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Talk Careers with Your Kids When They're Kids

As a parent, how many times have you seen public service announcements that tell you to talk with your kids about sex or drugs? Today, I think the conversations should also cover careers and career management. Why? This economy has wreaked havoc on not only my generation, but the others in the workforce as well. In some ways, we will never return to what a lot of us have experienced.

Now, some of you might ask: "How do we talk with our kids about careers without turning them off?" The answer is simple: Start at an early age, when they’re in high school, if not earlier. But some parents make the mistake of trying to have all the answers, always giving advice and always ready with a solution.

My daughter has taught me best how to handle these conversations. Here are a few of her inspirations:

  • "Dad, sometimes I just want you to listen and not try and solve everything."
  • "Listening means giving me your undivided attention."
  • "I need you to guide me and coach me, not make decisions for me."

My rule of thumb now is a recruiting version of the 80/20 rule, with her taking the lead role of talking (80% of the time), while I question her just 20% of the time to bring better clarity.

It's amazing what we can learn from our kids. I now find myself at times having to realize that I'm talking to an accomplished young person. Almost any encounter can be a teaching moment — for both of you.

I always told my daughter to follow her dream, find her passion, and build a career around it. Here are five talking points that you, as a parent, can consider when you have this conversation with your own child:

  • Career Management: Realize that you are the CEO of all your hopes and dreams. You will determine the trajectory in your career, so always manage it.
  • Branding: What are the one or two things that make you stand out? Always be conscious of those. What types of signals are you sending? Are you seen as a go-getter? A slacker? Or something in between? Determine what your brand will be.
  • Networking: Practice delivering a two-minute pitch that says who are you and what you're about. That's the proverbial "Tell me about yourself." Think of three to four sentences that will tell anyone not only who you are but what's important about you. (Parents, invite your kids to a networking event you're attending and show them how they should properly introduce themselves.)
  • Resumes: A great time to think about writing your first resume is as soon as you begin high school. Once you start job hunting and working, always keep it updated and available. Add to it as soon as you complete a new assignment or earn a promotion.  Many times, you'll meet someone who will want to see your resume right away. (Parents: Teach your kids to think of the resume as something you build throughout your life. Show them yours and discuss the importance of keeping it up to date, provided yours is.)
  • Performance: It's extremely important to always perform at your highest level. Performance differentiates who will win in career management. Promotions and raises will come when you work beyond the description of your current job and make contributions that demonstrate your true value to the business.

These discussions have paid off considerably. My daughter is now juggling two internships, both in her area of interest — and our career conversations continue. Like other major life topics, career management discussions should start early to offer the best chance of helping your kids thrive rather than struggle.

What job search and career management lessons have you given your children? Share them with us below.

About the Author

Today's post is written by Ron Thomas (pictured), a human resources professional with more than 15 years of experience, including roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. He was recently named to the Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy at the Human Capital Institute in Washington, D.C. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Workforce Management, Chief Learning Officer magazine and Crain's New York Business.  Recently, he was named to the HR Hall of Fame by HR Network of New York. Ron's blog, StrategyFocusedHR, focuses on human resources from a strategic perspective.

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