Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Professionalism

 

adult-arrival-beard-429248 (1)

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.

~Alistair Cooke

or young adults who are just entering the workforce, it can be an eye-opening experience. In a culture that has grown more coarse and casual by the year, and where parents and educators expect the other to take responsibility for building employability skills, many employers have significant retraining to do. So, it’s no surprise they are increasingly valuing professionalism in their employees.

When we hear the word, “professionalism,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is appearance and language. However, the scope is much broader. So, let’s review some of the key aspects of professionalism in a workplace context. Each one is important for adults and children to master.

Appearance: this includes dress, hygiene, countenance, body language, neatness, cleanliness, posture, etc. When you start a new job, err on the side of more conservative dress and closely observe how others, especially the most admired employees, appear. They’re your best role models. Workplace functions vary from casual to business-casual to business. Be sure to come properly attired no matter what. Would your CEO be comfortable including you in a major client dinner? There is only one right answer!

Attitude: employers expect you to arrive on time with a positive attitude and ready to rock. You must try your best regardless of what else is going on in your life or whether it’s a Monday morning after a week of vacation. Keep a positive disposition, even if you’re in stressful situations. Positivity is the sign of a winner!

Excellent Performance: true workplace superstars deliver high job performance and contribute to the success of the organization. They go above and beyond. They can be relied upon to achieve their goals and meet deadlines. Also, they work well with others (both inside and outside). Think “dependable excellence.”

Manners and Etiquette: these reflect on one’s personal standards and respect for others. They are especially important in business/social settings and meetings with clients and prospects. You needn’t be an Emily Post, but you must “show well” to others in your basic etiquette. Closely observe, and learn from, those with excellent manners, courtesy, and graciousness. You won’t win an account with exceptional manners, but you’ll surely lose one if they’re lacking.

Ethics and Confidentiality: every employer has basic policies and procedures that must be followed, in addition to laws and regulations. And, depending on the position, employees are often privy to confidential information. Here, your standards must be impeccable and nothing less. A broken trust, or failure to adhere to ethics and policies, can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask!

Representation of Employer’s Brand: most companies have a mission, vision, and statement of values to which employees are expected to honor. Your supervisor and leaders must be able to trust that you will capably represent the company’s values, both at work and in the community. As we’ve increasingly seen, that includes our comments and posts in the public square, especially on social media.

Communication and Relationships: in the workplace, our relational standards need to be even higher than with our personal relationships. Communication, both written and oral, must be more formal and appropriate, and always tactful and courteous. In order to build a harmonious working environment, positivity and constructive communication are the order of the day. Also, many lifelong friendships are formed at work, where mutuality and respect guide our behavior (especially in mixed gender relationships). Finally, one must never use position or power to abuse, disrespect, manipulate, or harass another. No exceptions.

Growth Mindset: successful employees are committed to lifelong learning. They seek professional development opportunities through webinars, journals, podcasts, and the experienced pros surrounding them. All of this positions employees for advancement in their current job and next-level opportunities.

Here are some key reasons why professionalism so important to employers:

  • Employees are representing their employer and its brand, both internally and externally. Thus, professionalism is a personal and organizational issue.
  • Customers and prospects expect and deserve it! Professionalism is a sign of respect we show others. We’ve all experienced unprofessional sales and service calls, and it motivates us to take our business elsewhere, doesn’t it?
  • Employees who struggle with professionalism rarely last long and certainly receive fewer opportunities. This is especially the case if the position is people-centric like sales or customer service.
  • It builds stronger relationships and helps us make good first impressions when we meet new people.
  • It helps us do a solid job, even on those days when we’re not at our best.
  • It helps us bring out the best in our colleagues, especially when we’re in managerial roles.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

 Parents, don’t take for granted that your children are learning these valuable employability skills at school. Take primary responsibility for it, and introduce them to successful professionals whenever you can. Today’s cultural messages are not preparing them in any way, shape, or form to be a professional, and our schools and universities aren’t consistently helping either. The ball is in your court.

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Resilience

blurred-background-daytime-depression-897817.jpg

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.

~Frank A. Clark

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be
the best thing in the world for you.

~Walt Disney

Turn your wounds into wisdom.

~Oprah Winfrey

 

Hard stuff happens. As much as we might wish that the path to success is a straight line, it’s not. In our personal lives, it might include loss, disappointments, mistakes, mistreatment, family/marital struggles, financial stress, health challenges, job losses, disasters, etc. And, when it happens to us, it’s not always easy to compartmentalize it as we head to work. If we’re not careful, it can easily spill over into our job performance.

