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.

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!

Career Readiness Essentials: Developing Your Career Savvy

“A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A, M.D., or Ph.D.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a J.O.B.”

~”Fats” Domino

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if employers would appear on our doorstep with lucrative job offers and automatically recognize our greatness? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. But, judging by the horror stories we routinely hear from employers, some are mistakenly acting as if it were true. The fact is, we may have all of the qualifications in the world, but if we don’t know how to effectively market ourselves, we simply won’t land the job. Marketing doesn’t always come naturally to us, but it is a learned skill with proper training.

Based on our conversations with recruiters and young adult applicants, there are some missing ingredients in today’s career readiness training at school and in the home. From recruiters, we hear about poor interview skills, mistake-laden resumes/cover letters, and lacking professional decorum. Meanwhile, students are struggling with networking, taking the initiative, searching for open positions, and persuasively marketing themselves. It needn’t be this way.

With that backdrop, here are our recommendations for developing marketing savvy in your career readiness training:

  1. Create a competitive mindset. A winning strategy begins with a winning attitude. Succeeding in today’s job market requires initiative, proactivity, and competitive instincts. In most cases, you’ll be initiating your own job search versus being recruited. And, you can expect to compete against a worthy pool of applicants who all want the same thing. You must stand out!
  2. Build a skills inventory. In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of building your competitive edge. Now, it’s time to get it down on paper. What are your special skills and leadership attributes that make you unique and valuable, especially for the position at hand? What supporting evidence (i.e., accomplishments, recognitions, stories) can you cite?
  3. Develop a compelling resume and generic cover letter. Create powerful documents that share your achievements, history, leadership credentials, and competitive edge in a manner that is appealing to potential recruiters. Be sure they are checked and cross-checked to avoid typos and are reviewed by at least one professional adult. Recruiters are perfectionists when reviewing written correspondence!
  4. Display a professional social media presence. Create a professional profile in locations such as LinkedIn. And, understand that most recruiters will review your posts and tweets on various social media platforms. Delete any and all posts that may reflect negatively on you in the eyes of a recruiter! And, from now on, consider that a potential recruiter is in your audience when you post or tweet. It’s a great filter.
  5. Discover the available job openings. In order to land a great job, you need to know where and how to find them! Familiarize yourself with job posting sources (e.g., Indeed.com, craigslist.org, local newspapers) and with open positions among companies of interest (contained in their website). What job titles best capture your career interest? What companies in your area excite you? Develop a matrix of job openings by title/position and the companies offering them to help direct your search efforts.
  6. Tap into your network of ambassadors. These days, the overwhelming majority of positions are filled by individuals who had an “inside advantage.” So, when you identify job openings of interest, explore whether you know someone in that firm who can go to bat for you. This is huge! In addition, be sure that your network of advocates is aware of your job search so they can offer suggestions and valuable connections.
  7. Master the interview. Successful interviewing involves preparation, preparation, and preparation. It begins with thoroughly researching the company and the position to help demonstrate your interest and ask compelling questions. When they ask why you’re interested in this position, you’d best have a convincing answer! And, be sure to master the art of the interview by making a great first impression, demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and likeability, having persuasive answers to likely questions (including why they should hire you!), and displaying professional verbal and nonverbal skills. Role playing is a must! Remember, practice makes less imperfect!
  8. Have a good follow up strategy. Personalized, hand-written thank you notes are a must and are to be mailed promptly after the interview. Be sure they know you are interested in the position. Depending on their process, also consider a phone call expressing thanks and interest.

With preparation, training, and practice, your students can successfully market themselves and win the job. Let us know how we can support your career readiness efforts with our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources. We’re here to help!

To Land Your Dream Job, Build Your Edge

One important key to success is self confidence.

An important key to self confidence is preparation.

~Arthur Ashe

 

So, you’ve buckled down and identified several candidate careers (or majors) that could be your perfect match. Now, it’s time to turn this vision into a reality! It’s a highly competitive job market out there, so you’ll need a solid plan to acquire the necessary qualifications to win. That means building your competitive edge—the next step to becoming career ready.

It’s difficult to generalize the qualification process because it varies so much by career choice. Do you prefer to dive right into the job market? Are you willing to get your Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D, or more? Often, it’s the qualifications that help us narrow our career options to ones that are realistic and achievable.

When entering the workforce, chances are the basic qualifications will be in the following areas:

  • Education: degree, areas of specialization, GPA, certifications, specific courses
  • Work experience: minimum years and particular positions; internships and apprenticeships; training and professional certifications
  • Skills: technical proficiencies, physical requirements, familiarity with systems, relational and soft skills, etc.
  • References: they had better be good!

