Sunday, November 13, 2016

Your kids know better

I mentioned this story in my article "Programmer, Lawyer, Medieval Weapons Expert, Let Them Choose" but will describe it again here. It was the early 80's and I was in my teens. My father had brought home a second hand Apple IIe computer (our first) and I had started playing with BASIC programming. It was fun, I even made a letter S ski down the screen dodging letter T's (trees). The mechanical logic appealed to me and made sense. As you conscientious readers may recall, the programming life was vetoed by my Mom at the time and I went on to become a recruiter (which also worked out well). In the previous article, I emphasized giving our kids a chance to follow their passions. I still agree with this but I want to add a new a recent epiphany.
Not only is it OK to let our kids do something they enjoy doing but they might actually know better than we do about what the future may hold. 
Regardless of my mother's reasons for telling me not to get into programming, I am convinced that if she could have looked 20 years into the future and seen the dominance of technology, she would have had a different opinion about my interests. Was I thinking about trends and predicting future markets when I said I wanted to be a programmer at 13? Absolutely not. I just wanted to make games and play with them. I liked fiddling with the keyboard and making it do stuff for me. It was new and interesting. And, I was better at it than my parents.

Maybe our kids have a better idea of what is coming up in the future than we do.  After all, it is their future. By focusing on the things they like or are interested in they are not predicting the future but actually making it. We grownups are too quick to dismiss new things and fads and push our kids to the careers we see all around us now. From age 10 to when  I was graduating from college and looking for a job was 11 years. The World Economic Forum has suggested that,
 ...65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet.
That is a huge change in just 16 years. Now in 2016 there are jobs that did not exist in 2006. Just consider the iPhone and all the related jobs (it arrived in 2007). Even Drone Operator has become a real job that people are paid real money to do!!!!

What could my Mom have done differently? Like with any job, research is a good next step. If you have an idea about a job that you might like, learn more about it and test that assumption. My uncle has been a computer guy since the days of the ENIAC.
Actually, I think he worked on it... Anyway, it would have been easy for my Mom to take me to see him and learn more about what he did with computers. It most likely would have been educational for both me and my Mom. She might have seen that it wasn't a dark and lonely room and that being good with people would be useful even for a programmer!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Training for Assessment Exams... at age 5

"I always tell the truth" A possible question on an assessment test when applying for a new job. Your daughter may be required to answer True or False. How does she reply if there is no middle ground? If she says True, then everyone (the people grading her assessment) will think she is lying. If she says False then they wonder if they can trust her.

It is highly likely that our kids will be faced with an assessment test at some point in the job search. In fact, they may have to take one for the college they apply to in addition to the SAT or ACT tests which are more focused on reading and writing than personality and motivation.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic*, a CEO and Professor, recently wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review about improving your score on an assessment test when applying for a job. He wrote about the various traits that employers try to measure with these tests:

  • Competence: Expertise, Experience, Trainability
  • Work Ethic: Reliability, Ambition, Integrity
  • Emotional Intelligence: Self-Management, Social Skills, Political Skills

Great! So we know what they want. Wrong. It is difficult to game an assessment test unless you know what the company is specifically looking for. Some companies may score the same question differently depending on their analysis of what it takes to succeed in their firm and/or industry. And, even if you know what the company wants, does it make sense for our kids to lie about themselves to get a job that may not be right for them?

Rather than trying to cheat by climbing the walls and throwing answers to our kids when they are taking the assessment tests...
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...we can focus on giving them the tools and experiences they need now.

The three areas Tomas refers to, Competence, Work Ethic, and Emotional Intelligence align nicely with what recruiters believe are the only three interview questions employers care about: Can you do the job? Do you want the job? Can we get along with you?

At high school and college ages Tomas suggests the GRE Practice Book as a good way to prepare for verbal, numerical, and logical reasoning types of questions. This takes care of the general competence concerns. For more job specific skills it would depend on the role. For young kids there seems to be a growing use of standardized tests in the schools. I know for my own kids that they have been taking the MAP tests since elementary. While they are not learning from these tests it is probably good test taking practice.

