We’re Busting These Nine Career Myths

grayscale-of-woman-in-black-flat-sandals-walking-803951Over the years of mentoring 17-24 year olds, we’ve been struck by the numerous misconceptions that are causing anxiety, disillusionment, uncertainty, insecurity, strategic mistakes, and regret as they plot their career courses. Whether due to incomplete training in high school and college, lacking self-awareness, or mistaken assumptions, their progress is being thwarted by several career-related myths.

This blog is designed to help you debunk these myths with the teens and young adults under your guidance. It will not only give them greater peace of mind, but also instill valuable career savvy in positioning them for success.

  1. Success is all about smarts. So many young people are misguided into thinking that you need a 4.0 GPA or an Ivy League degree to succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Employers routinely cite soft skills (aka: leadership/character skills) as more important. This was confirmed in the 21 Workplace Readiness Skills identified by Virginia employers in an extensive survey. Employer comments such as, “We hire for attitude and train for skill” are becoming more commonplace. This is an especially important message to share with students who are less academically gifted.
  2.  You need to know your future career while in high school. Undecided high school students can become insecure or feel pressure when their friends are more certain of their future career/major pursuits. This is deeply unfortunate because: 1) many students haven’t conducted extensive career surveying or are lacking in self-awareness and 2) many “decided” high school students eventually change their minds in college (or elsewhere) when they are exposed to a variety of courses; most change their major at least once. This is why we encourage high schools to emphasize the career process(and extensive surveying) rather than career adoption, where possible. We do recognize, however, that for certain majors, a definitive choice needs to be made while in high school—hopefully after vigorous analysis.
  3. College is automatically your best route. Fortunately, more schools are realizing the downside of “college for all” messaging. High college dropout and low completion rates, significant costs/debt, difficult job acquisition in certain majors, and the availability of many well-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree are having an impact. We need to guard against even subliminal messaging that paths other than a four-year college are somehow inferior.
  4. Choosing your major is a sufficient career strategy. With a recent Gallup survey indicating that the greatest regret of college graduates is the major they chose, it’s clear that students need to be more strategic in their selections. This includes: 1) researching the realistic job prospects in that major, 2) strategically selecting their minor, and 3) not choosing their major until they’ve spoken with practitioners with jobs in the majors they’re considering.
  5. It’s STEM or bust. Whether overt or subliminal, one message that is being promulgated in schools and universities is that STEM is where you need to be for an excellent career. Importantly, even though many of today’s most successful companies are in tech-related industries, by no means do even a majority of their jobs require technical degrees. For example, tech companies still need marketers, communicators, human resources professionals, attorneys, accountants, client service representatives, and the like. Those who are not analytically, technically, nor mathematically inclined should by no means feel insecure if their skills and interests lie elsewhere.   
  6. Your professors and counselors know best. One of the most common regrets of college graduates is that they gave too much credence to the career advice of professors and counselors who: 1) often lack a real world understanding of the job market and 2) don’t know their students that well. College students are impressionable when it comes to advice from professors and assume counselors know more than they do about actual jobs. As a result, students can overly rely on the advice of others who don’t have all the necessary information or perspective. When 40% of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret the major they chose, you know we have a problem. It is painful to see how misguided so many students are as a result of this myth.
  7. Your degree is your guaranteed ticket to a great job. Many college graduates falsely (and regrettably) assume that once they earn their degree, the job offers will magically follow. They quickly learn that they gave their college and degree too much credit in the job acquisition department! This is especially problematic when, unlike accounting or nursing for example, one’s major is either broad (e.g., communications, economics) or not necessarily linked to jobs (e.g., many humanities or ____ Studies majors). It is critical that students have a definitive job acquisition strategy before they choose their major and before they graduate. Many don’t and live to regret it, especially when their loan payments are due!  
  8. A good resume will automatically get you into the game. While an excellent resume is a must to land interviews and win jobs, it is only one piece of the puzzle. These days, employers rely heavily on online applications where it is not always easy to stand out from the crowd. It is extremely valuable to also have: 1) a great cover letter and application and 2) an insider going to bat for you. Here is where networking becomes so important. Also, it’s critical to know the job-posting platforms, regularly screen job openings of interesting employers, and have outstanding interview and follow-up strategies. It’s all about persuading the employer that you are the best person for the job. That means knowing your value proposition for the job opening at hand and effectively communicating that throughout the process.
  9. You should hold out for the perfect job. Young adults are naturally idealistic, but this can be a severe impediment when it comes to the job search. Some are so specific and demanding about their first job that they severely limit their choices. By holding out for perfection, they forego a good job that positions them for their dream job when it becomes available. Given that employers generally give preference to current employees when recruiting, it can pay off to land a related position and compete when the desired position becomes available. Many young people are floundering because they let their egos get in the way of landing their first job.

