Sunday, December 26, 2010

The clothes make the man (or boy)

First impressions are extremely important for an interview.  While not all interviewers will make a decision to pass or fail your child based on the first 15 seconds of the interview, there are enough of them out there who will.  This makes it important for our sons and daughters to concentrate on making a good first impression.  A firm handshake, looking the interviewer in the eye when they say hello ("good morning" or "good afternoon" is actually better than "hello" as it gives your child a chance to use the word "good" which will hopefully be connected with their candidacy) and of course appearance.  Appearance is more than clothing but fashion is the focus of this article.

突然の雨でも大丈夫。はっ水機能付だから安心して着られます。 はっ水スリムスーツ:色(黒)ご自宅で簡単に洗えるから、いつでも清潔に着られます。 プレミアムウォッシュスーツ(スカート)In Japan the standard interview suit for a new grad is a black suit, white shirt and conservative tie (called the Recruit Suit as seen here by Aoki).  Around graduation season the suit stores throughout Japan go into high gear advertising their new grad suits for both young women and men.  They are all the same!  One new grad recruiter I know went so far as to say that she would hire the next Japanese candidate who walked through her door in ANYTHING except the standard black suit.  The day ended with no offers going out.

The challenge with fashion and preparing your daughter or son for their interview is that you will not be consulted for your parental advice when they head off to their first interview in their early 20s.  By the time your son is lining up interviews he will have already made up his mind that Mom and Dad have no clue what looks good.  He may very well show up with a tie that clashes with his shirt and a suit that is a little short in the leg.  If he shows up in a suit at all.

As with much of parenting, we need to do what we can when we have our kid's attention.  At the ages of 5 or 8 or 10 they are still our "babies" and also retain some awe of grownups.  The goal at this age is not to get into specifics about brand names or checks versus stripes but rather to encourage our kids to be aware of how clothes and the event are connected.  You wear a suit to church but can wear sneakers to the park.  Here are a few suggestions on what we can do now to get our children on the path of good fashion common sense.

Rather than picking out your child's clothes in the morning, let him do it.  Or, even better, do it with him while explaining your choices.  "Since it is a school day I think the collared shirt and these jeans would look nice together. What do you think?"  It is true that kids will pick up a lot through watching what we adults do, but there are limits.  Fashion is one of them.  Just seeing you in the morning with the red tie and the white shirt may not help your child to understand that brown shoes and a black belt are not necessarily the best choice for an interview.  Asking your son for his opinion of your tie though and explaining that you have a big meeting with the boss today so you want to look powerful will help to connect clothes with an event.

I can't remember either of my parents commenting much on my choices of clothing or about fashion in general.  It was not until much later in life that I had the benefit of a fashion conscious friend (who then became my wife).  Of course, I did pick up a few things from my other friend's Mom. She once commented on her son's attire as he was heading out the door with me, "You can't go out like that! You look like vomit!"  Perhaps a little harsh since we were only going to the park to play basketball but it made an impression on my friend and even stays with me to this day.  The lesson, don't wear too many colors in one outfit.

Flipping through a magazine with your son or daughter while pointing out what the models are wearing and how the clothes go together to make them look taller, or slimmer or smarter is another way of teaching children about fashion and has the added benefit of being quality time just between you and your son or daughter.  The things you can do one on one will stay longer with your kids than whatever you try to teach in a group.

Shopping with your child can be exhausting for both you and your kids.  You probably already have an idea of what you need to buy (shorts for phys ed class, or a button down shirt for the holidays) but rather than dragging your son behind we can try to encourage some participation.  What to wear to Physical Education class is not necessarily the most important fashion decision one can make but it is another opportunity to connect an event with the clothes.  Ask your daughter what she is doing in phys ed and whether she thinks sweat pants or shorts would be better and why.

My kids are fortunate to have a mother with an awesome fashion sense.  I already know that she is having an effect since my son occasionally points our my own failings when it comes to dressing myself.  I guess even at 40 I still have something to learn.

*Special thanks to my incredible wife for her help with this article.*

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Good Night Moon" and the Interview

Following on the last post "Listening to your kids will help them get a job", this one will continue with the theme of communication.  Along with listening, reading to your child has tremendous value.

Even a small infant will benefit from having an adult or older child read to them.  Concepts such as stories, numbers, letters, colors and shapes can be learned from even the simplest of books.  

