Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Work Ethic/Motivation

Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.

~Winston Churchill

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

~Samuel Goldwyn

It’s supposed to go like this: We convince the employer we’re the best person for the job. The employer agrees and offers it to us, complete with a compensation package. We accept the offer and celebrate, recognizing they could have easily offered the position to someone else. In return for the paycheck, we work our tails off, do our best, and… WAIT, STOP THE TAPE! Not so fast!

In my conversations with employers of young people, I hear more complaints about work ethic and dependability than any other traits. Among the issues they cite: absenteeism, late arrivals, distractions, failure to meet deadlines, deficient work, whining (especially toward more “menial” tasks), and entitlement attitudes. Some employers have given up and are now recruiting retirees to avoid the “baggage.” (Their word.)

And, they’ll tell you it wasn’t always this way.

To be honest, I think the responsibility for this generational shift lies primarily with parents. We do our children’s chores, either to keep them happy or because we can do them better or quicker. We overcommit them with one activity after another and feel guilty if we also ask them to sweep the garage. We allow play to come before work. We permit hours and hours of time with their endless technology, media, and entertainment options. It all adds up and manifests itself in a big way during the teen and young adult years.

Oh, and, educators will tell you the lack of motivation is apparent in their classrooms, too.

There are many, many reasons why a strong work ethic and motivation (both inextricably linked) are so important in the workplace and in life:

  • It is an admired character trait and a MUST for a productive life
  • We owe it to our employers who are paying us for excellent work
  • It directly affects our job performance, pay potential, reputation, job security, and promotability; also, several careers pay directly by output and sales, which are heavily influenced by our work ethic and productivity
  • Our team members are depending on us
  • It is a necessity for building grit and resilience
  • We make ourselves easier to manage in the eyes of our supervisor
  • Businesses are much more “bottom line” focused than in the past and less tolerant of mediocre performers; we have to compete to keep our jobs!
  • A strong work ethic can overcome an average skillset
  • We receive the “psychic benefits” from a job well done
  • And, we accomplish so much more

Individuals with a strong work ethic and motivation:

  • are self starters and needn’t require reminders
  • don’t require rewards each time for hard work; it’s intrinsic
  • are proactive and take initiative
  • are productive and efficient with their time; they focus just as much on working smart as working hard and accomplish more than others during their work time
  • are conscientious, take directions, and follow policies and guidelines
  • are lifelong learners
  • avoid complaining about the less interesting aspects of their job
  • meet or exceed the requirements of the job
  • give their employer a high return on investment

Parents, here are some tips to help build these essential qualities:

  • Instill the values of a strong work ethic and motivation by modeling it yourselves and teaching your children why it’s so important
  • Have your children do age-appropriate chores and message that doing them is not optional (this is where your tough love really pays off!). Introduce them to a wide range of chores, but be somewhat flexible when choosing which ones they are routinely responsible for. Use chores as a learning experience. They’ll be on their own soon!
  • Limit the amount of time they spend on technology and media and adopt a “work before play” strategy
  • When it comes to career selection, encourage them to choose options they will enjoy and be interested in. We are naturally more motivated when we do the things we like.
  • Encourage them to choose friends who take these qualities seriously. Peer influences are huge. If our kids surround themselves with positive and productive people, it will rub off. And if they don’t, that will rub off, too!

Let’s do everything we can to build an intrinsic work ethic in our younger generation and reverse these trends. Today’s tough love will pay dividends in the long run, and, one day, they might just thank you for it.

Next up: Resourcefulness. Have a great week!

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Dependability

I learned that, “Mike, you get your first job on your ability and every job after that
on your dependability.”

~Mike Royer

If your actions don’t live up to your words, you have nothing to say.

~Da Shanne Stokes

“You can count on me.” Hearing these words is every supervisor’s dream! Just as every parent loathes having to give reminders to their kids to do their chores or homework, bosses are in the same boat with their employees when they fail to deliver. And, in my conversations with employers who hire young people, unreliability is easily one of their most common complaints. To wit…

A teen working as a server for an area restaurant was to show up for her 5:00 p.m. shift. Rightfully, the owner could count on that. However, imagine his surprise when he received a call at 4:55 that she was sick and unable to come to work. Apparently unaware of the inconvenience this would cause, she obviously felt that five minutes notice would suffice. As if that wasn’t enough, at 5:10 she would be posting pictures on Facebook of the beach party she was attending a mere ten miles away. To add insult to injury, she was surprised when she showed up the next day and was promptly fired. Sadly, variations of this story are more common than you’d think.

