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.

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.
 

Self-Awareness: The Ultimate Goal for Teens this Summer

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“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison,  Invisible Man

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, confused, and a little bit anxious, but stayed positive for the most part. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path that taught me a lot about life and myself.

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. (I’m the first to affirm them, but also let them know it’s okay if they change their mind as many often do.) 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. It’s confusing.

Me:      So, what do you think?

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

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. In fact, earlier this year, Gallup released the results of its survey of college graduates and found that an alarming 40% of Bachelor’s Degree recipients now regret their choice of major! 40%!!! Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, good 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, mentors, 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 that fits us like a glove.

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.

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming College Freshmen: July

accomplishment-adult-bisexual-1152500Parents, you’re in your last full month. They say you have eighteen summers with your child, and, well….you have entered the ninth inning. In about a month or two, your teen (or young adult) will be opening a new chapter, beginning college, and starting their adult life. It’s a season filled with emotion for all parties, because you’ll be starting a new chapter, too. After all, we say “good bye” to their childhood and “hello” to their adulthood. So, take it all in, but be hopeful. You have a new, adult-to-adult relationship to look forward to.

Right now, your son/daughter may be choosing his or her first semester course schedule, and anxiously and increasingly looking ahead. Reality is setting in (for both of you). This is a great time to go over two related topics, in order to build confidence and be fully prepared: academics and career.

It’s important for your student to fully understand the difference between high school and college academics. There is much more expected, classes are fewer and longer, competition is stiffer, and exams and essay requirements are far more complex. Here are a few things to go over when it comes to academics:

  • Have them set goals for the first year. What would they constitute as a “successful” experience (e.g., a certain GPA, etc.)?
  • At this time, they need to think of academics as their JOB and their PRIMARY focus. I hate to say it, but party animals don’t last long in the big leagues. Their college education is the biggest investment they (and/or their parents) will make in their future so it’s crucial they make a good return on their investment. Study first, everything else later.
  • Don’t go overboard in taking too many credits the first semester. My personal recommendation is to keep it at 16 or less. There are simply too many life adjustments that are made during that first semester at school, so I would advise not overloading the class schedule in order to avoid unnecessary pressure.
  • Their daily schedules will be far less structured than they were in high school (other than making sure they’re at lectures and labs on time, their day is entirely their own!), so developing a daily plan is crucial. Make sure they always schedule in study time, eating time, exercise time, and relaxing time. Have them find a good planner they’ll use on a regular basis!
  • Time management is essential. Does your teen struggle with managing his or her time or with procrastination? Let’s nip that in the bud now! Time is a precious asset, so developing a daily to-do list is paramount. I recommend organizing it by urgency, always understanding that work comes before play.
  • Take full advantage of professor’s office hours. (Trust me, they’re there to help, and showing up at their hours shows them you’re eager to learn.)
  • Develop an effective and repeatable study method. Complete required readings four days in advance before exams so there is ample time to review and build in “reps.” I devote an entire chapter in What I Wish I Knew at 18 to studying in post-secondary academics. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Secondly, now is the time to start (if you haven’t already) talking to your teen about their future career. Isn’t that the main reason they’re going to college, after all? Here are a few things regarding their future career that you can start talking about this summer:

  • The monetary investment in a college education is far too significant to see it as anything other than preparation for a successful career (no matter what some academics say!). Practically, career earnings need to produce a reasonable return on college investment, taking into account their time spent and any debt incurred.
  • Career and major selection should consider several factors, such as: interests, skills, current demand, ability to meet the qualifications, personal preferences (work environment, hours, stress level, team vs. solo, etc.), expected/desired income, etc. It should be one of their best-researched decisions, and, yet, colleges don’t always place career/major selection as a top priority for their students. Encourage them to do career exploration surveys and talk to actual practitioners in careers before making a final selection. And, make sure they contact the department heads to see what percent of graduates landed a job in their desired field. Many, many majors do NOT lead naturally to jobs in that area. A recent survey showed that 36 percent of college graduates regret the major they chose. 36 percent! That’s the downside of not putting in the necessary effort when selecting a major/career.
  • Remember, the vast majority of jobs are filled by people who have an “inside advantage.” Thus, students need to be building their professional network NOW. It is never too early to start networking (and it starts with you, mom and dad!).

As you enjoy this summer with your teen, make it one to remember. Cook their favorite meals, watch their favorite movies, experience your favorite sports or activities together, and take lots of pictures. It’s a great time to build memories for a new and exciting adult-adult relationship that’s just around the corner. Although their new adventure awaits, there’s no place like home.

P.S.—Happy Fourth of July to all of our friends, family, and followers! We hope you have a safe and celebratory holiday with your loved ones.

4 Steps to Ensure You Rock Your College Major Choice

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We’ve been talking a lot about preparing for college around here lately. Now that we’ve arrived at glorious summer, it’s only a matter of months (or weeks) before students are moving into dorms and getting settled in the college rhythm. They’ve made one hard decision already—where to attend school. However, another hard decision still awaits them. What should they major in?

Most of us reading this can likely relate to this struggle. It’s a big decision! I remember agonizing over it as a young student myself. But really, it boils down to one main concept: What can you do for the rest of your life that you’ll enjoy and won’t burn you out? What are you passionate about, what are you good at, and how can you tie those things into a career that will sustain you from here on out? Ideally, we all want to end up working for an employer we admire, fully utilizing our natural talents and skills, building friendships, and growing personally and professionally, as opposed to hating our job, spending our waking hours bored or frustrated, and not feeling rewarded.

