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!

Humility Over Pride

The general election is just days away! Things always get pretty crazy during this week every four years—lots of promises made, reflections on presidents of the past, inflammatory rants on social media pages—the list goes on. As I think about what a new president will mean for our future, I also find myself thinking about history, and something I think we are all looking for right now: a little bit of humility.

No matter what political party you are affiliated with (if any), I think we can all agree that Abraham Lincoln was a pretty remarkable man.  Despite his humble beginnings, he accomplished some incredible things (beginning the process of ending slavery, maintaining the union during the Civil War, and setting an example of integrity and wisdom). I wish we had more role models like him today.

One of my own role models during my long investment career was a colleague named Ernie Ankrim, a brilliant financial thinker who became the chief market strategist where I worked. However, as smart a strategist as he was, Ernie was equally gifted in public speaking.

Everyone admired how Ernie shared his insights with such humor and wit. He was the total package and audiences could never get enough of him. (It was painful to follow him!) Yet, despite all of his accolades, Ernie is the one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. If anyone had bragging rights it was Ernie, yet he was always the first to give others the credit.

Ernie’s humility has had an enormous impact on my life and my behavior. Whenever I’ve been acknowledged for a good work or some success, I often think, “How would Ernie respond?” My answer is always the same. First and foremost, I owe my success to others.

Abe Lincoln had a similar philosophy. He famously said, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

As you travel along your life journey, you’ll have many proud achievements along the way. And you know what?  They’ll likely speak for themselves. You won’t have to toot your own horn to get people to notice you.

Here are three tips to help you become more humble (and I think we can all hope our presidential nominees will apply these to their lives as well!):

  1. Ask for feedback from others. Instead of insisting you’re always right (or your way is the only way), consider asking others for feedback on your performance (what went well and where can I up my game?). They may offer some insight you never would have thought of yourself!
  2. Understand that adversity can be preparation for greater things. Setbacks are a part of life, unfortunately. Humility allows you to accept these obstacles without the fear of failure, to dust yourself off, and start again.
  3. Confront your negative opinions of others. Do you have any deep-rooted prejudices? Chances are, you’re too proud to admit it. It’s important to recognize these (for example, negative views on certain people groups, etc.), and then make the effort to listen and learn with an open mind.

 

And, when successes come your way, rejoice and be grateful to those who helped make it happen. Your acknowledgement of others first, before you give yourself a pat on the back, will be greatly admired and will set you up as a leader of integrity.

When you do something great, is your first instinct to give yourself the credit or others who have helped make you the person you are today? Who comes to mind as someone you would like to thank or give credit?

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!

Don’t Let Technology Rule Your Life

I grew up in Norman Rockwellian small town America at a time when you could play in the woods for the whole day and your parents didn’t think twice about it. Most of the time, we were building forts or playing sports or games in the street, our driveways, or our backyards. Our play was imaginative, competitive, and relational and we were super active.          

Kids today, on the other hand, have cell phones, computers, video games, iPods, and a host of other electronic devices to entertain and educate them—many of which I’m probably not even aware of!

Technology has improved our lives in dramatic ways. It has made our work far more efficient and communication more rapid and widespread. We are far more connected, at least on the surface, because of these advancements.

There is a downside, however. For every plus, there is a minus or two that we should be considering for the social, psychological, and physical health of our younger generation. For example:

  •  Our world is getting more impersonal as it becomes more technological.
  •  We text or email rather than talk.
  •  Our lives are more distracted because of our numerous interruptions and our attention spans have shrunk.
  • We are spending less time reflecting and using our imaginations.
  • 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.
  • We are being consumed by “busyness” and it is affecting our responsiveness to true priorities


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’s friends’ texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company, I think the pendulum may have swung too far.

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!

                                                                     

How is technology affecting your time allocation and personal interaction with others? Have they impacted your quiet time and productivity? What are some ways you’ve found to creatively “unplug” for refreshment?