She made the mistake of thinking that the employer existed to serve her rather than the other way around. For her sake, I hope it was a lesson learned.

In the workplace, and in life, dependability is one of our most valued character qualities. It means that we do what we say. That we can be trusted. That we are confidently willing to be held accountable for our actions and actions. And, that we will be easy to manage!

Here’s what dependability looks like in the workplace:

  • You deliver excellent work on time, every time. No reminders necessary. A good practice is to complete your work one to two days ahead of the deadline. That way, if something comes up, you have some cushion.
  • You comply with company policies, ethics, laws, and regulations without failing.
  • You represent the company and its values both internally and externally with customers, prospects, suppliers, and the community.
  • You not only do your work well, but you also seek opportunities to advance the overall organization.
  • You don’t make promises you can’t keep. If anything, you “underpromise and overdeliver!”
  • You are punctual and bring a positive attitude to work every day.
  • If something comes up that threatens your ability to meet a deadline, you inform your supervisor as soon as possible. No last minute warnings and excuses! Remember, bosses hate negative surprises!

Dependability serves us well beyond the workplace, too. Whether it’s in marriages, friendships, community service, etc., we all admire this quality in people.

Parents: sometimes it seems like dependability is a quality you’re either born with or need to learn! Our more compliant children do their chores or homework without our reminders, while it’s a struggle with others. Why not make dependability a family value and help our children understand why it’s so important. In this day and age, many young people seem to view it as optional, only to experience a rude awakening when they enter the workforce. One day they’ll thank you for it.

 

Next week’s topic: work ethic/motivation. Stay tuned for more in this series, and please share with your friends–especially if they have teens are students who will soon be entering the workforce!

In case you missed last week’s post in this series, you can find it here.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Commitment to Excellence

Every job is a self portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence.

~Ted Key

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty
to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.

~Helen Keller

“A job well done.” Few words are more gratifying to hear from our supervisors or clients than these. We should all feel proud when we deliver excellence, even when it isn’t always recognized!

But, let’s face it. Doing great work isn’t always easy. We might have the skills, but are lacking in attitude, energy, or health. We might have the right attitude, but are still on the learning curve. Or, quite commonly, we’re distracted by some issues in our personal lives that we struggle to “compartmentalize.” We bring our problems from home to work. And, sometimes we procrastinate and run out of time.

Perhaps after integrity, high standards and a commitment to excellence might be our second most valuable workplace quality. Here’s why:

  1. The surest way to build customer loyalty is to consistently deliver top quality products and services that meet or exceed expectations. This results in consistently higher revenues than otherwise. It can onlyhappen when employees are motivated to do their best.
  2. One of the most important aspects of successful companies is their brand and reputation. Tremendous damage can result when companies lower their standards or deliver inconsistent quality. We’re all familiar with companies and industries that skimped on quality and suffered.
  3. We live in an extremely competitive world. Businesses are constantly challenged by others entering their market or by existing competitors who offer new products. A consistent commitment to excellence helps companies preserve, if not expand, their market share. Otherwise, it will shrink.
  4. Depending on the career, it can even be a matter of life and death! Think neurosurgeons, EMTs, and aircraft repair personnel!
  5. It builds our dependability and reputation where we work. This is huge. Reputation means a lot.
  6. Employers are paying us to do our best. It’s up to us to give them a return on their investment. Our commitment to excellence will affect our performance, and ultimately our pay, promotability, and job security.

It’s important to note that a commitment to excellence extends beyond the quality of our work. Other affected areas include our attitude, professionalism, relationships, and teamwork. Having high standards is especially important when we work in teams, because others are depending on us to do our part. We’ve all worked in group projects where one member slacks. It’s no fun. Don’t be “that guy.”
Our Best Tip
Every job has different specifications, and every supervisor varies in management approach. Also, some positions have detailed performance metrics (sales) while others are more vague (management). Therefore, it pays to “get inside your manager’s head” in order to set yourself up for success. It sounds crazy, but it’s so true! And, it’s really quite simple.
On your first day on the job, ask your supervisor to show you the performance review form. (Most have subjective rankings, say, from one to five, on a number of factors, as well as goals.) Then, (and this is key!) ask him/her how they “define excellence” in this position. The more you can understand their preferences, the better positioned you are to deliver the goods. Next, ask what would be the top two or three most important accomplishments you can deliver in the next six months. Finally, ask about the ways you can help them, the team/department, or the company achieve its goals. (Obviously, achieving your goals is primary, but your value will increase if you can also support your supervisor and the broader organization). You’re looking for impact.