Finally, we encourage you to share What I Wish I Knew at 18 with your children and students. Our career chapter offers these, and many other insights and strategies.

How This teen Wrecked Her Part-Time Employment

white-ceramic-cup-2878708Are your teens/students ready to excel in the workplace? Here is a story from our area of how one teen chose pleasure over work. If you’re a teacher, parent, or guardian, it would be a valuable case to discuss with the adolescents under your guidance. It directly addresses some of the concerns employers are expressing about their younger workers. Here goes. . .

An Italian family moved to Port Smalltown (not the real name) to establish a new restaurant, living out their dream. Because of their incredible food, staff, and service, it quickly became a hit with the locals. This family poured their heart and soul into their business and was very supportive of the community. That included hiring some area high school students to help fund their college education. One such student (not her real name) was Shelby.

With training, Shelby soon became a valuable employee. She received great tips due to her exceptional service and was given additional hours as a reward. Go Shelby!

But one day, at 4:55 p.m., Shelby called in sick for her 5:00 p.m. work shift. Not surprisingly, the owner was very disappointed with this news. Somehow, they would have to address the problem. Customers were lining up outside to dine, anticipating a great experience.

Then, imagine the owner’s surprise when a co-worker announced 20 minutes later that Shelby was posting pictures on Instagram from a nearby beach party. Judging by the pictures, Shelby was having the time of her life.

The next day, Shelby arrived at the restaurant at 4:45 p.m. to begin her evening shift. She was promptly taken aside by the owner and fired on the spot.

Assignment: Decisions have consequences. Make a list of Shelby’s infractions with the actions she took. What leadership and character qualities did Shelby fail to exhibit and why do you think she was fired over this? What attitudes do you think guided her behavior? What did she lose by her actions and what lessons do you hope she learned?

Some readers may think examples like this are rare, but trust us, they are not. The greatest complaints we hear from employers involve work ethic, dependability, and professionalism. We encourage you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and curriculum which holistically builds the leadership and soft skills young people need to succeed. (And, hopefully, to avoid situations like Shelby’s!).

9 Keys to Winning New Friendships

adult-beads-bracelets-371285

January and August. Two months that are as diametrically opposed as day and night, but that share one important characteristic in common: they are the months of new beginnings.

In August, my mind naturally drifts to the new transitions our students will be facing. Perhaps they’re entering high school from middle school, in a new setting and back to being the lowest rung in the ladder. Or, perhaps they’re entering their senior year, knowing this will be their last in familiar territory. Or, maybe they’re off to college, university, trade school, the workforce, or service, in completely new surroundings. With few exceptions, these transitions will make their previous ones seem like a cakewalk by comparison.

No matter what transition they will experience, each will pose unique opportunities and challenges—not only in how they will do, but also in how they will fit in. To that end, change that entails a new environment is generally the most socially demanding of all. That’s because some current friendships will naturally fade away while we seek to grow new ones. It’s why our ability to cultivate new friendships isa critical skill to foster in the children under our guidance.

So, whether you’re an adolescent embarking on a new chapter or a parent or caregiver providing support and encouragement, here are our top tips for successfully landing great new friendships. . .

