How To Know What You Love So You Can Go Out and Do It In The World

 

5ws
The 5 Ws photo by KNILT, Albany NY

“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.

 

 

Will Online Courses Create Employer Support for a Certification Culture that Disintermediates Higher Ed?

Photo by Avi Richards
Photo by Avi Richards

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

 

How Hiring Managers Hire: The Insider’s Guide to Getting On A Company’s Radar

handshake by rawpixel
Photo by RawPixel

You all probably know this, but just in case you don’t, online resume submissions are one of the last places a good hiring manager will turn when first looking for a new hire.  It’s obvious when you think about it. Hiring managers want to have some assurance that the hire will be a good “fit” with them and their organization, and much like we turn to a neighbor to get their recommendation for a mechanic or electrician, so hiring managers turn to their network first to find prospects.  There is of course LinkedIn as a way to find talent, but since there really is not an employee “Yelp” site with useful comments and ratings, word of mouth is the next best thing.  Let’s think step-by-step how a hiring manager works when they have an opening.

First, most larger companies require every job to be posted internally.  This is a good thing.  You WANT to work somewhere that believes in retaining talent, encouraging lateral moves, and promoting from within.  This internal post usually goes up in the internal human resources site the minute an opening is coming up — or at least as soon as the manager and HR agree on a post-able job description.

Next, HR will post the opportunity on sites like GlassDoor, LinkedIn, Indeed, StartJobs.net, CareerBuilder and even CraigsList.  There are also any one of a dozen recruiting sites where young adults are searching for jobs (your on campus career center will have contracted with at least one of these services such as Handshake or Symplicity, and others focused on recent college grads such as WayUp and Talify).

BUT, and here is the thing – simultaneously the hiring manager is now going to work their own contacts, starting with current and former colleagues, friends at home, college buddies. And, as a former head hunter myself, I find that vendors in my specific industry are often one of the very best sources of leads.  The manager will be asking at conferences they attend and at non-profits where they volunteer.  Meanwhile, HR will be working their online platforms, screening resumes (often they receive hundreds, maybe even thousands, so there is a lot of sifting going on and a lot of room for errors and omissions).

In the end, current statistics show that 70% of candidates at all levels get their new job from networking, leaving just 30% of jobs to the more formal job application process.  At the entry level, companies are ever less likely to use a head hunter or employment agency, so unfortunately that pathway into a firm is less and less viable for young adults.  Periodically a company will hire a temp and then convert them to a permanent hire.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on temping.  But, as you can see, it is very important to be out networking in your industry.

Make sure that you stay in touch with former bosses and colleagues, even those from long ago internships and every one of your summer positions.  General communications that you share regularly and professionally  – such as a blog or an article in local or college media, even intelligent posts in Facebook or on LinkedIn,  show you are accomplished in your knowledge area. Let your circle of contacts know that while you are very happy in your current role that you will entertain inquiries from other companies.  Help others when they ask whom you might know – make referrals to other talented professionals, this will come around to help you later. These are all strategies that will help keep you visible and in demand when openings happen at other organizations.

Meeting Etiquette in the Online Era: A Program Manager’s Plea!

board room
Photo by Benjamin Child.

I caught up recently with a tech industry Program Manager, Jennifer Westberg, who spends an awful lot of her time setting up and facilitating meetings at her company in suburban Boston.  I was hoping to get a handle on meeting etiquette, particularly for people using Outlook or other online group calendaring solutions, and she walked me through the basics. So, listen up because as she said,

“Here are the basic rules of being a meeting invitee, people:
1. You have just a few options when a meeting request comes in electronically: accept, accept tentatively, or decline. Don’t have your calendar set up so that it just appears and you are not making a decision at all: it’s a) lazy and b) inconsiderate of the meeting organizer. I will add in the “why” behind this:  The organizer can’t set an agenda if they have no idea who’s attending. That means they also can’t get a room booked – they don’t know what size; they can’t order the right number of snacks, drinks or a meal – and we all love meetings with snacks/a meal; they can’t properly invite others-and when we say others, remember these others might be people who can fast-track your project or take work off your hands – the guest list can be very important to your success.  Help your meeting organizer maximize efficiency and effectiveness, it will help you in your job.

2. Send your acceptance / declination within a reasonable period of receiving the invitation (say, a day or so). Don’t wait until just before the meeting. If you do, the implication is that you’re waiting to see if something better comes along.  Or I as a head hunter will add that you just appear sloppy – and no one likes a sloppy co-worker. Trust me on this one.  “Sloppy” is never an adjective I wanted to hear in a reference check!

3. If you would like a meeting to be rescheduled – maybe because you’ll be busy for the next week or so – don’t wait until *the morning of* the meeting to request it. Request the change as soon as you know you’ll be busy. Your schedule is not the only one affected and it’s a major hassle for the organizer. Note:  also check your personal calendar.  I just did this very thing and missed a meeting because I forgot that it would be school vacation week when I booked the appointment:  My bad!  and many mea culpas and a hassle for my colleague.  So, we all do it, but try not to inconvenience others.

4. If you *do* request a change, don’t complain when the meeting is rescheduled to lunch (or early in the morning or late in the day); it’s often the only time left.

