This story is part of a MarketWatch series, “Gifts that pay off,” that have a larger impact long after the holiday season has passed.
Worried about the financial future of a young adult in your life, but want to do more than just lecture them about the perils of avocado toast?
Consider gifting them time with expertise.
This holiday season, instead of — or, perhaps, in addition to — a sweater or whatever trendy product young people are desperate to get their hands on this year, you can purchase your recent graduate or college student some professional advice on how to land a dream job or organize their finances.
They may not thank you now. But they could be eternally grateful five or even 10 years from now
Today’s 20- and 30-somethings certainly could use the help. Many entered the job market during a historically terrible time and their formal education isn’t doing much to prepare them for the daunting, lifetime task of navigating the career ladder or managing their finances.
Just four in 10 students say they visited the career offices at their colleges, according to the 2017 Gallup-Strada College Student survey. Of those, about one-third found the offices to be very helpful when it came to getting advice about potential career options or jobs.
As for finances, there’s ample evidence to indicate young people are skittish about investing and taking other steps to improve their financial future in large part because they feel so strapped by their financial present.
So here are some ideas for the gift giver who wants to help their young adult child/grandkid/niece/nephew/friend get ahead:
Career counseling and ‘hand holding’
Involving a professional in a job search is a practice traditionally reserved for executives and other high-level employees. But over the past several years, companies offering young people help landing a job or even an internship have proliferated.
Early Stage Careers is one of those firms. After decades of working with teenagers and their families to navigate summer enrichment opportunities, Jill Tipograph started hearing from former clients who were graduating into the Great Recession, struggling to find jobs and looking for help.
So Tipograph and her co-founder, Lesley Mitler, whose background is in executive recruiting, launched the company. Now they work with young adults on everything from identifying their interests, potential opportunities and contacts, to interviewing to resume writing. It doesn’t come cheap: The company’s services average about $400 an hour, Tipograph said.
For those who don’t trust a friend or a family member to proof-read their applications, Tipograph’s team even reviews “every single communication,” their clients send out as part of their job search. Families who hire Tipograph and her colleagues early in their college career can also get help picking out courses and skills that could be beneficial in a future job search.
This is the type of work that college career offices just don’t have enough time or resources to do, Tipograph said. “There’s no one who can handhold,” she said.
Tipograph said her firm typically doesn’t offer its services as a one-off, so family members interested in buying it as a gift would likely need to look at purchasing some sort of package.
The company offers a career assessment program, an internship coaching program and a similar service for recent graduate looking for full-time work.
Finding a job, particularly your first one, takes months of effort and that can be demoralizing for a 20-something who feels as if that effort is being directed aimlessly, she said. Early Stages can’t guarantee you’ll land a job at a specific company, but Tipograph says, her team works with clients to find and land opportunities that will be a good fit. “We are proactive and preemptive and break down every single step and basically tell them when they need to do something,” she said.
Career advice on the go
For families with a smaller budget who don’t necessarily need to have their hand held through the entire process, a less personalized approach may be more appropriate.
Raising the Bar, another career-consulting firm focused on young adults can offer those services. Sandy Golinkin launched the company about five years ago, offering one-on-one job advice to young entry-level job seekers.
Now, Golinkin offers four courses, clients can buy online: Life After College, Résumés, Interviews as well as Cover & Follow-Up Letters. They include advice on managing tough questions in an interview — “they don’t want to see the answer as much as they want to see you behave. Stay calm, smile be poised,” — how to manage career expectations and how to build a résumés that can get passed the automated tracking systems so many companies use to screen applicants.
Every class is divided into chapters, each between four and 11 minutes in length, so that young job-seekers can take them at their own pace. “The market has become very competitive,” Golinkin said. “Part of what I try to teach people is how do you stick out from the pack.”
Golinkin developed the insights she provides to her clients through her three-decade career in magazine publishing, which put her in touch with a variety of industries and gave her the opportunity to mentor and help launch the careers of many young adults.
Families and friends interested in buying the courses as a gift can head to rtbclasses.com. During the holidays, each course is $49 on its own or gift-givers can buy all four classes for $196 and get a fifth course on how to become an invaluable entry-level employee, for free. Once the purchase is made, the gift-giver will receive a coupon code they can give the recipient to claim the class.
