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!

Is It Time to Revisit High School Course Requirements?

When we speak to educators and administrators at various conferences around the country, one of the questions we invariably ask is:

“How many of your schools have defined a well prepared graduate for life?”

Sadly, we’ve yet to see more than 10% of audience members respond affirmatively. Of those, comparatively few admit that their school has a specific pathway to build these required skills.

At the same time, out in the “real world,” we find that:

  1. Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
  2. The US ranked 19th out of 28 countries in college completion in 2012, according to an OECD study1. (It ranked first as recently as 1995.)
  3. Colleges are reporting significant increases in student visits to their counseling centers, citing factors such as depression and anxiety.

It is apparent from multiple perspectives that we are falling short in preparing our children for independent life. While this is a complex challenge with many contributors, I’d like to share what I consider to be a primary source of the problems: the course requirements for high school graduation.

The US economy has changed dramatically in the past few decades, requiring different skills than before. Also, post-secondary education has become much more popular, which argues for greater advance preparation.  And, jobs for students during high school are more difficult to come by, limiting opportunities for valuable workplace skill development. In light of these factors, the question is whether our education requirements have appropriately adapted. Many believe they have not—and we agree.

At LifeSmart, we believe students need greater applied learning and skill development and practical preparation for independent living. This would significantly enhance both career- and life-readiness for our nation’s high school graduates.

While people may disagree on which courses deserve the status of a requirement (versus an elective), we believe the following would help address the skill gap:

  • College and Career Readiness: this would prepare students for their next education steps, as well as the four career mastery stages: exploring, qualifying, marketing, and excelling. Valuable perspectives from employers would be included.
  • Independent Living: this would offer students a clear glimpse into “life on their own,” including leadership, soft skills, relationship building, budgeting, and everyday living skills.
  • 21st Century Skills: this would help students build the analytical, problem solving, collaborative, and communication skills needed to succeed.
  • Personal Finance: this would include the basics of budgeting, banking, investing, credit, identity protection, insurance, car buying, and loan applications. (It would also improve our nation’s financial literacy!)
  • Entrepreneurship: this course would expose students to all aspects of creating and managing a business (and learning about capitalism in the process!). Knowing that most students will work in a business or organization, this would offer valuable insights into how the “real world” operates.
  • Communications: this course would include both verbal and written personal and professional communications. In today’s highly collaborative workforce, communication skills are a must. The casualness of contemporary communication has become a major impediment to many young people adapting to college and professional environments.

For some schools, this would involve converting existing electives into requirements, and others would involve new course offerings. Of course, it would be helpful to incorporate these practical skills in other classes where possible.

These are our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

4 Tips to Help Your High School Student Succeed

We just finished up an amazing week at the National Dropout Prevention Network conference in Detroit, MI. The LifeSmart team was able to share our perspective on what we can do as educators, mentors, and parents to help set teens up for success and graduate high school with their peers. Consequentially, we’ve got high school graduation on our minds—even if Halloween hasn’t yet arrived!

Are you a parent or a teacher of high schoolers? Have you ever wondered what YOU can do to prevent the potential of your students’ dropping out, or how you can equip your student for optimum success? Unfortunately, one million kids leave school every year without a diploma. We’d like to share with you our top four ways to equip high school students for success and help them cross the graduation finish line.

  1. Instill resilience. Let’s face it. Life gets difficult. And it can be especially difficult for students who are dealing with struggles at home (broken families, drugs and alcohol, emotional/verbal/physical abuse), or who come from a low-income background. One of the most important qualities for young people to embody is resilience; learning to handle adversity with courage, integrity, and determination. Take time to talk with your teen about obstacles (because that’s exactly what they are, obstacles—not derailers!) and the importance of overcoming them, growing from them, and, ultimately, becoming an “inspirational encourager” to others who are facing similar challenges. Always be mindful of what other side to today’s valley might look like..
  2. Cultivate your relationship. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your student, especially if you notice the dropout “warning signs.” Take time to talk and learn what makes him/her tick. Are they feeling alone? Is there a certain subject they just don’t get? Are they overwhelmed with too many commitments? Position yourself as an ally—someone who can be trusted—and cultivate a relationship of trust, acceptance, and encouragement with your teen. And, while you’re at it, always seek opportunities to affirm their uniqueness and value. It’s a powerful way to build hope and belief in themselves and their future. They’ll never forget you for it.
  3. Rely on community resources. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village.” It’s true! Without the wider community supporting the schools, and without parents and schools relying on resources within the community, success would be hard to come by. There are great organizations out there (like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and more) that can help your student make friends, bond to other positive influences, and stay on track. Also, encourage them to identify their interests and passions, to offer a glimpse of what their future can look like. It builds motivation, too.
  4. Make sure your child is surrounded with positive influences. Remember, your student needs to have other wise and encouraging voices in their life other than their parents and teachers. In fact, research shows that each student needs at least five adults in their life who are there to offer support, wisdom, advice, trust, and encouragement. Sometimes kids listen to non-parent voices the best! The same goes for their friends. If you notice your student is hanging around with the wrong crowd, or tapping into destructive media influences, address it immediately.

