How to Coach Your Adult Child Into a Career

father and upset daughter
If you don't want to support your children into their retirement years, you'd better coach them into a career.

You pored over baby name books to find a moniker that would sound strong and capable on a future resume. You dutifully videotaped first steps, preschool graduations and high school plays. You scrimped and saved and refinanced your house to pay for four years (and then a fifth year -- and then, seriously, just one more semester, I swear) of college. And then finally, graduation day arrived, giving your grown son or daughter the chance to embark on a new adventure and forge a new path -- a path that led right back to your house.

If you find yourself sharing a roof with your children well past their 18th (or 21st or 26th) birthdays (and not in a "Hey, Mom, whaddya say you move in and let us take care of you for a change" kind of way), maybe it helps to know that you are by no means alone. Philadelphia-based consulting firm Twentysomething, Inc. predicts that 85 percent of new college graduates will return to their parents' homes in 2011. And like any trend worth its weight in salt, this one even has its own nickname: the "boomerang effect."


National unemployment rates continued to hover in the 9 to 10 percent range in early summer 2011, and despite having youthful optimism and pricey educations on their sides, college graduates are feeling the effects just like everyone else. According to an April 2011 study by Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, only 53 percent of students who graduated from a four-year college between 2006 and 2010 have found full-time employment. And nearly half of all recent graduates surveyed were underemployed, meaning working in jobs that didn't require a bachelor's degree.

So assuming that it's not your life's ambition to support your children into their retirement years (or their life's ambition to perfect their delivery of the question, "Would you like fries with that?"), how can you help coach your adult children into a career?

Ideally you're reading this well before your child's college graduation, like maybe sometime during your third trimester of pregnancy with your future overachiever. But if you're instead finding -- like many parents of 20-somethings -- that you weren't prepared for this particular parenting challenge, take heart: All is not lost.

Now read on, quickly -- before they bump you off the computer so they can check Facebook -- er, that is, search the job boards again.


Put the Campus Career Center to Work

As a recent graduate, your child is most likely entitled to take advantage of any free career services provided by his or her alma mater. With this in mind, the Internet-savvy parent may want to surreptitiously redirect her grown child's browser homepage to the college's career services page -- or you could just ask whether they've checked into it recently. Career centers frequently offer everything from resume critique and interview preparation to personal skills assessments, recruitment fairs and networking events, so any subterfuge you need to undertake could be well worth your while.

If your child is still a student, campus career centers are also great resources for researching and landing that all-important summer internship. And forget waiting until senior year: "The Wall Street Journal" reports that many colleges now encourage students to apply for internships beginning in their freshman summer. Yes, it's possible that your student will change majors 13 times after that (not that we're speaking from personal experience or anything), but an internship still provides valuable work experience -- even if only to help your child figure out what they don't want to do for a living.


Call in Some Favors, Then Call in the Pros

job coach
Enlist the help of a professional resume writer, career counselor or job coach.

If graduation has come and gone, there are still steps you can take to help your adult child. (OK, we're really going to need a better term for this if the trend is going to hang around for a while. Does "chadult" work for anyone?) If you haven't done so already, scour your personal and professional contact lists for the names of family, friends and colleagues who might be willing and able to make an introduction, offer advice or pass your child's resume along.

You will be tempted to offer your own well-intended feedback about resume preparation and interviewing skills, but consider enlisting the help of a pro here. Your graduate may be more willing to accept advice from an objective third party, and a professional resume writer, career counselor or job coach should be on top of current resume requirements and job search trends, which may have changed since the last time you were in the job market. If these services aren't available through the university's career center, try to think of this as yet another investment in your child's future -- or just a really great graduation gift.


Look Beyond the Paycheck

If at all possible, support your child's decision to take an unpaid or low-paying internship in his or her chosen field while living at home. Even unpaid volunteer work can lead to great skills and connections. Times are tough for many families, and we get it if you're eager for your son or daughter to take any paying job that comes his or her way. But consider whether a part-time evening or weekend job might help cover bills and basic expenses while your new graduate builds the experience needed to land a permanent, paid position in a profession they love.

What if your child has grown discouraged with the job search, or you get the feeling that you care about their employment status way more than they do? Read on.


What Not to Do

doing laundry
Make sure you set rules and conditions for your child's return home, and then stick to them.

If you can't look at your "boomerang" child without seeing giant red dollar signs swirling around his head, or if she comes home from her part-time barista job just long enough to change clothes and head to a friend's beach house for the weekend, chances are you're beginning to resent your child's freeloading ways. To help restore harmony in the home and ensure that your child will eventually be motivated to find career success, be sure to treat your adult child as a productive member of the family, not a pampered guest.

Once it becomes clear that your son or daughter will be returning home after graduation, and preferably before he or she shows up on your doorstep with a new puppy and a live-in significant other, set rules and conditions for their return home, and then stick to them. Consider setting a timeframe or probationary period, e.g., "You can live at home for six months." If, despite his or her best efforts, your adult child is not financially able to leave home at the end of the time period, terms can be renegotiated, much like a lease or temp contract in the "real world."


Don't forget that you're still the parent. You aren't doing your children any favors if you continue to coddle them or try to be their "best friend." On the other hand, keep in mind that your child, as frustrating and irresponsible as he or she may seem to you some days, is now an adult.

Take a Step Back

If your 24-year-old artist still shows no interest in being an accountant, there's probably not much you can (or should) do to change her mind. Recognize that for some adults, a lower paying job such as waiting tables or working in retail provides the benefit of flexible hours along with the mental "space" in which to pursue creative interests or other passions. Just be sure your adult children understand the importance of benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, and encourage them to seek out employers that offer those perks.

Many things have likely changed since your last job hunt, so no matter how pure your intentions, try not to be the overbearing parent with all the answers. And this part should probably go without saying, but always leave the actual interviewing and follow-up to the job hunter. No going along for moral support or calling potential employers to see if your superstar landed the job, like the "helicopter parents" we've read about who do just that for their "boomerang" kids.


Remember that you raised your children to make good choices; now empower them to do just that while you sit back and admire the results of all your hard work. We know it's a challenge to find the right balance between being too involved and not involved enough in your adult children's career endeavors, but you will be a better parent for trying.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Godofsky, Jessica. "Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy." Rutgers University. May 2011. (May 22, 2011)
  • Light, Joe. "Interns Get a Head Start in Competition for Jobs." The Wall Street Journal. May 16, 2011. (May 16, 2011) 321543988841626.html?mod=dist_smartbrief
  • Quesinberry, Justin. "College grads become 'boomerangs,' return home after graduation." May 13, 2011. (May 13, 2011)
  • Rutgers University. "Media Release: Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy." May 18, 2011. (May 22, 2011)
  • Shellenbarger, Sue. "Cost of Raising a Child Ticks Up." The Wall Street Journal. June 10, 2010. (May 21, 2011)
  • Twentysomething, Inc. "In the News." (May 13, 2011)
  • Weiss, Tara. "Are Parents Killing Their Kids' Careers?" Forbes. Nov. 9, 2006. (May 21, 2011)