Sunday, June 6, 2021

You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose...

 ... but you can't pick your friend's nose. At least that is how the saying goes. As a parent, I sometimes think it should end with can't pick your kid's friends. 

I have spoken often about the impact we have on our kids as role models. Even when we think they are not paying attention, they are watching... always watching. The decisions we make, the way we respond to other people, the attitude we display about work, family, life, is all taken in by our super observant kids. In research done at Ohio State University, the observation habits and focus of 4-5 year old children were compared to adults. They concluded that adults focused their attention on specific things when learning a task or new subject while the kids were paying attention to everything! Can you recall your spouse yelling your name at you while watching TV and being surprised at why she was angry? Then adding to that surprise when she said she called you 5 times before you answered. Yet, your 4-year-old playing happily with her blocks in the living room will suddenly comment on the conversation you and your wife are having quietly nearby. I am getting a little off track here. My point is that our kids are listening and absorbing the good and the bad from us so we should endeavor to represent the good as often as possible.

One well-known father, Aristotle, had a son Nicomachus and a daughter Pythias. Perhaps we can assume he took a philosophical approach to child-rearing. He is quoted as saying, "Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man." This idea is repeated in more modern studies that our kids develop the most between age 0 and age 7. It is not definitive though and not universally agreed upon. If you have teenagers in your house you have probably noticed that they are NOTHING like the sweet, wonderful angels they were at 7...

But, our kids are not living in a bubble. From 3 years old, the average child heads off to pre-school where a typical class size is about 15 kids. From that day onward, our kids are observing not just Mom and Dad but also Gottschalk, Guido, John, Rashn, Nazli, Keiko, Nándor, Azat, Sally, Kalju, Oihana, Rachna, Noah, Rahul*, and Ms. Janet (the teacher). Those 3 hours a day quickly jump to 7 hours from Kindergarten or first grade. Add additional time if your kids are taking the bus. These are prime time hours as well. Our kids are now seeing us rushing in the morning and then tired from work in the evening. The majority of interaction is happening with friends and teachers. What about the weekends you say? Sure, and that is great if you can make time for your kids after catching up on everything you put off to the weekend (laundry, lawnmowing, fixing the sink, grocery shopping, writing blog articles). As they get older, the question may be, can they make time for you? My son (college age) came into the kitchen just yesterday and said to my wife, "Long time no see." Both of them have been busy with work and had not seen each other for 2 or 3 days even though we all live in the same house.

Here is what we know:

  1. Kids learn and develop through observing and responding to the actions and attitudes of the people around them. 
  2. They continue developing well into their teen years.
  3. From age 3 onwards, they spend an increasing amount of time with people other than their parents.
Those "other people" have an increasing amount of influence on how our kids turn out.

 Generally, your choice of schools and teachers for your kids will be limited to your level of income. The more money you have the more choices (private or boarding school). That is a subject for another article. I have been thinking more about my kid's friends recently. We know that employers like to see mature applicants with focus and energy. They want confident new employees who are willing to work hard and put in the time and effort to grow and learn on the job. Are your kid's friends helping or preventing your son or daughter from getting there? Should we really be choosing their friends for them? I am going to argue for "yes" here and suggest that the most powerful tool in your arsenal is the playdate.

A playdate happens somewhat like this:

Parent A: (calling on the phone or texting) Hey, would you like to have a playdate next Tuesday?

Parent B: Sure, let's do it at our place at 3pm after school.

Parent A: Perfect, see you then.

Parent A brings their child over to Parent B's and the two kids play happily for an hour or two while the parents drink whatever beverage they prefer and chat. Simple right? Yes, it is only for an hour or two but there is a carryover effect. The 2 kids, having had a chance to play and get to know each other better in a 1 on 1 situation, are now more likely to connect at school and play together at school thus increasing the amount of time they interact.

For kids up to middle school, you can make this work. It gets more complicated but still possible into high school. In the teen years, the kids need to be seen as an add-on to the outing. For example, going out to eat at a restaurant with your other parent friend and inviting your teen to tag along (the other parent doing the same). If the restaurant is one they like they may go for it. I have seen this work as well with activities such as go-carts, billiards, camping, shopping, and sporting events. The impact from the friend is lessened for older kids as their relationships at school have solidified somewhat but there is the added effect that your kids will interact and observe the parents more when sitting at the same table in a restaurant than the 5-year-olds will playing with legos at the house with their friend. As with just about everything that seems to matter in parenting, it will take effort, time, and probably money. Maybe step one is getting to know who your kid's friends are in the first place?