 

Our students are our future—and their success is of utmost importance. Let’s position ourselves as their safety net and rally around them with the support the need to ensure their graduation and life success.

Teach Your Teen to be Smart about Technology Use

As parents, educators, mentors ,and coaches, most of us have noticed something about the teens and young adults we work with daily: THEY’RE GLUED TO THEIR PHONES!

We’ve probably all said it: “Back in my day, we didn’t even have cell phones…” And yes, that’s the truth. And we did just fine! However, it’s important to acknowledge the element of connectedness that millennials and the following generations possess. Thanks to the advancement of technology—most notably social media and smart phones—teens are able to be more in touch than ever and engage in the world around them in a way that was never possible for us. The sense of community and camaraderie that is fostered from this connectedness is pretty amazing!

That being said, it’s vital the teens in your life know that there’s a time and a place (and an amount!) for technology, social media, and smart phone use. Although it has many benefits, technology has some downsides that we need to consider. We should be considering these “cons,” so to speak, for the social, psychological, and physical health of our younger generation.

Here are some factors to ponder:

  • We text or email rather than talk. This is having significant consequences on communication skills—ask any college professor or employer. We now have a bull market in remedial reading and writing programs, and many young people are having difficulty carrying on conversations with adults.
  • Our lives are more distracted because of our numerous interruptions (a text message, a new Facebook message, an Instagram comment, an event reminder, an e-mail, etc.) and our attention spans have shrunk.
  • Kids spend less time using their imaginations, reading, and being active.
  • We lose the ability to read body language and social cues in other people.
  • Our waistlines are growing as we’ve become more sedentary.
  • We sleep poorly, as online activities keep us up too late and the constant stream of information makes it difficult to turn off our brains. Also, staring at a screen before bedtime can mess up our internal clock and make sleep more difficult.
  • We are being consumed by “busyness” and it is affecting our responsiveness to true priorities, such as family togetherness, activity, spirituality, service, etc.

Funny, I don’t recall seeing warning labels about these side effects when I purchased my smart phone!

I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone, but I believe there’s some middle ground. When I hear about car accidents occurring because of drivers’ texting, or when I observe my daughter and her friends’ texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company, I think the pendulum may have swung too far.

Here are some ways you can encourage the young people in your life to be smart about technology use. Let’s help them (and us!) find that middle ground:

  • Strongly consider setting technology-free hours within your home. For example, between the hours of 6pm and 7 pm for dinner, and from 9pm or 10pm until morning.
  • Parents, place limits on the amount of time your children spend on technology each day. Be on guard for any collateral damage from technology use (e.g., relationships, communication, productivity, motivation, attention spans, irritability).
  • Lead by example, and show the teens you know how to enjoy life’s special moments without their phone. Go for a walk and enjoy good conversation (no need to post a filtered Instagram shot of the scenery!). Go outside and play volleyball or basketball or kick-the-can. Go for an all-day hike on the weekend, and challenge everyone to leave their phones alone the entire time.
  • Disengage from phone use when you’re together at coffee shops, restaurants, and the like. All-too-often I’ve seen parents as phone addicted in public as their kids. Isn’t this supposed to be “quality time?”
  • If you’re a teacher, make sure your classroom is a phone-free zone. Encourage practices that help strengthen your students’ creativity, activity, and resourcefulness.

Remember that time is a precious asset and that relationships are designed to be personal.  Your brain was designed to be active. Your body was designed to move. Don’t let your electronic devices interfere with any of that!

Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

Why YOU Need an Emergency Savings Fund

Sometimes the unexpected happens. You lose your job. You have to take a pay cut when your employer faces a business downturn. Your car just died. You just got in a wreck and will be out of work for months. Your roof leaked (or, in our case, our septic system backed up!) while you were on a long vacation. What will you do?

