When parenting children and coaching new graduates in their jobs, I try to emphasize good as the goal – good as in good enough — as in your things are on time, reasonably clean, and your mind is clear and your conscience is unblemished. “Great” is like those Japanese salt/sesame/seaweed mixes – it’s a seasoning – you sprinkle it – you never let it overwhelm your commitment to good – you will work your whole life to get that balance. Consistently good trumps sporadically great every time.
80 percent of students say that job prospects are a key reason why they choose to go to college/choose a particular college.
However, only 35 percent of students nearing graduation feel prepared for a career by senior year.
And, only 20% of students nationwide make use of their career services/advising office during their time at college.
This is according to a Gallup/Strada joint poll recently quoted in The Atlantic magazine.
Affluent students shared that they typically network with family and friends. First generation students often lack these contacts and are left high and dry if they don’t access their college/university’s resources. On a bright note, 50 percent of all students network at some point with their professors, staff in their department, and/or fellow students. However, those staff, faculty and friends have no formal training for advising students. So, these students may gain insight or networking leads, but they are still lacking in the concrete training for basics like a strong resume and networking tools such as emails, phone and face-to-face meeting skills.
I often write about how where you go to college matters less than what you make of it. Since many if not most families see a college education as THE gateway to a job/career, it does beg the question, shouldn’t your child have some kind of introduction to a career planning strategy before they matriculate and during the four years? Why pay for a college education if job access is a major component of what you seek and your child does not have the insight, motivation, or know-how to access career advice? How will they develop the plan that will allow them to attain the ultimate brass ring from their four years of hard work in a college or university setting? Much of my career consulting is based on giving students and their families a short, affordable tutorial on how to have a great time in college while pursuing the building blocks that will lead to a successful career plan as they reach graduation. We start with baby steps and during the four years we can revist, augment and expand on the plan as the student’s maturity coalesces and their interests and talents become more fleshed out.
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” How many times do we say that maxim to ourselves and then blow off responding to an invitation or getting a confirmed appointment into our calendar? I’m guilty of it, and I am sure I am not the only person. The reason for blowing off this step is often benign. First, invites come in at random times. Often I am not at my calendar – worse, I keep 2-3 calendars: one for at home use by my whole family, second is my phone calendar which pings at me so often I am inured to reminders even if I did calendar them — and so I often ignore it. Lastly, I have a daily planner which I love because I can take all my notes in it, however I often don’t have it when I am running errands or joining a friend for dinner-key times when new appointments might come up. Sound familiar? Maybe you have a fantastic memory and don’t feel you need to write things down. Younger people are particularly guilty of this because they have fewer kids, pets, direct reports, etc. and they have not yet been smoked by enough missed appointments to be cured of this bad habit.
So, here is my simple recommendation – Get ONE calendar! There, I said it. ONE – and keep that updated meticulously (my phone calendar is that ONE calendar). You can have others, but just don’t rely on those. NEXT: make a time of day when you calendar all your appointments and when you check the next day’s commitments. You may THINK you aren’t capable of becoming a meticulous calendar checker, BUT: you probably brush teeth, eat meals and sleep at quite specific times of day most days of the year. So, yes you are capable of doing this. If you have an established habit – like making a coffee in the morning or teeth brushing – link calendar checking to the established habit. This “pairing” will fast forward you quickly to building the calendaring habit.
Lastly — this may sound like a grandmotherly etiquette lesson but you MUST practice confirming appointments and in the following specific format… and in a timely fashion. The best way to send a confirmation is to repeat back all details in your response, including how best to reach you if they have a problem. Example: “Looking forward to seeing you August 15, 2018 at 2 PM upstairs at the Starbucks in Copley Square, Boston. My cell is 617-905-8568 if you need to text or call me for any reason.” In this exact format, most email programs from Gmail to Yahoo will create a hyperlink of your data and you can automatically get this appointment into your online or phone calendar without any more typing. The person you are meeting can do the same, and if there were any confusion about date, time or place, you can avoid the problem NOW as they will likely i.d. the problem immediately. Again, it seems very “Emily Post” to do it this way – but etiquette is often designed to be very practical. That is why Emily lives on into the technological age even if embossed calling cards are a Dickensian frivolity of the past.