In last week’s newsletter, we identified several websites that show the various qualification requirements for different careers. Familiarize yourself with them and use this information to narrow your choices. Be realistic.

Now, in order to position yourself to land the job, you’ll want to go far beyond the minimum qualifications cited above. Employers are looking for special evidences of leadership, initiative, and accomplishment. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you speak with actual practitioners who hold your desired career position. Seek out advice and wisdom from the pros, especially to discover ways you can set yourself apart from the competition. They will be able to offer far deeper insights in building your edge than your high school or college career counselor/recruiter whose knowledge is more general. What leadership skills, internships, experiences, and trainings can you undertake that will stand out? Summer jobs? Camps? Job shadows? Extra courses?

We also encourage you to review the results of the state of Virginia’s workplace readiness survey of employers. You can access it here. You’ll notice that many of the top 21 skills are soft skills. Yes, today’s employers are looking far beyond your degrees and GPAs… they want people with great attitudes and leadership skills.

Great references are another necessity. Many times, they can overcome average academic performance with great stories about you. Whether they’re professors, teachers, coaches, mentors, or supervisors, all of them are prized potential references on your behalf. What have you done to deserve the highest praise among people who can potentially become your ambassadors?

So, what’s your story, from a prospective employer’s perspective? Remember, you’re competing against other worthy candidates, and the more you can demonstrate passion, initiative, and real life examples of your leadership skills, the more an employer will want you! Make yours a great story.

Educators and parents, be sure that your career readiness training incorporates these vital components. They will help your students build the edge they’ll need to win.

 

 

 

Finding a Career That Fits YOU

Life is filled with important decisions, but few are as critical as selecting a well-matched career. Not only is it our primary income source, but it also is the most direct way we apply our skills and talents in life. With all of the time we spend in our careers, it pays to make this one of the most well researched decisions in life. That means inventorying our skills, interests, and personal preferences, and researching different career options that play to our strengths, are realistically accessible, and will offer fulfillment and sufficient income.

Many high schoolers feel inordinate pressure to know NOW what career they should pursue, but we believe this is premature and speculative. Students are still discovering themselves, they haven’t been exposed to a variety of career options, and they haven’t even taken advanced courses. Accordingly, we believe it’s more appropriate to train our teens on the process of career exploration rather than placing undue pressure on them to decide on specifics at this time. For most, it’s far too soon.

Educators and parents, you play an important role in facilitating a career exploration process that promotes research and discovery, rather than forcing a definitive conclusion. In this spirit, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Build career awareness and curiosity. Encourage students to become career conscious and to connect with people who have potentially interesting careers. Parents, you can take a leadership role in making the introductions.
  2. Take career assessment surveys. Many sites (e.g., careercruising.com and careerbridge.wa.gov) offer excellent information and assessments to assist with career exploration. Often, they include both potential careers and industries to help students channel their interests and skills. They also provide valuable information regarding demand, qualifications, and marketing tips (resume writing, interviewing, etc.). Importantly, students should consider why particular career areas rose to the top of their list and why others were at the bottom. It’s a great self discovery exercise.
  3. Consider all key career selection factors. Selecting a career match is a multi-faceted decision. Key considerations include: 1) skills and aptitudes, 2) interests, 3) ability to obtain the necessary qualifications, 4) personal preferences (e.g., personality compatibility, workplace environment, stress level, relational vs. task orientation, work hours, flexibility), 5) demand, 6) income requirements/potential, and 7) location.
  4. Determine whether it’s a career, hobby, or volunteer opportunity. Many students are majoring in areas where actual job opportunities are scarce. In such cases, it may be wise to pursue these interests in their free time rather than enduring a fruitless and frustrating job search.
  5. Parents, remember it’s about them, not you. We often observe high school students planning to pursue the same career as their parent(s). Some of this comes through osmosis (fine), but other times, it is coming from parents who are actively steering (or even directing) this decision (not fine).
  6. Educators, be sure to invite recruiters into your classroom. Classroom visits from recruiters, as well as career fairs, are great opportunities for students to broaden their career horizons and gain real world perspectives from practitioners.
  7. Encourage multiple options. It’s common for students to change their minds regarding their career or college major. It’s also common for students to be so narrowly focused on a specific career that they become discouraged and stagnant when that exact job isn’t available. It always helps to have a Plan B and C to get in the game. Perfection isn’t always possible when you begin your career.

