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Tough love may get that grad to look for a job

Chris Posti
| Sunday, Aug. 31, 2003

Q: My daughter graduated with a liberal arts degree a few months ago. She has had a very difficult time getting interviews, much less offers. Her only interview was for a sales job at a carpet store. She is not interested in selling. I told her she can work at my insurance agency until she finds something, but she is not interested in my field. She wants to work for a museum, a public relations firm, an advertising agency, or a nonprofit organization, preferably as a management trainee. In the meantime, she is basically just sitting around the house or hanging out with her other unemployed friends, and I am still paying off her tuition. How can I help her get her career off the ground?

A: You are the third parent I have heard from on this topic in less than two weeks. The situations vary slightly, but the pattern is the same: Recent grads, lacking career focus and motivation, would rather stay at home watching Jerry Springer than doing work they view as beneath them.

How can you help• A little tough love is called for, I believe. Sit down with your graduate and map out two things: an action plan and a timetable for achieving it.

Her action plan should include such steps as reading books on how to conduct a job search, visiting her college placement office, researching employers on the Internet, and arranging informational interviews to learn what is a realistic first job for a liberal arts graduate. (Hint: a management trainee job in a nonprofit is not realistic.) It should also include practical steps such as establishing a wake-up time well before noon and disconnecting the cable TV for the duration of the job search.

The timetable for securing a job should be, in my estimation, no longer than three months. By then, your graduate should be employed in a suitable entry-level position and thus (finally) financially self-sufficient. That means she will be expected to pay rent, buy groceries, and pay her own health and auto insurance premiums. Clothing and entertainment should be considered budgetary frills until she begins to accumulate some savings.

Once you and your daughter have mapped out the action plan and the timetable, your role is actually quite limited. In my estimation, it should be little more than providing occasional motivational nagging and verifying that she hasn't gotten the cable reconnected.

Q: I am in my 50s and have worked for the same employer for almost my entire career. Early on, I was promoted several times, but I have been in this same position for nearly 10 years. Every time we have a downsizing, I fear I will be let go because I am viewed as an old-timer and an expensive one at that. If I can hang on for just a few more years, I will qualify for a regular retirement. Mainly, I just try to keep my nose to the grindstone and not make any waves. What advice can you give me to help me make it all the way to a full retirement?

A: From your description, I am getting the picture that you are probably overpaid and underworked, and most likely not bringing a lot of ideas, improvements or value to your employer. This is not a pretty picture.

Are you working more than a standard eight-hour day• Do you keep up to date with industry trends• When is the last time you read a business book• Do you recommend bold new strategies to your management team• Are you mentoring younger or less experienced people in your company• Are you active in relevant professional groups• Do you ever present fresh and creative ideas in meetings or in memos• Do you physically look like someone waiting for the retirement watch to be presented to you, or are you a man on the move, a man of action, physically fit, and greeting people and tasks with vigor and enthusiasm?

Answer those questions the way you know they need to be answered, and I think you'll get the picture. Answer them correctly each day, and they'll be begging you not to retire.

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