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: 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!

Making the Most of Your Summer Job

Congratulations on landing your summer job! I vividly remember my first—as a grocery “stock boy” at an area store. To be honest, I had some mixed emotions about it. On one hand, my paycheck would far exceed any allowance I ever earned! I’d be able to put some money aside for my college fund and still have some left over for extra spending. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy the job, and I’d miss my old summers that were mostly play. Don’t be surprised if you have some of those same feelings.

So, now with the benefit of hindsight, what are my best tips to help you maximize the value of your summer job experience?

  1. Build your life skills. Whether you’re a barista, cashier, sitter, camp counselor, landscaper, server, or otherwise, you’ll gain valuable life skills you might not even realize. Consider these qualities that employers value: high standards, integrity, dependability (including showing up on time, every time!), teamwork, motivation, resilience, enthusiasm, and relational skill. Depending on your job, you’ll be able to develop these skills, for both the summer and for your eventual career!
  2. Demonstrate your leadership skills. Just by landing your job, you’ve demonstrated leadership abilities. However, if you actively pursue leadership opportunities on the job, you’ll add to your repertoire. These examples will make you a more competitive candidate in future interviews.
  3. Develop a network of ambassadors. Throughout life, especially in your career, you will be helped immeasurably by having a great network of fans. Your supervisor and other adults you’ll be working with are potential ambassadors, references, and connectors for you…provided you demonstrate excellence on the job and earn their support!
  4. Learn from the pros. You’ll undoubtedly be surrounded by experienced employees with great reputations. Observe them and learn as much as you can. Seek out their wisdom and career secrets!
  5. Seek valuable feedback. Your supervisor can give you helpful feedback on your job performance and relational skills. I always made it a point to ask for both positive areas and ways I could improve. Take their criticism constructively and include it in your personal growth plan.
  6. Identify your likes and dislikes. Chances are, your summer job will be different from your eventual career. Nonetheless, you’ll gain valuable perspectives about what you’ll like and dislike in your eventual career and work environment. This will help you select a well-matched career and future employer.
  7. Learn about personal finance. Your summer job will offer you excellent opportunities to grow your understanding of personal finance. You’ll quickly learn the difference between gross and net pay (sorry!) and perhaps open your own checking or savings account. With that, will come all the knowledge of banking, checkwriting, debit cards, identity theft, and more. You’ll also develop valuable saving disciplines and learn how to become a wise spender with your newfound income (especially knowing the difference between needs versus wants!). Make the most of these and other opportunities to improve your financial literacy.

Summer jobs offer so much at this pivotal time of life. The experience may not always be fun or exciting, but it builds strong foundational skills for life! Go for it!

 

Teaching Teens the Art of Professional Networking

With spring in full swing, we can almost taste the arrival of summer. For many educators and parents of teens, summer means graduation is right around the corner, and newly launched young adults will be looking for summer jobs or looking to enter the workforce full time. To help set your teen up for success in this arena, you will want to instill the importance of a vital life skill: networking.

You’ve heard said many times: “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.” Of course, this is an overstatement, but in this high tech, interconnected age, it’s truer than ever. The sooner your teen understands this reality, the better.

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

The employment recruitment process has radically changed since I was younger. Nowadays, it’s all about online applications that seem to disappear into the proverbial black hole—it’s SO impersonal and frustrating. Somehow, some way, our application needs to stand out. No doubt about it, the best way is to have an insider advocating on our behalf. It adds a measure of dependability and reassurance to the hiring manager, and that’s huge. It may not land us the job, but it helps get us into the game.

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

But, for many, networking doesn’t come so naturally. Some are more reserved, some haven’t developed the skills, and some don’t appreciate just how important it is. So, parents and teachers, this is a great opportunity for you to influence and empower! Here are some key ways you can help:

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

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

Enthusiasm – Your Secret Ingredient to Success

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

What does it take to land a great job, make wonderful friends, open doors in your career field, or land lucrative accounts for your employer? Go on; think of the qualities that might help you get ahead in these situations. Knowledge and intellect? Advanced degrees? A great skill set?

 

Not necessarily. Did anyone say enthusiasm?

 

Enthusiasm may seem like a lower order attribute compared with other qualities such as knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, many times a job candidate’s  enthusiasm is precisely what influences a hiring manager to favor one of two equally qualified applicants, or what sways a potential client to give his or her business to one of several possible companies.

 

I believe that enthusiasm is a secret ingredient for accomplishing great things. During my investment career, I gave countless presentations to multi-billion dollar sales prospects. After careful observation and coaching from our company’s best marketers, I developed quite a reputation for telling our story. I was told it was my enthusiasm that set me apart from my peers. I passionately believed in our company and its services, and I made sure our prospects could tell! Ultimately, it made a significant difference to our sales success.  

 

People who exude positive energy and enthusiasm are infectious. They inspire others with their spirit and obvious love of life. They motivate everyone around them to do and believe the best. It’s an incredibly helpful quality to have in your business and your personal life. 

