Thursday, March 19, 2015

Career Journals for Kids

When I googled, "kids journal template" I was inundated with a plethora of choices. There were ones I recalled from my daughter's recent kindergarten life with a half page for a picture or drawing and well spaced lines for writing in big letters to travel journals for visiting Disneyland. Keeping a journal is promoted as an excellent (necessary?) way for parents and teachers to encourage our children to practice their writing skills and express their feelings. But what about a journal to help them with their careers?

Journalling is not just for kids of course, it is easy to come across articles proclaiming that if George Lucas and Beethoven both kept journals (or diaries) then you are a loser if you do not also write every day in your own little, leather bound moleskine (apparently any size is OK but I prefer the Cahier, Pocket ones). Keeping a journal as an adult continues to help with writing skills and expressing feelings just like when you were a kid and used a crayon to record your brilliance. Additional claims include: greater creativity, improved mental health, reduced stress, and extended memory (since you write it down you won't forget).

Back to our kids. Can we help them get into college and find a rewarding job/career by forcing them to keep a journal? In the course I teach at Temple University, the students are required to come up with stories and themes from their lives as one of the first exercises in my career studies class. They are supposed to recall the times when they accomplished something or felt proud of an activity or project.  Elaborating on these life events they discover clues to what might be a satisfying career. For example, a student talking about how she loved being on the winning basketball team in high school and more specifically, enjoyed destroying the rival high school from across town may then recognize that she is hyper competitive and a career as a trial lawyer is worth looking into. For many of my students, this is the first time they have done anything like this exercise. The same approach with younger kids and over a longer period of time should help us and them to recognize earlier where both their strengths and their interests lie.

With this in mind I created the official HeadhunterDad journal page! Feel free to download and use it with your own kids or just make your own. It starts off with a bulleted list of the day's activities. I did not think it necessary to write too much in this step, just getting down a few different things is enough. The next few questions are more important, Which activity was the most fun? Which activity did you do best at? Which activity are you most proud of? Each question also requires some explanation as to why your child chose to highlight it.
As parents, our job (apart from forcing them to do it) is to help our kids understand how to analyze their answers. We can help them by asking deeper questions about the situation and since this is a career related article, look for and point out how the things our kids enjoyed, did well at, and were proud of could relate to careers they might also enjoy. For example...

Mom: So, why did you have the most fun at lunch today?
Billy: Kevin put a piece of corn in his nose and when he blew it out it shot clear across the cafeteria and hit Mr. Bonnevergut in the back of the head!  It was so cool!
Mom: On no! That sounds crazy!  What did you like about that?
Billy: (thinking) Hmm, I guess it was kind of neat to see how far a piece of corn could go.
Mom: That is pretty amazing, it might be interesting to run an experiment to see what might shoot that corn farther.
Billy: Yeah! Like maybe a catapult or a slingshot.
Mom: Sure, just don't do it at school! But this is what scientists do, they run experiments to find things out.
Billy: That sounds like a fun job, maybe I can be a scientist when I grow up?
Mom: Absolutely.  Now tell me why you were most proud of knocking Sally of the seesaw...
[Disclaimer] I have not started this with my kids yet. I plan to implement it this summer with both the 7 year old and the 14 year old and see how it goes. Stay tuned for future reports on their progress.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Character - Showing it in the job interview and on the resume

Our kids are all fantastic.  We know that, we see them every day and remember all the little examples in their lives of generosity, gumption, courage, responsibility.  Any employer would be lucky to hire our kids. Unfortunately the interviewers do not always see all the positive character traits of our awesome offspring.  To be fair, it is not entirely the fault of the interviewer. It is easy to check an applicant's ability to code in JAVA or put together a coherent sentence (you can just give them a test) but it is much harder to evaluate someone's character based on a one page resume and an hour of chatting. What traits would an interviewer want to recognize in our kids? There are many but let's focus on these three and how to get them into the resume and share them in the interview:

  • Integrity (honesty, ethics, your son will not destroy the company as a rogue trader)
  • Loyalty (your daughter will not quit 6 weeks after finishing the training program to move to another firm across the street for more money)
  • Persistent (the tough get going when the going gets tough!)

I like definitions, they help me to break down the big ideas into manageable (smaller) items (see my article on ambition). Starting with integrity, the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Maybe the most obvious way to show this trait on a resume is not to lie. Lay out your experiences, education, interests, and other details without stretching the truth like many of us might be tempted to do.  So what if I was not really a manager, I occasionally told people what to do so that counts as managing right?  I can put Manager as my title rather than Staff, right? The interview is a little easier. I recently asked a candidate about his Japanese ability. He knew that speaking with a high level of fluency was necessary for the job but he honestly responded saying that he had not been studying very often in the last year and was therefore a bit rusty. Rather than being turned off by the lack of that skill I was impressed with his integrity. The other example of moral fortitude I have seen is the strict adherence to business ethics. A student of mine is working in an internship where the names of her client's are considered to be highly confidential.  In an interview for a full time job following graduation, she can show her integrity by not bowing to pressure from the interviewer to tell them the names of those companies.

