By Tanya de Grunwald, founder of careers blog Graduate Fog, author of How to Get a Graduate Job Now, and personal one-to-one graduate career coach
If you’re the parent of a child who has just graduated, you may be wondering: “What happened?” One minute, they were flourishing, graduating from university with a degree to be proud of. The next, they’re back at home – and floundering.
I’ll tell you what happened. You have joined the PUGs – that’s Parents of Unemployed Graduates. And, if you weren’t prepared, it can be a shock – for you, as well as your child, partner, and any other children you have in the house.
In the awkward period between your child leaving university and finding their first ‘proper’ job, tens of thousands of mums and dads can expect to come home in the evening to find their bright, potential-packed, 20-something child watching Netflix in a onesie and eating Coco Pops straight from the packet. By the time their official graduation photos arrive, some will have retreated to their teenage bedroom, complete with tantrums, sulking and door-slamming to match. (I’m not being disloyal – once they emerge from their funk, they’ll admit this themselves).
Of course, not all graduates will sink quite this low. Others will spend months doing demoralising unpaid internships, or working in a coffee shop (which is okay for now – but is that really what they went to uni for?).
The good news? There are ways to make sure this temporary stage is brief, by helping your child move through it as swiftly as possible.
Running the careers blog Graduate Fog, I’ve seen and heard it all. While I usually advise your children on how to structure and organise their job hunt, I also have some advice to share with you…
DON’T panic if they don’t know what they want to do
Parents can get twitchy if their child hasn’t chosen their career yet – but breathe. These days, the ones who have it all figured out are the exceptions. And the world is changing so fast that the job your child will be doing in 10 years’ time probably hasn’t been invented yet. The best plan? Think ‘direction’, not ‘destination’ – and don’t worry about them being labelled a job-hopper. The old stigma has gone. It is now considered shrewd – not flighty – to try on several industries for size, before committing to a long-term favourite. Even then, switching again before they’re 30 is considered totally normal.
DO question unpaid internships
Is your child doing what looks like a real job, but with one crucial thing missing – a pay packet? Are you wondering why you’re effectively subsidizing their employer, by contributing towards your child’s living costs while they work for free? Welcome to the twilight zone of unpaid internships, where young people swear blind that it’s completely normal to work for free, for months on end in the hope the role may ‘turn into’ a paid job, one day. Of course, is isn’t normal – and it’s also illegal (usually). Although very few big firms still run unpaid internships, pockets remain in media, politics, fashion, start-ups, and the charity sector.
(We’ve been campaigning on this issue for years, and the basic problem is that the minimum wage law isn’t being enforced for interns, as the reporting system relies on interns themselves making a formal complaint about their former employer and asking for back pay – which few are willing to do, for obvious reasons).
Encourage your child to follow our campaign – and also to spend more time looking for paid internships before jumping at unpaid ones. A pay packet isn’t just nice for your them, it also suggests the employer takes the placement seriously, and is more likely to become a permanent role. If your child decides to take an unpaid internship, urge them to keep it short (twice as long isn’t twice as good) and leave on the planned date, moving straight to a direct competitor if possible (Ha!). If their employer wants to keep them, they’ll find the cash. Even if they don’t, it’s common for employers to call within a few weeks or months of your child’s departure. But in order to be missed, they first have to leave. Hanging around with their fingers crossed is not a plan. I cannot emphasise this enough.
DON’T assume further study is a good investment
Finishing their education leaves most graduates craving the structure and security that is all they’ve ever known. In response, too many graduates panic and rush to enroll for yet another course – even if they’re not sure what they’ll do with the qualification, or whether they really need it. Do everything in your power to make sure they’ve researched it properly – so they don’t make an expensive error. To be clear: your child must be 100% sure that further study is the only way to get where they want to go, and that a year of relevant experience (in a job that earns them money, rather than a course that costs them money) wouldn’t be just as valuable – or more so. As for the lack of structure and certainty? It’s uncomfortable – but it won’t kill them. Or you. Learn to live with it for now.
DO offer any contacts
It’s still true – contacts are helpful when starting your career. While it’s rare anyone is offered a job nowadays simply because of who they know, graduates will benefit from being able to discuss options, ask questions and find out about jobs via informal networks and friendly faces. (I’m conflicted about saying this because much of the campaign work I do is for those without these connections, but to say otherwise would be untrue). If you have friends you think could be helpful, by all means suggest them – but remember these should be in addition to contacts your child is making for themselves.
Whatever your circumstances, encourage your child to build their own network via their university’s alumni, by attending relevant events (hunt for free ones) and making speculative approaches via Twitter, LinkedIn and their own social networks. Slightly older cousins or their friends, friends’ older siblings or older siblings’ friends are often the most helpful as younger people are more likely to have an ear to the ground when it comes to junior opportunities, and know the truth about how to get in now (as opposed to what worked 10 years ago).
…but DON’T set up meetings
No, no, NO. Mummy and Daddy cannot do this for them – so please don’t try. If it hasn’t sunk in yet, it needs to now. They are (at least) 21, this is their life, and they need to be in the driving seat. It can be painful to watch but the penny will drop eventually, I promise. Hang in.
DO encourage them to take a stop-gap job
Doing nothing (AKA waiting to be “inspired”) is a big no-no. Your child’s self-confidence will nose dive and they’ll have a big gap on their CV which isn’t great for interviews. Get them out of the house and earning, as soon as possible, whether that’s shop work, bar work or temping. If they hate their stop-gap job, even better. It will power them to find something more taxing. (Note: Graduates should never leave a stop-gap job off a CV because they – or you – think it’s not impressive enough. Employers like grafters, and your child will have picked up more skills than they realise.)
DO talk about money
Have you said they can stay with you for now, to save money? That’s great – but for how long? And will they pay rent, contribute towards bills, or take out the bins? Whatever your financial circumstances, it’s important to have this conversation. Even if you’re comfortably off, I recommend making a proper plan, including phased rent increases (I gave this same advice to an audience of PUGs who were private clients of a wealth management firm recently). Similarly, if you’re giving your child an allowance (no judgement) this should include phased reductions, as time goes on. Feeling squeezed isn’t fun, but it is motivating.
DON’T bug them for progress
Once your child is getting on with their job hunt, expect a long silence. Some days they will do lots – other days hardly anything, and they don’t want you knowing which is which. Rather than bugging them for progress (which will often spark a row), pick a good moment to ask if they’ll agree to provide weekly updates. As well as keeping you in the picture, knowing they have to present their progress regularly will help them to keep going for however long it takes to land that first ‘proper’ job.
DO show you have faith in them
Acknowledge this is not an easy time in their lives – especially as no-one can say who long it will take them to find a job. What I do know – and I recommend you pass on – is that the only way ‘out’ is ‘through’. So, urge them to push on. They will flourish again soon, I promise.