Hopefully you’ve planned for emergencies.

According to a 2011 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 64% of Americans don’t have enough cash on-hand to handle a $1,000 emergency. This means that if a crisis strikes, big or small, and you DON’T have money put away for emergencies—you could be in for some real stress and heartache.

An “emergency fund” is an account set aside with money earmarked solely for high impact situations that could substantially affect your wellbeing or quality of life. As a rule of thumb, a fund that contains four to six months worth of average monthly expenses (invested in safe, short-term investments) will help serve as a buffer in these unfortunate situations. During periods when the economy is weak and your job may be in jeopardy, it’s sensible to build a six to twelve-month emergency to give you an extra cushion. Establishing an emergency fund should be your first financial priority once you begin your career.

To determine how much you should have in your emergency fund, you should first identify what constitutes six months’ worth of expenses for you. Add up what you spend each month on normal household budget items and multiply by six. Make sure you include what you pay for your mortgage, utilities, loans, insurance, gas, groceries, and other essential expenses, allowing a small amount for incidentals and entertainment, etc.

Then, to avoid being tempted to spend the money you need to use to build your emergency fund, it may be helpful to set up automatic account transfers (or automatic deposits from your paycheck if your employer offers this). You’ll also need to be disciplined and NOT give into the temptation to withdraw from your emergency fund for vacations, high tech toys you think you can’t live without, or for any other non-emergency expenses or indulgences.

Ultimately, what an emergency fund buys you is peace of mind. If something comes up, you won’t have to scramble to come up with the money you need and you won’t have to turn to credit cards or other debt. It’s like an insurance policy that you’ll be glad you have when life throws you a big fat lemon!

How have you created an emergency fund? It’s never to soon or too late to start. Share your ideas, experiences, and questions with our online community; we’d be glad to hear from you. And pass our site along to a friend and suggest they subscribe; they might be thankful for it!

10 Tips to Help You Master Your Time

Wow, where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday when we toasted the new millennium, but here we are, about to ring in 2015. Sure, it’s a cliché phrase, but time really does fly by.

Time’s a funny thing, isn’t it? When we’re having a blast, it feels like someone is pushing the “fast forward” button. In contrast, if we have a two-point lead with three minutes left in the game, it feels like an eternity. When we’re suffering through a valley, we can’t wait for time to pass by.

Whether time flies or moves at glacial speed, we still have 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and no choice in the matter. We use it or lose it. And, because time is one of our most prized possessions, we need to use it wisely.

How can you become a good manager your of time?

Simply practice these tips:

  • Treat your time as a precious asset with limited capacity (this mindset is huge!)
  • Organize a to-do list by urgency (deadline) and priority (importance). Take both into account when deciding what to focus on each day.
  •  “Block” your time (i.e., group it in 30-60 minute intervals without interruption) in order to complete your highest priority assignments. Avoid interspersing lower priority tasks within your high priority assignment intervals. Take control!
  • Don’t hesitate to politely tell someone that it’s an inconvenient time for you. Interruptions can destroy your productivity if you allow it. Always saying “yes” is not necessarily a good thing!
  • Learn to multi-task your lower priority responsibilities. For example, I rarely watch television without doing something else like reading the newspaper or responding to emails.
  • Keep your cell phone somewhere else when you need focused time. The temptation to answer calls and texts is a major distraction. Smart phones can be our worst enemy if we aren’t careful.
  • Find your best venue for focused work. Is it your home office? A coffee shop? Your patio?
  • Take periodic breaks. Studies show we’re less productive when we work over an hour straight without a five-minute break. Breaks help our mind recharge.
  • Respect and honor the time of others by being punctual. You’d want them to respect your time, too.
  • Always remember that you can’t recover the time you waste!

The older we get, the quicker time flies by. Regardless of our stage in life, it’s never too late to improve your time management skills and resources. Becoming a wise time manager is an admirable New Year’s Resolution. Is it yours?

How productive are you with your time? Do you view it as a precious asset and focus on your most important priorities? What are some ways you have learned to become a more effective time manager?

Celebrate the Season! Annual LifeSmart Book Sale!

It’s been a great year at LifeSmart! We are filled with gratitude as What I Wish I Knew at 18 continues to impact the lives of young adults globally, and our newest book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, receives rave reviews for encouraging and equipping parents (click here for more information).