“If you feel that your child is lost, confused, or not well-informed on their career path or how to achieve a job or an opportunity, an internship, my classes guaranteed will help,” she said.
Even for young adults who have their foot in the door to an industry they love — or at least a steady paycheck — navigating finances can be a challenge. A few free hours with a financial planner could help give them a head start. These experts can help young adults work through how to pay down any debt, how to put away money for retirement or emergency savings, and other basic financial management skills.
There are a few ways friends and relatives can go about giving this gift to a young adult in their lives, said Evelyn Zohlen, the president-elect of the Financial Planning Association.
If the gift-giver is already working with a financial planner, they can make an arrangement with that person to provide their kid, friend or relative with a few hours of planning time. Relatives and friends deciding to go this route should expect the adviser will maintain the confidentiality of both parties — unless both gift-giver and recipient decide that it would be appropriate to share that information.
A reminder from the planner “can help set expectations with all parties so that mom and dad don’t feel like they’ve got a secret pipeline to what’s going on with their kids’ financial life,” she said.
If the gift-giver isn’t working with a planner or would prefer to connect their friend or relative with someone else, websites like the Garrett Planning Network, a database of financial planners or XY Planning Network, which works with advisers focused on young adults, can help them find a planner to work with.
Before deciding on an adviser, Zohlen, who is also the founder of Inspired Financial, a Huntington Beach, Calif. financial planning firm, suggests asking a few key questions:
• Will they work for an hourly fee? “A recent graduate has very specific planning needs that can be probably most effectively addressed with an hourly engagement,” Zohlen said.
• Are they a certified financial planner? This means they’ve met certain nationally recognized standards for professionals offering financial advice.
• What kinds of planning services do you provide? Gift-givers should make sure an adviser offers budget and debt counseling. “For many recent graduates this is the starting point,” Zohlen said.
• Do you have any experience working with millennials or recent graduates?
• What kind of technology do you use? Can they meet the planner virtually? And even when clients live close by they may still prefer meeting online, she added.
• And, finally, how are you compensated? The planner whose services you are gifting should be a fiduciary or someone who is legally required to act in their client’s best interest, she said.
Though pricing may vary by location and other factors, Zohlen said gift-givers should reasonably expect a planner to provide this type of service for roughly $1,500 or less and for it to take no more than 10 hours. And, of course, relatives and friends can shop around to find the deal that works best for them.
To avoid offending the giftee, Zohlen suggests portraying the advice as something the gift-giver wish they’d had when they were leaving school. “You don’t want anybody to think you’re criticizing them,” she said.
Though sessions with a financial planner will likely include student loan advice, if the recent graduate in your life is feeling particularly stressed out about their debt, you may want to consider hiring an even more specialized professional.
Attorneys like Boston-based Adam Minsky, who focuses on student-loan law, can provide a borrower with a deep dive into their repayment options, figure out what programs and benefits they might be eligible for and help set up a plan of attack for paying off their loans.
“For some people that’s all they need,” said Minsky, who also engages in more intense legal battles on behalf of borrowers. The session doesn’t have to be with a lawyer, he adds.
Gift-givers looking to buy a session with lawyer who specializes in student loans can contact their local Bar Association chapter or the National Association of Consumer Advocates to find one in their area. Many, like Minsky, may also consult with borrowers virtually. For other types of professionals, like financial planners, families can look towards Garrett, XYPlanning or other, similar associations.
But families need to be cautious before paying someone for student loan advice, Minsky warns. While there are legitimate professionals who specialize in this area, scammers claiming to offer student-loan relief also proliferate.
He suggests working with someone who has a professional license, like an attorney or CFP. Families should also be wary of any type of open engagement, Minsky says. He or she should provide a roadmap for borrowers with no legal issues related to their student loans in a limited amount of sessions.
“You should know exactly what service you’re getting and what the fee is for that, it should expressly defined,” he said. “A lot of the more scammy operations are an open-ended thing where you’re constantly paying for who knows what.”
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