Now you know what they’re looking for and you’re positioned to deliver a home run! I did this all the time in my career and it never failed! In addition, be sure to finish your work on time, every time. That’ll make you easy to manage… a supervisor’s dream!

Finally, a special message to parents. When your children are little, they simply will not have the skills to do chores with the same quality as you. So, it pays to praise on effort. However, as they improve, praise that. It will build a growth mindset. Then, when they become teenagers, it’ll be a habit, and you might even consider giving “incentive pay” depending on the quality of their chores. If they underperform, give them tips on how to get a bonus the next time around. This will actually help prepare them for their coming reality in the workplace!

If you want to be an MVP in the eyes of your employer, a commitment to excellence is a must!

Next week: the all important quality of dependability.
In cased you missed it, here’s last week’s post on our first quality of workplace superstars, integrity.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Integrity

Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values
rather than personal gain.

~Chris Karcher

Character is much easier kept than recovered.

~Thomas Paine

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot
to the town gossip.

~Will Rogers

In any list of most desirable workplace qualities, you’d be hard pressed not to find the word “integrity.” In fact, I would argue it’s probably number one. During my three-decade career at Russell Investments, our CEO, George Russell, would often say, “We operate on non-negotiable integrity. And, if you’re wondering whether to say or do something, imagine it being the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper.” Simple as that. Zero tolerance.

So, what is integrity and why is it so important? Dictionary.com defines “integrity” as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” While integrity is essential to strong personal character, it is even more important in a workplace context. That’s because employers must adhere to policies, laws, regulations, and governing authorities. A simple misrepresentation can literally lead to a company going out of business. Or, more commonly, for an employee to be fired. It’s always important to remember that in a workplace context, you’re representing yourself and your employer.

Here are some descriptors of integrity in action: trustworthiness, honesty, authenticity, respectfulness, compliance (to policies, procedures, regulations, etc.), courage (to do what’s right), taking responsibility for mistakes or shortfalls, and accurate representations. In the workplace, values can be challenged, career shortcuts tempting, and ethical standards gray. In these and all situations, integrity should be our guiding force.

Just as important is knowing what integrity does not look like. Here are some common examples in a workplace context: falsifying records, misrepresenting product qualities/performance, abusing power or position, cheating, stealing, spreading falsehoods/rumors/gossip, and blaming others for one’s underperformance. More often than not, self interest is the catalyst.

Of course, integrity is just as relevant in our personal lives too, as the above descriptors clearly show. Healthy relationships demand it. At LifeSmart, we encourage people, organizations, and schools to take the “integrity challenge:” not communicating anything negative about someone else who is not present. Imagine how this could change our culture! And, reduce bullying and social drama!

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, here are some tips to help the young people in our lives practice integrity as a way of life:

  • Model it ourselves every time, every day.
  • Commend them when they model it. (Especially when they own up to mistakes or poor choices.)
  • Apply a zero tolerance approach when they don’t. Children need to know the importance of trust and that repercussions of violating a trust will be stronger as a result. It is very difficult to recover a broken reputation.
  • Review the above evidences of integrity and the opposite. Which areas are easier to model than others? Where is there room for growth?
  • Look for examples in society (including movies and television) where integrity is either modeled or not and have conversations about them. How might they have handled situations differently? There are great opportunities for real life cases to reinforce lessons.

Integrity. It’s one of the most important character qualities of all.

Next week we’ll cover commitment to excellence.

 

 

 

How to Handle Transitions with Confidence

What do entering kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and your first career job have in common? The answer is transitions. BIG transitions. In these cases, they’re based on stages of life, while other biggies include moves, job changes, a new marital/relationship status, and having kids.

As I look back on my life and reflect on my conversations with today’s students and young adults, I’m reminded of how difficult these transitions can be. You would think the adventure and excitement of the “next chapter” would prevail, but often, it doesn’t. We figure our transitions will be smooth, but instead we can find ourselves depressed, lonely, and filled with doubt. If so, we flounder and underachieve, wondering how we’ll get out of our funk. We might even resort to false comforts and make life choices we later regret. Ouch.

