Now is the time when college kids who haven't landed jobs yet become increasingly desperate. As they hone their risumis and cover letters, they often turn to their parents for advice.
Parents oblige, with good intentions. But they aren't always the best source of wisdom on these matters. Often, the advice parents give is outdated, irrelevant or just plain lousy.
Even parents with successful careers aren't necessarily expert job hunters. And many parents don't have much experience in hiring or recruiting. So they sometimes pass along the mistaken assumptions they have made over the course of their careers. Or they suggest things that might be appropriate for their own industry or level of seniority but that aren't right for the jobs their kids are pursuing.
"Most of these parents do not have any relevant particular background that would enable them to give decent advice," says Brad Karsh, president of JobBound, a Chicago-based career-counseling service. "I cannot tell you how many times I've heard, 'but my mom told me to put that on my risumi' or 'my dad told me to include that.' "
Mr. Karsh spent 10 years as a recruiter at a big ad agency before founding JobBound. Recently he advised a college senior hoping to land a marketing job upon graduation. Mr. Karsh helped her craft a risumi. A few weeks later, she came back with major revisions to the version Mr. Karsh had suggested. It turned out she had shown it to her dad, who insisted he knew better.
"Every single thing that I had done, her father questioned," Mr. Karsh said. Figuring her dad must be a job-hunting expert to have such strong opinions, he asked, "So, your dad must work in HR or recruiting?" Turns out he didn't. Her dad didn't have any experience in marketing, either, the woman's intended field.
Some of the dad's advice suggested he didn't recognize how competitive the job market is for college students today. The father, for instance, had told the woman to exclude many details of her work experience from her risumi. His logic: This would leave her something to talk about in the interview. Mr. Karsh disagreed. She would hurt her chances of even landing an interview if she omitted such significant information. "Given the fact that one out of 100 people actually get the interview, I don't know that I'd save anything for the interview," he says.
Her father also advised her to keep some of her accomplishments vague, in hopes that the hiring manager might assume her achievements were even better than they were. The woman, for instance, had held a summer job as a magazine-ad salesperson. She had sold 10 ads, which impressed Mr. Karsh. But the woman's dad advised her not to write how many ads she had sold. He figured that if she simply wrote "sold ads," the interviewer might think she had sold dozens.
Mr. Karsh warned that skeptical hiring managers were unlikely to assume the woman had been so wildly successful. "A recruiter is going to assume the worst," he says. Listing the number of ads would reassure interviewers that she had accomplished something.
Peg Hendershot, director of Career Vision, a Glen Ellyn, Ill., career-counseling service, says some parents go a step further than the father of Mr. Karsh's client -- they write their kids' risumis themselves. While this might result in impressive, professional-sounding risumis, the tactic often backfires in interviews.
Sometimes parents exaggerate their children's responsibilities at, say, a summer job. But the kids can't back up these boasts when they discuss their actual job duties. Other times, parents describe supposed achievements in business-buzzword terms that their kids don't understand. When asked to explain these achievements in an interview, the kids don't have a clue. So the interview ends up "a total flop," Ms. Hendershot says.
Marc Karasu, vice president of marketing at Yahoo Inc.'s HotJobs career site, says proud parents sometimes tell their children to list mountains of accomplishments on multipage risumis. Usually, this is inappropriate: Older, more experienced job seekers -- who have longer work histories -- typically can keep their risumis to one or two pages. Mr. Karasu recalls one young woman who was job hunting after taking a year off to travel following college. Her mother encouraged her to list "every pit stop" she had taken on her travels, Mr. Karasu says. The result was an inappropriately exhaustive four-page risumi.
Parents sometimes give bad advice about interviews, too. Mr. Karasu says parents often tell kids, "Just be yourself." But recent college graduates have so little experience interviewing, they need more concrete help. He suggests that parents stage mock interviews with their children so that they can get a sense of what questions they might be asked and how their answers sound. "What might sound good as you rehearse it in your head might not sound good when you say it out loud," he says.