  1. Remember you are worth knowing! It’s natural to have some doubts when we face new social settings and living environments. This is especially true if it seems like it’s taking longer than we expected to make new friends. But, remember, you are a unique person with great qualities, experiences, interests, and passions and you will be a great friend to others. Own that.
  2. Be choosy. As a Skippy lover, I was nonetheless persuaded years ago by the, “Choosy mothers choose Jif” commercial! And, oh how this applies to friend making! So, make a list of your most important values and interests in a friend and put that into your mental filter as you meet new people. Some will pass your “taste test” but most will not. And, that’s okay.
  3. It’s all about quality. So many young people are misguided by social media into thinking that friendships are all about quantity. Nothing can be further from the truth. All it takes is a few close friends who you enjoy and can trust and you’re on your way! Take depth over breadth any day.
  4. Remember, it’s not a sprint. One of the worst traps we can fall into is trying to make new friends fast. Often, it’s out of a sense of loneliness and impatience. These are the times we are most vulnerable to compromising our standards, and that never ends well. Your patience in waiting for the right fits to come along will be rewarded. Time and testing are necessary ingredients to determining a good match.There’s no need to rush.
  5. Positivity is key. There is a great saying that you become the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. That’s huge! So, as you meet new people, ask yourself whether they are bringing you and your standards up or down. You’re too important to have any use for the latter. Do you feel you have to change who you are just to fit in? By surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting people, you’ll win in the short run and long run. Oh, and if you want a recent example of a friend-making machine, google “Hinako Shibuno.” In just four days, she literally endeared herself to golfing fans around the world—for good reason.
  6. If they’re not a fit, that’s okay! Friend making is a bit like going to the local buffet. Lots of choices—some you like and others you don’t. In the same way, not everyone is meant to be your friend. Relationships progress in stages, from acquaintance to prospect to friend to VIP. With each stage, fewer and fewer will advance as we get to know them better and gauge the fit. The fact is, most people you will know in life will only stay in the acquaintance stage and that’s okay.
  7. A vibrant tree needs pruning and new growth. One of the most difficult realities with relationships is that some are forever and others for a season (although we don’t know it at the time). As we enter new stages and environments, it’s common to drift away or prune some old relationships where we no longer have the same degree of connection. As difficult as this can be, it’s perfectly normal. Our new friendships are there to take their place.
  8. Get in the game. In life, our best friends usually share our interests and values. So, it makes sense for us to be strategic in where and how we look for new ones. Think about the things you enjoy the most, and then identify where people who share your interests hang out. It could be a club, organization, course, activity, or whatever. Take steps to be present where they are and friendships will naturally flow. The same is true of your values. Where can you find people who share them? Once you know, it’s a matter of getting in the game and seeing where things lead.
  9. Be inquisitive and other-centered. We’ve all known people who try so hard to make new friends that they spend most of their time talking about themselves and how great they are. It’s a constant struggle for them. Contrast this with people who are genuinely inquisitive when meeting others and who let them do most of the talking. They are the friend magnets. When you go out of your way to show interest in others, it will resonate. Then, it’s a matter of time and mutually shared experiences that will determine whether they’ll rise to the level of “friend.”

May yours be a lifetime with new and wonderful friendships!

 

 

Are There Shortcuts to Success? You Might Be Surprised.

cheerful-colleague-desk-1169953One of my favorite things to do during talks and workshops is to ask provocative questions and see how the audience responds. A recent example during some educator workshops was, “How many of you believe there are shortcuts to success?” More often than not, only a small minority will raise their hands. Whether it’s because that’s what they truly believe or because they think that’s what the speaker wants to hear, few audiences believe in shortcuts. Then again, most of the time when we talk about shortcuts, there is a negative connotation, isn’t there?

Well, you might be surprised by my answer. Based on my personal experience and my decades of evaluating successful leaders, I believe the unequivocal answer is, “YES!” And, I also believe that if these tips are shared with the young people in your lives, you will give them a big head start in fulfilling their potential!

In this blog, I’ll share three foolproof strategies that, when implemented, will “fast track” a person’s success and help him or her stand out from the crowd. And, the best news: it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to successfully apply them and reap the rewards.

Strategy One: Gain from the wisdom that surrounds you. It’s so unfortunate that few teens and young adults actively seek wisdom from the adults in their lives. Whether it’s because of overconfidence that’s common in the teen years or because they believe adults are too busy to spend time with them, the end result is forgoing a free gift that’s right in their midst.

There is so much to be gained by spending time with admirable adults who can share wisdom that comes with experience. What led to their success? What were their biggest mistakes and regrets that they would do over if they could? What advice would they give you at this pivotal time of life? What qualities do they most respect in people? What were the biggest decisions they made and how did they make them? How do they define success and what brings them joy? Would they, one day, be willing to serve as a reference?

Priceless conversations. Timeless wisdom. All there, just for the asking.

Strategy Two: Solicit and embrace feedback.  Who doesn’t love receiving a compliment—especially an unsolicited one?!? Chances are, it means that whatever we’re doing, we should keep doing it! However, especially in the early years of our careers when we’re inexperienced and a little naïve, some of the most beneficial feedback is in areas in which we can improve. We’ll call them “growth opportunities.”

One of the most common criticisms we hear about younger employees is their disdain for constructive feedback. Today’s managers feel like they are walking on eggshells if they have to correct or even gently criticize them. While they’ll gladly receive praise for the positives, they disdain negative feedback. And, by doing so, they are missing out on one of the most powerful success shortcuts of all.

During my career, I actively sought constructive feedback. Sure, I wanted to hear my strengths, but more importantly, I wanted to know the ways I could improve my performance, professionalism, and impact. So, rather than wait to hear my “weaknesses,” I proactively sought it from my supervisor and other leaders in the company. It was pivotal to my success and “took the sting” out of listening to my shortfalls.

Sometimes correcting our weaknesses has more impact than growing our strengths. But, because both are needed to be successful, young people can really stand out by taking this strategy to heart. (Oh, and this also works in our relationships, but that’s for another time.) Sure it takes courage, but it’s so valuable to our growth.