Why can transitions be so darned hard? Here are some common reasons:

  1. We’re unprepared. Have you noticed how educators focus primarily on their stage (elementary, middle, high school, college) rather than also preparing students for the next step? One reason is that administrators aren’t held accountable (and therefore don’t feel responsible) for success in the next step. Parents can fall into this trap too, focusing on the immediate term, rather than also on what comes next. Students are often caught off guard.
  2. Out with the old, in with the new. For students who are content with their current stage, they may feel a sense of loss and anxiety as they begin their new chapter. (On the other hand, if the current stage isn’t going so hot, it can be a relief!) Transitions often come with new environments, social settings, teachers/evaluators, and expectations (with increasing performance pressure), and some handle this better than others. Arguably, the greatest transition comes after college where there is a loss of the common denominator of the college environment, often relocation, social disruption, career and financial pressures, and the reality that life will never be the same as an independent adult. That’s a lot to absorb!

What to do? How can we position ourselves to confidently handle the transitions in our lives? Although each stage is unique, here are some tips to help master your transitions and those of your children/students:

  1. Adopt the POP mindset. That means being Patient, Optimistic, and Proactive.  Patience is incredibly important, especially on the social front as you seek new friends. Recognize that your adjustment will take time, just like your previous ones. Self-imposed pressure adds unnecessary stress and can lead to compromising your standards. Optimism is also key. When things don’t go as well as expected, keep the faith and a positive attitude. You’ve done this before and can do it again! Finally, as you progress into the later stages, it becomes increasingly important to be proactive and take the initiative. I know many young adults who are floundering because they don’t fully grasp this. The more independent they are, the more responsible they are for their success and happiness. Instead, too many are waiting in vain for it to come to them.
  2. Meet people in your next step. Go out of your way (parents take note!) to meet people who are a few years into the stage just ahead of you. That means high school students should be meeting with college students and college students with early career adults. Be sure they are positive and empowering influences who can offer fresh perspectives with no sugar coating.
  3. Explore your interests and passions. It helps to identify your greatest interests (intellectual, recreational, community/service, vocational, spiritual) for both personal enjoyment and to meet like-minded people. What are the common denominators of the people and activities you enjoy the most?
  4. Go for it! Once you’ve identified your greatest interests, research the places, programs, and courses that offer what you’re looking for. Check out the Web, library, Chamber of Commerce, YMCA, school counselors, club fairs, tourist information centers etc. to discover the outlets you can plug into. Not only will you enjoy yourself by doing what you like, but also you’ll be more likely to meet people with common interests. Momentum is huge, but you have to create your own.

 

Transitions aren’t always easy, but they’re a necessary part of life. We hope these tips will help you and your students master yours. Good luck!

Get in the Game to Access Your Career

Two college graduates found themselves in the same, all-to-common, predicament. They received their degrees and assumed, like many, that the job offers would flow their way. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories… especially with graduates whose degrees don’t naturally connect to specific careers. To these grads, it’s been surprising, confusing, and frustrating. Sadly, neither college prepared them for how to access the job market with their respective majors. And, it was taking its toll.

Let’s see how they’re handling this challenge.

In the first case, he is serving at a local food and tavern establishment, waiting for the perfect job to come his way. He has been approached by the owner of a company in his desired field, but has declined opportunities to apply for the open positions because they didn’t meet his high standards. Unfortunately, pride and entitlement have gotten in the way. He continues to flounder, hoping that someday, somehow, his dream job will appear on his doorstep. For some inexplicable reason, staying the course in a dead end job is better than taking a slightly imperfect job in his desired field.

In the other case, she decided to consider somewhat related positions, albeit at a lower levels than desired, in order to enter the industry. She even expanded her geographical range to find job openings—despite knowing it would mean a brutal commute. This is a good news story that is still playing out. After landing the job, she was promoted in two months (!) and is now in line for the job she wanted.

The difference? He is proud and stuck in neutral. She took her medicine, got in the game, and will soon be reaping the rewards in the fast lane.

In my mentoring, I hear variations of this scenario all the time. Many graduates are struggling to find the entry positions of their dreams, losing self confidence, and stubbornly resisting the steps needed to enter their career. They’re disillusioned because they thought their degree would punch their ticket.

Life is hard! What to do?