Your students will be well served by taking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to career selection. We invite you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources to support their efforts.

Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

Self Awareness: Where Career Readiness Begins

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.

There is no one alive that is Youer than You.”

~Dr. Suess

 

I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited and confused at the same time. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path!

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. However, most of my conversations go something like this:

Me:      So, what career or major are you considering?

Them: My parents want me to take up ____. My dad (or mom) has had a great career in it. But my friends think I should go into ____.  My school counselor has even different ideas.

Me:      So, what do you think?

Them:  (Anxious pause) I just don’t know.

Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, career planning begins with a solid foundation. In this case, it is a foundation built on the understanding of self—knowing who we are, how we are gifted with unique talents, experiences, and attributes, and what we’re interested in and passionate about. The who, what, and why… of us! If we don’t fully understand ourselves first, finding a career that fits is a random exercise, at best.

Career assessment surveys are indeed helpful, but tend to focus on skills and interests rather than the complete picture of self. As such, we encourage educators and parents to take a broader view.

At LifeSmart, we take a holistic approach to self assessment that helps students discover the unique value (assets) they have to offer to this world. It considers a wide range of asset categories that builds self confidence, a sense of identity, and inspires a healthy life vision. Here is an abbreviated summary of some of the asset groups we believe are essential for career and life readiness training:

  • Foundational Assets:
    • Physical: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, vocal, visual, auditory, sport-specific, appearance
    • Mental: intelligence, aptitudes, analytical ability, reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking, intuition, memory, concentration, subject specific
    • Behavioral: personality (pace and people/task focus), attitude, social attributes, outlook, emotional intelligence, communication, productivity, soft skills
    • Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences, encouragement
  • Aspirational Assets:
    • Experiential: credentials (academic, career, skills, service), life experiences, leadership, perspective
    • Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreation, leisure, industry, activities, entertainment, travel, nature, spiritual life, creative arts, social
    • Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, personal and professional goals, bucket list items

Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others (note parents!), we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps identify your unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. This is a great personal leadership assignment that can be led by educators or parents. Be sure to explore other self awareness resources, too.

It’s important to remember that some of these assets will be used directly in our careers while others help in different arenas. Regardless, by taking an inventory of our unique assets, personal nature, and desires, we’re much better equipped to select a great career match.

Successful people lead from their strengths, but first they have to know what they are. Help the students and children in your life understand their uniqueness and value. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—for their eventual career and for all of life.

 

 

Career Readiness Essentials for School and Home

 

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

~Dr. Suess

 

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question each of us has received (and often loathed!) countless times in our formative years. For some, like my daughter, the answer was clear from an early age. For most, it’s a trial and error process with midcourse changes—and loads of stress. And, that’s only the beginning.

In my conversations with teens and young adults, I see a generation that is starving for practical career wisdom. Some are struggling with their career (or major) choice. Some have all the credentials, but don’t have a clue how to market themselves and win. In today’s world, where personal initiative and networking are key, those who haven’t adapted are floundering. Finally, those who are underperforming on the job are getting a rude awakening about the ways of the real world.

To some extent, we attribute this to assumptions being made by parents and educators about who is responsible for training what. Parental guidance is all over the map. And, career readiness programs vary widely within high schools, colleges, and universities. Guess who loses?

At LifeSmart, we believe the solution is for all students to receive comprehensive and practical career readiness training to help position them for success. To that end, we are developing this extended blog series to share our vision for effective career preparation. Whether you’re a parent, educator, or student, we hope this advances your career readiness training and identifies any gaps to address.

Essential Elements

In order to holistically prepare our students for career success, we believe that training needs to be much broader than is commonly the case. In our view, the following are necessary ingredients to comprehensive career training:

  1. Self awareness building: understanding one’s self, in terms of assets/skills/strengths, personality profile, interests, and passions. This involves answering the fundamental questions of who am I?, what do I have to offer?, and what are my dreams? Self awareness is a necessary precursor to effective career selection.
  2. Leadership development: understanding the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of honorable and successful people. These qualities not only serve us in our careers, but in all of life. Leadership training is necessary for sustained career excellence.
  3. Career exploration: identifying and evaluating well-suited and accessible careers that play to our strengths, satisfy our preferences, and offer fulfillment and a livelihood. This needs to be one of the most well-researched decisions in our life.
  4. Career qualification: knowing the credentialing and planning required to access one’s chosen career. Through education, training, and experience, we must build a competitive edge that is attractive to future employers.
  5. Career acquisition: understanding the job search process and how to successfully market ourselves in this highly competitive, ever-changing world.
  6. Career mastery: developing a reputation as an “MVP employee” by virtue of one’s character, performance, and contribution to employer success. Together, these improve the odds of achieving our career potential and financial goals.