 The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

* Random preschool student names thanks to the Random Name Generator:

Thursday, May 13, 2021

How to prepare your 10 year old for his annual review

Employee reviews are an annual event in most companies. My company is no different and every year on April 1st, we start the process. We use an approach to reviews that was inspired by the Headhunter Dad's Dad. Each employee, regardless of their role or seniority in the company, is asked the same 3 questions:

  1. What did you do last year?
  2. What will you do next year?
  3. What can your manager do to help?
We have found that this allows us to have more open conversations with each individual about what they personally feel was their contribution. We had previously worked with a questionnaire asking the employee and their manager to rank various areas of their job. For example,
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating, how would you rate yourself when it comes to data management and reporting?
Any guesses on the average self-rating from employees? 4.8. Manager ratings tended to average a bit lower. The new approach with open-ended questions has worked well and while we have found it necessary to add a few hints about what to write, even our quietest people have become bolder throughout the process.

So much for the introduction, as I was saying, it is appraisal time now (one of the reasons HeadhunterDad articles have been sparse) and we are just finishing up with 23 of them. As I was writing my own feedback and comments last week for my team, it occurred to me that I was repeating myself again and again with the types of critical comments I made and likewise, had only a few praiseworthy points that were spread among the better performers. Apart from the sales results which are by necessity the biggest part of our reviews, the following came up for more than one employee.

On the positive side I was encouraging about knowledge of the job, flexibility about extending working hours and recognizing the demands of the job, being supportive or cooperative to the team, pace (urgency), maturity, confidence, consistency, energy, and eagerness to learn.

The negative comments were inevitably about being disorganized, narrow-minded thinking, lack of creativity (interesting that I did not praise others with having creativity though...), lack of confidence, coasting after a success, being unwilling to admit ignorance or own their mistakes, ignoring the basics, and not speaking out more often.

I am a strong proponent of "Now, Discover Your Strengths" by Don Clifton. He subscribes to the belief that we are better off focusing on our strengths rather than spending time on our weaknesses. In that same vein, I think we can help our kids more by showing them the way to impress their bosses at work through the positive points mentioned instead of always trying to avoid the negatives. Many employers are likely to overlook a small negative in light of a strong positive. Let's teach our kids to be confident. Help them to understand the value of learning and to develop an attitude of continuous improvement. To invest in whatever job they accept and give it their full effort. These are all attributes that can be learned early and the workplace will not be the only place they are appreciated.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The evolution of the HeadhunterDad

When this series of articles first began, back in 2010, I wrote an introduction titled "After You Teach Them How to Fish, You Must Teach Them How to Get a Job as a Fisherman" to explain a bit about why I started writing in the first place. Back then I was thinking of providing skills to my kids that would prove useful to their careers, like typing maybe or perhaps getting them started on programming at an early age. I made it clear that I was learning as I go having only been a parent for a short 9 years at the time. 

As I wrote and learned as a parent, educator, and recruiter, my thinking evolved and shifted towards softer skills and how to help our kids acquire them. The following is an updated introduction to the theme of the HeadhunterDad.

These articles focus on what we as parents can do for our kids to help prepare them for the future of work. The goal (at least the first goal) is the help raise a young adult who is able to identify something that interests them and then position them to get that job when they graduate from college. It emphasizes an early start rather than waiting for our kids to reach college. It is silly to talk to your 5-year-old daughter about the differences between interviewing for the job of economic analyst at a major bank vs CPA at a big 4 accounting firm. However, the reality is that much of what employers look for in those interviews is learned by our kids well before they choose a major and often in elementary school or earlier! 

When interviewing a new graduate, employers are often going with the presumption that these fresh young kids know nothing at all of any real value. The accounting students still need to pass the CPA, the marketing majors may be fetching coffee and making copies for the first 6 months and even computer science majors have been working within the academic bubble (with a few expectations). So if these companies are not looking for hard skills, what are they looking for? 

Seeing through the eyes of my students as they apply for jobs each semester and dealing with hiring managers on a daily basis, I would say that 90% of hiring decisions involving new college graduates are based on:

  • Confidence
  • Problem Solving Skills
  • Grit (perseverance)
  • Communication Skills
  • Maturity
  • Courage
  • Integrity
  • Curiosity
  • Honesty

... just to name a few. I don't know about you but I cannot remember any classes with these titles in college. It is possible, that much of what these employers are evaluating in our kids is learned in the first 6 to 12 years of life when we parents had the responsibility of instilling the right attitude and lessons. Scary, right? You knew you were responsible but never realized how extensive that responsibility was. We really might be to blame for all our kid's failings as adults!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Being average is not failure, as long as you are on the right side of average.

