at MyLifestyleCareer.com (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter).

Next Avenue Editors Also Recommend:

Next Avenue brings you stories that are inspiring and change lives. We know that because we hear it from our readers every single day. One reader says,

"Every time I read a post, I feel like I'm able to take a single, clear lesson away from it, which is why I think it's so great."

Your generous donation will help us continue to bring you the information you care about. Every dollar donated allows us to remain a free and accessible public service. What story will you help make possible?