Adversity happens routinely in the workplace, too. Common examples include: layoffs, loss of key customers, business slowdowns, departmental underperformance, lawsuits, new competition, product failures, missed deadlines, internal conflicts, etc. In addition to these corporate matters, adversity can also arise from our own underperformance. Regardless of the source, workplace adversity can cause fear and anxiety and affect our performance.

Because of rapid technological change and growing competitive pressures, employers are facing adversity like never before. Therefore, it’s not surprising that resilience is becoming an increasingly valued quality in the workplace.

People respond so differently to adversity. Some are consumed by fear or worry and focus more on the problem than on potential solutions. Others, after the initial shock or disappointment wears off, go into problem solving mode and are actually energized by it. Among the qualities they demonstrate are: perseverance, endurance, persistence, determination, grit, adaptability, and courage. This is resilience.

Although adversity can be brutal and challenging, there is a silver lining. For example, it is the surest way to character and personal growth. Also, it provides valuable experience and wisdom to handle future situations. And, it equips us to inspire and encourage others who are facing similar challenges. There’s no substitute for talking with someone else who has “walked in our shoes” and overcome their adversity. When those opportunities arise, it can be transformational for both parties. I’ve observed this firsthand, and it’s powerful!

So, how do we build resilience? Here are some strategies we describe in What I Wish I Knew at 18:

  • Remember, adversity is part of all of our lives and can be preparation for even greater things. Sometimes, it can even make sense with hindsight!
  • Day follows night, so try to see other side of the valley.
  • Release your pain and worries using constructive stress outlets, your support system, and by taking care of your health. Don’t go it alone.
  • Take seemingly insurmountable challenges one step at a time. It reduces fear and builds momentum.
  • Always keep the faith and focus on the problem and what you can control. This is especially important in a workplace context.
  • If you feel consumed by the problem, “project” it onto a third party and imagine giving advice to them. It’s a great way to stay objective.

Parents, building resilience in your children should be a top priority. The key is allowing them to experience challenging situations where they might fail, and letting it happen. Resist the temptation to jump in and rescue them. It’s easily one of the most difficult things a parent can do, but, in the long run, it’s unequivocally in your child’s best interests.

Knowing that life is a journey filled with ups and downs, resilience is truly a gift you can give to yourself and to your children. And, it’s a quality your employers will truly admire.

Remember, #youcandothis!

Next week, we’ll conclude our series by discussing Professionalism. Catch you then.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Friendliness

A7E8FBAF-9AAC-459A-9FCE-75A3FC66A3F2A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.

~Douglas Pagels

Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by doubling our joy
and dividing our grief.

~Joseph Addison

Winning friends begins with friendliness.

~Dale Carnegie

“TGIF.” It’s arguably the most common weekly comment I hear or see on social media. Shared by people who can’t wait for the weekend. And, more often than not, by people who aren’t especially happy in their jobs. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t recall ever “TGIFing,” even though I enjoy my weekends just as much as anyone.

For 28 years, I was blessed to work for a company I loved, in a job I loved, and with people I loved (or, at least liked!). Our leaders, George and Jane Russell, believed that success was all about putting employees first. We even had a People Division to ensure that we were doing all we could to bring out the best in our people and create a positive work environment. I made many lifelong friends there that I cherish to this day. We worked in a high stress industry, yet our friendly culture made me look forward to coming to work every day. Not surprisingly, our company routinely won awards for being the “best place to work.”

There were many reasons for our company’s success during my tenure, and a top one was our culture of friendliness. Yes, friendliness! Here were some of our secrets:

  1. Our “employees first” culture, where everyone felt valued
  2. People took a genuine interest in each other and were united in our mission
  3. We valued “likeability” in our recruiting. If it came down to two finalists, we’d pick the person we wouldn’t mind as our next-door neighbor. Seriously!
  4. For the most part, we avoided politically charged conversations that had nothing to do with our work and serve mainly to divide. HINT!!!
  5. Leadership challenged us to live out the values to which our company subscribed.
  6. We had fun and found many occasions to celebrate each other.

From my experience, this culture of friendliness improved sales, cemented customer loyalty, increased morale, reduced employee turnover, built friendships, and brought out the best in each employee. It also helped us deal with conflict and disappointment because we genuinely cared about each other and the company. It helped frame and soften our responses.