We think it’s time to CELEBRATE!
Our 4th annual Cybersale is offering Parenting for the Launch and ourWhat I Wish I Knew at 18 book and guides at substantial savings, just in time for holiday gift-giving and classroom orders for the New Year:
What I Wish I Knew at 18 BOOK – $14.99
What I Wish I Knew at 18 STANDARD STUDENT GUIDE – $14.99
What I Wish I Knew at 18 CHRISTIAN STUDENT GUIDE – $14.99
Parenting for the Launch – $14.99
(further bulk discounts available!)
now through Christmas
Order at AtlasBooks.com or 1-800-BOOKLOG
and use the Promo Code: CHEER
Parenting for the Launch serves as a wonderful gift for parents while What I Wish I Knew at 18 is a special keepsake gift or stocking stuffer for:
·teens and young adults
·parents and caregivers
·mentors and coaches
·teachers and faith leaders
·clients who are raising families
It’s our way of saying “Thanks!” for your support—and to wish you a joy-filled holiday season!
Blessings,
The LifeSmart Team.

Know Your Purpose, Live Your Passion

“Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.”

Washington Irving

 

Your life purpose is an incredibly powerful force that will direct your life and determine your legacy. Find a successful person who is content and fulfilled, and you’ll likely find a life guided by an inspired purpose or mission, and a person who has applied his or her God-given talents to a worthy cause.

 

In fact, without a strong sense of life purpose, even the most successful accomplishments can seem empty.

 
Knowing your life purpose–what makes you tick, what motivates you, what you are alive on earth to do–is what ignites passion. Passion inspires initiative and creativity. It builds momentum and creates enthusiasm. It also sustains hope and perseverance in difficult times, and provides a reason (and enthusiasm!) for getting out of bed every morning.
 
Life purposes can be cause-driven (e.g., curing a disease, educating disadvantaged youth, sheltering the homeless, cleaning the planet, protecting our country) or skill-driven (e.g., athletes, artists, mathematicians, designers). They also can evolve throughout your lifetime.
 
How can you discover your life purpose? Here are some questions to consider:

  • What causes (e.g., global or community needs, people, situations, organizations) am I most passionate about? What problems would I most like to solve? What needs or people tug at my heart?
  • What inspires me the most?
  • What brings me the greatest joy and fulfillment?
  • Whose lives would I most like to emulate and why?
  • What are my special gifts and talents?
  • Where can my skills have the greatest potential impact?

 
Once you ponder these questions, see if a picture emerges. Then, as that picture solidifies into an identifiable sense of purpose, calling, and passion, start thinking about how you can live it out.
 
Whatever you do, don’t set your life purpose on a shelf and forget about it. You are a unique individual with gifts, talents, and perspective only YOU can give to the world.  No amount of money, fame, or accomplishment can ever compete with that.
 
Someday, you’ll want to be able to look back on your life and say, “Mission accomplished!” What’s your mission? Are you living it out with purpose and passion?
 
 If you’re a parent or teacher, find out what the young adults in your life think about their life purpose. Share your comments below; we’d love to hear from you!
 

Don’t Allow Work to Consume Your Life

Last week we talked about work ethic, and the need to educate our young people to work hard, take personal responsibility, and say “no” to the entitlement mentality. All important!

 

On the other hand, there is an equally insidious trap we want to help them avoid: workaholism.
 
My own father worked very hard at his job of coloring the bright construction paper at a Wisconsin paper mill. But when his work was done, it was done. He was able to devote his free time to family and interests by not taking his work home with him.
 
Today’s workplace is completely different. We’re now a service economy in the information age. Consequently, our work life today is much more knowledge-based and open-ended. While this makes for a more exciting work environment, it does have its downside. We tend to take our work home with us, and, if we’re not careful, it can easily consume our free time.
 

And now with our cell phones becoming virtual appendages, we’re always “on call” –a new source of overwork and distraction.

 

Don’t get me wrong. Your career will be a key component of your life. However, more than any other aspect of your life, it has the greatest risk of taking over if you’re not careful. And, if you’re a student, remember there’s more to life than your books. Your studies, too, can be all consuming if you let them.
 
If you allow your work or studies to dominate, and can’t let them go during your free time, you’ll suffer burnout and starve your relationships. (Recall from a previous blog that the most common life regret of elderly people is not spending enough time with loved ones.)
 
Always remember to stay balanced and invested in other areas of your life to keep things healthy and happy. People need you and you need them!
 
Are you able to leave your work behind and “switch off” at the end of the work day? Consider passing this along to a friend or young adult for them to consider, “tweet” it, or share it to Facebook. And please share YOUR thoughts with US by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you.