Children of all ages will learn listening skills from regular story time with Mom or Dad.  Imagine your child responding to an interview question with a completely unrelated answer because they did not listen well and you can see the importance of developing this skill.

Vocabulary is built naturally through reading.  Of course this happens whether a story is being read aloud or to oneself but at younger ages the context is not always enough to understand a new word. This can work especially well if we parents make a point of reading patiently and pausing to answer questions from our kids rather than telling them, "Hush, let me finish the story".  I am sure that my daughter learned what "mittens" are thanks to the popular book Good Night Moon.  Reading it 700 times also helped!

Learning how to tell a story is another interview skill that can be picked up through reading.  This one in particular requires us to read out loud to our kids rather than having them read on their own.

The ubiquitous interview question, "Tell me about yourself." is one where a child who has been read to growing up will have an advantage.  The typical response to this question is a monotone summary in bullet point form of the new graduate's very limited experience. Which of course the interviewer already knows since he or she is holding the resume when they ask this question.  Additionally, this flat rendition will not stick in the interviewer's mind when he is trying to decide which candidates will proceed to the next stage.  Compare this to the young man who confidently shares a defining moment in his life with the interviewer and does so with a bit of drama and flair.

We have been reading to our son since he was an infant.  It is not easy to make time and many nights my wife and I just want to get the kids in bed and out of the way so we can finish the thousand and one things we have left to do after what always seems like a day with too few hours in it.  However, recently our son has started taking over the role of reading to our 2 year old daughter before bedtime.  It is wonderful listening in and hearing him act out the voice of the Grinch or pause on a particular page and ask his younger sister, "Can you find the picture of the dog?"  This early ability to tell a story will hopefully stay with him as he grows up into a young man and needs to perform in a job interview.

On top of all of the benefits listed above, my son and daughter will have the knowledge that Mommy or Daddy spent those fifteen to twenty minutes with them each night and those were moments that were exclusively theirs with no TV or phones or other siblings to interfere.  The feelings of security and confidence that children develop when they know they are loved are invaluable.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Listening to your kids will help them get a job

Chances are that our kids will apply to a company that has needs in both the front and back office.  The front generally refers to marketing, sales and customer service.  Pretty much any function that interacts regularly with the outside world and more specifically with customers will be called Front.  Back is more often applied to functions like IT, Human Resources and Accounting.  Many larger organizations will not advertise the specifics of the position at the new grad level.  This means that your son or daughter will be screened and categorized by the interviewers into either a Front career track or a Back career track. New grads who will be pushed towards a Front position will show more extroverted attitudes and those who are a bit more analytical and introverted will be more likely to be slotted into a Back office role.

However, regardless of whether the interviewer judges my daughter's personality to be Front or Back the ability to communicate will be one of the underlying factors behind the hiring decision.  Interviewers want to know that a new grad applicant can explain him or herself with confidence.  They want to hear proper grammar and enunciation.  And, surprisingly, they want to see something of our kid's spirit.  If you have ever had to open up to someone about something a little personal, you can imagine how hard that might be in an interview situation.  But this is just what will set our kid's apart from the ones who lack the confidence and ability to communicate.

Teaching your kids how to communicate is something you can start working on even with small children.  Learning to listen to what our kids say is probably the most passive approach to teaching them how to communicate but it can have a huge impact.

Nothing instills confidence like having an adult and more importantly a parent pay attention to what the child is saying.  It is not enough to nod and make noncommittal grunts to let them know you are still in the room.  Listening, really listening, means that we as parents need to absorb what is being said, consider it and the respond to it in a serious and appropriate way.  How often has your 2 year old come up to you and said something like, "Is me ni Dora to shoe be my to self."?  I am assuming that your reaction would be something like mine.  My brain continues on with whatever else it was doing and I mutter, "That's nice" and my daughter patters off back to her adventures in the living room.  Now, let's add two more words to my response and see how it changes the impact on my daughter.  Instead of, "That's nice" how about, "Dora? Wow! That's nice."  By using one of the words (Dora) my daughter used in her original sentence (if you can call it a sentence!) I am letting her know that I actually heard what she said.  The "Wow" is a bit of encouragement that what she has to say is interesting to me and therefore validates her choice to share it with me.

Validating your child's ideas will go a long way towards giving them the confidence to speak up and express themselves.  They will grow up feeling that what they have to say is worth saying.  So when the interviewer asks them a tough question like, "Tell me about  a difficult situation you once faced." They can respond clearly and outshine their competition.