All this is why friendliness can be one of the most important qualities of employees and organizations. The fact is, most of us work in diverse organizations with colleagues of different backgrounds, worldviews, positions, and personalities. We may not become long-term friends with everyone, but we can (and should) be friendly to everyone. It’s a win for you, a win for them, and a win for your organization.

So, how friendly are you? Especially with people who are not your friends? Here are some descriptors of friendliness to help you evaluate yours: collegial * affable * kind * considerate * good-natured * positive * cheerful * cooperative * helpful * patient * genuine * good listener. From this list it’s obvious that friendliness is a choice. How are you choosing?

But, let’s be honest. Sometimes we work with people who aren’t destined for “BFFhood.” They may be socially awkward, irritating, self-absorbed, or have personalities or worldviews that clash with ours. In these situations, peaceful coexistence might be the best you can hope for. Regardless, friendliness is still the best way, and who knows, it might just rub off!  And, in case you haven’t, familiarize yourself with the DISC personality test (a free one is available at 123test.com). It might help you understand your colleagues better, improve your communications, and even increase your friendliness quotient.

There’s an old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness. I think friendliness is too.

Enjoy your week and remember to share with your friends. Next week we’ll discuss the all-important quality of Resilience. Catch you then!

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Team Mindedness

teamwork

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

~Henry Ford

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

~Michael Jordan

None of us is as smart as all of us.

~Ken Blanchard

What do choirs, symphonies, NASA space launches, the Golden State Warriors, military operations, Olympic pair skating, successful marriages, hospital emergency rooms, business projects, and your favorite restaurant have in common? The answer: their success depends on teamwork. Great teamwork. Not surprisingly, as our economy shifts and workplaces become more collaborative, employers are placing a premium on teamwork and interpersonal skills in their staffing decisions.

The fact is, teamwork takes work! There are many moving parts in any team and success is highly fragile. Here are the reasons why: 1) egos and self interest get in the way, 2) weak leadership, 3) personality clashes, 4) underperformers, 5) insufficient skill diversity, 6) blaming and internal strife, and 7) poor communication. Is it any wonder why so few sports franchises are truly dynasties?

So, what makes teams work together skillfully and harmoniously toward a common vision? Here are four essential ingredients: 1) each member delivering great performance, 2) effective leadership in assigning responsibilities to team members, 3) an ability to work well with each other, and 4) putting the team ahead of the individual. Simply stated, successful team members abide by the formula:
We > Me.

Here’s a sampler of the qualities of team minded people:

respectfulness * subordination of self interest to team interest * solutions minded * encouragement and appreciation of others * resilience * loyalty * excellent listening * goal orientation * dependability * diplomacy * conflict resolver * helpfulness * positivity * courtesy * affability * tact. No wonder why team mindedness is such a prized quality in the workplace! How would you rate yourself on these qualities?

Also, it takes great interpersonal skills to be an excellent team player. Relational skills are vitally important in the workplace and often are underestimated by people who unfortunately think success is all about smarts. In the business arena, our relationship spheres include colleagues, customers, sales prospects, owners, the community, suppliers, and, yes, your supervisor. Each of these relationships offers the potential for professional and personal friendships, too.

Here are some interpersonal success pointers we share in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and curriculum:

  • Be an encourager rather than a critic
  • Give others credit before yourself
  • Strive to be an agreeable disagreer
  • Work synergistically toward common goals
  • Regularly show appreciation and gratitude
  • Solicit and embrace constructive feedback
  • Remember that how you say it can be more important than what you say
  • Focus on solutions more than the problem
  • Don’t whine; just do it
  • Talk it out, don’t write it out; avoid using written communications on sensitive or emotionally charged topics
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt and avoid assuming bad intentions
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes and shortfalls and avoid blaming
  • Laugh often

Parents, team mindedness and strong interpersonal skills in your children are critical to their success in life. Unfortunately, signs are everywhere that technology overuse is having harmful effects on our children’s relational skill development. Isolation, social awkwardness, and a preference for tech-based communication over face-to-face communication are growing tendencies in a world that values collaboration more than ever. It’s a disconnect that deserves all of our attention.

Stay tuned for next week’s topic: Friendliness.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Positive Attitude

building-joy-planning-plansHave you noticed how some people see the glass half full and others, half empty? Or, given the same set of circumstances, some will rise to the occasion while others are consumed with fear and negativity? And, how truly successful people exude positivity and surround themselves with it?