Strategy Three: Go above and beyond to maximize your impact. It’s interesting to observe the MVPs of a workforce versus the average performers. In a nutshell, they bring an entirely different mindset to the job. The MVPs are always looking for new ways to add value to their job, department, and organization, while average performers tend to stay focused on their day-to-day job responsibilities and not much beyond that.

In the workplace, superstars will find a way to: 1) increase sales and customer loyalty, 2) improve efficiencies to reduce costs, 3) innovate new products/services and methods, and 4) assume a leadership role on projects, teams, etc. Now, depending on one’s job specifications, not all of these will be possible at any particular point in time. BUT, regardless of one’s job, this pivotal question always remains, “What can I do to maximize my impact and add value to my employer?” Resourceful people always seem to find a way… in part because it’s wired into their very being. And, by sharing examples with the young people in your life, you can help stimulate this kind of motivation, creativity, and passion in them, too.

We believe these three strategies can have an amazing impact on the young people under your guidance. Let us know how they respond. Yes, they are shortcuts to success, but good ones indeed.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Summer, Help Your Teen Manage the Art of Professional Networking

cameras-composition-data-1483937Summer is almost here! Kids are out of school for a couple months and many of us are looking forward to a little bit of relaxation, sunshine, vacations, and weekend barbecues. However, summer certainly isn’t all play and no work. In fact, for many newly launched young adults (or soon-to-be-launched teenagers), summer is the time they think of landing their first job. To help set your teen up for success in this arena, you will want to instill the importance of a vital life skill: networking.

You’ve likely heard said many times: “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.” Of course, this is an overstatement, but in this high tech, interconnected age, it’s truer than ever. The fact is, a significant percentage of jobs won are by someone who had an insider advocating for them to the recruiting manager. The sooner your teen understands this reality, the better.

No matter how talented we are, we all need people who will go to bat for us, both personally and professionally. Their assistance can take the form of introductions and connections, references and advocacy, decision-making in our favor, an information source, or general support. They help us gain access to strategically important people. They are our ambassadors—our very own sales force!

The employment recruitment process has radically changed since I was younger. Nowadays, it’s all about online applications that seem to disappear into the proverbial black hole—it’s SO impersonal and frustrating. Somehow, some way, our application needs to stand out. No doubt about it, the best way is to have an inside ambassador (in addition to also having a noteworthy cover letter and personable and professional follow-up calls). It adds a measure of dependability and reassurance to the hiring manager, and that’s huge. It may not land us the job, but it helps get us into the game.

Our son Michael is a natural networker. Ever since he was young, Michael always enjoyed being with adults. He became a basketball ref at an early age and loved pick-up games with guys decades his senior on the golf course. Interestingly, connections from these circles were instrumental to his acceptance into the college of his dreams. And, today, they’ve proven just as helpful as he’s entered the workforce and navigated his way into a thriving career. Thankfully, when it comes to networking, he values it and is good at it. And of course, dad loves to see him in action!

But, for many, networking doesn’t come so naturally. Some are more reserved, some haven’t developed the skills, and some don’t appreciate just how important it is. Some kids are too insecure to put themselves out there, and others rely on less important aspects of their job search in order to land them the job. So, parents and teachers, this is a great opportunity for you to influence and empower! Networking (no matter how young!) is crucial. Here are some key ways you can help:

  • Share the value of networking on both a personal and professional level.
  • Stress the importance of making a great first impression with everyone they meet.
  • Point out that future advocates are enlisted by demonstrating excellent character, cultivating the relationship, and showing appreciation. Help your teen understand that ambassadors put their reputations on the line when they advocate on his or her behalf! Motivate your teen to develop a reputation as a person of excellence.
  • Encourage them to get involved in various opportunities and spheres (i.e., “put yourself out there!”) where they’ll be able to interact with adults in different circles. Networkers take the initiative!
  • Remind them to always be proactive in expressing their appreciation to ambassadors. Handwritten thank-you notes or a phone call will show gratitude and cement the relationship.
  • Don’t forget about your own connections and networks! Use your own professional and social spheres to make strategic introductions on your teen’s behalf. You can tee up some wonderful connections, but it’s up to them to make it last.

How do your teen’s networking skills stack up? Who are their advocates? How can they employ networking in their lives this summer? What are your opportunities to help them become a master networker?

 

Cultivate a Winning Attitude

winning attitudeIf you ask teenagers what is the most important ingredient for success, you’ll likely hear answers like intelligence, money, the number of friends, or even appearance. But, ask most employers and leadership experts with the benefit of wisdom and experience, and you’ll hear a glaringly different perspective. To most, they’ll give the nod to attitude.

In our work on employability, we regularly cite qualities such as integrity, commitment to excellence, dependability, work ethic, positivity, enthusiasm, and resilience as keys to success. Note that each is a choicegrounded in our attitudes. In my travels, some of the most endearing, positive, and productive people are among the most economically and academically deprived folks I’ve known. It’s such an important lesson to share with young people.

