Start The Path to Working When Your Child is Young

BOred kids
Days seem longer when you are starting out in the world of work.


As you probably know, I believe that academic success and leadership positions are overrated as tools that help students move from school to full time work.  Of course these successes are nice features to have in your toolkit.  But, we all know many successful professionals who were C students and never led a club or a team during any of their high school or college years.  So, what does matter in the toolkit of young adult?  IMHO, the most important features of a successful young adult job applicant are: self-awareness, teamwork, organizational skills and the willingness to seek out mentoring and be managed by a boss. Develop these areas starting at a young age and you are likely to have a successful transition to paid employment later in life.

Kids need to experience work.

But, how do you get them there?  Parents: start young — assigning household chores will start to build your child’s tolerance for the pacing when they enter the workforce.  Slowly have them graduate from chores to ever more challenging neighborhood jobs.

But first, help them practice Self-Awareness as they try out jobs with a close neighbor or family friend.  Ask them to brainstorm, “what skills do I have?” “what do I like doing?” “Why do I like doing that?” Often they will select pet sitting, babysitting, snow shoveling and yard work – help them to explore why they enjoy these tasks and maybe even relate these tasks to a few parallel adult careers like pet sitting might lead to vet tech or hotel management or being a fundraiser at the zoo. Baby sitting might lead to teacher or child psychologist.  Shoveling and yard work might lead to owning a landscaping business or becoming a plant scientist or construction supervisor or civil engineer.

Second, help them master Organization:  Before they start their job, have them create a Task List that they regularly review with a list of the steps they should always follow in order to be a success in their job (example: always double check that you locked the door when you finish dog sitting).  This list should be thorough, clear, ordered in proper sequence.

Additionally this list should contain 3-4 steps where they experience Teamwork with you as their “team member” so they consciously practice having good communication. Example of a teamwork-oriented step: “Work with (Mom, Dad, My Sitter, My Older Sibling) to get a ride to my job.  Request a ride early!” or “Work with (family member/sitter) to help me to remember where I will keep my copy of the pet owner’s key. ”

Finally, when they have perfected their Task List, have them share the list with the person who has hired them and request feedback.  This step promotes a relationship of Mentoring and allows the person employing them to Act Like A Boss, showing them improvements and specific ways they like tasks to be done and then setting the stage for the employer to correct the child if it is not done properly. (Clue the neighbor/family friend in if you can, so they understand the role they will be playing with your child).

To be successful and happy in full time work later on, most young people need to have practiced the separate rhythm of work beginning at a young age. They need to experience progressively more complicated jobs in many settings as a tween and teen before they can transition successfully into a full time job in the workforce.  Patiently helping them learn from you and then giving them a step-by-step path to begin learning from outside employers will solidify their ability to work effectively at the entry level, both by themselves and in groups, while reporting to a demanding manager.

Your Aptitudes Define You at Your Best – Build An Ongoing Personal Success Story To Guide College and Work Choices

As an art history major myself, I have absolutely no problem with students who choose to pursue a liberal arts education.  Thinking, writing, quality assessment and detailed discernment, analyzing for meaning on multiple levels, proffering original ideas, dialoguing in class, managing complicated research projects, meeting deadlines, gaining feedback from a professor and classmates – these skills are all transferable to the work world.  I always maintained that the same internal drivers that made me able to the discern between a group of  20-30 Madonna paintings and then write a paper also helped me to discern the relevant characteristics of my candidates for a client’s senior level actuary or CFO job, sort the executives by the most relevant achievements and then write succinct summaries that helped my client hire the best executive for their job and work environment.

If I were to go back to my youngest memories, the Montessori primary school I attended provided the very happiest environment, with classrooms organized around ordering, sorting and categorizing.  You can start to see how at the beginning of my career, even with no actual work experience, I was able to think back on what I knew about myself, recognize the highlights and pick a career direction.  I also trained myself to link my peak experiences using a story thread that allowed me to sell myself to companies and organizations even if my experiences weren’t exactly what that company would be hiring me to do in my future job. The ability to draw relevant analogies and paint a vivid picture of one’s abilities is a deciding factor in who gets hired and who doesn’t.  It is worth practicing from a young age.

You can help your child continue to hone this self-awareness too – just begin to pay attention to their work styles in school, and activities, and during chores at home.  Enter into many brief low key discussions over the course of late elementary into high school where you help them see patterns that will benefit them as they pick a major or a first job out of college.  And if you are reading this and you have already moved out of your parents’ home, go back and have a discussion with your family, siblings, family friends, and particularly trusted teachers and adults who coached or mentored you.  What did they notice about your periods of happiness and excitement?  Start to think about a thread that ties all your best experiences together and begin to practice telling this story – it is the basis for self-knowledge and ultimately will drive your career satisfaction and happiness.

Photo 1: Madonna del Prato (Madonna of the Meadow) by Raphael, painted in 1506 now hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. This Madonna, with Jesus and St. John the Baptist is renowned for the exquisite contrasting blue and red colors of her dress, the locked gaze of the two cousins that holds the bottom of the configuration, and for the triangular construction of the figures that mirrors the mountains in the highly evocative background.

Photo 2: A Young professional woman walking briskly to a meeting by Mike Wilson on Unsplash. A quick read of this young adult candidate as she comes into my office: what is the appropriateness level of her interview outfit, does she show a the spring in her step, does she wear a watch on her wrist so won’t have to tell time by looking at her phone during our meeting, does she carry a portfolio or folder with extra resumes and writing samples as well as a writing pad where she will take notes.  The act of noticing these aspects of a candidate in the first minute of our meeting is an act of discernment. Later I review the relevance of these details in the same manner that I used in my analyses of multiple similar Renaissance paintings.

Childhood Roots to Adult Job Satisfaction


Photo by Jase Daniels on Unsplash


Helping another adult craft a resume can be a tedious exercise of adjective selection and careful proofreading.  Making a resume with a teen can be far more exciting.  Teens run the 400.  They twirl en pointe and slalom race and scoop ice cream and care for pet raccoons at the local nature center.  Getting them to tell you about their achievements and dreams gives you a unique window into their world – theirs is a world of novelty, challenge, excitement and heartbreak.  Hear their stories. Tease out their passions.  Let them tell you everything that their hobbies mean to them.  How is it that those activities given them pleasure?  Get them to use lots of adjectives and validate their feelings by reacting with enthusiasm, even if right now they love video games and junk food and speak of these things with great delight.

Then ask about their work life – paid work, volunteering or chores around the house. Listen carefully for how the demands of the work dovetail with their preferences:

  • Is it physical energy that drives them like the skills that are used in waitressing and babysitting for younger kids?
  • Is it sustained repetitive tasks like stuffing envelopes for a political campaign or programming?
  • Are they customer service oriented, selling shoes or cookies door to door?
  • Do they patiently talk to an older neighbor or always greet people as they walk down the street?
  • Maybe they like to be paid for exercise and hard labor – do they like shoveling, dog walking or mowing the lawn?
  • Can they get themselves up early for that lifeguarding job or are they better bussing tables till midnight?

Ferreting out these truths can become the beginnings of them seeing and understanding basic patterns and rhythms that will drive their adult satisfaction in a lifetime of jobs.

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.