Work Ethic is a bit more subjective. How would you want your child to answer this question:

I get the job done even if I have to break some rules. - True/False
What kind of person do you want your son to be? How do you define ambition. Follow your own principles and pass them on to your kids. Remember though, saying one thing and acting out another won't work. Our kids will follow our example for better or for worse.

How do we teach out kids to get along with other people? To manage themselves when in a group (or a team)? Emotional Intelligence is a hands on, experientially learned skill. Take your kids out in public, show them off, introduce them to your friends, let them talk with other people. There are bound to be embarrassing moments but each one of them will be a chance to teach our kids the right way to act.

In the end, the best advice is the same for any test. Get a good night's sleep, eat something (but not too heavy), go to the bathroom beforehand, take a deep breath, relax, and do your best.

*Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

But Mom, I am just checking email...

I actually planned to write this article yesterday but then I received an email from a client and had to answer it right away. After sending off the email I realized my coffee mug was empty so I had to get that refilled of course. Can't function without coffee. The coffee in the pot was lukewarm which got me thinking about those fancy Nespresso machines. Each cup made to order so I guess you always get a hot cup of coffee. Sitting back down at my computer I opened up Amazon (just out of curiosity) and started checking out the prices and reviews.  $200 for the machine and 80 cents a capsule!!?? Maybe next quarter... Closing the Amazon window I noticed that it was almost noon, time for lunch.

Does any of the above sound familiar? According to a study by Dr. Piers Steel, one of the leading researchers on procrastination, 80-95% of college students procrastinate... which means that 5 to 20% of college students lie to survey takers. Everyone procrastinates. The difference is whether the procrastination is chronic or not and whether it is affecting one's job or life.

I touched on this subject in my last article about study habits. There has been some buzz in the last few years about the benefits of putting things off thanks to Frank Partnoy's book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay . He points out the possible benefits for business people and entrepreneurs of waiting until the last minute to make decisions. While there are some interesting (and appealing) ideas there, the need for students to get things done remains high. Kids who get their work done ahead of time are more likely to get better grades in school. They have more time to review, are less likely to rush through the work, and may even have a window of time when they can confirm with a teacher that they are answering the questions correctly. Better grades in high school means acceptance to a better college which increases our kid's chances of finding a job. I know what you are saying now, "Sure, we all know putting things off is bad but what can we do about it? My spouse and I still procrastinate ourselves and apart from screaming at our kids and taking away their video games, how can we teach them to do their work first and postpone playtime?"

The first and most important point is for all of us to remember that procrastinating is normal. Self-regulation is related to the actual physical development of young brains and often we just need to wait (that word again) for them to grow up. So, cut them some slack, they may actually be trying really hard to follow our instructions (if not our bad example). Here are some additional steps we can take to encourage the right habits.

For younger kids, phrasing chores in more concrete terms can help. Dr. Sean McCrea found in his study that asking your daughter to pick up her legos was more effective than telling her to clean her room. This reminds me of the rules for goal setting; break a larger goal into smaller more achievable ones. Setting mini goals of either time or content can help for both toddlers and teenagers. Encourage your son to concentrate on first writing 100 words of his 450 word essay without getting up rather than yelling at him to finish it.

Remove distractions. This is good advice for all ages. It is much more difficult these days with the internet and smart phones but we can still try to make the environment more conducive to getting work done. Start with turning everything off that is not connected to the homework. TV, phone, Wifi (no email, skype, youtube, etc). Interestingly, I would have thought that working near a window would increase the chances of getting distracted. While that be true, studies of office workers showed that sitting by a window actually increased productivity.

Finally, set a good example. If you have something that needs to be done, let your kids know what it is and how important it is. Tell them how you would much rather be doing something else but that this is your job much like being a good student is their job. They watch us all the time, even (especially?) the teenagers, so give them the right model to copy.

By the way, for those readers who are counting, this is article 100.