Dictionary.com defines “attitude” as follows: “manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind.” We like to think of it as the perspective we take into our daily lives: our thoughts, words, actions, decisions, and interactions. For example, here are some areas significantly affected by our attitude:

  • Outlook on life
  • Mood, demeanor, and nature
  • Personal health and appearance
  • Relationships and communication
  • Handling challenges, disappointments, and unexpected change
  • Productivity, effort, and initiative
  • Personal responsibility
  • Vision, purpose, and goal orientation
  • Integrity
  • Approach to decision-making
  • Personal brand, values, and professionalism

No wonder our attitude is so important! And, why all of us need to be self aware of the attitude we bring into each life arena, each day.  Yes, students, this especially applies to you when you’re harboring a strong case of Spring Fever! And, teachers, this assessment might make for a great school-wide project to improve performance and culture.

To help you and the young people under your guidance, we developed an attitude self-assessment tool that you can access here. We encourage you to share it with the students and family members in your life and to be as honest in your self-evaluation as possible. We all can benefit from an attitude adjustment from time to time and in certain areas of our lives (e.g., work, school, family). Improving our attitude can be one of the most beneficial things we can do for our personal growth, and we hope this assessment identifies a few opportunities for you.

To inspire and encourage you in cultivating a winning attitude, we thought we’d conclude with some of our favorite quotes on the topic. Enjoy!

Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

~John C. Maxwell

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

~Zig Ziglar

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

~John Wooden

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

~Maya Angelou

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

~Stephen Covey

Whatever happens, take responsibility.

~Tony Robbins

… Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

~John F. Kennedy

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

~Colin Powell

How to Conquer Career Anxiety (Part Two)

adult-black-and-white-black-and-white-440581In part one of this series, we shared the challenges many young adults are experiencing with their career selection decisions and some general tips. In this week’s blog, we offer some additional specific advice to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates already in the early stages of their careers or who are seeking employment.

High Schoolers

In our visits with these students, we regularly hear concerns over the pressure to know what career/major to pursue, insecurity when peers seem further along, and the college for all messaging so common these days. Because teens are still discovering who they are, we believe these pressures are unfortunate and concerning. Parents and educators should be encouraging career curiosity and exploration without direct or indirect pressure “to know.”

Here are some specific suggestions for high school students:

  1. Focus on the process more than the outcome. This is a time to be “career curious” rather than placing undue pressure on making a formal decision. You are still developing a sense of self and haven’t even scratched the surface on the variety of careers that could be a good fit. You also haven’t taken advanced courses, which play a significant role in confirming or rejecting your initial leanings. And, remember, just because some of your friends have decided shouldn’t even be a consideration.So, use this time to take career surveys/assessments, visit job fairs, and talk with people who have jobs in the fields that may be of interest. Research companies and industries. Build your knowledge base ahead of time.
  2. Remember, a four-year college isn’t your only choice. There are many available careers that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree; these are often overlooked. Vocational school, the trades, and the military might be attractive options that fit who you are—and that are financially accessible.
  3. No, you don’t need an Ivy League university to succeed. So many students completely stress themselves out by thinking that being accepted into an elite school is their only ticket to success. Not true! Not by a long shot. There are many pathways you can take and schools that will punch your ticket. It’s much more important who you are than what undergraduate university you attended. Please take this to heart.
  4. Build your professional network. In today’s job market, candidates who know someone who works for the employer have a considerable advantage. Even if you are planning to attend a four-year college or pursue graduate school, the time to begin developing your network is now. Have your parents, relatives, friends, teachers, and mentors introduce you to people who are in interesting fields that may become your advocates. Your initiative will pay huge dividends in the future.

College/Vocational Students

The first few years of study involve taking a variety of courses to build your foundation and give you a flavor of some potential career options. However, this is but a small subset of course offerings and potential majors from which you can choose. Regardless, in order to finish in four years (assuming this is your plan), you’ll need to finalize your choice of major as you begin your junior year. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this decision in your first year. In many, if not most cases, you’ve not taken a sufficient variety of courses to make a truly informed decision. Here are some other tips:

  1. Be extremely intentional about the courses you take. Many students look for the “easy A courses” to pad their GPAs rather than selecting those with strategic, career benefits. Don’t squander your opportunities. The more relevant the courses, the greater your conviction will be when you declare your major.
  2. Be strategic about selecting your minor. Think of your major and minor as a strategic package. In many cases, your minor will be the field you go into!
  3. Don’t choose your major before talking with practitioners. Far too many students declare their major without the slightest idea of what the jobs are actually like. You simply cannot rely on your educators having intimate knowledge of the various jobs since most have primarily worked in academia. Actual practitioners can give you a much better perspective.
  4. Don’t compromise. It’s entirely common for collegians to change majors; that’s certainly a better option than settling on something you’re not interested in and excited about. If, after your courses and research, you conclude your major isn’t a fit, look for greener pastures.