When I advise young adults entering the workforce, I ask them to envision a dartboard where their dream job is the bull’s eye. The question is what to do if the bull’s eye isn’t available? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Expand your territory. In many cases, your dream job isn’t available in your desired location(s). If so, see if there are open positions in other acceptable locations. Sure, it might mean a move farther away than you hoped, but you have to be flexible and go where the jobs are!
  2. Expand your positions. Here, you might have to swallow some pride and be willing to consider entry positions (and internships) that are at levels below your expectations. As you screen different career sites and apps, broaden your horizons to see if there are related jobs that you can access. Sure, it might take a little longer to land your dream job, but by considering jobs in the “nearby rings around the bull’s eye,” you get in the game and position yourself for the eventual prize. Remember, employers generally give preference to current employees when filling positions. It might take two steps to hit your bull’s eye, but you’ll still hit it!
  3. Create a matrix of desired positions and employers. Make a list of several acceptable job titles as you screen sites such as Indeed.com. Then, regularly, screen to see which jobs are currently available. Also, identify employers you would love to work for and regularly screen their sites to evaluate open positions. Be flexible in considering job openings at interesting employers. It may not be the perfect starter position, but new opportunities will eventually arise. And, you’ll have the inside advantage!

 

Sometimes we simply need to be more flexible and humble when it comes to accessing our careers. But remember, in order to win, you need to get in the game.

6 Conversations to Have Before Your Teen Leaves Home

As summer draws to a close and the school year starts up again, change is in the air. Many of us have children who are about to leave our homes and head off to college or the workforce for the first time. Many people are uncomfortable with change, especially big ones like this! They don’t know how things will turn out and sometimes fear the worst. That’s too bad—because change can be incredibly positive (for parents AND children).

This year’s recent high school graduates are about to experience the greatest decade of change in their lives. Some of it will be voluntary and some of it not. Some of it will be clear and some of it will have highly uncertain outcomes. Some of it will be easy to handle and some will be highly stressful. It’s all part of their journey, and their journey is what will make them, THEM! It’s important we let them live it, find themselves, and be an encourager to them along the way.

Are you a parent of a teen who is heading off into the “real world?” How are they feeling about it? Do they know how much you believe in them?

These six topics, all addressed in What I Wish I Knew at 18, will help you open up conversations about what may be in store. Share your stories about how you faced these similar changes—warts and all. Change doesn’t seem as intimidating when someone else you know has navigated it successfully and learned important life lessons along the way. Plus, it will help open up safe lines of communication when they face challenges—as they will.

  1. College majors and career paths. They will probably change their choice in career or major several times over, and this is NORMAL. The anxiety associated with this big decision is considerable, and far too many high schoolers are placing undue pressure on themselves to know their future major/career. (They’re still discovering themselves and haven’t even taken advanced courses, so how can they be so sure?) Let them know that it’s okay to change their mind and that you will be supportive no matter what.
  2. Future jobs. They will probably have five to seven jobs in their life. They will have to deal with new employers, new managers, new coworkers, new technology, and new locations multiple times. At these times, it helps to be especially proactive in meeting and engaging with new people. And, on their first day on the job, be sure they ask their supervisor how he/she defines “excellence” in this position and the one or two most significant accomplishments they could deliver in the next six months. It helps set the stage for a strong start.
  3. Moving. They’ll likely move several times, whether for long periods or for short-term assignments. The assimilation involved in each situation is significant.
  4. Dating. They’ll most likely date several different people before potentially settling down into marriage. Since there is much more at stake than during high school dating, the pressure is that much greater. Have conversations about their “need to have” and “nice to have” qualities in a long-term relationship. It becomes an invisible filter as new people enter their lives.
  5. Social adjustments. It is important to make new friends once they go off to college, but it’s also important to maintain their long-term friendships. They’ll face lots of peer pressure (and you won’t be there to coach them through it), so it’s crucial for yours to never compromise their values to fit in with a certain social group or person. IF they have to change who they are to be accepted, it’s time to move on. Self confidence when meeting new people is HUGE. Patience and selectivity are the keywords.
  6. The academic transition. There’s no way around it—college is much harder than high school, and the competition is stiffer. Like with me, their first year might come as a shock as they’ll have to develop better study habits and time management skills to succeed.

Change can seem overwhelming, and it’s wise to view it as a constant and become as adaptable as possible. That goes for all of us, no matter what season of life we’re in!

If we can embrace it as an opportunity for growth and adventure, rather than something to be feared, it will prepare us for bigger things down the road. Encourage the young people in your life to be confident and courageous—and take it to heart yourself.

Do you have a young person who is leaving your home soon? Have you talked about any of the above topics? We’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts or comments!

 

 

 

Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

-William Butler Yeats

 School’s out! I am not sure who loves to hear those words more—kids or teachers! Can I get an “amen?” Old and young alike are looking forward to sunset barbecues, beach days with family, copious amounts of sunshine, and a little more sleep. In my school days as a youngster in Wisconsin, it was all about, “Heading Up North’.” It’s a well-deserved break for everyone, and I hope yours is unforgettable!

