Risk Aversion and the Importance of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Part One

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard some conflicting descriptors of Millennials. Some will say how creative, relational, and connected they are. Others will marvel at the emphasis they put on the meaning of their work, and not just the work itself. Millennials ask themselves: Is what I’m doing purposeful? How is it making a difference? What am I passionate about? Great stuff!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, you’ll hear educators, mentors, employers, and other leaders talk about Millennials’ apparent fear of what others think. Many people in this age group do not raise their hand in class, be the first to answer a question, or speak up when they have a differing opinion about something. There seems to be an irrational fear of being ridiculed, getting an answer wrong, or looking dumb. Or, increasingly, saying something that’s not PC!

Related, we hear many stories about how Millennials crave feedback. But, only if it’s positive! Even gently given constructive feedback is difficult for them to take. Generalizations, for sure, but we hear this constantly.

Also, many are struggling to land (and keep) jobs. Fresh out of college, they’re picky and finicky when it comes to finding work. I’ve heard too many stories of young adults choosing to live in their parents’ basements rather than taking a job that’s beneath them or imperfect in other ways.

What it all comes down to is risk aversion. Many young people today are simply unwilling to take risks with uncertain outcomes. Why so? Are they afraid of failing? Afraid of looking silly in front of their friends? Is there such an expectation of perfection in appearance and performance that didn’t used to exist? Is political correctness and hypersensitivity causing them to hesitate?

Elements of risk aversion and fear of failure can be witnessed in all areas of life. Here are some examples:

  • We focus too much on what others might think in our quest for belonging. This doesn’t lead to a good quality of life, as living in other people’s heads will make us anxious, hesitant, hypersensitive, and exhausted.
  • We fear “messing up” our resume. When we’re unemployed, taking a job that may not align with our college major or desired career goals will not look bad on our resume. Having a long gap in employment history WILL. It’s okay to start at the bottom (EVEN WITH A COLLEGE DEGREE) and work your way up. We all did it.
  • We’re insecure. This applies not only to appearance, but also about strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, and more. Those lacking in self confidence often struggle to accept themselves for who they really are. We must learn to love and appreciate ourselves and our uniqueness before we can truly become successful.
  • We let pride get in the way by always needing to be right. People with this mindset generally need high odds of success before they will participate in anything. This is what I call “perfectionist syndrome” and it leads to prideful, resentful, hesitant, and generally unsuccessful outcomes. Not surprisingly, these people tend to struggle in team settings.
  • We may be raised by helicoptering, performance-driven, or abusive parents. These forms of parenting inhibit children from trying new things and thinking for themselves.

 

As young people embark on life as an adult, the risks may seem extraordinarily high. However, so are the stakes. That’s why they need to learn to overcome their fears, hesitation, and insecurity, and simply go for it.

Next week, we’ll offer some ideas on how to overcome our fears and DO THIS!

 

 

The Most Important Lesson For This School Year?

In a world consumed with constant distractions and multitasking, it seems like we’re becoming more like bumblebees—paying short visits to one flower after another. We’ve never faced “incoming” like this before, and it’s affecting our attention spans, stress levels, and ultimately, our productivity.

So, how can we help our children navigate this noisy world where they’re being pulled in so many directions?

In my years of evaluating leaders, I’ve come to appreciate what virtually all of them have in common:

  1. Vision: an overarching idea of where they want to go. The person they want to become. The impact they would like to have in this world. The life they want to live.
  2. Intentionality: a commitment to setting goals and plans to turn their vision into a reality. Goals that are challenging but realistic, specific, and measurable.
  3. Relentless Effort: they are self motivated and focused like laser beams to achieve their goals and implement their plans. They don’t just work hard—they work smart. They have high standards and manage their time effectively and efficiently. And, they regularly review whether they’re on track and make midcourse corrections along the way.
  4. Resilience: an ability to overcome and learn from their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They don’t let disappointments defeat them; rather, they face their challenges head on and persevere.

With a new school year upon us, this is a great opportunity to teach your children and students how to apply these concepts in their lives. Arguably, this could be their most important learning lesson of the year!

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, mentor, or coach, have the children under your influence set new goals and strategies for the coming year. Encourage them to develop at least one goal in each of the following categories, and to create action steps (with deadlines!) for achieving them:

  • Career: surveying career matches, attending job fairs, creating a resume, sharpening interview skills, meeting people in careers of interest, etc.
  • Education: improving a GPA, taking valuable courses, reading specific books, watching/listening to media-based programs/trainings, etc.
  • Character: developing strengths, addressing weaknesses, modeling qualities/soft skills of admired people, etc.
  • Relationships: improving existing relationships, building new ones (peer, network), etc.
  • Skill: learning a new skill for personal growth, fun, creativity, etc.
  • Service: volunteering time and talent to support your community
  • Experience: checking off a “bucket list” item or two

The more we can instill the value of setting goals, plans, and strategies for life in our children at an early age, the better positioned they will be to achieve success, fulfillment, joy, and impact. Otherwise, especially in this day and age, they’ll be destined for distraction and random (at best) outcomes. It may be a mindshift for them, but they and their dreams are worth it! And, trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it!

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.

Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

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

-William Butler Yeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major and Career

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Financial Tips to Teach Your Children This Summer

We are on the cusp of summer break, which means many teens, grads, and college students will be starting up their summer jobs. Whether they’re nannying, mowing lawns, spinning pies at the local pizza joint, or interning at a law firm, the goal is to gain real life job experience, and of course, make whatever money they can before school starts up again in the fall.

This brings us to an important point. Money. Have you equipped your teen with the financial know-how they need to succeed in the real world (and avoid major financial pit falls)? Many parents assume their kids are learning personal finance at school, but unfortunately, many schools assume the students are learning it at home! It’s a crucial topic that all too often falls through the cracks. And, guess who loses?

As your teen embarks on their summer job, use this as a launch pad to build their financial literacy. The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. You simply need to know the basics and abide by the disciplines and key principles. One way to approach it is to teach them how to avoid these eight most common financial mistakes:

  1. failure to set goals and plan/save for major purchases (instead, many load their credit cards with debt, making their items that much more expensive)
  2. failure to set aside an emergency fund for unforeseen expenses
  3. spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses (a top learning priority!)
  4. incurring too much debt, including student loans and excessive credit card usage
  5. incurring significant fixed expenses relative to your income that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing and cars)
  6. impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping (make, and stick to, your shopping list beforehand!)
  7. failure to begin saving and investing for the future as soon as possible (and missing out on the compounding of money over long periods of time)
  8. failure to appreciate how the little things can add up (e.g., eating out versus in, paying up for name brands, owning a dog or cat)

(Number 6 is an especially common pitfall among young people when working a summer job. They aren’t used to having a surplus of money in their checking account, so they go on spending sprees and end up saving much less than they could. A good rule to learn, especially at this time of life, is save first, spend on “needs” second, and IF there is money left over, enjoy some “wants.”)

This list isn’t just for young people—it’s for everyone. Periodically review how you’re doing in each of these areas, and encourage the young adults in your life to do the same. (Remember, they’re watching you, so be sure to “walk the talk!”) If we can successfully avoid these traps, we’ll ALL be in better financial shape!

 

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.

 

 

 

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!