When it comes down to choosing your major and future career path, here’s how to avoid the latter: Do your homework. Often, people who end up with career misery do so because they made their choice casually or impulsively. However, choosing your major and subsequent career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life! Although intuition is important, don’t base your decision fully off of your emotions.  You’ll regret it.

Here are four steps to get you moving in the right direction:

  • Conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. Be objective and take an honest inventory of your: a) interests and passions, b) lifestyle and work preferences, c) skills, and d) willingness to obtain the necessary qualifications.
  • Develop a list of potential careers that align with what you recorded in the above four areas. Meet with professors and counselors. Attend career fairs offered at your school. Meet with actual practitioners of the careers you’re interested in, in order to get the inside scoop. Nobody can give you a better read on a career than someone who is working in that space.
  • Investigate the current demand for the careers you’re considering. Is there a high need for them right now, or does it appear to be a profession that’s dying off (or being replaced with something else)? For every major you’re evaluating, thoroughly evaluate the employment prospects. Does the outlook look weak (or the pay look less than sustainable)? If so, move in a different direction. Have frank conversations with department heads at your college regarding the employment outcomes of recent graduates. What percent of their graduates land a full-time job in their major within a year? Some majors sound interesting, on paper, but have limited job prospects. College is too costly to go down that path
  • Seek out work-study, internships, and job shadowing opportunities before it’s time to declare your major. This will give you a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your initial conclusions.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   
 
A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site, you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to their education and training requirements. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website: http://www.bls.gov/k12/index.htm. It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests.

Thanks for tuning in, and we hope this summer is a productive one full of fun, personal growth, and self discovery!

Can Good Business Principles Make Us Better Parents?

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I know what you’re probably thinking. “Has Dennis gone off his rocker? Business and parenting? Are you kidding me?”

But, stay with me on this. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

As most of you know, I had incredible business experience for some 30 years before founding LifeSmart. Throughout most of it, I worked for a hugely successful company, Russell Investments, that was awarded “Best Place to Work” any number of times. And, I spent 27 years evaluating organizations and leaders—researching and observing the best and brightest. I learned their best practices and applied them to the best of my ability when managing my employees.

During this period, I also became a father of two kids who are as different as day and night—that would be Michael and Lauren. After some time, I realized that what I learned in the business arena could be applied to my parenting… and, what I learned in my parenting could be applied to my management!

So, here goes—six successful business strategies to help you become a better parent!

  1. Adopt a goal orientation: We all achieve more when we set goals. Whether it’s a five-year strategic plan or a daily to-do list, our goals give us focus, direction, and a target to hit. They help keep us motivated, too. And, so it goes with parenting. What if we were to set goals for our parenting? For our families? And, to encourage our children to be consistent goal setters? No doubt about it, we’ll accomplish more. You can find a sample Parenting Mission Statement here which helps us develop family goals: Parenting Mission Statement. So, be as strategic as you can and don’t let the day-to-day busyness keep you from achieving your longer-term goals.

  2. Utilize effective motivational techniques: Whether we’re in the management or parenting realms, we notice that some people are self motivated while others need a little nudge. Researchers have discovered that among the top motivators of a workforce are being: 1) appreciated and recognized, 2) invited into and involved in decisions, and 3) understood by their “boss.” And, so it goes with parenting a teenager, doesn’t it? We regularly hear complaints from teens that their parents: 1) seem to stress their performance rather than the person they are, 2) make all the decisions or minimize their input, and 3) don’t listen to or try to understand them and their world. The parallels are striking, aren’t they?

  3. Empower rather than micromanage: Most of us loathe having controlling supervisors who hover, nag, interfere, and manipulate. We feel disrespected, devalued, disempowered, and distrusted, and rightfully so. And, so it goes with the helicopter parent who employs these same micromanagement tendencies with their teens. Isn’t it interesting that we detest it when it happens to us at work, yet we can fall into this same trap when we parent? But, when we adopt an empowering parenting style, our teens will develop greater self confidence and decision-making skills.

  4. Promote high standards and strong character: As managers, we certainly want our employees to perform. And yet, the most successful leaders stress the importance of upholding high standards of excellence, including strong character and ethical behavior. Qualities like integrity, dependability, initiative, team-mindedness, positivity, self control, work ethic, and resilience are telltale signs of excellent employees. So, when it comes to parenting, let’s remember to honor the great character traits and behaviors in our children, not just their outcomes. It will serve them well in all aspects of life.

  5. Engage in effective collaboration: In today’s more relational workplace, teamwork is highly valued. Being able to work effectively with others with different skills, styles, and backgrounds in a harmonious way produces happier workers and better outcomes. The same is true of families who value one another, work together on family projects and chores, and invest in their relationships. While the teen years can bring extra relationship challenges when children express greater independence (and sometimes appear to devalue their parents’ input), it nonetheless is helpful to reinforce the “family as team” whenever possible. One team, one dream, does pay off.

  6. Commit to continuous improvement: As the world has become more competitive, companies are managing their personnel more intensively. Nowadays, we have to deliver excellent performance just to keep our jobs. So, it’s not surprising that employees who are committed to continuously improve their skills through training, etc. are best positioned to succeed. And, so it goes with our children. By building a growth mindset and a love of learning and self improvement in our children, parents can prepare them for the demands of the real world and help them fulfill their dreams. So, encourage your children to seize those opportunities to sharpen their body, mind, and spirit. It’s huge.

So, taking a page from the business management playbook can actually help in our parenting and pay dividends, too. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

To better parenting.