However, it’s important to remember that just because school’s out doesn’t mean learning has to go out the window, as well. Education isn’t just for classrooms! Lifelong learning is a pursuit that will serve kids (and adults) well for the rest of their lives.

In this global, knowledge-based economy with an endless database of instantaneous information at our fingertips, students need an insatiable appetite for learning. This means not only expanding their subject knowledge, but also having diverse interests. What ways are you as a parent, mentor, or teacher helping them explore other subject areas that challenge their minds or satisfy their curiosity?

I grew up living the simple life in small-town Wisconsin. It was a childhood I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I spent most of my free time either playing sports or hanging out in the woods with my friends. But, while that got me through high school and college just fine, I began to notice something early in my career… most of my peers were more intellectually well-rounded than me. I especially noticed it at gatherings when politics and world affairs were discussed.

I knew I had some serious catching up to do, especially considering the growing number of client meetings I attended. Thankfully, once I committed to stepping up my intellectual game, my confidence grew. It made a huge difference in my investment management career. Looking back, I regret delaying that process.

Here are some ways you can help your teen (or yourself) engage in continued learning this summer and always. Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone—I promise the benefits will be bountiful.

  • Learn a new sport or revisit one you haven’t played in awhile
  • Make an “I’m interested in____ list” and brainstorm ways to tackle it
  • Catch up on current events by reading REPUTABLE newspapers or magazines (sensationalist social media headlines don’t count)
  • Volunteer for a charity
  • Visit the library and check out a book on a topic of interest unrelated to your career. A country you’ve always wanted to visit. A hobby you’d like to pursue. A historical figure you’ve always admired. An era that intrigues you.
  • Read a book that wasn’t assigned to you or is outside the genre of something you’d normally read
  • Write a book, essay, or poem; cook a meal you’ve never made before; draw or paint something that interests you
  • Check out all the museums near you
  • Job shadow (or have coffee with) someone who is employed in a career field you’re considering

Encourage the young people you know to stretch their wings a little and be lifelong learners. It’ll help them advance in life and make them more well-rounded, dynamic, and confident people.

 

How do YOU keep sharp and keep building your repertoire of skills and knowledge?

 

 

Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major and Career

Can you imagine working at a job you hate? Spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, or totally stressed out, working with people or for an employer you don’t care for?

On the other hand, imagine working for a company you admire, where your skills are fully utilized, where you can build life-long friendships, where you’re given opportunities to grow professionally, and where you’re rewarded and recognized for a job well done.

I think we’d all prefer the second scenario, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, many don’t experience it because they don’t do the proper homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life. But, is it?

Unfortunately, far too many grads are disenchanted with their major and career. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll of some 90,000 college grads, 36% regret choosing the major they did! Yes, 36% have buyer’s remorse! This is a shocking statistic given the amount of money poured into our college educations and the importance of actually liking (and succeeding in) a career that fits. I believe this major/career regret stems from the following:

  1. Insufficient research by students on their career options. They are either struggling to find a job in their major or discovering it wasn’t a fit after all.
  2. Insufficient guidance and preparation by colleges provided to students. I speak with far too many college grads who are still uncertain about their careers or are clueless as to how to land a job. This is a travesty.
  3. Too many college majors with limited career connections. Shouldn’t colleges provide students with the percentage of their graduates landing a job in each available major? Many students simply major in what they like (with full support from their counselors) without realizing the challenges in actually finding work.

 

Now that summer is here and many students have college and career on their minds, it’s the perfect time to do some assessing, research, and hands-on learning to get a good grasp of what your future can look like.

The first step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your:

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes (Be honest with yourself here. Don’t say you’re good with numbers when you’ve nearly failed all your math classes!)
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences (are you laid back? Orderly? Type A? Do you hope to work remotely, travel a lot, etc.? Like working solo or in teams? Thrive on pressure…or not? People or task oriented?)
  • Ability to obtain the necessary qualifications (Degrees, certifications, continued education)

The second step is to develop a list of potential careers that captures your interests, skills, and personal preferences. Learn about the qualifications for each career possibility and consider whether you have the skills and/or are willing to acquire them. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to learn what the job is like. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.

The third step involves investigating the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Do your research to discover which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. This step is more crucial than you realize. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate its employment prospects. Your return on college investment may be at stake!

Finally, seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.

Once you complete this process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   

A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to the education and training you’ll need to qualify for them. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website.  It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests. Another good option is www.careercruising.com.

 Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!