 Graduates/Early Career Individuals

The level of disillusion we see in young adults within the first few years of graduation is significant. Most were not prepared for the difficulty with this transition, often because their educational institutions didn’t offer the assistance they needed. It is striking and disheartening to visit with graduates who thought their degree would somehow magically punch their ticket. We see this too much.

For the most part, their challenges relate to finding an interesting job in their major or liking the job they landed (and by default, the major they chose). Life in the real world can be a rude awakening. Here are some tips that can help:

For Job Seekers:

  1. Forget about perfection. Many young adults seeking employment are looking for the perfect job: always stimulating, well paying, great flexibility, convenient location, and with a meaningful impact on the world. And, when they don’t find it, they prefer to wait it out until one materializes. More often than not, it doesn’t. You may not find perfection, but you can still find something that will be satisfying if you loosen the reins a little.
  2. Get in the game. Related to the previous point, many companies don’t offer the exact position you’re looking for today, but something close. Figuratively speaking, if you can’t hit the bull’s eye in the dartboard, expand your search to the first ring or two around it. If you land it and do well, you’ll be well-positioned as an insider to compete for your dream job when the it becomes available. Remember, it often takes several steps before we hit the bull’s eye.
  3. Go where the jobs are. Depending on one’s career choice, there may or may not be positions available in your desired location. The bottom line is you need to go to where the jobs are rather than assume they will come to you.
  4. Evaluate your marketing and job searching. If you’re struggling to win job offers, consider having an independent professional review your resume, discuss your qualifications, and conduct a mock interview. A few tweaks to your marketing can be just the thing you need. Also, be sure you’re doing all you can to identify available positions. Many young adults aren’t taking full advantage of recruiting services/sites, and others are beating them to the punch. Finally, be sure to check whether you know any insiders of companies with interesting openings to see if they can advocate for you.

For Dissatisfied Workers

  1. Don’t expect your first position to be a dream job. Young people are idealistic and often struggle with motivation when it’s not always stimulating. Remember, your initial position may not be indicative of your dream job, but it’s still the right fit, and you need to prove yourself on each position. Have patience and do your best. . . the rest will take care of itself.
  2. But, it might not be a fit after all. No matter how much you enjoyed your courses, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll love it as a career. If, after a period of time you are highly dissatisfied, explore other options. You never want to get stuck in a career rut, and sometimes, it’s only after we experience a career that we determine whether it was truly a fit after all.

We hope you found this series helpful and invite you to share it with young people who may be experiencing these situations.

How to Conquer Career Anxiety (Part One)

adult-alone-anxiety-1161268Through the years, we have had numerous opportunities to mentor teens and young adults in the 16-24-age range regarding their careers. We see firsthand the stages of: 1) high schoolers getting a sense of their future career and plotting their education/training course, 2) college/vocational students who are finalizing their career decisions and are closer to entering the workforce, and 3) graduates who are experiencing the first few years of their careers (or job searches), now with a “taste” of the choices they made.

Although many are content and confident in their respective stages, others are anxious, concerned, or disillusioned. Here is a synopsis of the concerns we hear:

  • High School Students: “spooked” by peers who have already decided on their careers/majors (and, not realizing how many will eventually change their minds!), they feel insecure and stressed out when still undecided. Also, the “college for all” messaging is causing considerable anxiety and insecurity with students who are weighing other, better-fitting options.
  • College/Vocational Students: many are confused and unsettled about their final career/major selections, after taking courses and changing their minds. It is common for college students to switch majors multiple times, but each change produces anxiety. With each passing semester, pressure mounts to “bite the bullet” to avoid lengthening their studies.
  • Graduates/Early Career Individuals: many experience difficulty: 1) finding a job in their major (or at all), 2) knowing how to search for positions, and 3) being fulfilled in their job. Each has its unique challenges and frustrations, especially when job offers don’t materialize as expected.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, please don’t lose hope. You’re in the early stage of a long journey, and with the right mindset and methods, you can enjoy tremendous career success. With that, we’d like to offer some encouragement and advice for each of these situations.

