Don’t Go There: What Not to Ask a Recent Graduate

Her words stuck with me for the remainder of the day. She was right. With the student loan repayment clock ticking, a job was definitely what I needed, but I didn’t think it was her place to let me know. Now that I think of it, she was not the first person to skip past my current opportunity in need of an answer about my long-term goal.  It was the unknown limbo that left me extra sensitive about these inquiries. When chatting with other recent grads, we came to the conclusion that it was a universal tendency. Most of us dreading family gatherings and one-on-one meetings with mentors for fear of hearing that three-word question: so what’s next?

Let’s pump the breaks a bit and look a little closer at this yearly Q&A session. There’s productive ways to getting questions answered, so why not try rephrasing these three common inquiries the next time you encounter a recent grad.

  • What are you going to do with that major?

While it’s important, your major isn’t the final determinant of your career, advises Katharine Brooks, director of liberal-arts career services at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of You Majored in What? In a Psychology Today blog. Brooks suggests asking: “What do you want to do? And how can you show through your major, and other aspects of your life, that you can do it?”

  • Are you still living at home?

Nearly 85% of recent grads are moving back in with Mom and Dad, according to a poll by marketing consultancy firm Twentysomething Inc. That’s up from 67% in 2006. With those statistics, it shouldn’t startle folks when “Boomerang Kids,” as we’re often called, say they’ve returned back to the nest.  Rather, ask, “Have you decided to move back home?” It’s phrased in a way so that you recognize the former student’s agency in the situation. Don’t forget this is often a temporary arrangement where these twenty-somethings are using this assistance to get on their feet.

  • Do you have a job lined up?

Knowing the type of job market the Class of 2011 is facing; there are only a few professions, such as finance, where graduates walk the stage knowing they have a job in the bag. A majority of companies hire based on necessity and want potential applicants to be ready to start as soon as possible. There’s really no real way to jazz this question up. Please just steer clear of this one altogether; instead, be a source for the recent college grad as either a person to provide industry-specific advice or to vent to, only if, he or she needs that outlet.

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