Internships are basic to building resumes and careers. With today's parents doing more than ever for their children, it's not unusual for young internship-seekers to get networking help from Mom and Dad. Some parents even pay for career coaching and internship placement.
Not everyone thinks that's a good idea. Susan Smith Kuczmarski said she and her husband "have never used our Rolodex" to help their three sons.
"They shouldn't have the viewpoint that Mom and Dad are going to help them," said Kuczmarski, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. "They should find the job on their own, just like the whole world does. It's fine to coach them about the interview, but they have to take the lead in the whole process."
Yet many successful adults acknowledge their first break, a generation ago, began with a phone call from a parent.
"For my first foray into PR, my mom called my pediatrician, whose wife worked for a local agency, and I got an internship as a result," said Stacey Udell, who has worked in public relations since 1988 and is now an executive with Sandy Hillman Communications in Baltimore.
"Hasn't it always been about connections?" said Jane Covner of Sherman Oaks, Calif. When her son needed an internship in college, she called a friend with a contact at a film and TV studio. Her son followed up and got the internship.
"It was my call that made it happen," she said, but "it was his resume and qualifications that ultimately got him the internship."
Parents, help kids but don't do it all
That's a key distinction, said Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career services expert at Vault.com, a career management and job search information website.
"There are helicopter parents who want to swoop in and do everything for their kids and that doesn't help them," she said. "You have to know where to draw the line."
Thanasoulis-Cerrachio said it's fine for parents to help kids make connections. Parents can start the process by telling people they know, "I'm not in any way, shape or form asking you for a job, but do you think you could have an informational interview with my son or daughter to talk about your career?"
Next, said Tom Dezell, author of a book called Networking for the Novice, Nervous or Naive Job Seeker, the internship-seeker should follow up with a call, saying, "My mom, or dad, suggested I call you. I wonder if I could meet you."
Thanasoulis-Cerrachio said parents can help kids prepare for interviews by making sure they have a list of questions: "How did you get started, what trends do you see, what advice do you have for me if I want to get into this business?"
You don't have to be a well-connected professional in your child's chosen field to network successfully. Consider reaching out to neighbors, organizations you belong to, your house of worship, stores and restaurants you patronize, extended family, and anyone you might know from teams, school groups or local fundraising efforts.
Paying for placement or job counseling
Some parents are paying for internship placements. Intrax Internships Abroad charges $6,000 to $8,000 to place 18- to 25-year-olds in eight-week internships (mostly unpaid) in six countries.
Matthew Moughan's experience with Intrax led to a paid job. He graduated from Marquette University with a degree in economics and job-hunted for five months in 2009 with no success. He signed with Intrax and just three weeks later, "I had a visa and I headed over to England" to work for a summer with a small company, Electronic Shipping Solutions, doing a variety of tasks. When the internship was over, the company kept him on, and Moughan is now home in Chicago working on a project for the company there.
One website auctions off internships at prestigious companies. Charitybuzz.com has auctioned off 133 internships since launching five years ago. Most of the winning bids have been in the $2,500-$15,000 range. Proceeds go to charity; for example, magazine internships at Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Esquire benefit the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights.
CharityBuzz.com CEO Coppy Holzman says half the bidders are parents bidding for their offspring. "The winners are raising funds for charity so the bidders feel good about buying the experience," she said.
A less expensive way to support a son or daughter's efforts might be to pay for professional guidance from a resume writer or career coach. Thanasoulis-Cerrachio suggests that parents consider providing such services as birthday or graduation gifts "instead of just handing it over."
But there's plenty that parents can do themselves to help, for free. Proofread resumes for errors; help kids showcase the leadership aspects of experiences they've had like camp counseling, lifeguarding, community service, being an Eagle Scout or even babysitting; and do mock interviews, or ask friends or neighbors if they would do one with your child.
Make sure kids know interview basics, such as the importance of a firm handshake, eye contact, appropriate dress, being punctual, researching the company so they can ask intelligent questions, and sending a thank-you note.
And of course, brainstorm with kids on ways to find advertised internships. College career service offices and websites like Vault.com can provide listings, but many companies advertise in informal ways, from tweets to Craigslist. College students should network with alumni in their fields.
Ross Perlin, who is writing a book about internships due out next year, says there are no hard numbers on how many internships exist, but he thinks the recession has had a mixed effect. While there are fewer paid internships and more competition for them, he says that "unpaid, less prestigious positions may be easier to come by than ever before, as employers look to keep labor costs down."