Mother and Father may know best, but they don’t always make the wisest career mentors. Landing a first job in 2012, where the unemployment rate for Gen Y (aged 16-34) is 13.1 percent, requires a vastly different strategy than their Baby Boomer parents experienced decades ago.
Hannah Orenstein, a sophomore journalism major at New York University, found that her parents’ post-grad experiences are a far cry from her expectations. As computer science majors, both of her parents graduated college during the boom of the computer industry in the early 1980s and walked straight into jobs in their field. While her parents want to offer help, they don’t recognize how changed the 21st century job market is. “[My mom] tells me all the time that she made $40,000 her first year out of college. I know journalism majors making half of that their first year out of college – and that’s if they’re lucky enough to find a job at all,” Orenstein says.
They’re also out of touch with the steps Orenstein must take to gain an edge over competition. As a sophomore in college, she has already held four internships, worked as a staff writer at her college paper, and run her own blog. The more experience, the better, though her parents don’t seem to understand that her labor is free. “I recently sent my parents a cover letter I had written to apply for an editorial internship at a magazine. My mom sent it back to me with the word ‘internship’ crossed out and changed to ‘PAID position. Sorry, Mom, that’s not how it works!” Orenstein says.
Still, Orenstein finds her parents to be beneficial in other parts of career advice, like proofreading her cover letters and editing her resume. Many millennials also rely on Mom and Dad for help with finding work. Nearly 40 percent of Gen Y indicated their primary mentor is their parent, according to a recent survey from Gen Y consulting firm, Millennial Branding and StudentAdvisor.com, an online student resource center.
Dan Schawbel, Gen Y workplace and career expert and Managing Partner at Millennial Branding, finds the practice of going to parents for career counseling troubling. “If you rely on only your parents for career mentoring, then you aren’t getting all the perspectives and information needed in order to make a good decision,” said Schawbel in a recent Business Insider article. A good relationship does not a good mentorship make, he says. Parents cannot be solely relied upon because they’re too close. In this respect, they can’t give their children all perspectives and information, or give them their unbiased opinion.
Another reason parents may not offer solid career advice is because they often come from entirely different job sectors than their children aspire to, which limits their expertise. N.Y.U. junior Katharine Francis is enrolled in the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies, where she focuses on sexual orientation and gender inequality and aspires to be a midwife.
Her parents, who work in education, have a difference in career experience that limits their assistance. They are ideal sources for figuring out necessary pre-requisite classes, editing internship applications, and teaching efficient work habits, but advice ends there. Even though they are supportive of her goals, Francis doesn’t expect them to give her concrete career advice in the same way they can to her two older brothers who are pursuing traditional business-related jobs. “We have a great relationship, but it feels like I’m speaking another language when I am describing the post-grad path I need to take,” she says.
Today’s young adults also have different professional goals than their parents. A stable, well-paying desk job isn’t for everyone: several studies show that Millennials value a fulfilling job over a steady salary at a long-term position. This can conflict with their parents’ ideals of job security. Janelle Sadarananda, a senior at the University of Richmond, has a different idea of her post-grad plans than her parents. A classical civilization major, minoring in archaeology and women, gender, and sexuality studies, she plans to get a PhD in archaeology. From there, her dream is to work as a classical archaeologist or museum curator. Her mother, an employee of the Pennsylvania state government, has a different idea.
“My mom thinks that I should be looking for a job with the federal government, specifically the state department, in order to earn money until I go to grad school, but I would really prefer to look for jobs or internships at museums, or at least for jobs that are more congruent with my academic interests,” Sadarananda says. “And maybe she is hoping that my hypothetical government job straight out of college will be so fulfilling that I forget about archaeology.”
Though her parents have been supportive once she made her career goals clear, she says there is still tension. She wants a challenging, exciting job that makes her feel like she is contributing to her field and to society. Her parents would prefer something financially stable; like many of her peers, predictable and “boring” are the last things Sadarananda desires out of a job.
Sadarananda’s parents are still supportive and offer help on general issues, but she’s learned that the chasm in values doesn’t make them the best sources when it comes to career mentoring. “At this point, my professors are my best resource for career advice, since my field is fairly specialized,” she says.
Another criticism of parent mentors is that their opinions are not unbiased when it comes to their children. While professionals can offer unbiased opinions, parents are in the position to give the most tailored assessments. Still, Gen Y should take that ‘tailored’ advice with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that parental biases can be misleading.
Sarah Nguyen, 22, a recent journalism graduate of N.Y.U., works at a Dallas-based media company. She says her close relationship with her parents is why she trusts their advice so much.
“My parents have seen me at worst and at my best for the last 22 years, so it’s safe to say that they know me best. They’re both in their 50s, so I know it sounds cheesy but they really have always been the oldest mentors and role models in my life.”
Nguyen highly values her parents’ professional experiences for guidance through every stage of her professional journey, from reading cover letters for first internships, to answering questions about her salary, benefits, and 401k for her first post-grad job.
Laura Schildkruat, director of Onboarding Gen Y, a Seattle-based career consulting firm for millennials and their employers, says parents as mentors aren’t always a bad thing. However, they shouldn’t be used as a sole source of advice.
She encourages job-seeking young adults to “take advice from any and all adults they respect. Some parents may be able to help more than others. It depends upon the parent’s scope of experience and network in relation to what his/her child is interested in.” It’s unrealistic to assume that Gen Y will work with a professional instead of their parents when it comes to career counseling, Schildkraut says.
Forbes career blogger J. Maureen Henderson urges Gen Y to seek professionals’ advice. “There is certainly a wealth of career guidance out there and instead of waiting for it to be hand-delivered to them from the most accessible sources, students need to do the legwork to seek out the advice, the mentorship and the connections that support their career goals,” she says.
While parents don’t need to be shunned completely, in the game of career counseling, they’re better in the specific role of the number one fan than the coach. Henderson says, “Mentors are more than cheerleaders. As well-meaning as they might be, most parents aren’t equipped to fill this role for their own offspring.”