For Parents of High School Students: Have Your Child Create A Dossier By The End of Ninth Grade

The Magic “Dossier” Document

Most students gather a wealth of information about themselves just prior to filling out college applications. Once the data is entered into applications’ data boxes however, that information is much harder to retrieve. Taking time from freshman year onward to help your child create and update a master “dossier” document is a step that will pay off significantly for years to come. Keep a running list of every activity, sport, job, class, leadership role. Include beginning and end dates, grades, salary, and awards where applicable. Have your child make a brief note about what they learned from each experience. Don’t forget small events like projects they have done for friends or family and trips or school projects that were meaningful. This is a document for you and your child only. These notes can become the basis for a resume, essays, answers to interview questions, and even scholarship applications and cover letters.

  • National Honors Society, Key Club, Jobs, Scouts, Camp CIT programs, and Other High School Extra curricular organizations’ applications: Have your child save a copy of each application they complete as they move through their high school career. The data on these forms should be added to their high school “dossier” document on an ongoing basis.
  • Make a Resume*: No later than second semester of sophomore year, every student has had enough experience to create a basic (one-page only!) resume that utilizes the “dossier” data. 
  • College applications: Many students find that just starting college applications is daunting. With a master “dossier” and a well-proofed resume, they will be able to block and copy many items and place them directly into the applications, reducing angst and time. Proofing every single item in a word processing document before it is placed into any application, scholarship or career site will help reduce errors. The earlier your child submits any application, even if they are applying regular decision, the better off they will be. Having a “dossier” will reduce any hesitancy and speed up their efforts.
  • Recommendation Letters: High school teachers, staff and local employers often write 10-20 college letters a season. A resume is the most succinct summary of accomplishments and will make the recommender’s process easier and more accurate.
  • College interviews: Encourage your child to email their resume to an interviewer when they confirm their meeting or share the resume in person. This will distinguish your child as someone who takes the time to prepare. Make sure they also bring a copy for themselves, and remind them to use the resume to help guide the conversation so they don’t forget to mention important accomplishments.
  • Scholarship applications: Like college applications, scholarship programs will also need details of your child’s accomplishments. Some may also require a resume.
  • Jobs or internships. A one page resume is the right length for most opportunities your child will seek in high school and in college. Before submitting a resume, make sure they read the job description carefully and tailor the resume to the employer’s needs. Order bullets with the job description in mind and include 3-5 keywords that the job description uses so that automated resume readers capture your child’s resume with their word matching algorithms.
  • Updates: remind your child to update their resume regularly – either when they have a significant accomplishment or every 4-6 months so that they are always ready to respond quickly to any opportunity that presents itself.


  • Use a centered header of name, address, cell number
  • Include an email address with a professional sounding name (no cutesy addresses like:!! – link the professional email to their main email or they will never check it.
  • Under the main header, use a standard resume layout
  • Your first section should be ACADEMICS under which you list your most recent school first working backwards to your high school(s). Include la short list with bullets that showcases key classes, academic activities, academic awards, and if strong, GPA and any standardized test scores of note.
  • The JOBS section comes next (unless your child hasn’t held a job yet – at which point get them a dog walking or babysitting gig stat!). List the most recent first and include 3 bullets maximum per job with a focus on quantifying accomplishments (note: if your child works a number of hours, this section can be listed before ACADEMICS).
  • EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES go last – again, make the bullets in this section accomplishment-oriented. Bullets can be listed chronologically, or grouped under italicized sub-headers such as Sports, Theater, Music, Scouts etc.
  • Lastly, if there is room, a one-line section under the header HOBBIES can help a reader connect to your child’s interests. Things like cooking, Fantasy Football, Magic the Gathering, fiction reading can go here.
  • Parent and child should write this document together then review it several times over the course of two weeks to have the best chance of correcting typos and adding missing activities.

For Parents: Planning for the Future Is Stressful For Teens And Young Adults



Baby Turtle
Baby makes its way to the sea. Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash

Teens and young adults are bombarded with messages about “YOUR FUTURE!”  While parents, teachers and family friends ask about future plans with the best of intentions, these questions can cause undue stress and negative experiences with trusted adults. The questions often begin innocently enough. In middle school we ask kids about their abilities in sports, extra-curricular activities and academics.  By high school, most students receive frequent and pointed questions about their hopes for higher education. Once in college and beyond, job path and graduate school inquiries are ubiquitous.  How many times have you asked a teen or young adult a question while internally benchmarking their answer against your internal status calculator?

Despite our pointed inquiries, how much guidance do today’s young adults actually receive as they plan their path from middle school to high school to college to a career?  Tremendous thought is usually put into college placement, but most students have little to no concrete process for analyzing their options as they move towards their first job. Having placed over 200 senior executives in the financial services, healthcare and non-profit industries, I have analyzed the traits and skills that lead top performers to find meaningful ongoing work in today’s labor force. It’s not what you might think!

  • A student’s extraordinary academic success is no guarantee!  Look around you.  Google your favorite news reporter, ask your successful neighbor how they performed in school.  Chances are good they didn’t go to a fancy college or win a national merit scholarship.
  • Student leadership experience is overrated! Face it – students lead other students mostly in volunteer roles with few systems of checks and balances.  In most student organizations, leading consists of high performers doing the work themselves or with a very small cadre of highly competent peers.  Students rarely impact the great majority of their fellow participants.  Instead, they learn to work around them.  This is actually detrimental training for the way managerial leadership should work in the workplace.
  • High paying internships and a lucrative first job out of college are not necessarily the key to success! Not necessarily…All kinds of jobs can help a student be successful as they progress in life. A prestigious job at the beginning of one’s career can lead a young adult to skip over basic training in skills such as customer service or working in a large department with many procedures and requirements. General burnout can occur from overwork in an overly competitive environment and students quit or become depressed. Most important, the selection of the wrong profession based on prestige not aptitude can lead to lifelong career dissatisfaction and stress with terrible impact on health and one’s personal life.

If these widely held beliefs actually aren’t true, then what is?

  • Hard work and organization, not academic brilliance, carries the day when you enter the workforce.  While a student may get into a selective college based on their creativity or their ability to memorize, analyze, calculate and write, most entry level jobs only require the basic business level in these skills.  What they do need is entry level employees who are humble go-getters who are willing to follow directions, attempt to accomplish a task without too many requests for help, and take feedback on their performance without getting upset or angry.  The organized B student often is a far better candidate for these types of roles.
  • Learn Followership first, then Leadership.  Students who have learned to follow a leader are often far better leaders themselves when they get to the managerial level.  Ask your student whom they’d like to have work with them in a group setting.  Chances are that is the person who will success the most in a job setting.  Playing well in groups by knowing your role, executing it flawlessly and supporting other team members and your manager is a critical skill.  Tell your student to strive to be that person whom everyone wants in their organization or on their team.
  • Take an entry level job where you will be managed well and learn basic skills.  High pay, a glamorous travel schedule and a first job in a high visibility industry all earn bragging rights for college seniors, but many times these young adults are overworked and burnout. They also are often overpaid and learn bad spending habits that then keep them tied to a career path that make them unhappy.  These high flyers can often compensate by becoming arrogant or irresponsible in their personal lives.  In a true entry level role, with oversight from a competent manager, young adults are far more likely to learn the basic organizational skills that will support their career for decades to come.  AND they will have a bit of personal leeway to do the growing up that is required in one’s early twenties, before they determine a career path that impacts them for the rest of their lives.