Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Parents Corner

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The Job Market and Parents of College Students

By Jerry Houser, Director of Undergraduate Career Services

I'm the parent of a recent college graduate (2009) and a current senior majoring in humanities. My kids' careers have been on my mind for several years. They are entering the toughest job market in decades and they have school loans to pay off -- what's a parent to do?

It seems to me that my role as a parent is a tightrope act between challenge and support. Sometimes our sons or daughters need nudging (or a figurative "kick in the seat of the pants"). Procrastination is more dangerous than the swine flu. I always encourage students to take immediate, concrete steps in preparing for their eventual graduation, and I encourage parents to follow up (remind them) to keep at it. If they are a junior or senior thinking about grad school, they need to have a heart-to-heart talk with faculty advisors. They need to visit school web sites, notice application deadlines, write their personal statements -- and get them proofread -- and get those applications in on time. If they plan to work, they need to register with the Career Center, get advice from alumni and friends, attend job search events, and develop a strategy. Even just getting them to make an appointment with a career counselor to discuss strategies is a huge step in the right direction.

Sometimes what is required is encouragement. It might help for them to think creatively about different jobs, a gap year, or internships that will build their experience and resume. Internships (paid or unpaid) have proven to be the most effective strategy leading to full-time employment. Even in this economy, with an unemployment rate above 10%, there are still up to 90% of people working. Employers are looking for sharp people like your students.

How parents can help each other... 

It has been proven that networking is the most effective and efficient way to find a job.

Have you considered becoming a career advisor? The Office of Alumni Relations' Career Network manages a system that can pair you up with graduating students and young alumni who want to listen to you. You don't even have to do anything -- just having your professional information on record helps students find direction by example. Aside from that, you can do all kinds of things that will help out (and you can dictate precisely what it is you're expected to do). Give it a shot.

Get started as a career advisor

Also, Willamette has an active parent's advisory council. One of its goals is to have parents help students with advice and contacts.

I would guess that you, like me, would appreciate it if other parents helped your son or daughter. We want to help you as think about ways your organization might use a Willamette intern, or whenever you want to send job openings our way. And, needless to say, your words of wisdom about your own career background can be very effective in helping Willamette students take the next important step in their career.

I wish you all the best. Please contact us with ideas, opportunities, and questions.