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Monday, December 22, 2014

What Dropbox wants our kids to be like

Dropbox is a file hosting service based in San Francisco. I use them to back up computer files and sync between computers.  They are easy to use and free up to a certain limit.  I wish I could say I was getting paid to promote them here but I am writing mainly to talk about a recent ad I saw on their website for their Sales New Grad Program.

I am often telling my students to take advantage of all the information available to them these days to prepare for the future.  Linkedin profiles offer insights into what the actual work behind a job title might look like.  For example, looking at a headhunter's profile you should see "cold call" written over and over again! Job descriptions are another resource that have become much more valuable since the advent of the Internet.  No longer are employers limited by cost to 25 words in the newspaper but can now distribute multiple pages worth of details about the job and in this case, what is necessary to get the job.

Here are the requirements Dropbox posted for their New Grad Sales job:

Requirements

  1. Internship or work experience in banking, consulting, sales, operations, lead generation, and/or marketing (SaaS experience a plus, but not required)
  2. Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
  3. Team player with excellent collaboration skills to build relationships across the company
  4. Results driven while able to cultivate long-lasting relationships with clients across a multitude of industries
  5. Fearless attitude to try new processes and iterate to scale a global sales engine
  6. Bachelor’s degree (recent graduate or graduating in 2015 or 2016)

I found it interesting that they lead off with internship experience as the first (and therefore most important?) requirement. I assume that they will screen resumes fairly strictly for this and eliminate those candidates who spent their summers mowing lawns, flipping burgers, or packing groceries. I believe we will see this requirement more often in the future which means we as parents should be on the lookout for chances to get our kids into part time jobs that look better on their resumes.

2 and 3 are straight from my article on what most employers want. I don't think there are any job descriptions out there where the requirements are to be a "problem maker" and have "difficulty working with others".

Results driven is the key to #4.  Cultivate relationships is important of course but that is similar to the teamwork requirement in #3. The HR staff screening resumes and the interviewer sitting across from your son or daughter is going to want to see examples of actual achievements. It is difficult to gauge the "driven" part of this so most people will assume that if our kids explain an accomplishment in detailed terms it means they are result oriented.  Here is an example. Joel was very into community service in high school. He became particularly concerned about feeding the homeless so organized a weekend telethon to raise money.  Nice, right? However, to sound like he is "results oriented" there need to be results.  How much money did they raise, how many volunteers did he bring in, how many people did they reach out to?  The concrete numbers for each of these answers will help to show the interviewer that Joel has the bottom line in mind. All our kids have examples of achievements. We can help to quantify them so that the explanations are stronger and more focused.

I don't believe they will look for #5 in the resume.  This is more attitude than anything else.  The interviewer will make a judgement based on the personality and presence of our kids whether or not they are "fearless". Perhaps giving your daughter an impromptu audition.  I hear that adidas often hands potential candidates a sneaker and then asks them to sell it to the interviewer. Going in optimistic and confident will help.

Lastly, a 4 year college degree.  Last because it is the least important. But, still on the list so their assumption is that everyone who applies will be a graduate.

Oh, you have a college age child who might want to apply?  Here is the link.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Can our kids be creative AND follow the rules?

Please consider the following case study:

In your position as manager of the marketing department for the rapidly expanding software firm, Big Data Cloud Selfie 12 (aka BDCS12), you supervise a team of 15 staff of varying ages and responsibilities.  At the end of the year when evaluations are required, you must fairly consider the value of each team member's individual contribution so that you can then assign a dollar amount for their incentive bonus. Joe, your young market researcher, is always coming up with new ideas on how to improve the business and has been known to use his own time to work on projects (of his own devising) by himself, surprising you with them when he is finished.  Sally, on the other hand, works on the social media side of things.  She is on time to work every day and is never absent.  She quietly gets along with everyone and has never missed a deadline.  Both Sally and Joe are the same age, with the same years of experience, and graduated from the same college with the same GPAs. One of them will receive a higher rating on their evaluation and therefore get a higher bonus.  Which one would you evaluate higher?

Well, according to Bowles and Gintis in their book, Schooling In Capitalist America, you (and most managers) would give lower ratings to the young employees like Joe with high levels of creativity and independence and higher ratings to the ones like Sally seen as tactful, punctual, and dependable.  This sounds eerily familiar to me as a parent. Life is easier when the kids toe the line, get their homework done on time, follow the rules and generally just don't cause trouble. Sure we are quick to praise them for their creativity but maybe not as enthusiastically when their creative endeavor results in us spending hours scrubbing paint off the walls.

Can't we raise our kids to be creative, independent, and also punctual and dependable? Are they mutually exclusive traits? Or worse, if we try to help our kids develop all of these will they be mediocre at all of them? How valuable is the employee who is punctual "most of the time" and "sort of" creative?

For Bowles and Gintis (as their book title suggests) it is a matter of schooling. I should also mention here that I have not read the book yet.  It is on my Amazon wish list though... To excel in school (graduate, get into college, get employed) the best students are the ones who do their work and do it on time. There is some room for creativity and independence but our kids can get straight As all the way up through high school without a single creative bone in their bodies. There is no incentive for our kids to be creative and independent and there is no practical incentive for us as parents to encourage those traits.