Loyalty, faithfulness to commitments or obligations, can be seen in the resume where your daughter returned 3 summers in a row to the same part time job. Interviewers may also consider graduating from just one college (rather than moving around and changing majors often) a sign of faithfulness or commitment. While it is difficult to put more personal experiences into a resume which is often a dry and boring document,  they can be shared in the interview. A time when your son or daughter promised to help the elderly neighbor weed their garden and remembering the promise later had to forgo an outing with their friends would show loyalty. As parents we can help our kids to remember these examples and point out to them how they demonstrate the traits they want to showcase when applying for jobs.

The last of our big three, persistent, lasting or enduring tenaciously, will have some crossover examples from loyalty above. In the interview, any example of our kids not giving up will usually do the trick. It is important to use examples that have a happy ending though. Explaining how he spent hours, day after day, studying for the SATs and then your son only achieved a mediocre score shows persistence but may hurt our kid's chances for the job if their skills or abilities are questionable. Some good options for the resume are related to achievements that are known to take time and energy to receive. Eagle Scout is one, a black belt in karate (or other martial art) is also understood to have taken years to reach. Sports or musical instruments can fulfill this requirement as well if there is something that can be shared on the resume like becoming captain of the varsity soccer team or playing the oboe in Carnegie Hall(!).

Knowing the value of having these examples to relate on their resumes and in the interview, we can and should encourage our kids to actually practice these character traits so that when the interview and job application comes along they will have something relevant and valuable to share. Oh, and while our kids are acting honest, loyal, and persistent, hopefully they will actually become, honest, loyal, and persistent. Wouldn't that be great?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Be the man you wish your son to become

When my son was born, I suddenly realized that I had created (with some help from my wife) a small human who would be relying on me for everything in his life for the next 18 (+) years. I now had the power of life and death over another member of my species and had to some extent become his god. The responsibility that came with this revelation was stunning. What if I screwed it up!? Every day we see and meet grownups we fear will be the future versions of our kids. The idiot on the train who pushes the mother carrying a baby out of the way to grab a seat, the morons who honk their horns at my kid's (well marked) school bus EVERY morning when it stops to pick them up, not to mention the violent examples shown daily on the CNN.

I knew that my son would be molded by his environment and that his friends would have a big impact on his development as well but he would also be looking up to me from the moment he opened his eyes at the hospital and I felt that I needed to live up to the challenge. I was reminded of a quote by Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good As It Gets , "You make me want to be a better man." In the movie he was saying this to Helen Hunt but it described my feelings towards my new son perfectly.

Thinking back to the images and memories I had of growing up with my own father, I realized how much I had picked up from him.  Some of which you can read about here in the article I wrote for Father's Day.

I decided to make some changes. I became more disciplined about work, I did not want my son to grow up thinking that his Dad was lazy. Especially since I work at home often and he could see me at my desk almost every day.  For example, I stopped playing solitaire on the computer when I should be working. I wanted him to see that when I was supposed to be working, I was actually doing what needed to be done and hopefully he would imitate that attitude.

I started exercising more. I stopped smoking cigars (for the most part) because I did not want to be hypocritical about saying that smoking is bad for you and then do it myself. Granted, my upcoming midlife crisis may have contributed to this one a bit but losing weight and being healthy was a habit I wanted my son to adopt. The added benefit has been that I can keep up with him and still win (for now) when we wrestle.

I had always been an optimistic guy but I make the point of being positive more often and rarely criticising  people. There are a lot of difficult people in the world and nobody is exempt from dealing with them (I may very well be one of them!) but if my son lets himself get caught up in all the drama he will not only be frustrated and unhappy but will also be less productive.

This idea began 14 years ago (today) and I realize every day that it is an ongoing project. Even now at 44 I still catch myself observing how my own father handles things (life, wife, kids...) and I  know it has an effect on me. Even if it takes my whole life, I will continue striving to be the man I hope my son will someday become.

Acknowledgement: My wife is an amazing mother and contributes as much (if not more) to the growth and development of our kids. While this article is mainly about me and my son I want to give her credit for everything she does for all of us everyday.
P.S. My totally amazing daughter will receive her own article at a future date. I have a similar feeling related to her with some gender based differences I will explain.