General Tips  

  1. Take charge of your career selection. Many young people are allowing others too much influence on their decisions. In the educator realm, this includes high school teachers, professors, and counselors who often lack direct knowledge of the private sector and the day-to-day aspects of different fields. Teens and young adults are highly impressionable at this stage and often defer too much to others who do not know them (or all the realistic career fits) sufficiently well to command such influence. Additionally, they are often swayed by friends who rarely possess sufficient knowledge to be very helpful; their advice is often counterproductive. Choosing a career/major needs to be among the best-researched decisions in life, and we, individually must take the lead role.
  2. Focus on selfawareness. No one knows you like you. Accordingly, your career selection requires a thorough understanding of self: your interests, skills and assets, personality, stressors, work environment preferences, income desires, and passions. Questions such as, “Who am I?” and “What do I have to offer?” are vitally important inputs to making a well-fitting career decision.
  3. Consider a variety of options. Although many young adults know with conviction what career they want to pursue, most don’t. Even if they think they know in high school, they often change their mind with the benefit of courses and more knowledge of other options. Sadly, some 40 percent of college graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret their major (based on a recent Gallup survey)! All of this suggests that people aren’t researching their options thoroughly enough before committing. This is an unfortunate, and very expensive, regret.The solution is to research and evaluate several options with the aid of career assessments/surveys, job shadowing, internships, and conversations with those in your professional network. There is no substitute for talking with people in the fields you are considering. They are invaluable in providing they day-to-day perspectives of the job and the career path/qualifications required.
  4. Don’t forget to research industries and companies. Often, young adults select careers based primarily on their skills and courses and deemphasize the various industry options. For example, a graduate in accounting could work for a public accounting firm, a private or public company in any number of industries (e.g., banking, health care, technology), or a non-profit organization. Individuals are more fulfilled when their skills are used in specific fields and companies they’re excited about. So, in addition to skills assessments, be sure to explore different industries and employers via Career Clusters, libraries, Chambers of Commerce, suggestions from your network, internet searches, and career placement firms like Indeed. This research will help to select a better long-term fit.
  5. Evaluate employment prospects of different majors/careers. Far too many students are selecting their majors without thoroughly researching the corresponding job market. Post-secondary education is simply too expensive to select majors that don’t offer realistic employment prospects! Before committing to a specific field/major, obtain statistics from your educational establishment regarding the percent of graduates who landed full-time jobs in their field. Many many majors today have no realistic jobs at the end of the rainbow or are so general that it is extremely difficult for graduates to actually work in the fields they are pursuing! Understandably, this is a tremendous source of frustration and disillusionment for graduates who didn’t know any better. Educators need to step up their game in this regard! Big time.

In part two, we will provide specific recommendations to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates employed or pursuing employment. We encourage you to share this series with the students, children, and mentees under your guidance.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Three)

During the past two weeks, we’ve shared the various ways that parents can help reverse the worrisome trends in adolescent anxiety. If you didn’t catch them, you can find them here and here.

This week, we’d like to close our series by addressing the pivotal role our educators can play in reducing student anxiety. Of course, we know that schools and universities are, by definition, bastions of anxiety! After all, students are measured every which way from Sunday and are surrounded by a contagion of similarly anxious peers! That said, there are any number of strategies school leaders can employ that would return student anxiety to more normal, healthy levels. Here are our top five recommendations:

  1. Promote a positive and empowering school culture. The school environment plays a major role in the health and well being of students. How would you describe your school’s brand and core values? What three words best describe the character and learning environment for your students? If your school hasn’t adopted a set of values that administrators, teachers, and students abide by, consider this an urgent priority. Qualities like kindness, compassion, and integrity are foremost on our minds at LifeSmart, and we always encourage schools to take what we call, “the Integrity Challenge.” (This is where students are empowered to only say neutral to positive things about others who are not present.) Another suggestion is to have each class create a brand and core values statement and commit to holding each other accountable. Let’s do this! #positiveculture
  2. Expand leadership/life skills offerings. Evidence is pervasive that high school graduates are not adequately prepared for their next steps. Arguably, one reason is that schools are so focused on their immediate step that insufficient time is devoted to the transition to the next (e.g., high school to college/workforce). We urge administrators to expand leadership and life skills-oriented courses that holistically prepare students for independent living and their next stage. These would include leadership, soft skills, college/career readiness, personal finance, and home management. Such courses build essential skills, instill self-confidence, and help students cope with the pressures of their present and future situations. The better prepared they are, the less anxious they will be. #lifesmart
  3. End the “college for all” messaging. Based on deteriorating college graduation trends and high student demand for mental health services in college, it is clear that many are not college ready and would be better off pursuing other paths. Whether overt or subliminal, messages promoting the college path are commonplace. How does this affect anxiety? Droves of unprepared and dispirited students drop out of college and into uncertainty. Others struggle mightily in college when another path (e.g., trade school, workforce) was a more compatible choice. Still other high schoolers feel inadequate if they don’t pursue the broadly recommended college path. How is your messaging? #whateverisbest
  4. Review homework levels. Given how early students rise before school and require above-average levels of sleep, homework should be reasonable. Yet, we’ve often heard of schools assigning up to four hours of homework on weeknights, creating a workday that is more demanding than their parents! This, together with a lack of coordination among teachers in terms of exams and major projects, is an obvious source of student anxiety. How reasonable is their workload? #theyneedalife
  5. Career selection pressure.  Many high schools are ramping up their career readiness programs, and we applaud that. However, some are taking this to a degree that students are feeling pressure to know what career (and potentially, college major) they should be pursuing. We think that’s taking things too far. In the high school years, students are still discovering themselves and aren’t in a position to weigh all the career alternatives, fully assess their skills and interests, possess all the necessary knowledge to make an informed judgment, and speak with/job shadow practitioners in those fields. We strongly support efforts to build career awareness, but when students feel pressure (as many do!) to know exactly which field they should enter, that’s an overreach. And, remember, many college students change their majors multiple times, and a large measure of college graduates regret the major they chose! Focus on the process, but not the selection in the high school years. Finally, let’s not push STEM as their only ticket to success. It’s not.