Calendars can seem tedious, time consuming, and something you do after you get your “real” work done. You may feel that really talented people memorize their calendar and don’t need to go to the trivial step of writing things down. This could not be further from the truth. Your calendar and how you maintain it is the front line showcase of your organizing ability and your integrity. It is one of the very MOST important tasks you will do every day. NEVER treat it as a secondary or tertiary item on your to-do list. How you fulfill your commitments is THE key statement of how reliable you are in the world. And…this should make you feel GREAT. You do NOT need to be the smartest student or worker. You do NOT need to be the coolest, the handsome-ist, the richest. You just have to treat others well and make time a few minutes every day to know where you need to be and when. A small hurdle that will vault you to being an outstanding employee, family member and friend.
“Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.” Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator
Think about this for a minute. Let it really sink in. If you start from the premise that your life’s work should be about doing jobs that please others? Where does that leave you? You will be crafting a whole life based on a false you, and that will create all kinds of problems in your life.
So, start early. Have conversations. Use the classic 5 Ws that are taught in basic journalism and investigation/research classes. I have adapted them here for the young job seeker.
Who? Do you want to work with (ok that should be Whom?!) (people your age? people smarter than you are? in a big group? by yourself?)
What? Do you want to be doing most of the day. (talk to people, manage others, sell, make spreadsheets, proofread, handle lots of details, work with money or animals or children or the elderly?)
Where? Do you want to be when you are doing this work (inside? outside? in a team? solitary? in a city? in the wilderness?)
When? Do you want a regular schedule, do you want to travel which might involve nights and weekends, do you prefer evenings or mornings? And then the big one…
Why? What makes you think these things are true about yourself (get really honest about this to yourself)? What are supporting data? Have you really looked at how you act now and how you think you will want to act in the future? Have you ever been able to change a behavior you don’t like? Or, are there things that are just part of what makes you “you,” and you will need to accommodate those traits in order to succeed in your career (NOTE: this is a key factor in being successful, workarounds are crucial as we cannot be good at everything)?
Going back to Paul Graham’s quote above, what is driving you to say all these things? Is it really your opinion, or are you trying to appease or please friends, family, professors, coaches, or society-at-large? And if you are, then please re-do your 5 Ws until they truly reflect you, without the influence of wanting to please others.
It is not to say that you can not make a lifetime of work into a success by massaging what is truly your preferred path so that your career pays well. Maybe you know you really want to live in an affluent community and will need a certain income. But, you would be surprised how finding satisfying work will often take you to communities where you are very happy — often you are then surrounded by like-minded people. You can then augment your desire for life’s nice things outside of your job, rather than design a whole career just to get those nice things. Most of us spend more time at work than doing any other activity. Remember that when you decide on a job solely to provide you with a certain upscale lifestyle. You may not have time to enjoy the lifestyle you can now afford.
Bottom-line, your career needs to contain kernels of the real you, based on your answers to the 5 Ws. Knowing this early will save you a great deal of frustration, altercations with peers and bosses, failure in the work place and in your life, and the heartache and huge waste of time that all these issues brings a person.
If you truly have no idea where to start, then talk with close adult family friends, teachers, and family. Ask them about your best traits. Then ask them what kind of careers would utilize those traits. This is the beginning of networking and an essential step as you hone your path and seek jobs that let you flourish. Certainly you could read any one of hundreds of career books like, What Color Is Your Parachute?, the classic by Richard Nelson Bolles.But you don’t have to. Merely working through the 5 Ws and separating out what is a good match for you vs. what you think will look prestigious will get you very far, in a much shorter time.
