Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

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!

3 Ways to Help Teens Be Their Best Selves

I’m sure we can all relate. There are teens in your life (whether your children, students, or mentees) whom you want to see thrive. You want nothing but the best for them, and it can be discouraging when they make unwise decisions or when they perform poorly in a class, job interview, presentation, networking opportunity, or the like. Your first instinct is to wish you could have been their “inner coach.” But, then you realize that much of our personal growth comes from our disappointments and mistakes.  Experience is the best teacher of all, isn’t it?

However, since we are the ones with the life experience, it is our job as parents, teachers, and mentors to share our wisdom and lead by example. We want the teens in our lives to be their best selves in all arenas of their lives (school, relationships, sports, family, spiritual life, job, etc.), so it’s up to us to show them our best selves as well.  Here are three ways that you can help your teen be his or her best self and excel to the best of their ability.

  1. Remind them about the importance of positivity and an uplifting attitude. No one enjoys a Debbie Downer! This is especially true at job interviews and other similar networking opportunities. If your teen is looking for a last-minute summer job or hoping to nail down an internship, talk to them about the importance of positivity. Employers are much less likely to hire someone who has a negative, sullen countenance. Make a concerted effort to model this behavior yourself. When an unexpected situation arises, do a self-check and note the kind of behavior you are modeling around your teen. Positivity is not only good for our own morale, but also the morale of others. An attitude that uplifts others will benefit them not only on the job search—it will likely impact every area of their life for the better!
  2. Help them master the art of making a great first impression. As teens mature, their relational skills become that much more important. There are new friends to make, new jobs to land, new ambassadors to cultivate for their network, and perhaps interviews for college and scholarships. Today’s younger generation is far more casual than their adult counterparts, and many are flunking the test in more professional settings. The sooner they can develop an A game when meeting new people (especially adults!), the more successful they will be. Create fun role-play scenarios that involve new social settings and job interviews to help them build confidence when meeting new people. And, encourage them to view every adult they meet as potentially the most important person they’ll ever know. Trust me, they WILL stand out if they do.
  3. Don’t forget to instill an appreciation for (and the practice of) politeness. ‘Pleases’ and ‘thank-yous’ go a long way in every facet of life (job interviews, networking meetings, social settings, first dates, etc.). This is another area that we as parents and teachers can model ourselves. Do we make a conscious effort to be polite to both strangers and friends? How about within our families? Impress upon your teen that manners are essential to building a great personal brand.

 

One of the greatest assets we have to offer the teens in our lives is our wisdom and life experience. Let’s use it to their benefit by building the life skills that will help them thrive in the real world. It starts with leading by example—because our actions usually speak louder than our words!

Building Workplace Readiness Skills: Part One

We’ve heard the stories all too often. You have your own stories, no doubt, but here are some of mine:

  • My friend, a corporate executive, was preparing to interview five finalists for a new position; only one showed up on time. (Guess who landed the job?)
  • Another employer was recruiting at a career fair on a college campus. Based on first impressions and conversations with graduating seniors, not a single student was invited in for an interview.
  • A local restaurant owner received a call from an “ill” teenage employee five minutes before start time, yet fifteen minutes later she was posting pictures of herself at a beach party. It cost her the job.

You might think these are exceptional cases, but we hear stories like this all the time from employers of teens and young adults. As accomplished as young workers may be academically or otherwise, far too many are not workplace ready.

As the marketplace becomes more competitive, are we actually regressing at launching real world-ready graduates from our homes and schools? Many agree and point to such contributors as ineffective parenting, lack of whole person training in schools, and high youth unemployment rates.

This is why I’ve been encouraged by the work at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia and CTECS (Career and Technical Education Consortium of States), who have taken proactive steps to turn the tide. They surveyed employers to identify their most valued workplace readiness skills, and their conclusions, summarized here, establish 21 Workplace Readiness Skills (WRS) for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

[After reviewing the WRS list, we were gratified to learn that our What I Wish I Knew at 18 curriculum (including our “How to Be an MVP Employee” DVD) address 14 of these 21 employer-based skills! You can see how our lessons and success pointers align to these WRS here.]

At LifeSmart, we want to contribute to this crucial conversation by sharing some thoughts on ten of these important skills, starting this week with “Work Ethic” and “Integrity.” We hope you’ll follow along in our series and share your ideas as we go!

Work Ethic   

Fresh out of college, Joe arrives at his new job with visions of grandeur—perhaps a corner office with a great view. Then reality hits—his new work station is a bite-sized interior cubicle. Feeling disgraced, he delivers an inferior product and doesn’t last long.
How can we help the “Joes” we know—whether as students, mentees, or children in our home? Parents can help by instilling the intrinsic value of hard work, avoiding doing their work for them (including homework!), and by not condoning efforts that are clearly lacking.

Educators can help by being mindful of how grade inflation is affecting work ethic and creating attitudes of entitlement. Our colleges and employers are increasingly dealing with both, as students feel “deserving” of special considerations and concessions.

The bottom line: A strong work ethic builds dependability—an essential leadership quality.

Integrity

“We may not always be loved, but we must always be trusted.” This saying is so true! Integrity is one of the most important qualities (arguably number one!) that make up one’s “personal brand.” It’s very difficult to recover from a damaged reputation, and a lack of integrity is often the cause.

 

Here are five attributes of a person of integrity:

  1. They always tell the truth and call out the untruths of others.
  2. They own up to their mistakes and shortfalls.
  3. They uphold high ethical standards, both personally and professionally.
  4. They keep their promises.
  5. They keep their communications about others neutral or positive (especially those who are not present).

 

Whether we’re educators, parents, or mentors, we all have opportunities to incorporate these vital skills into our training of this generation. As you consider those under your guidance, how do they fare on these 21 skills? How might you help address the gaps?

 

Building Likeability Skills in Our Students

ID-10062570Although Valentine’s Day is all about love, this week we’re taking it down a notch to celebrate like—specifically, likeability! The fact is, likeability is a hallmark of successful people and an especially valuable social skill to nurture in our students. In fact, when it comes to landing a job, it’s often the deal breaker in who receives the offer (and even who wins the Presidential election!).

For some, likeability comes naturally; for others, not so much—especially when they enter new environments like college and career settings and social gatherings. Whether it’s from inexperience, low self confidence, or inadequate training, many struggle with social awkwardness (e.g., withdrawing, coming on too strong, demonstrating poor manners, and being blind to the social cues of others). Unfortunately, these tendencies can overshadow the otherwise great qualities of a person.

We’ve all been in challenging social settings and it’s never fun. But, the good news is that likeability skills can be learned with proper training and experience. To that end, I came across an excellent article written by Travis Bradberry at Forbes.com, “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People,” which you can access here.

Here’s a list of his 13 habits, which are spot on:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch (and they touch them)
  13. They balance passion and fun

I encourage you to read the entire article as Travis elaborates on these important behaviors. If you are an educator, parent, or mentor, these make for fabulous small group discussions and (especially) role plays. Practice situations where they act out each of these 13 habits—both positively and negatively. This will not only train them how to model likeability, but it will also build awareness of important social cues like body language.

Likeability is a huge factor in successful relationship building. What additions would you make to the list?

photo: freedigitalphotos.net, jannoon028