When I was in college I had to write a term paper for history class. I had no interest in the traditional approach and asked my professor if I could write a story, historical fiction so to speak.  He agreed and I banged out the 10 page story including footnotes as required to identify the historical references.  I proudly handed it in and looked forward to the rave review I would receive for my creative approach to handling this assignment.  Imagine my shock when I received the paper back and saw the D prominently written in red pen at the top of the page along with the sentence, "This is not a research paper." Arguing my case had little effect on my grade but the experience taught me that in order to get ahead, I needed to follow the rules (and the rubric) precisely.  There was no room for a new way of doing things and checking the boxes and staying within the lines is still the best way to ensure a good grade or a promotion. 

There are some exceptions, but maybe these exceptions make things even harder on our kids as they grow up. In the job interview the interviewer may be impressed with creative achievements.  He may also perceive examples of independence as proof that our kids will be proactive problem solvers within the team as opposed to the actual likelihood that they will chafe under the restrictions of the corporate world.

Dependability and punctuality may be important in the job application (showing up late is never a good idea) but it is thought of as a minimum requirement rather than something that will help our kids stand out. The more glamorous attributes in an interview are examples of creativity and independence.


So our kids need to be punctual and dependable as they go up through school then show their creativity and independence in the interview and then go back to punctuality and dependability after starting the job. So, heavy on the diligence and a splash of brilliance. As parents, we can encourage creativity on a regular basis with school while trying to make it clear to our kids that their grades are not likely to measure how creative the work is but rather how closely it follows the rubric. Independence is also good to praise in our children but combine that with the message that you don't let people down. If you make a promise or commitment then follow through. We live in communities and rely on people every day.  The corporate world is the same, a team focused world where dependability and tactful employees are valued the most.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When I grow up, I want to be a Graphic Designer

1st Semester Project, "Pineapple Skull"
I now have a 13 year old who is taking graphic design as an elective in middle school and a 6 year old who is going to art club after school. On the off chance that either of them decides to pursue a career in art/design/graphics I became curious about what it takes to be successful in that field. Like most careers, I believe our kids do not need a prodigy's level of talent to make it happen. Hard work, ambition, focus, can get them almost anywhere they want to go.

There are lots of art related jobs in the world (see the list at the end of this article). The requirements to succeed differ, for example you  may not necessarily need a college degree to be a good photographer. But for simplicity's sake, I am going to focus just on the graphic design job for this article.

Graphic designers are found in companies as regular employees but also often as independent contractors or freelance. Under the assumption that freelancers and independents will need a decent portfolio of paid work to get hired, we can narrow our discussion to what it takes for our kids to get that important, first, full time job.

Working backward from the job description for an entry level graphic designer, we see that the typical company is looking for a college degree in the arts, preferably graphic design, practical knowledge of the tools of the trade, particularly (at the time of this writing) Illustrator, Photoshop, pencils..., some sort of related work experience (ideally), and a portfolio.

Since this is an entry level job, the step prior to applying is graduating college.  There are many schools that offer design programs but let's look at what it takes to get into #1, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The assumption being that if our kids can get in there then they can get in to any of the other colleges lower on the list. According the the RISD website, applicants should have a high school diploma, preferably including classes in design. They will need an SAT composite score of 1750 or more and a B+ GPA or higher. A portfolio of 15 to 20 of their best (recent) work must be submitted along with handwritten drawings on white paper (specified on the site), plus an essay or two, and letters of recommendation. Oh, and $60 for the application.

Now to high school.  The GPA, SAT scores, and essays are something we all know to focus on for any college career so looking at the design specific points we see three areas to encourage our kids. 1) They should be signing up for whichever electives in the arts are available at the school.  If there are none, it would probably help to find something extracurricular or even start their own "Art Club" at school.  Chances are there is a teacher or parent who will support it and other kids with a similar interest.  2) CREATE and often, The portfolio is not going to be something our kids cram into the summer before college applications begin.  Have them constantly working on something and save it all.  Given the very specific requirement to submit drawings on white paper, a bit of extra work with a pencil is probably a good idea.  3) Personal connections with anyone related to design will be helpful when looking for a job but these people are also good choices for that letter of recommendation. Help your kids to meet up with people who are connected with the industry.  Advertising is the big one but product development managers in house at Procter and Gamble would also be interesting to know. If your son or daughter can get a little work (paid or volunteer) through these connections doing something related then even better.

Which brings us to elementary and middle school. Preparing our kids to enter high school at the artistic level where they can produce a portfolio impressive enough to get them into RISD is the goal. Give them encouragement so that they continue and enjoy the challenging work of trying to create something even though they might not have all the skills yet. Most of the software companies that make products for designers also offer education discounts so look into downloading Illustrator on your computer and letting your son or daughter play around with it. There are even games out there that encourage many of the same skills and 3D thinking that are essential for a designer, Minecraft comes to mind as a popular one. And, as with high school, keep drawing.  The requirements for pencil and paper submissions may change in the future but for now it is worth building that skill if a career in the arts is a possibility.

Here are a few additional qualities that employers look for in their graphic designers. Do they look familiar? They should, these are attributes every employer wants in a new employee:

  • Communication
  • Problem Solving 
  • Time Management

* Other art related jobs and average salaries:
Graphic Designer - $40,073
Video Game Designer - $55,186
Animator - $60,000
Fashion Designer - $58,278
Illustrator - $66,000
Product Designer - $82,000
Museum Curator - $53,160
Photographer - $19,000
Web Designer - $66,000
Artist - $0 to $1,000,000+