Ryan Craig, education venture capitalist and author of the 2015 book, College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education, walks us through the Utopian scenario of a whole new class of teaching institutions that will unbundle education. These new organizations will provide another more cost effective option for a large number of students, sparing them from the expense of the classic ivy covered wall setting of the higher education. They may give up the typical bells and whistles of the undergraduate experience, but instead they will gain concrete measurable skills in demand from employers. THe learning opportunities will be delivered inexpensively online or to large groups and may happen in a more institutional setting like a classroom in an office park.
Sajith Pai, an employee of The Times of India (India’s largest media group) and well-known blogger who specializes in learning on his blog, reviewed Craig’s main chapters and calls out three key developments that may prove a boon to future generations of learners (and may mean extraordinary success to the company that can also deliver these services to larger economies like China or India):
“Competency-based learning or education (CBE): This starts with capabilities required by employers and works backward to build assessments to judge / measure capabilities, and then determines the required curricula. Done well, CBE reduces the cost of delivery of online education by half. It is also higher on efficacy as it replaces the credit-hour model where you have to demonstrate mastery in an arbitrary period of time.”
Companies like Coursera, Udemy, EdX, Kahn Academy and hundreds of other smaller players have already flooded YouTube, Facebook, and Google with their training modules. Married together with an assessment revolution among American employers, where they truly review candidates based on certified skills, these sites could be the key to a true upheaval in the intersection between higher education and employment, with significant consequences for old-line colleges. For now, these courses are wonderful add-ons to a job seeker’s resume, showing engagement and skills, but they are certainly not going to substitute for a degree program in bricks and mortar institutions…for now.
Add to this interactivity in the learning environment. Right now we already have algorithm-driven “smart” testing platforms such as Testive where questions grow ever harder as the learner becomes more competent in answering. Also called “Adaptive Learning,” Sajith Pai has this to say about a platform that sharpens the curve as the learner improves:
“Adaptive learning: Combining adaptive learning with CBE is the killer app of online education. While adaptive learning is distinct from CBE, it usually accompanies it. Adaptive learning allows students to learn at their own pace by varying each future lesson in accordance with their performance or progress thus far. Adaptive learning is seeing a surge thanks to the availability of telemetry data due to tablet / phone usage. Telemetry data includes stuff such as movement in tablet, is student switching in and out of the program, ambient noise etc. Factoring in this data enables better program and delivery design.”
We can imagine that if testing can be leveled, automatically, then human resources departments may begin to take these online certifications more seriously because the system can then deliver a consistent level of significant rigor in the learning process.
Lastly, Ryan taps into the preferred environment of his audience: gaming and media. 21st Century learners have grown up with attention spans that respond directly to how engaged they are with imagery and movement of text and pictures in any given app or site or program. So, he feels that along with interactivity, “gamification” will also drive the future of learning online. As Sajith Pai summarizes:
“Gamification: In video games, players are able to focus energies due to interactivity and competition. Thus integrating rewards and recognition such as badges, leaderboards, challenges into curricula can help enhance student engagement and improve outcomes.”
Lastly, Craig insists that models that allow learning to happen in chunks of intense focus are more appealing than the typical short “credit-hour” model. When a student is engaged, an arbitrary stopping point based on a bell ringing and class “letting out” can be replaced with an online system that can enable a learner to choose duration of study, by what Pai calls a state of, “flow, or a zone of intense focus on learning. This can be done by enabling an environment of challenging work that stretches the individual, with clear goals and consistent feedback.”
In upcoming blog posts, I will review online certification programs such as those that Microsoft and Google currently offer. These are certainly worthwhile endeavors that while they do not currently substitute for a degree, certainly can support your candidacy in a number of entry and mid-level jobs. Already, these certification programs are coming into their own.
To read Pai’s full summary, visit here: http://sajithpai.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/College-Disrupted-a-summary.pdf