 

How can you demonstrate your enthusiasm on the job? Here’s a sample:

 

  •  in a job interview, sit up straight, make eye contact, smile, and ask lots of questions demonstrating your interest in the company and the position
  •  always discuss work-related issues in a positive and upbeat way
  • show up on time—early even!
  • show interest in expanding your skill set to add more value to the company
  • always demonstrate your willingness to listen, seek constructive feedback to improve, and try new things
  • approach customers proactively and focus on exceeding their expectations
  • seek out extra tasks and projects when there is down time
  • suggest new ways to improve sales, reduce costs, develop new products/process, and add value to clients
  • always project that you are someone who wants to be there and who is willing to do what it takes to get the job done
  • seek opportunities to mentor and encourage others


When you’re with others, be positive and enthusiastic—and be sure to smile. Whether it’s simply enjoying the company of others or interviewing for the most significant career opportunity of your life, show your enthusiasm. It WILL make a difference!

                                                                     

How differently do you feel around people who are positive and enthusiastic versus those who are negative and critical? Why do you think this is so?  We’d love to hear your feedback; please comment below. And share us with a friend!

Demonstrate the Qualities Employers Value

  When I was young, jobs for high school and college students were plentiful. Whether it was restaurant, mill, or gas station work, most of my friends were able to pay at least part of their way through college. More recently, however, jobs for teens and young adults have become tougher to come by.

            One reason is that in this current job market, employers are preferring to hire older applicants over younger. (There are plenty of older ones available these days!) Employers say the reason is that older candidates tend to be more reliable and have a better work ethic.

            We hear it all the time. Many students are not leaving high school with the personal leadership foundation and marketable skills required to succeed in the real world.

            What does this mean for young people who want to get a job? 

           

            There ARE jobs out there for young people who are able to demonstrate the qualities that employers value. By knowing these qualities and focusing on applying them in your own life, you’ll increase your chances of getting hired and advance more rapidly. Here are the traits of a true workplace MVP in the eyes of employers:


Reliable 

Enthusiastic

Honest

Innovative

Courteous

Accurate

Adaptable

Positive

Globally Aware    

Motivated

Timely

Independent

Team player

Excellent Communicator

Leader 

Good humored


            These characteristics were drilled into me from a young age. By my senior year in college, my two summer jobs consisted of grocery stock boy and a paper mill worker. Those jobs were simply a means to funding my college education rather than long-term career interests. Although I didn’t care much for the work, as long as I was reliable and my work was of high quality, my bosses were happy. It was valuable experience and enabled me to pay my way through college. A worthy cause!

            No one scores an A+ in all of these worthy qualities. Understanding this, how would you and the people who know you best rate you on these qualities? What are your strongest areas? Which need strengthening? Take the initiative to convert your weaknesses into strengths. You’ll be that much more valued by your employers and co-workers down the road.   

                                 

How do you stack up on the most valuable employee qualities? In which areas do you see the greatest room for improvement? Please share your stories, comments, questions, and insights with our online community. We’d love to hear from you. Forward us to a friend!

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

Imagine you see two movies (if you can find two movies worth seeing!).  The critic in you rates them each four out of five stars. Prior to going, you expected the first one to rate three stars and the second one a perfect five.

            Did you experience the same level of satisfaction from both movies?

 

            Interestingly, probably not!

            If you’re like most people, you left more satisfied after the first one. That’s because it turned out better than you expected. In contrast, you were probably a little disappointed with the second one because it wasn’t as great as you thought it would be.

            This illustration demonstrates the importance that expectations play in our lives. The greater the expectations, the greater the risk of disappointment. It also explains why it’s so important to keep your promises. After all, if someone promises you something, you’re entitled to expect they’ll deliver on their word.

            Some people habitually overpromise and underdeliver. They promise the moon because they aim to please. They say what people want to hear and feed off of their enthusiasm. However, all they do is create false hope when they can’t deliver on their promises. After a few of these incidents, people will figure them out as manipulators. Their credibility is lost forever.

           

            When we don’t keep a promise to someone, it messages that we don’t value or respect them. Rather, we valued something else more highly than our commitment. We communicate to others that they cannot count on us. This takes a heavy toll on our relationships—personally and professionally.

 

            If anything, it pays to underpromise and overdeliver. By doing so, you’ll pleasantly surprise others by exceeding their expectations. Here are some ideas for what that can look like:

·                            In your own mind, honestly appraise what you’re willing and realistically able to do for them.

  •  Allow yourself a “fudge factor” – estimate a slightly longer delivery time, slightly higher cost, slightly lower quality, etc.

 

  • If the project takes longer or costs more, you’ll still be able to come close to your original estimate. And if you’re able to deliver under your original estimate, you look like a hero!

           

            Do yourself and others a big favor. Either deliver on your promises or don’t make them in the first place. It’s a hallmark of integrity!

                                                         

Have you observed how others have reacted when you failed to deliver on your promises? Why should this be a part of how we train our young people? Do you have any experiences with this lesson?  We’d love to hear from you!