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The just graduated son on the couch with no job

Dear J.T. & Dale: My son just graduated from college and is home on my couch. He says he has no idea what he wants to do for a job. How is this possible? What did I just spend $120,000 on? He claims his college career center was no help. What can I do? He is working at the local ice-cream joint and seems to have no way to get focused on a professional job search. I’m at a total loss. – Shannon

J.T.: I think if you call your son’s college career center, you may find they don’t agree with his assessment. Many students are so busy balancing their schoolwork and social life that they fail to use the college career center to its fullest. Building a strategy to get a job takes a lot of thought and work. I find a lot of college students push this off until they graduate, only to end up in the same situation as your son.

DALE: Your question got me curious, so I did some checking on college career services. A number of them boast of over 95% placement rates. As for your son’s school, the least you should expect is assessment testing and job search databases, perhaps mentoring, networking events and job fairs. To say the career center is no help is probably evidence of your son having fallen into hopelessness.

J.T.: I’d start by having him (not you!) do some online research around this problem. The more he can research and learn about landing his first job, the faster he’ll find a way to get going. You trying to help him is only going to prolong the bigger problem: Building a career isn’t taught in school and is a very individualized process. He’s going to make mistakes. The sooner you let him feel the pain of failure, the faster he’ll be motivated to take action to correct it. Enabling this current situation will only keep him on your couch longer. You are going to have to watch him suffer through the learning curve.

DALE: However, there’s one thing could do to help break the cycle of helplessness without taking over the job search for him. Ask a few friends you admire if they’d visit with him to talk about careers. While this probably won’t result in a job, it will get him off the couch, give him practice in networking and perhaps offer inspiration.

Dear J.T. & Dale: How can I obtain interviews if my resume is poor? I had Stage 4 cancer 10 years ago and should not have survived … but I did! However, I went from being an award-winning salesperson to someone with spotty jobs. I have an MBA and I’m fired up and ready to go, but my resume stops anyone from interviewing me. Networking has dried up for me. How do I get an interview? – Marshall

DALE: The thing about networking, done right, is that it’s ever-expanding. It only dries up if you let it. So, start by reconnecting with colleagues you knew in the glory days and invite them to coffee or lunch. Let them know you’re back while letting them see and feel your renewed passion.

J.T.: As for your resume, if it isn’t telling the right story, then you need a different tool. One thing we teach at my company is the “Disruptive Cover Letter.” It’s where you share a story with an employer that shows them why you feel connected to them on a personal and/or professional level. You have a powerful story with a happy ending to tell. This won’t show in a resume, but it could show in a cover letter. Then, your goal is to network and find hiring managers’ names and try to get the cover letter in their hands.

DALE: J.T. has a lively and powerful video on cover letters. Go to YouTube and put in “JT O’Donnell cover letters” and you’ll find it. It turned around my thinking – I’d grown curmudgeonly on their use, but she made me a believer.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell and Dale Dauten can be reached at