Ask any employer or coach and they will take a B+ performer with an outstanding attitude over an A- performer with a negative attitude any day of the week. Attitude is a vital ingredient to both individual and team success.

When you demonstrate a positive attitude, you will:

  • Perform better and so will your team
  • Make and keep more friends
  • Be given more opportunities
  • Overcome average skill and adversity
  • Be appreciated by customers, prospects, and colleagues
  • Energize your workplace and have more influence
  • Be happier

So, is it any wonder why employers value this quality so much? And, why it’s so important for parents to help build a positive attitude in their children?

Many wise people have said wonderful and profound things about a positive attitude, and in better ways than I could ever dream of. So, allow me to leave you with some of my favorites. Enjoy and share!

Cultivate an optimistic mind, use your imagination, always consider alternatives, and dare to believe that you can make possible what others think is impossible.

~Rodolpho Costa

When you are joyful, when you say yes to life and have fun and project positivity all around you, you become a sun in the center of every constellation,
and people want to be near you.

~Shannon L. Alder

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

~Colin Powell

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.

~Lou Holtz

Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.

~Francesca Reigler

Heredity is much, environment is much, but I am much more.

~Muriel Strode

A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you won’t get nowhere till you change it.

~Author Unknown

The most important thing you wear is your attitude.

~Jeff Moore

 I am an optimist. It does not seem to be much use to be anything else.

~Winston Churchill

Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.

~Stephen Covey

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones,
you’ll start having positive results.

~Willie Nelson

Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.

~Charles Swindoll

The day is what you make it! So, why not make it a great one?

~Steve Schulte

Misery is a communicable disease.

~Martha Graham

I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.

~Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Resourcefulness

 

hands-people-woman-working.jpgA resourceful person can see the opportunity when others only see obstacles.

~Garrett Gunderson

In a world that is changing faster than ever, and in a business environment that is more competitive than ever, today’s employers are facing challenges like never before. The implications on the workplace are profound:

  • More innovation is required just to keep up
  • Product life cycles are shrinking so businesses need to be vigilant and nimble
  • Low cost competitors like Amazon can reduce one’s market share in a moment
  • Customers have very high expectations and are more difficult to please
  • There are more problems (challenges) to be solved as well as new opportunities

So, it comes as no surprise that employers are emphasizing resourcefulness, problem solving, creativity, and innovative thinking in their recruiting. Thankfully,  these qualities can be learned and they are found in all personalities, from the highly creative to the analytical.

Generally speaking, employers benefit from resourcefulness in a variety of ways:

  • Increasing revenues: creating new products/services, improving customer loyalty, increasing market share through product enhancements, improvements to sales effectiveness, etc. If you think about it, all of the products we enjoy today were invented in the past by a person or team. Some, like the inventors of the printing press, light bulb, radio, automobile, phone, steam turbines, computer, and vaccinations, were responding to an existing need. They were incredible problem solvers! Others enter a market because they believe they’ve created a better product or value proposition (food and restaurant chains come to mind).
  • Reducing costs/improving efficiency: discovering new ways to produce products or services at lower cost and become more efficient. These savings, too, result in higher profits.
  • Solving day-to-day problems in each of our jobs: no matter what position we hold, unexpected challenges arise. Our business unexpectedly slows. A key employee leaves the company. Raw material prices rise. A co-worker is spreading rumors or missing deadlines. A supplier delays delivery. A client is upset over product performance. Students disrupt the classroom. We fall behind due to a long illness. Stuff happens! Do we cower in fear or embrace the situation using our creativity, analytical, and relational skills?

Is it any wonder why resourceful people are so highly valued in the workplace?

So, what are the qualities of resourceful people? Here are some descriptors: creative, analytical, objective, problem solvers, decisive, visionary, courageous, resilient, determined, opportunistic, skillful, ingenious, enterprising, discerning, and solutions minded. Isn’t it a wonderfully diverse list! Anyone can become resourceful!

Parents, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because your children are strong academically that they’re good problem solvers. It’s not always the case—just ask any employer. But, you can help build resourcefulness by encouraging your children to solve problems themselves and involve them in family decisions like planning vacations, charitable giving, managing a tight budget, or choosing a college. So often, we instinctively tell our children what to do rather than to first hear their thoughts and potential solutions (e.g., “How do you plan to solve the problem?). By first asking for their ideas before sharing yours, you’ll build a quality that will serve them well in life.

Next week’s topic: Positive Attitude. Stay tuned!

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?