 Does your career training include all of these elements?

We will be addressing each of these topics over the next two months, deriving from our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources as well as perspectives from employers. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion on self awareness, and please share this series with those in your sphere of influence. We’d love to hear your thoughts and would enjoy supporting your career readiness efforts.

 

 

 

 

Teaching Teens the Art of Professional Networking

With spring in full swing, we can almost taste the arrival of summer. For many educators and parents of teens, summer means graduation is right around the corner, and newly launched young adults will be looking for summer jobs or looking to enter the workforce full time. 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 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 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 insider advocating on our behalf. 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. 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. So, parents and teachers, this is a great opportunity for you to influence and empower! 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 areputation 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 your 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.

How do your teen’s networking skills stack up? Who are their advocates? How can they expand the list? What are your opportunities to help them become a master networker?

Building Workplace Readiness: Part Three

Welcome to the last installment of our three-part series on workplace readiness skills for teens and young adults. In this installment, we’ll address four prized leadership attributes employers are seeking. They are:

  • speaking and listening
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • job acquisition and advancement
  • time, task, and resource management

 

Speaking and Listening

Good communication skills, both written and verbal, are a must in today’s workplace (and, in life!). However, many employers report that today’s young adults are often challenged in this area. They may be prolifically communicative with their smart phones and social media—but these more casual skills don’t necessarily translate to a professional environment with diverse audiences.

Educators, parents, and mentors, you can help by teaching them:

  1. How to write a superb professional letter. Great examples are a thank you letter after a job interview and a cover letter to a potential employer.
  2. The importance of clearly understanding instructions, deadlines, and expectations.
  3. The value of building relationship capital with their colleagues and customers. Every communication should be courteous and tactful.
  4. To practice the “40/60 rule.” When communicating with others, spend 40% of the time talking and 60% listening—not the reverse!
  5. To be sensitive to tone and body language. Remember that how you say something can matter more than what you actually say.

 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

In this data-driven world, employers are rewarding problem solving and decision-making skills. These can present special challenges to students who are conceptual by nature, or who have been educated in schools that value memorization of facts over real world application.

If this is the case with your teen, you can help by providing training and opportunities to practice. What I Wish I Knew at 18 includes a highly effective decision-making process that guides the both the conceptual and the analytical thinker. Here’s the process, using the example of choosing a college:

  1. Get the facts. Identify all key inputs and assumptions (e.g., tuition, location, size, majors offered, admission requirements).
  2. Determine the key decision criteria (e.g., cost, location, reputation, availability of desired major). Be sure to prioritize these criteria by importance.
  3. Identify all realistic options (i.e., final candidates)
  4. Engage wise counsel. Ask others with valuable, firsthand perspectives (e.g., alumni and current students)
  5. Conduct a thorough and objective pro/con evaluation for each option. Be sure your research addresses the key decision criteria from step two. Also, remember that not all pros and cons are equal!
  6. Consider your gut instinct or intuition. Your preliminary decision may not feel right. If so, further evaluate each alternative until you’re at peace.

 

Job Acquisition and Advancement

When young adults enter the workforce, they soon realize that grading doesn’t end upon graduation! To avoid this rude awakening, here are two career advancement strategies to teach students:

  1. Come prepared to model the qualities that employers value: These include high standards, integrity, reliability, relational skills, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation, innovative, resilience, and likeability.
  2. Commit to delivering excellent job performance that exceeds expectations. This means: 1) understanding how they’ll be evaluated and going “above and beyond,” 2) knowing how their supervisor defines “excellence,” and 3) having their supervisor identify their most significant potential accomplishments and delivering them.

 

Time, Task, and Resource Management

In an increasingly competitive environment with high attention to costs, workplace productivity commands a premium. Accordingly, new employees will need to be effective and efficient. Here are some helpful tips to help them learn how:

  1. Become a disciplined goal setter and planner. Always strive to complete work at least one to two days before the deadline…just in case!
  2. Avoid procrastination…it reduces stress and improves quality.
  3. Organize a daily to do list by priority and urgency. Always complete the most important work first.
  4. Manage time in blocks and control distractions. Time is a precious asset to manage wisely!

 

It’s never too soon to begin imparting these essential skills and strategies. Today’s students are tomorrow’s work force, and we owe it to them—and their future employers—to set them up for success!