After you retire, you’re ideally suited to dish out career advice to young people. But there’s a right and wrong way to do that.
Some grandparents love to regale their grandkids about their working lives, emphasizing the role of luck, pluck and hard work. But whether youngsters listen is another story.
“You have to go where the child is,” said Nancy Schlossberg, 88, author of “Too Young To Be Old.” “If they’re interested in something, do your homework and expose them to their interest. Start with where they are developmentally and find options for them.”
For example, Sarasota, Fla.-based Schlossberg knew that her 14-year-old granddaughter enjoyed digital art. So she contacted a local school—Ringling College of Art & Design—and arranged a two-hour tour.
After learning about the college’s computer animation program, they launched into a lively discussion about pursuing your passion. Better yet, the tour guide befriended the teen and offered to help her develop a portfolio of her artwork.
“You should have no vested interest in what your grandchild does,” added Schlossberg, a former counseling psychologist at the University of Maryland. “You’re there as a guide and career coach.”
If you’re particularly excited by a young person’s career aspirations, it’s tempting to double as a cheerleader and egg them on. But don’t overdo it.
While Schlossberg is happy that the Ringling visit proved a hit, she doesn’t keep bringing it up with her granddaughter.
Rather than give advice, retirees can positively influence young people by summarizing pivotal moments that shaped their career path. Noting how fate can exert a lasting impact—or how openness to new experiences can beget once-in-a-lifetime opportunities—enables older folks to drive home valuable lessons for tomorrow’s leaders.
“A lot of our careers were unplanned,” Schlossberg said. “I call it ‘planned happenstance.’ That’s why we should encourage our grandchildren to get as much experience as possible, to try new things.”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your professional expertise when framing your career advice. Just keep it brief, instructive and relevant.
Consider Future Careers
In his new book “Life 3.0,” Max Tegmark writes that he encourages his kids to consider “professions that machines are currently bad at, and therefore seem unlikely to get automated in the near future.”
A physics professor at MIT, Tegmark suggests questions to ask young people to help them identify a secure career for decades to come:
- Does it require interacting with people and using social intelligence?
- Does it involve creativity and coming up with clever solutions?
- Does it require working in an unpredictable environment?
Posing thoughtful questions—and listening patiently to the answers—provides a blueprint to guide youngsters to ponder their career choices. You’re also more likely to engage them if you let them do most of the talking.
“Many people don’t think through what they want to say before they speak,” said Donne Davis, founder of GaGa Sisterhood, a national social network of grandmothers. “They shoot from the hip, or they base their advice on their own experience which is so outdated.”
Davis, 70, often muses to her teenage granddaughter, “I bet there are jobs out there we can’t even imagine because of so much new technology.” Then she stays silent and lets her granddaughter discuss her dreams, interests and talents.
Adopting a non-judgmental curiosity about various careers—and how the ever-changing march of technology might affect those careers—can bring retirees closer to today’s youth. They can confide in each other about their hopes and fears for the future.
Such two-way dialogues promote the best kind of career advice. Rather than spout lectures or reel off “should” statements (“You should be a lawyer like your father,” “You should go into nursing to help all of us old people”), you gain credibility by listening and dignifying what you hear.
Yet Davis does have one cardinal rule about advising young people: She cautions them not to rush to accept the first job offer that comes along.
“It’s better to know what you seek going in and whether your values and goals align with the job,” she said. “You want to make sure the company’s core values align with your own.”