Back in March, I wrote an article suggesting that in the future, when jobs are scarce, being average would not be good enough. It was a great article (the author humbly informs his readers) but not so great that it could not have been challenged. Since nobody else is stepping up to the plate I thought that in the interest of providing a balanced viewpoint I would give my own rebuttal. Fortunately, I had some help and while looking through unpublished drafts of my article ideas I came across one titled "Being average is not failure." I stole the idea from Mark Manson's blog article back in 2015. He had written "In Defense of Being Average". For those of you who do not know Mark, he is also the author of  the bestseller, "The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck".

In my previous article, I argued that it would become necessary for our kids to be the "best" at what they do in order to stay competitive. The opportunities for regular kids with regular skills and capabilities would end up competing with artificial intelligence and robots for some jobs and the millions of other regular people for the other ones. The sweet, high paying jobs would go to the elite at the far right of the bell curve.

Bell curves are a nice segue into the next part of my article where I present the counterargument or at least a partial counter. Mark uses a bell curve in his article to explain how almost everyone is average. In the curve shown here, anywhere from 68% to 95% could be considered average, more or less. He points out how unrealistic it is to expect to reach the top 0.1% of achievement or ability. I  agree with this. He then goes on to say that it is OK to be average as long as you continue to strive to be better than average. I agree with this too!

That is the end of my agreeing with the counterargument. Now I am going to start shifting back towards my original premise. The bell curve Mark uses in his blog tends to lump everyone into only 3 categories; really bad, really good, and average. I like this curve better (found on an article about assessments and standards in school) and am borrowing it here (with attribution). Mark's approach only allows for a comparison with the 0.1% at either end and then everyone else in the middle being equally average. If we consider the future of work and that perhaps 50% (a random number) of jobs will disappear then being on the right side of average on the bell curve (the blue 34%) means you are still competitive. Our kids do not need to be in the top 0.1% of their vocation, just the top 50%. 

While many of our kids will not be the next Zuckerberg or Jobs, by putting in the time and energy they can stay "ahead of the curve".

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Stop saying no... sometimes

 How much of what we stress about with our kids could be resolved by eliminating this two-letter word from our vocabulary? If I look back over the last 20 years of parenthood, the most stressful moments inevitably revolved around me telling one or both of my children to do something or alternatively to stop doing something. I am sure that my efforts were both effective and necessary in some cases. "Don't cross the road without looking both ways and waiting for the light." for example is something I did not want to leave for my kids to figure out through trial and error. But, along with the obvious life-saving restrictions were many MANY situations that were not clearly necessary. Did I need to tell my son to walk on the sidewalk instead of dancing along the edge and climbing on the low wall next to it? Was it soooo terrible that my daughter wanted to play in the sandbox even though it was soaking wet from the rain earlier that day?

My fear is that the denials and restrictions are affecting their personalities in ways that could have a negative impact on their futures. Attributes like creativity, confidence, curiosity might all be curtailed. If a child is told to stop every time they think of something new to do or try they will very quickly come to mistrust their own instincts. Acts that arise from creativity or curiosity and are promptly halted or worse, punished would no longer be viewed as "bad". Martin Seligman in his experiments in the '60s showed that dogs who were shocked right after a bell was rung started to react to the bell as though it were the shock itself. Repeated conditioning in this way will result in our kids being hesitant, self-doubting and passive.

Back when I was in high school, the HeadhunterDad's Mom was studying for her Masters in English Literature, and for one of her assignments, she was reading a book titled Last and First Men. She told me about how it followed the evolution of mankind from our current civilization to the distant future, more than two billion years from now. I tried reading it back then but could not get through it. I picked it up again a few years ago and was able to finish it. I remember one iteration of the evolution clearly and while horrifying, it also held a strange appeal that I grew to appreciate more having had teenagers of my own. In this version of humanity (some million (billion) years from now) the youth, upon reaching puberty, were expelled from the towns and cities where the children and adults lived. Lifespans were much longer by that time and adolescence could take decades to get through. During that tumultuous time, the crazed teens lived a violent and decadent life of excess. They formed tribes, mated randomly, waged war, and generally ran amok. With no parents or other authority figures present they could let loose all their hormonal-driven urges. Those who survived, eventually returned to the cities with a calm and maturity having outgrown the wild years and I guess, "got it all out of their system."

This may sound eminently reasonable from a societal perspective but I am sure the parents of the teens who do not come back from the wilds would disagree. So, we probably won't be seeing this Lord of the Flies scenario played out anytime soon but perhaps the idea is correct for a younger age group? Ones who are not quite big enough to hurt others with their experiments. Perhaps we can allow our toddlers and elementary school-age kids to live a bit freer than we are currently permitting. Let them experiment, explore their world, and learn to trust their own decisions. 