There are three reasons it is a good idea to start this when our kids are young.  The first is that repetition is often the best teacher.  The more validation your child receives over the years the better off they will be in the job interview.  Second, it is good for us as parents to practice, we need that repetition too.  Third, by the time my daughter reaches her teen years, I want her to know that what she says to me is important and that I will listen to her with respect and love.  Isn't that worth the effort?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Would your kid say this? "I don't like (insert nationality) people."

How do you think your child would answer this question?

"What do you think about China?"

I was sitting in on an interview the other day with a senior candidate I had introduced to one of my clients.  The candidate was in his 50s and was applying for a Director level position.  He was doing very well.  He was saying all the right things, looking my client in the eye when he answered questions and showing an obvious enthusiasm for the position and my client's company.

He went on to demonstrate his grasp of world politics and trends by pointing out that India and China are both in position to take a bigger share of the world economy in the future if for no other reason than by shear numbers as both countries are home to over a billion people each.  His next comment though killed any chances of him being hired by my client, or of me introducing him again.

"But, I don't like Chinese people."

With anti-discrimination laws in place and visas such as the H 1-B and L-1 it is virtually guaranteed that there will be various nationalities represented in any work environment.

The question, "What do you think about China?" is standard in many new graduate interviews.  It could be any country or nationality but the purpose is the same.  Employers want to know our sons and daughters are going to be able to work with whoever they end up sitting next to.  How your child answers this question in an interview will decide the job.  More important than her answer though is what she actually thinks.  Is she truly tolerant or better still, open-minded about other cultures and nationalities?  If she is pretending in the interview, how will her attitude affect her work when she must interact with people from different backgrounds?

Children are born accepting, curious and eager to interact with everyone.  They will learn to discriminate from adults.  As parents, we are in the best position to guide them.  Just as my son will most certainly grow up to be a Yankee fan because he sees me rooting for Jeter, he will also learn how to treat people by watching my actions and listening to the comments I make (for better or for worse).  Children watch and hear EVERYTHING.  And something they hear or see often enough will soon become part of their own personality.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holidays; a great time to teach good manners to your kids

Yes, manners CAN mean the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.  Especially as our children venture out into the world as new graduates.  Employers have a hard time differentiating between the hundreds of 20 somethings they see and will remember the young man or woman who says "thank you" when few others offer this simple courtesy.

So, as the year end approaches there is an opportunity for we parents to set examples and teach our children some manners.  The holidays in particular offer a chance for our kids to interact with many people they may not see on a regular basis the rest of the year.  Relatives travel to see nieces and nephews and grandparents come out of retirement to spoil our kids with candy and presents.  It is also common for neighbors to pop in with a tray of cookies or the Salvation Army volunteers to show up asking for a donation.  A job interview for our children is going to be a stressful meeting with someone they don't know and wish to impress.  Every time they meet someone this December there is a chance for them to practice.

Here are a few situations where our children can practice as well as the specific manners that will be important and possibly critical to them in the future when it is the Head of Marketing at Coca Cola they are trying to impress rather than Grandma!

Answering the door:
This is a simple action that most of us probably have not given much thought.  However, for a 6 year old it can be a challenge and sometimes even scary.  Let's assume that we have already taught our kids not to open the door to strangers.  Now, with us hovering protectively in the background, your son calls out "Yes, who is it?"  Your neighbor from down the street answers and your son pulls open the door and with a smile (very important!) says, "Hello Mrs. Henderson, it is nice to see you."  That's it! If our kids can pull that off at 6 they are way ahead of the pack.  New grad recruiters constantly complain about applicants who do not smile or seem listless and uninterested.  If your son or daughter instead leaves the door closed and calls to Mom before rushing back to his video game then catch him and bring him with you to the door.  Keep things light and casual, this is not a punishment.  As a parent this is the chance to set an example.  Put on that smile and cheerfully open the door saying the exact same phrase you want your child to remember, "Hello Mrs. Henderson, it is nice to see you."  Kids are mimics and watch EVERYTHING we do as parents.  Over the course of the next couple weeks you may start to see your daughter approaching the door in a stunning imitation of you.