Whether you’re a parent, educator, or other interested party, we hope you found value in our series on preventing and reducing student anxiety. We all have a stake in improving these trends, and we wish you the best in your efforts with the adolescents under your guidance.

Making the Most of Your Internship

american-asian-blond-hair-1323588.jpgYou’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, with all due respect to the originator of this exaggeration, it’s actually both! These days, it matters greatly whether you have an inside contact and advocate when you apply for a job. (A person dear to us just landed a phenomenal position that began with an internship!) But, if you don’t bring a good skill set, especially those valuable soft skills, you likely won’t land it… or keep it for very long if you manage to fool the recruiter.

So, what’s the best way to cover both bases and set yourself up for career success while you’re still in high school or college? The answer is to pursue an internship. Yes, even those requesting your services for free! Hear me out…

The Value of Internships

There is tremendous value in obtaining, and excelling in, an internship. When you do, you’ll:

  1. Gain valuable experience. Even if the job isn’t in your dream career zone, you’ll develop skills and perspective on how the “real world” operates. Often, our academics focus more on theory than practice, so this helps fill the gap.
  2. Sharpen your soft skills. In addition to learning the tasks of the position, you’ll build key soft skills like organization, work ethic, dependability, positivity, integrity, and team mindedness.
  3. Build your network. If you take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, you’ll expand your personal and professional “sales force!” They may prove invaluable as future references, too.
  4. Pilot test career possibilities. Whether or not the position is exactly what you would be looking for in a future career, it will give you a helpful firsthand assessment of the fit for you. Many discover that an internship will either confirm or reject their initial career leanings. The earlier you learn this the better.
  5. Get a feel for the organization, its culture, and the industry. Hands on experience with the employer will provide you an excellent sense of the culture and industry. This will help you assess whether you’d want to work for them full time.
  6. Gain an inside advantage. IF you do well AND it’s a company you’re interested in, you’ve just gained the inside track for a full-time position. That’s gold!
  7. Enhance your resume and credentials. Employers love to see work experience rather than just academic accomplishments. With your internship, you’ve just improved your competitive edge to land a great position.

Maximizing the Opportunity
 
So, now that you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most out of it? Here are some strategies to maximize your experience:

  1. Remember, attitude is (almost) everything. It’s important to arrive with the right frame of mind. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to meet people, contribute to the effort, and acquire as many skills as possible. A positive attitude and strong work ethic are vital. Internships generally involve more basic tasks and responsibilities rather than key decision-making and a corner office. So, keep your expectations under control and deliver excellent work no matter what they have you do.
  2. Exceed their expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the specs of the position and do high quality work that’s on time, every time. Then, seek opportunities to showcase your creativity and initiative by going above and beyond the job description. Think, “How can I add value?”
  3. Remember, you’re each testing the waters. They are observing whether you are full-time material, so rise to the occasion. But, also evaluate whether this is a fit for you. Be sure to consider whether: 1) the organization and culture appeals to you and 2) the position confirms or rejects your career interests. Internships offer a powerful way to sample what it would be like to work in that field and with that employer. They also provide excellent opportunities to meet people in the full-time position(s) you’d likely be seeking. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable. If you find it’s not a fit after all, you’ll still have time to change your plans. 
  4. Meet as many people as possible. Don’t stay planted in your cubicle. Use your internship as an opportunity to meet leaders and people in positions of interest. Have coffee with some of their most respected people and pick their brains. What success secrets and advice can they offer? It’s a great way to build your network and fast track your career by learning from the pros.

If your schedule allows, we strongly encourage you to seek out an internship. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments because this a top priority. It’s a foolproof way of learning the ropes and landing your dream career.