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Do what you love, better than anyone else, and the money will follow

The saying “Do what you love, the money will follow” (Marsha Sinetar) would be more accurate if it instead stated, “Do what you love, better than anyone else and the money will follow”. There are many artists living hand to mouth and only one Picasso. Economics (and common sense) explains that prices or salaries will rise when demand increases. Demand, for our purposes, of certain skills or abilities will always be linked to supply. If there are many candidates available in the market for a particular job (supply) and the number of open positions (demand) is low then the employer can offer a lower salary as they have several candidates to choose from. When there are fewer candidates than there are jobs, the salary will rise. 

In brand and corporate strategy, there is another aspect that comes into play with supply and demand, barriers to entry. This term first coined by Bain and later brought to the mainstream by Porter refers to the difficulty face by new entrants/competitors to the market. As in corporate competition, the same applies in individual competition for jobs. The easier the job (or in some cases the easier the job is perceived to be by management) the more candidates will be considered suitable therefore a large supply and low salary.

USA Today printed a list of the 25 lowest paying jobs in the US. Careers in agriculture, baking (US$28K), beauticians, food service fill out the bottom of the list. However, also on the list are jobs like nursing (US$26K) which seems to me to be a bit unfair. Especially these days when nursing staff and health care professionals have been standing between us and the COVID virus. Of course, not all beauticians are created equal. The average beautician may only earn a relatively small salary because the overall supply of average beauticians is large. But the supply of "excellent" beauticians is decidedly smaller. Less supply = higher demand = higher price/salary.

There is value in all work but as we can see, there is not always a lot of money to be made if the role your son or daughter is interested in is one that is historically low paying. Do we tell our son that he should give up his dream of being a social worker and focus on becoming an architect (US$115K) or a dentist (US$97K)? I often tell my students that they will be working for a minimum of 40 years, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day so why choose something that doesn't excite you? The short answer? Our kids should not compromise if they do not have to. There are going to be many choices in their future and many times when they will have to choose the less desirable option due to family, money, life! Why force it so early in their career when there is still room to make mistakes?

I assume that most of you agree with me and want our kids to follow their dreams and pursue the careers that are most interesting for them. But, like me, I also assume that you want your kids to live a comfortable financial life as well. How can you have both when your daughter or son wants to be a baker?

This brings us back to the discussion of supply and demand and a simple solution. If the market salary for an average baker is too low then we need to prepare our kids to be above average. We owe it to our children to share the realities of life with them and prepare them to make an "educated" decision. We need to do more than just encourage them to follow their dreams and passions but also show them what is required in order for them to be successful in that career.  Joël Robuchon, who started as a pastry chef, was estimated to be worth about US$16,000,000 at the time of his death in 2018. He invested the time and effort to build his career and grow. He did not stop at the first restaurant he worked for but continued to learn and push himself. This is the attitude that will set your child apart from the median.

Talk with your kids, encourage them to follow their dreams and to go for the career that excites them but also share what you know (and what you can discover) about the challenges they will face and the hardships they will need to overcome. Don't settle for average.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Confidence vs Optimism or... I think I can vs I hope I can?

I am very much a "glass half full" kind of guy. We can get into semantics about how it depends on whether you start with an empty glass and add water (filling it up so it is half full) or if you start with a full glass and pour out half (emptying it so it is half empty) but I still look at life's silver linings more often than not. I believe that being optimistic makes me a happier headhunter. I expect every candidate I introduce to get hired (even though I know that the statistics tell a different story). Apparently, it also makes me a healthier headhunter too. According to Harvard Medical School: 

Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years. Harvard Health Publishing 

 Being so darn bright and cheerful all the time got me to thinking about how to encourage my kids (and yours) to be optimistic as well. Then I thought, "Is there a difference between optimism and confidence and is it better for our kids to be confident or optimistic?"  Is confidence when they think they "can" do something and optimism when they think they "might" be able to do it? 

George, Charles and Noah (Merriam-Webster) define confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances.  They define optimism as an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.

The definition of confidence sounds almost mathematical in its precision. There is a distance that your son has successfully jumped before so he knows that he can jump the same distance again. 

While I think optimism is a good thing, the above definition carries with it an unfortunate hint of wishful thinking. Like the high school student who doesn't study for his exams but still thinks he might somehow get an A. The belief that good things will happen through no effort on our kid's part is not what we are striving for. I want to see my son anticipate the best possible outcome from his own actions.

"Things will work out" sounds more like optimism than confidence. Can your kids be confident and pessimistic at the same time? How about optimistic but not confident? My wife would say that she is not pessimistic but rather realistic. 

