Skip to content

How to Help Your Child Launch Into the Workplace

Tips for guiding new college grads

College Graduates

Sean Locke/Stocksy

Parental guidance and support can help encourage a college graduate as they enter the workforce.

Over the next few weeks, more than 1.8 million students will graduate from college. Watching our adult children and grandchildren navigate the work world reminds us how much that landscape has changed since we started that journey.

To help us understand this new terrain, we turned to Jeffrey J. Selingo, author of There Is Life After College. "There are no longer career paths that were historically there when parents came out of college," he says. Technology and the recession have affected vast swaths of the work world. In addition, millennials walk a different path to adulthood, including moving back home after graduation, taking longer to find a career and job-hopping when they do find one.

Selingo interviewed hundreds of college grads and found they took three different approaches to careers. Figuring which category your children are in can help you understand and advise them.

Sprinters have set a goal and go after it. They studied a career-oriented major, racked up internships and found mentors. They might even have a good job lined up before graduation. Still, they may take a few turns that confuse parents, Selingo says. These include:

  • Turning down a great job in favor of one that will teach them skills they didn't learn in college. Whether it's project management or how to read a spreadsheet, many students didn't get the necessary training that they need to move ahead. These entry-level jobs can provide it.
  • Quitting a year or two later. They announce they are leaving for a start-up (maybe even their own) or another organization. "The best time to take risks is in your early 20s when you have no financial burdens or a family to consider," Selingo says.
  • Job-hopping. It can be regarded as a lack of commitment, but it's sometimes the only way to get more pay and a better opportunity. Consider it "job shopping," says Selingo, noting that the biggest salary increases come in the first decade of work and often only at a new employer.

Wanderers are "treading water" with their careers often because they didn't major in an employment-related subject. Many are burdened by student loans, so they move back home and take the first job that comes along to make money. Selingo's suggestions for advising them are:

  • Don't take just any job. We're talking part-time jobs like barista, nanny and waiter. "They need to avoid that at all costs." And, the longer they delay looking for full-time employment, the harder it becomes to compete and network.
  • Continue learning. This applies to all 20-somethings but is especially critical for wanderers who need marketable skills. Learning doesn't end at graduation, and many opportunities exist (some are even free) to learn new skills. Courses range from boot camps for technical skills to video classes for vocational training. "There's no longer on-the-job training, and these courses can give them skill sets that traditionally would have happened that way," Selingo says.
  • Get an internship. If the grad finds a field of interest but has no experience, an internship, even unpaid, can provide both learning and connections. But there's a caveat: "Make sure the company has a good track record of either hiring interns or that former interns moved quickly to paid jobs in the same industry." To earn some income, the grad should find a part-time job.

Stragglers have plenty of company, with about one-third of young people drifting though their 20s. Some never attended college; others started but never finished. Suggestions parents might offer are:

  • Consider community college. There's no disputing that a college degree makes a huge difference in finding a job and lifelong earnings. Perhaps with a few years perspective after high school, a straggler can be encouraged to pick a marketable major at a community college or vocational school.
  • Get some experience. Try to find paid or unpaid work in a field that holds career potential. That may mean working a construction job or volunteering in a vet's office. Those experiences can be valuable to build upon for the next step.
  • Provide encouragement. "As long as they are continuing to press forward, they will eventually launch and find a path," Selingo says.

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at