Ask the Headhunter: Help this kid get a job

Introducing young people to adults who work in the fields they're interested in can help them decide what they want to do -- and more importantly, motivate them. Photo by Photo by Jetta Productions/Getty Images.

Introducing young people to adults who work in the fields they’re interested in can help them decide what they want to do — and more importantly, motivate them. Photo by Photo by Jetta Productions/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I know Ask The Headhunter is for adults, but can you help me help a good kid? My nephew is graduating from high school and I’m trying to give him some vocational guidance. (I’m the only adult family he’s got.) He’s not good with academics, but he loves computers, and I think he might do well with a two-year junior college computer science program.

I would like to be thorough in exploring possibilities with him, including those outside technology. I looked at the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook forecasting “tomorrow’s jobs,” and I found a website that purports to help determine aptitude and occupational interests. There appear to be a number of such services online, but I’m sure they vary in quality. Are there better ways to do this? Thanks very much for your suggestions.

Nick Corcodilos: Good for you for trying to help. Your influence and interest alone will make a huge difference in this young man’s life. But the thing that will affect your nephew’s success more than anything is his motivation. Do not get stuck on how he has done in school to this point. Lots of kids just can’t handle the traditional classroom, but they can do well in a more applied setting where they are motivated to learn things that have a clear connection to their own goals.

Some basic aptitude tests and interest surveys are a good idea, and you can get these inexpensively at a local community college; you don’t need a commercial company. (Please see “Employment Tests: Get an edge” for more resources.) These tools can stimulate new ideas, but don’t let them limit your nephew one way or the other. Let him explore and choose what he wants to pursue. Don’t worry; if he makes a mistake, he can change his mind later. Motivation, however, is necessary now, or you’ll lose him.

Here’s the smartest thing you can do: If your nephew has some specific interests, try to find local companies that match up to them. Then start asking around. Do you know someone who knows someone who could introduce him to a person who does the work he’s interested in? Maybe he could shadow this person for a day at work, or get advice on what it takes to get that kind of job.

One-on-one exposure to folks who do the work your nephew wants to do is key. This is a great reality check and it will help him decide “This is not for me,” or it will motivate him to work all the harder. When a kid can experience “the real thing” and get advice from an insider about what it takes to be successful, well, get out of the way. His motivation will go into high gear. (If your nephew has no clue what he’s interested in, try “The Library Vacation” in my PDF book “How Can I Change Careers?”, but go with him — at least the first day — to help get him on track.)

As for the Department of Labor’s Handbook, it’s a wealth of job information. But don’t get wrapped up in “what’s hot.” The hottest jobs cool off pretty quickly. (See “Jobs Aren’t Hot; People Are.”) What gets people through the down cycles in their careers is their motivation and their expertise. Even in the most depressed fields, there are true experts still commanding good salaries. That’s the goal. Not to survive. But to become one of the best.

Plumber. Programmer. Landscaper. Doctor. Electrician. Carpenter. Engineer. Mechanic. Whatever the work is, there must be motivation behind it. Help this kid feed his excitement about whatever it is he thinks he wants to go toward. Guide him and help him. But don’t try to stop him from making a mistake or two. Be there to help him get back on track.

Above all, fuel his motivation by helping him meet people who do the work he thinks he wants to do. The direction he ultimately chooses will depend a lot on your guidance.

Again, I compliment you for helping him out. Even kids whose parents have college degrees and professional jobs don’t always get this kind of adult help. Best wishes to you both.

Dear readers: Please help this kid get a job: What advice would you give? How did you land your first job fresh out of school? If other young job seekers are running into obstacles, please post your questions and we’ll do our best to help!

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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