5. If you’re going out on vacation a) block off your calendar (if you don’t know how to do this, get someone to show you) and b) decline any meetings to which you’ve been invited. Again, it’s a courtesy. Jennifer says she can’t tell you how many meetings she has organized where a person key to the agenda didn’t decline the meeting but was out on vacation – Again, as a headhunter, I have been there and it is a waste…of…time… very frustrating for those in the room when the news comes in that the knowledge-holder won’t be in attendance.

6. Be on time. Being late sends the message that you think your time is more valuable than everyone else’s in the meeting. There are valid reasons to be late but ‘I’m just always late’ isn’t one of them. And, with 20-years as a consultant working regularly offsite in conference rooms and corporate lobbies, I’ll piggy back on this to say that with tablets, laptops, cell phones etc. getting to a meeting early isn’t a waste of your time anymore as you can be working up until the moment that meeting commences.  Or, even better you can be chatting with the other attendees and forming personal connections – something that is sorely lacking in many offices these days.

 

Thanks again to Jennifer for sharing her thoughts on Meeting Etiquette.

Networking: Start Early, Start Small

If you have a neighbor whose young adult child has a job in a restaurant, and you have a different neighbor who owns a restaurant, start small and network with the young adult first.  Have your child talk to someone closer to their age, whose job experiences have more relevance.  Speaking to an older accomplished adult can be very intimidating.  Students have to practice before they can talk to an executive level professional.  Students – don’t leave this networking up to your parents and their friends: try to maintain connections with students a bit older than you whom you know from school or an activity.  Seek out those who seem to be going places – they will likely be great networking sources as you grow and expand your interests in the world of work.

For students and their families who are about to embark on a networking project, I’d like to help you put this into perspective. Imagine you personally (parent or student) might want to run for an elected town board position.  Your neighbor says they know the Mayor of the closest large city and suggests you talk to them to learn about local politics (e.g. the Mayor of Boston for instance, or of Phoenix).  Picture yourself: your first foray into networking is with that Mayor – intimidating, right?  Don’t make this mistake. In networking, we often try to reach out to the most powerful and connected adults we know  in the hopes of gaining career insight, or an internship, or a job…fast.  And, we adults, with very good intentions, often jump the shark when helping students by introducing them to these high level contacts.

Students, however, need to practice having conversations first.  The point of these initial conversations is not just about making rain from the conversations.  Remember, this is the era of less and less verbal discourse.  So, students don’t come to networking having much practice at formal conversation. Make the entry-point into networking easy. Students need accessible, personable contacts who help encourage them and help them practice the art of formal discussion – teachers, the clergy, self-employed people in your town are all great first starts.  And, regardless of whom you are meeting, set yourself up for success.  Confirm your appointment the day before, pre-write a draft thank you (so it can be edited quickly with a few personalized details and be sent within a day of the meeting-email thank yous are fine). Foremost, arrive with a list of 5-8 questions you have practiced with a family member. (Examples: how did you get into this line of work; what classes in school helped you; what characteristics make someone good at your kind of job; if you were starting out now, what would you do to get yourself ready; what other things do you do outside of work that you enjoy; is there anyone else you think I should talk to or any websites or books or magazines I should look at?…)

Starting small and in this low-stakes way – much like trying out a bicycle with training wheels or learning to ski on the bunny slope, will reduce anxiety and improve your success.  Watch how you blossom as you graduate to more and more complicated conversations with more and more connected individuals over time.  Your standard list of questions will begin to trip off your tongue naturally.  You will add new questions effortlessly.  Your confidence will grow – age appropriately – so that those whom you meet won’t question how you made the contact or why they are speaking with you.  You will right-size your ability with your opportunities, and the whole process will be more comfortable and yield better results.

training wheels

 

 

Breaking News: Humanities Majors Don’t Suffer Financially over The Long Haul

 

humanities
Picture credit: Maine Humanities Council

Here is the bottom line….about the bottom line…for humanities majors vs. STEM majors – first of all, a number of polls including those from Gallup and Forbes show that overall, humanities majors are just as happy in their jobs as STEM majors, and that any pay difference is not causing them upset. And, great news… then, as they grow in their careers, often they close the pay gap with their scientist and engineering peers. Chronicle on Higher Education goes on to state that, “The results are familiar, if you’ve read those past reports: Bachelor’s-degree graduates in engineering and the sciences earn roughly $10,000 to $30,000 more, but humanities majors catch up over time — and humanities majors more effectively close the pay gap between younger and older workers. What’s more, the college debt that humanities graduates carry is about the same compared to other majors.”

Add to this a recent blog post by the respected Michigan workforce group, MichiganFuture, about how Google totally revised its thinking about workforce hiring strategy and humanities majors, “Project Oxygen (Google’s enterprise wide workforce analysis project) shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

So, giving your student and young adult a chance to practice the many “softer” skills is certainly going to benefit them in the long run, regardless of their major or chosen career trajectory.

Source Article: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Over-Time-Humanities-Grads/242461?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=5f5179c39905491ebe32115dfef433bc&elq=58eda80a7953412885d478df1bdd5827&elqaid=17754&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=7832

 

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.