Optimism allows our kids to view obstacles and problems as temporary. Pessimism brings about a "what's the point?" kind of attitude. We can take this a step further and imagine a confident young woman but with a pessimistic outlook. Even though she is sure of herself when it comes to her personal skills and knowledge, she hesitates to take on new challenges and opportunities.

I want my kids to have a sense that if there is the possibility of either a good outcome or a bad one, the good one will at least have an equal chance of coming true. Why start anything new or take any risks if the belief is always that it will not work out? The difference seems to be that with optimism there is a sense of external causality and with confidence, it is more focused on one's own internal capabilities. 

I am going to go on record here and say that if you can only have one (both is best) then optimism will take you further than confidence. With optimism, even if you are not sure of your own capabilities, you might still be hopeful enough to try that new thing, say yes to the opportunity offered and apply for that job you are not 100% qualified for.

We have covered confidence several times in this newsletter but how do you raise optimistic kids? For those of you who have been regular readers of the Headhunter Dad you may not be surprised that "modeling" the right behavior is at the top of the list. If Mom and Dad are acting pessimistic and complaining all the time, guess what, the kids are going to do the same. Be positive and focus on what is going right in your life. At least around the kids. The second activity is actually the same as discussed in the article about building confidence. Encourage them to take on new challenges. They will fail sometimes (many times) but when they succeed, make a big deal about it. As they get older the successes will be stronger memories than the failures and help them to develop both confidence and optimism. Who knows, maybe some of this positive thinking will rub off on you too.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Gamification of Parenting. Should we let them win?

In a recent gin rummy match with my 12-year-old daughter, I totally dominated, winning 3 straight games in a row of our 5 game tourney. I am the master of gin rummy! We had bet on the game (chores not money) and she was grumpy after the 2nd loss and miserable after the 3rd and final loss. She went off to her room for the evening and I did not see her again until the next day.

OK, so then I felt bad. I didn't really rub it in when she lost and I was a good winner (I think). But when your kids are sad you want to do whatever it takes to cheer them up. This got me to thinking about whether the games we play with our kids will have an impact on their career prospects in the future. More precisely, not so much which games we play with them but rather how we approach that competition.

The science of confidence, as we have discussed several times in this newsletter, points to overcoming adversity and succeeding as the origin of self-esteem and self-confidence for our kids. If they try something and fail and never try it again, they will only remember failing. Apparently, it does not matter what the activity is as long as it requires some effort on the part of our kids. If it is easy or there is too much luck involved then it will have less of an impact on their psyche. Doing the hard things to get better and seeing that there is a reward for not giving up is what gives our children what they need to take on that next challenge, and the next and the next.

Following this train of thought as it applies to games, it does matter what the game is. Chess for example which is 100% skill (there are no dice and no luck of the draw) should work well. Beat the pants off your kids a couple times and as they learn more about the game and get better they eventually win and build confidence. A game like Candy Land which is based entirely on which card you draw is all about luck. Most kids will realize that they are not really contributing to the win. Age may matter here though. a 3-year-old playing a luck-based game may still feel good about themselves when they beat Mom or Dad while the 15-year-old knows that it is luck. 

Age brings me back to the main point I want to resolve. Should I let my kids win and if so, should it be sometimes, occasionally, often? If you let a 3-year-old win they will not know that you did it. They may even develop some of that valuable confidence we are trying to instill. A 15-year-old on the other hand will at least suspect we let them win and I bet that it would have the oppositive impact from what we are trying to achieve. What if you continue to win to the point where your kids no longer want to play with you, do you force them to continue playing? If you let them quit are you missing a chance to teach them that if they keep trying they will eventually overcome? 

As with most of my articles, I dove into the internet to see what others had to say about this and could not find a consensus. It seems like everyone has let their kids win at some point and everyone thinks it is OK to let kids win... except when you should not let them win. Maybe the Headhunter Wife is correct (as she usually is) and it is not a big deal either way and I am just overthinking it. What do you think?

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Friday, January 22, 2021

It's never to late, probably...

It is never too late to start something new.  Granted, when talking about a career that needs to be taken in a more general sense.  At the age of 50, the Yankees are not going to sign me to start as shortstop for them no matter how many hours I spend at the batting cage nor how enthusiastic I am about being a part of the team.  However, I may be able to find a way into a sports-related job even though I have not done it before.

This phrase, "it is never too late" can be seductive though and I use seductive in the same way that Greek sirens were seductive. Ulysses met an island of sirens in the Odyssey where they tried to lure him and his men to shipwreck with their enchanting singing and beautiful voices. He escaped but the analogy holds true. If our kids follow the path of "least decision" they may find their careers shipwrecked.

