In an interview on the BBC this week, former Dragon’s Den star and entrepreneur James Caan claimed that when parents arrange jobs for the children, it denies them the opportunity to develop and find their own way in life, which is good for them and good for society.  He said that success in getting a job should not depend on “who you know rather than what you know.”
He’s right, of course. And yet… having spent the last few months coaching two of my own children towards finding a job, and helping them to spot possibilities I thought they may have missed, I am as guilty as the next parent of trying to use my influence to help them along a little. I have even used my own network to effect an introduction for my daughter to a potentially influential contact. As any parent does, I simply want to do the best for my family and make sure they get off to as good a start in their working lives as possible – after all, they deserve it.

So was I wrong to do that? After all, my children are clever, educated and motivated; but getting a job isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. A recent survey by Totaljobs found the average number of applications per job is 23. However, that hides wide variations across different industries: 46 people apply for every customer service job available; 45 for every secretarial job; and 42 applications per retail job. Add in the variable of geography, and those numbers get even worse – on average 60 people apply for every secretarial job in London.

Caan says that his experience is that people who get into jobs without family help “tend to be more driven, they are more motivated, they have more to prove and generally can be an asset to an organisation.” So yes, maybe I should have left them to it; but that’s tough as a parent who simply wants the best for his kids.

So what’s the answer to this conundrum? Well, as with most conundrums there’s no simple solution, but these powerful coaching questions might help them think through possible consequences of their action – or inaction.

·         What will happen if I do …?

·         What will happen if I don’t …?

·         What won’t happen if I do …?

·         What won’t happen if I don’t …?

Those questions are powerful in many different situations – you could try them with your team at work, to help them find the keys to a challenging problem

And as for helping my children? I’m trying hard to bite my tongue, sit on my hands, listen more and talk less, to help them make their own way. Maybe that could work for your team too?


Steve Short

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