Tips for helping out a recent college graduate

June 14, 2011 at 8:00 am | Posted in Graduation | Leave a comment
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Stacie Stormer

I recently re-watched the classic movie “The Graduate”.  It had been a while since I originally watched it. While this movie is known mostly for its story about a sordid affair between Dustin Hoffman’s (Benjamin Braddock) and Anne Bancroft’s (Mrs. Robinson) characters, as a career counselor I could not help but focus on Benjamin’s current circumstances.

Benjamin had just graduated from college. While the well-intentioned “adults” in his life were congratulating him for this achievement, Benjamin felt lost and confused. Further, he felt worse about his situation every time an adult said or did something that they thought was helpful.

Right now we are in the swing of graduation parties. For many graduates, this will be an exciting time of celebrating their hard work and looking forward to starting their first jobs. Others may be feeling more like Benjamin either because they are unemployed, underemployed, confused, or all of the above.

As the “adult” attending these parties, here are some tips to consider when interacting with these recent graduates.

  • “One word: plastics.” In other words avoid giving unsolicited advice or doling out career suggestions that do not take the person’s unique interests and strengths into consideration. If you want to be helpful instead, ask the graduate about some of his/her college experience. For example: “What sorts of activities did you enjoy the most in college? What were some of your most interesting classes? Who were some of your most influential professors?”  You can get clues from these answers and give examples of jobs or organizations that may fit the graduate.
  • Appropriately self-disclose. As a career counselor, I cannot tell you how many times clients have said that they feel silly because everyone else seems to be clear about their career goals. They usually find it comforting to know that in fact, most people struggle with career decisions. If you struggled to find that first job or just to figure out where you wanted to take your career, talk about that with the graduate. Be sure to mention how you felt and the steps you took to work through that phase in your life.
  • Give a sincere compliment. Think about a specific behavior you have observed and tell the graduate what you appreciate about it. For example, “Emily, I remember in my history class that you contributed to the class discussion in a way that elevated the conversation. You are very insightful.” This is a time when that graduate may really need a boost in self-efficacy and a sincere and specific compliment could go a long way.
  • Offer to help. If through your conversation with the graduate, you think of people who are in positions that seem to fit the graduate’s interests, offer to connect the graduate with those people. One of the best ways to learn about careers and ultimately land a job is to conduct informational interviews with people who are in positions or organizations that are related to one’s career goals or interests.

College graduation is a milestone and like any other life milestones, even positive ones, most of us feel a certain level of anxiety. I remember feeling anxious myself and can still remember those “adults” who said or did things that were helpful. I eventually found my way and I know it was due to the collective supportive I received from others.

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