Nevertheless, as our kids can expect longer and longer lives thanks to better diets, exercise, and medicine, there is time for multiple careers and late bloomers. Figuring out what they want to do is not something our kids necessarily need to be rushed into.

One of the biggest challenges our children face though is their own preconceptions. When our kids are 18, they think they are adults and there is no time for anything. How many college graduates do you think there are, who upon graduation, decide to go back to college for a completely new degree? Granted there is a cost but I warrant that most consider the additional 3 to 4 years more than they do the expense. When your daughter is 23, looking ahead to being 26, graduating (again) seems like it will be too late and too old. This is reinforced by all her friends who are graduating and getting into jobs now. Our kids are growing up in an environment where starting something new may be perceived as going backwards rather than what it actually represents, shifting to a new path.

Not all careers are created equal. My brother was able to start a successful career as a high school math teacher at the age of 35. However, there are also careers where youth is considered more strictly than others. The big management consulting firms like to hire young consultants and are rarely willing to bring in a 35 year old junior consultant without impossible to find expertise or some other consulting experience.  Banking can be like that as well. The issue is actually less about the potential of our kids to deliver value to the company but rather existing stereotypes and outdated attitudes about age that still persist in many companies.

“It’s never too late to become who you want to be. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a parent, I hope that I will be able to instill in my kids the drive and willingness to go after the career they discover and crave no matter when they figure it out. Sure, it may be harder to make it happen when they are 30 instead of when they are 22 but it is amazing what motivation and passion can do. Do you think a 22 year old starting and staying in a career they took for lack of any other idea will have a more satisfying life than the 30 year old who quits to start over doing something she loves? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sugar and spice and everything nice. That's what little girls are made of.

Raising a son and a daughter I can't help but see differences that I am tempted to believe are gender-related rather than environmental. Both of them were raised by the same parents in the same house so it has to be something else right? The younger one, the girl, is more studious, more obedient, more willing to give up something to make the other happy. The older one, the boy, is more focused on his own stuff, less thoughtful about others at times, and decidedly less studious... But I only have two kids. This ad-hoc experiment would be more decisive if we had two sets of fraternal twins with a boy and a girl as the older ones and another set of a boy and a girl for the younger. Maybe I would discover that the younger ones, both male and female, were more studious than the older ones. Or, maybe I would confirm my suspicion that girls are different.

My real concern is about my daughter's future. If there are differences (and I believe there are) then do we need to help our little girls to grow up in a different way from how we raise our boys. And, if so how? A quick search on Amazon came up with 6,000 results for "raising daughters". I am sure that the advice is all well researched and suitable for a dedicated parent. But I am a headhunter! I have very specific concerns. Will my daughter be competitive in the job market? Will she be promotion material in the corporate world? Will she love what she does for a living?

A few years ago I wrote an article about raising my daughter to be the next Carly Fiorina. It was a good article and helped me to see that, at least according to Carly, I could raise a girl to be aggressive, successful, happy, and proud of her accomplishments. But these days (my daughter was 7 when I wrote that article) it seems more likely that Carly was an outlier and that my daughter with her willingness to let someone else get ahead because they would be sad, is a problem. The other related article I wrote about being too nice addresses this issue very directly with the following quote: 
"...if you let everyone cut in front of you on line then you will never reach the front."
The nursery rhyme* that gave me the title for this article is worrisome. Is it saying that girls are all "nice" or is the rhyme encouraging a stereotype for women that results in them all becoming "nice"? And what does that say about the boys with their snakes and snails and puppy dog tails!

I digress, let's focus on two questions. What, if anything, do girls need to do/say/act differently to succeed in their careers and how as parents do we prepare them for it? The various studies and opinions floating around identify several possible... "weaknesses"? I hate to use this word for what is in almost any other situation a virtue but the reality is that in corporate life where men and their ways are still the norm, weakness is the most apt term. I had planned to list a few but reading through the literature there was an obvious theme to all the points. Women need to be independently and unapologetically decisive in order to succeed in a man's world**. In other words, they can't admit mistakes, they need to skip the consensus and push their own opinions and look out for their own advancement. That sounds more like snakes and snails than sugar and spice to me.

What can we do to help our daughters to grow up to be independently and unapologetically decisive? To start, self-esteem we covered in Dads, Daughters and Self-esteem. Re-read it if you need a refresher. Basically Dad's need to be more involved with their daughters and supportive of their interests and activities. How about decisive? Seems like that would be related to confidence as well. If your daughter is unsure of herself she is more like to second guess herself. Try encouraging and supporting your daughter's ideas, no matter how silly. When she makes a decision, accept it and act on it. If it does not work out then give her a chance to make another decision. Learning that the downside of a bad decision is not the end of the world is what will give her the confidence to speak her mind in the future. Add to this exercise a message on apologies. I like the phrase, "Don't apologize, fix it." Teach our girls to focus on the future rather than dwelling on what has already happened. Being nice and apologizing may help our daughters to get along with their co-workers but moving past their mistakes will help them get ahead.

