By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/24/2010 9:40:17 AM ET 2010-05-24T13:40:17

Last summer, Joe Glenn, who works for DuPont, helped his son Joe Jr. land an internship with the chemical company.

“It’s becoming a necessity to utilize parents to make contacts for kids, but the student has to close the deal,” Glenn said about his decision to help his son, now a junior at the University of Delaware.

“It’s a difficult employment situation right now,” he added, referring to the dim job prospects for college students and recent graduates. “I’m getting calls from people who have children in college or about to graduate asking the same thing of me: ‘Do you have an internship? Are there positions available?’ I try to match them up.”

With job prospects for new college graduates at historic lows, some parents are using their contacts, connections and job-hunting savvy to help their children get hired. But sometimes in their desire to help, parents can go too far.

It’s no surprise that parents want their children to land well after college. The average student loan debt for graduating college seniors in 2008 was $23,186, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

And the national unemployment rate is still hovering near 10 percent. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, the rate is even higher — 14.6 percent for those ages 20 to 24 and 21.7 percent for 18- and 19-year-olds, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employers said they were planning on hiring 5.3 percent more college graduates this spring than they did in 2009, but that’s less than half the projections hiring companies made just five years ago, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Parents can talk to their kids about career goals and also use their networks to assist when the job or internship search begins, said Leslie Stevenson, director of the University of Richmond’s Career Development Center.

Just don’t become your kids’ headhunter.

When parents go overboard
When parents go too far in helping their kids, Stevenson said, it doesn’t build confidence in the child or employers looking to hire them.

“It is not productive for parents to project their personal career goals on their children or tell them which fields they should pursue,” she said. “Additionally, employers frown upon parents taking the initiative to check on the status of job applications.”

Indeed, some parents are going overboard, said Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com.

“I recently received a call from the mother of a Ph.D. student who was applying to jobs on behalf of the daughter and thought there was nothing wrong with it,” he said. “The mother asked for suggestions for what jobs she should apply to on behalf of the daughter and I told her none.”

Rothberg said the mother was surprised at his reaction. “It had never occurred to her that her daughter should be in charge of her own career, especially as she was in her late 20s and looking for a professional position,” he added.

Parents are also popping up at job fairs with their children.

Tom Dezell, career adviser for the Maryland Professional Outplacement Assistance Center, a federally funded organization, often mans resume booths in the Baltimore area during job fairs and has seen parents bringing their grads up and speaking for them. “I say, ‘Are you going to be next to them when they face the employer?’ ”

Salary negotiation with candidate’s mom
Some parents also are sticking their noses into the salary negotiation process.

Late last year, Lisa Fedrizzi-Hutchins, a hiring manager for an environmental company in New York, made a job offer to an entry-level candidate and asked her to review it and call if she had any questions.

“The following day, I received a phone call from her mother because she felt her negotiation skills were far better than her daughter,” Fedrizzi-Hutchins recalled. “She had explained to me that the salary was far too low for her daughter to live comfortable in New York City and wanted to know what we needed to do to bring her salary up.”

The mom also asked for four weeks of vacation, above the standard two weeks' vacation for employees starting out.

Suddenly Fedrizzi-Hutchins found herself doing salary negotiations with the job candidate’s mother.

“The mother was not very happy with how our conversation ended, and sadly, her daughter did not accept the position with our company,” she said.

There’s nothing like the protective instincts of a parent. We want to make sure our kids get off to a good start and have all the opportunities for success that are available to them.

But parents need to learn to take a step back, said Susan Smith Kuczmarski, author of “The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go.”

“It’s important for the teen or young adult to find her own job,” she said. “If a parent stays out of it, kids learn the difficulty of finding a job, an important discovery.”

Ready for adult world
Chances are your kid might not even want your help.

“Recent college grads, especially, may be less likely to heed their parents’ advice since they are adults and, at least on paper, are ready for the real world,” said Kristen Fischer, author of “Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life.”

Another problem, she added, is that your help may be outdated.

“Resumes are written differently,” Fischer said. “Finding a job doesn't mean flipping open the newspaper or clicking on Monster.com anymore. Now, social media is involved, and there are rules for using that, too.”

And meddling too much in your kid’s job search may end up hurting your reputation — or even your own career.

If you start handing out your business contacts to your children, you want to make sure your offspring won’t embarrass you and that you’re matching them up with the appropriate people. It’s the same rule you probably already follow when giving your networking sources to your friends and colleagues.

Don’t let the love of your children cloud your judgment, said CollegeRecruiter.com’s Rothberg. “Make sure your kids have the skills or will be a good fit,” he said. “Then step out of it.”

That’s pretty much the approach of Brooke Allen, a manager for the trading desk at Maple Securities in Jersey City, N.J., and founder of the site NoShortageOfWork.com. He has been using his social networking contacts to help his son, who’s a senior at McGill University, land gigs and internships while he studies abroad.

“I am good at finding opportunities, but many younger people are not — yet,” Allen said.

At one point, Allen connected his son with a host of individuals, but his son didn’t follow up on any of the offers that resulted.

Allen wasn’t upset though. “I think it’s a kid thing,” he said. “I wasn’t good at that age either. He’s getting better at it.”

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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