If you’re in the professional world for a while, you will invariably be asked to “help out” a college kid – one of your co-worker’s children, a friend of a friend, or maybe even your own cousin.
They may not be carrying a skateboard in their hand like this girl, but they most likely have zero or no experience. You probably don’t know them or their areas of personal strength well. How are you supposed to help them? You know what always happens…
You say, “Sure, have them send me their resume.” Maybe you interview them and talk about their sports and their major – and maybe that job waiting tables when they were 19. If you’re a professional recruiter, maybe you drop their resume to a few clients, or circulate their resume to a few internal hiring managers with a meager endorsement of their personality.
To sum it up, you give them a ray of hope; then, you move on and get back to your job. Did you really help them? Or did you give them some lip service and a few perfunctory gestures?
How do you really help college kids get started in their careers? How do you help them not only start a profession, but help them navigate an incredibly difficult job market? Here are some tips:
- Give them Experience, not a Connection: Passing their resume to a client or work friend helps a little. They will probably land an interview through your recommendation, but often out of your contact’s commitment to you. It can get them one interview, but it won’t help them get the next. Give them the opportunity to do something for you. If you’re a recruiter, have them source names for you on the web and pay them something. If you’re in marketing, have them do some research for you. Think carefully about what tasks would help you grow your business if you could offload the work.
- Be Honest: We all have our share of stories about interviewing with companies, long job hunts, or bad employers and work. They are facing a high hurdle and should know that. Don’t sugarcoat your evaluation of their skills and background. This is not a call for brutal honesty however – the harsh reality of the current job market has probably already made that impression. You want to set their expectations high, not low – but apply that expectation to their work as well. They need to understand how hard they have to work for whatever it is they want – but that it is possible.
- Inspire: Be honest in your evaluation of their work, but also try to inspire them with long term goals and aspirations. If they want to get into “business” or “technology”, that’s not enough. Get specific in helping them envision a bright future with a highly specific career path. Tell them about a highly successful person in their field of interest and put them in touch with them.
- Talk about Life, not Careers: Lots of people tell college kids about different professions, but very few tell them about the personal ramifications of their career decisions. Do college kids really understand what it means to have to work 80 hour weeks to make partner? Or having to move across the country to find a job for a PHD? Or how $60,000 in debt can force you into working bad jobs? Understanding the life of a particular professional can often be more helpful than understanding their daily job function.
- Help them be Themselves: Most people help college kids with interviews by saying, “Look people in the eye and have a firm handshake.” But in a hard job market, this isn’t enough. You want to discover all the things that are best about them and be sure that they present this to a future employer. Emphasize personal strengths and be sure they have confidence in the uniqueness of their talents. Whether they are particularly creative or good at math, get them excited to convey their strengths. People hire based on personality, and if they have a good one, it’s their best asset – maybe the girl holding the skateboard should ride it to the interview.
We always want to help that college grad, but often we fall short of the task and then feel guilty about it. The next time someone applies to your company or your friend passes you their kid’s resume, have some fun with it. One of the joys in life is helping kids get their start. With some thought, you can do more than give them false hope – you can help shape their life.