*This catchy nursery rhyme is most commonly attributed to Robert Southey (1774–1843)
** Arguably and not addressed in this article is the genuine possibility that our daughters can be successful and happy in their careers without competing with the boys on the boy's playing field. Grist for another Headhunter Dad article?

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Friday, December 25, 2020

The attribute every candidate needs but no company requires.

While the title of this article is not entirely accurate, statistically it is mostly correct. In a search on, one of the top global job boards, there are 16,106 jobs with the word for this attribute in the job description. In contrast, a search for communication comes up with 968,170 jobs (an almost 6,000% difference!!!). Even coffee has twice as many results with 34, 585. Francesca Gino in her HBR article on the subject states that managers are more likely to stifle this attribute than to encourage it. This is despite common assertions (backed up by various studies) that employees with this characteristic are better problem solvers, more engaged in their work, and overall more successful in their careers.

Why is such an important quality ignored by the majority of organizations when there are such obvious benefits. Perhaps the following quote by Albert Einstein gives us a clue:

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

What manager wants an employee who is constantly questioning why they have to do something or do it in a certain way. Most businesses have set processes and procedures and simply need an automaton to complete the task the way they have been told. Even firms who publicly seek "problem-solvers" are not looking for people to discover new ways of doing things. They just want them to deal with issues that come up so that they can quickly get back to their routine jobs.

In a 2017 article in the Atlantic, curiosity is an indicator for future academic success. The author points out that it seems to be linked to happiness and satisfaction in relationships as well. From an academic standpoint, curiosity is being compared to IQ in its ability to predict success in school. It is interesting to consider though how very little curiosity is actually "required" to achieve that success. Our kids do not need to wonder at how a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly, they just need to be able to select "metamorphosis" as the right vocabulary word from the four options on the multiple-choice test. Our education system, at least in most schools, from elementary up through undergraduate is based on regurgitating facts and ideas that are considered "correct".

So while it is not specifically necessary for our kids to be curious in order to do well in school and life it is most definitely a plus. We all want our kids to be happy and that makes it worth the effort to encourage curiosity in our children.

When I started researching how to instill curiosity in my kids it was perhaps not terribly surprising that "positive reinforcement" came up as the first suggestion. One of my favorite books growing up was "Why are there more questions than answers Grandpa?" (out of print and $795 on Amazon!) by Kenneth Mahood. In the book, a young boy drives his Grandfather crazy with endless questions like, "Would hitting a nail on the head give it a headache?" or "Can my funny bone tell jokes?" Finally, the old man sends his grandson to clean the attic where he finds a book to answer all his questions. Much hullabaloo ensues and our young hero succeeds in turning the tables and the book ends with Grandpa asking all the questions. The grandfather in this book is an excellent example of how NOT to encourage curiosity. If asking questions is viewed by our kids as a bad thing they will stop asking and eventually stop wondering. 

The other approach for raising curious kids is one you will recognize from many of my previous articles, role modeling. Kids mimic us and learn what is acceptable early on by watching what we do and how we act. If we ask questions, take the time to satisfy our curiosity, show enthusiasm about learning new things, then our kids will likely follow our lead. Make an effort to verbalize your queries so that our kids see and hear what we are thinking. Rather than doing a quick search on google quietly to find an answer to your question, wonder out loud about it and maybe even ask your 3 year old what they think about it!

“I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

How much are you going to pay me?

Teaching our kids about money is something that can start at a very early age. Yes, perhaps the end of cash will happen in our lifetime. Maybe our kids will see a day in the (near) future when they don't need a wallet anymore. I  imagine my grandchildren someday asking me, "Grandpa, what's a penny?" But, even as how we pay changes from coins to cards to bytes, I doubt that we will return to a barter system anytime soon. So, the idea of money and how our kids handle it is going to be important.

In my previous article about marshmallows, we learned that money, and saving for something can help our kids learn about delayed gratification (which is a good thing). Kids and later adults who have learned to put off a small reward now in exchange for a larger reward later are more likely to advance in their careers and in some studies were shown to be just plain happier. Keep in mind that this does not work if there is always enough money available to get what they want without having to save and wait. We all want to give our kids everything but tightening the purse strings can make for a better lesson.

