As the parent of two 20-somethings, I often find myself in conversations with other parents about our offspring’s careers. One thing that comes up frequently is the fact that many of these young adults aren’t taking the college-to-corporate career route many of us chose. They’re working at ski resorts, waiting tables, blogging and taking other flexible and/or part time jobs so they can travel and perhaps dabble in careers they think they might want to pursue.
The prevailing parental question: How much will postponing a “real” career hurt if and when they decide to launch a serious career search?
According to several career experts I consulted, forgoing 9-to-5 gigs for more exciting, less traditional (and to parents, less secure) work is definitely a trend.
The reasons vary.
Some 20-somethings “feel more vulnerable and less trusting of corporate institutions and careers because they saw what their parents went through during the last recession,” according to Robert Moses, chief editor at The Corporate Con/noisseur (thecorporatecon.com).
Others watched parents go to work and come home miserable and unfulfilled, says Scott Holman, president of Stop Clowning Around (stopclowningaround.com), whose goal is to help people excel in their careers — whatever those careers may be.
And then there’s the relative ease of starting a business, which has made taking an alternate route quite appealing. “Most online startups can be started relatively cheaply and without much overhead,” Moses says. “With so many self-made bloggers, YouTubers and Instagram stars, it can be tempting to dedicate and devote some time to pursuing a passion which could potentially pay off huge dividends.”
Whatever the reasons, I’m happy to report that the prevailing message these career pros offer parents is, “Don’t worry!”
And they cite several reasons why.
“Postponing your career takes courage, especially in a world where kids are taught that the pipeline from high school to college to a full-time job is the way to go,” says Jon Hill, CEO and chairman of the staffing firm The Energists (energists.com).
“It shows that you’re not afraid to take risks and that you want to experience life outside of traditional institutions. There’s a lot of safety in the college-to-career path. Parents may want that type of stability for their children, but that path doesn’t produce the most well-rounded individuals.”
Hill, in fact, loves getting resumes from people who spent five years waiting tables before entering the tech industry and meeting candidates who spent time traveling after high school or college before getting that proverbial “real job.”
“Some hiring managers might judge a candidate for doing so, but I think that’s a mistake,” he says. “Waiting tables is hard work, and anyone who says it isn’t has never done it. If you can survive in the restaurant industry for that long, you have a stronger work ethic than 90% of people who work in tech … and traveling introduces you to folks from all walks of life, so I actually view it as valuable work experience. The best employees are the ones who know how to get along with all kinds of people. The kids who come straight from college aren’t always the best at interacting with people because a lot of them have lived in a bubble for their whole lives.”
J. Kelly Hoey, author of “Build Your Dream Network” (jkellyhoey.co/build-your-dream-network), notes that employers are looking for people with the kind of soft skills a little career exploration can deliver.
“Dabbling in roles that fuel a young person’s passions — skiing, surfing, yoga, the outdoors — are opportunities to develop leadership, critical thinking, communication and team-building skills,” she says. “It is also an opportunity for these young people to expand and diversify their networks.”
And since most jobs are found via networking (industry estimates range from 60 to 70%), expanding those networks is key.
“Although your recent graduate isn’t applying day and night, they may be building a list of connections which could help them find their passion and their career of choice,” Moses says.
These experts do have some advice for young adults who want to hike the Appalachian Trail, head to Europe, tend bar or embark on some other less-than-traditional career path.
“Go for it — but do it in a structured way,” Hill says. That means not relying on parents for money, reading a lot and thinking about what your end-goal might be. “It’s important to live in the present if you want to get the most out of that type of experience, but you should think about how your experience can translate to a career later on,” Hill says.
Planning, adds Hoey, also is an important step.
“They need a compelling story of why they pursued [being a] ski instructor, camp counselor or waitress and what they actually learned in those roles,” Hoey stresses. “Twenty-somethings who are postponing the real career search until after they have explored the world and done a little soul-searching — or soul-lifting — are well-advised to keep two questions top of mind during their ‘dabble’: What am I learning (with a focus on soft skills)? And who am I meeting (what’s the network I am building)?”
Ultimately, if that young adult you’re worried about doesn’t take time to learn during their journey, it could set them back a bit, Holman says. “However,” he adds, “if they actually do find their path of passion or purpose that matches their potential, there will be little to stop them from being successful in their career.”
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