When I started interviewing for positions, the first question I heard was not “Why do you want this position?” or "Tell me about yourself." It was “You’re Bill Clarey’s son, aren’t you?”
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in my case, I fell right into the same career my dad did: executive search. A relative who was a former Vice President and Partner at Heidrick and Struggles introduced my dad to search when he graduated from college. Later he joined a firm in Los Angeles before becoming a partner at a search firm of his own. When I was younger, I remember my dad talking about placing key decision-makers in corporations and how rewarding it was to exceed his clients’ expectations. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what searching for a Senior Vice President of Operations meant, but I knew it was challenging and rewarding work. As I got older and began considering my own career choices, I was attracted to that “perfect match” thrill that only executive search can offer. I joined The Alexander Group in part because our co-founder and Managing Director Jane Howze exemplifies a similar business philosophy that I saw in my dad: Work hard and be passionate about your career. Just like my dad, each of my colleagues cares deeply about their relationships with TAG’s clients.
Passing down professions from parent to child used to be relatively common. “Family trades,” in which children choose a career that matches their parent’s line of work, is a centuries-old trend. Farmers’ sons became farmers, doctors’ kids became doctors, and so on. In the 1900s, increasingly widespread higher education opportunities resulted in more specialized jobs, and young professionals now are more likely than not to pick a career that is different from their parents’.
Nonetheless, working in the same field as your mother or father has its benefits. Trends in the market have created a dearth of entry-level jobs and a tight job market has placed a premium on industry experience and professional relationships. For me, executive search offered familiarity and comfort: I was confident in my ability to learn the ins and outs of the industry, because I grew up around it.
Jumpstarting a career with the help of a parent’s experience also facilitates industry connections. A critical advantage to landing a new job is having direct contacts within an organization. Many of our parents have worked in the same industry for an extensive period of time, so they can be an entry point into broad professional networks.
My generation faces an especially interesting set of circumstances when deciding whether to follow in a father’s or mother’s career footsteps. I’m a recent college graduate and a millennial, so I grew up with the Internet, an iPod, and a Facebook account. We explained in a blog post last year that millennials approach their personal and professional lives differently than previous generations. This generation is usually defined by two shared experiences: We grew up inside the dot-com bubble, and we witnessed the 2007 financial crisis.
Largely due to an unfavorable job market, millennials enter the workforce later and are more likely than previous generations to “boomerang” back to live with mom and dad. Additionally, parents of millennials are usually heavily involved in their children’s lives, often earning the title “helicopter parents.” As a result, college graduates these days may be receiving more career guidance now than ever before—and not all of this influence is positive. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that 3 percent of college graduates had brought their mom or dad to a job interview. LinkedIn has seized the opportunity to attract helicopter parents by creating an annual Bring Your Parents to Work Day. Luckily for me, my dad’s style was more hands off. He offered sound advice when needed, but he gave me space to make my own decisions.
Despite our generation’s propensity to involve our parents in our career choices, a “family trade” doesn’t determine everyone’s professional futures. One of my colleagues here at TAG, James Irvine, was born into a family of lawyers but chose executive search instead. “Both of my parents are lawyers, my older brother and older sister are lawyers, and my little brother, a junior in college, is considering law school,” he told me. “Maybe I would be good at law because my whole family is, but it feels too
predetermined. I wanted to see what else was out there, to explore, to find a different path. Plus, I like being the wild card in family conversations.”
James isn’t alone: Only 7% of children today end up in the same position as their mother or father. Perhaps that’s because our generation is accustomed to having seemingly infinite choices, and we don’t feel as compelled to mimic our parents’ professional decisions. Young professionals may also be turning away from their parents’ industries because they are taking advantage of the generational gap in the workforce: When our parents were young, they weren’t applying for Social Media Manager, SEO Associate, or Blog Editor positions.
Personally, I’ve been able to see firsthand since childhood how rewarding a career in executive search can be, but choosing to the same vocation as a parent isn’t for everyone. Nonetheless, family members offer a wealth of professional resources. Talking to relatives about career choices, using their professional networks to make connections, and learning about different industries are valuable career moves for young college grads and CEOs alike.