In addition to the discipline our kids can learn from saving, there are more practical reasons to start them early with a few bitcoins of their own. With their own money, they will need to understand budgeting (spending less than they earn). Having money of their own makes any discussion (lecture) about investment just a bit more interesting. It is not so hard to make up easy to understand examples to explain interest and compounding returns. "What if you could put that dollar under your mattress and when you take it out the next day instead of 1 dollar there were 2 dollars?" With an understanding of what a "dollar" (or yen or rupee or peso...) is our kids can start to see what the costs are for basic things they have lived with their whole lives. You might be surprised at how little even the teenagers in your house know about actual costs. I recall a Mother at my son's school talking about her older daughter. She had recently returned home for the first time since heading off to college. The daughter, with a dismayed look on her face, came up to her Mom and shared a discovery she had made living on her own, "Mom! You would not believe how much toilet paper costs! Who knew?" The Mom rolled her eyes and responded with, "Who do you think has been stocking our bathroom your whole life?" 

This preamble leads to my real question. Should I pay a weekly/monthly allowance or is a pay-per-job approach better? I am leaning towards the pay-per-job option. A regular allowance seems like it could be quickly perceived as an entitlement. Even if we assign tasks that need to be completed to "earn" the allowance, I can imagine that 1) the money will not be enough of an incentive to do the work or 2) We will end up paying anyway even when the work is not done. This would create a bad precedent. The downside of the pay-per-job approach is there are chores that I think should be "part of the family" jobs like keeping their room clean or clearing the table after dinner. If a culture of "How much are you going to pay me to do that?" develops we are again, not building positive habits. I remain undecided...

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Wait for it...

I love the "Second Marshmallow" test. My wife and I have been annoying our 2 kids with it for the last 19 years. Whenever one of them starts whining about wanting something immediately we will respond with "wait for the 2nd marshmallow". The first time we say it, we have to then explain what we mean by it. By the hundredth time, they don't care and are just exasperated with us. But my wife and I still get a kick out of it.

What is the "Second Marshmallow" test you ask? Well, back in 1972 a psychologist at Stanford University decided to run an experiment. 16 boys and 16 girls aged between 3 and 5 years old were invited to participate. Each child was led into a room and seated at a table. A marshmallow was then placed in front of them at the table. The child was told that they could eat the marshmallow now if they wished. However, if they waited for 15 minutes without eating it, they would then get not only the original marshmallow but 1 additional marshmallow!

The researchers were trying to determine when we learn control. How old are we when we can decide to delay instant gratification for a bigger reward later? I am not going to get into the results of the initial experiment. For this article, the follow-up studies and findings are much more interesting. Angela Duckworth summed it up nicely in the following quote:

"Children who had been able to wait for fifteen minutes for their treat had SAT scores that were on average, 210 points higher than those children who had rung the bell after thirty seconds."

But, the findings were not limited to SAT scores, 20 yeas later, the adults who had shown the ability to wait had "lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents..." ¹

If we know that kids that can delay gratification generally go further, how do we train that in our babies? Seriously, if our kids can grow into adults who can consider two job offers and then take the one that offers long-term growth over the one with the big upfront salary won't that be a good thing?

One suggestion I read was to hide temptation. While I can understand that it is easier to delay gratification when the item of desire is out of sight, I am not convinced that it teaches our kids control. The idea of control is to manage their desire when the temptation is right there! But... maybe there is a way to take advantage of the "out of sight, out of mind" function of our kid's brains. Teaching our kids the tools for self-distraction might be useful. When patience is required, talk about how you often come up with fun things to do to pass the time (role modeling is more effective than preaching). "When I have to wait, sometimes I sing a song to pass the time. Shall we sing one together?" Feel free to plug in whatever age-appropriate distraction you think is suitable.

If you have read my other articles you know that I am not completely opposed to bribery. Rewards can have some impact here as well. When our kids show that they can wait, or exhibit other aspects of self-control, reward it. Ideally, rewarding them as a surprise rather than promising them something upfront. Positive reinforcement generally works well to create habits.

Money, yes money can help to teach control. Giving your child an allowance or the opportunity to earn money from chores then opens up the chance for you to teach them about saving. I like to get kids started with a bank account early on rather than the piggy bank but for these purposes either should work. Saving is inherently about delayed gratification. If your daughter keeps putting pennies into her bank she will eventually have more pennies and can buy something bigger. This approach aligns nicely with the challenge above of visible temptation. Most things your kids will need money to buy will not be sitting around the house and in sight all the time.

Finally, don't let your son see you eating that cupcake at 3pm. Contradictions with what you do and what you see will erase all credibility. Maybe this will help us to learn some self-control as well!