Eating dinner:
Most new graduate interviews do not occur over a meal.  However, the dinner table, especially a holiday one with guests, is one of those interesting places where a whole host of manners come into play, all of which will help in a job interview.  Such as:

  1. Sit up straight and sit still - Chances are your children are like mine and they are moving constantly. The dinner table is one of the few places you can teach them about posture and control.  Consider the image it portrays in a job interview when your daughter is slouching in her chair swinging her leg back and forth.  This is not something to teach your kids the day before the interview.  Start now and they will do it naturally and therefore be able to focus more on the questions being asked.  It is easiest to teach this particular skill if you are sitting next to your child.  A nudge is sometimes all it takes to remind them and will not attract undo attention from around the table.  Getting into the habit of putting their napkin on their lap when they sit down at the table can also help to remind our kids to sit straight.  It is not easy to keep the napkin in place when bouncing around in the chair!
  2. Eye contact - Our kids will be declined for a job if they cannot answer a question without looking at the person they are speaking to.  A holiday dinner table will certainly give your daughter a chance to practice.  Grandpa will want to know how she is doing in school and a "gentle" reminder to, "Look at Grandpa when you answer" should carry over to the next person who asks her a question.  I think it is important to realize that we are teaching our kids something that will be important to them for the rest of their lives.  They are not likely to get it or remember it the first time.  Kids need frequent reminders and I think we can do it gently.  We just have to be willing to go over it with them a hundred times!  Fortunately, starting now when they are young gives us and them time.
  3. Don't interrupt/listen - Did you know that new grads in job interviews actually interrupt their interviewers?  Amazing but it happens.  Again, gentle reminders at the dinner table are a good way of reinforcing the habit of listening and waiting for a chance to say what you want to say.  It is also critical that we as parents set the same example.
  4. Use "please" and "thank you" - This last one is truly a habit.  With everything that goes on over a meal, these words can be used countless times.  "Please pass the butter" followed by a cheerful "Thank you" is all it takes.  

Thank you notes:
In most cultures there is some practice of gift giving at this time of year.  It can be a toy or money or food but the idea is the same.  Someone who cares about our child has given them something to show how much they love them.  Sit your son down and with a list of what they received and who they received it from and start writing thank you notes.  The length and detail will depend on the age of your child.  Try to encourage them to communicate their feelings, not just "Thank you for the money".  I will often bring up interview scenarios and in this case consider 2 candidates applying for the same job.  Both do well in the interview but your son writes a nice thank you letter afterwards and mails it to the interviewer expressing his appreciation for the time and his enthusiasm for the job.

Who would you hire?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

After You Teach Them How to Fish, You Must Teach Them How to Get a Job as a Fisherman

Perhaps you know the saying (allow me to paraphrase here), "If you give a child a fish, you will feed him for a day.  If you teach a child how to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime."  I would like to correct a modern error in that last statement.  In today's world, your child needs to get a job as a fisherman before he or she can fish. No matter how good they are at fishing, they are going to starve if they cannot convince someone to hire them and give them a pole.

As a recruiter and a father I think constantly about what will give my children an edge when they head out into the "real" world and actually have to work for a living.  Will reading to my 9 year old son each night actually make a difference and should I be reading Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger (yes, a real book) or would it be better (if less fun) to read Never Eat Alone?  Should I get my 2 year old daughter a Barbie doll for Christmas or would the Nerf Machine Gun help to make her more assertive in her job interview?

I might still be thinking like this without my career as a recruiter but the job has certainly forced me to consider the effects of choices I make now on the future working life of my kids.  With every great resume I see at work I think, "How can I help my son and daughter get to where this guy is now?" Is the right school going to make a difference?  Does forcing my son to do his homework in 4th grade mean he will get a better job some day? Maybe both of my kids should be taking horseback riding lessons?

Connecting career planning with young children is a new/old idea.  A couple hundred years ago the whole apprentice system took care of any career worries and by the age of nine a child pretty much knew what he would be doing the rest of his life.  These days it is harder.  We actually have to make choices!

This project is a work in progress (as is parenting!) and I am hoping to discover some answers in the course of writing this blog.  The hardest part of it all is that I won't know if it all works until my kids graduate and go to work.  My ultimate goal is to raise two amazing, independent, generous, happy, wonderful kids into two amazing, independent, generous, happy, wonderful adults who also have what it takes to ace the GE interview or launch the next Facebook, whichever path they choose.

I am willing to share what works and what doesn't work for my wife and I and hope that you will feel free to add your thoughts and comments as well whenever it may add value to the discussion.

Welcome to my adventure!

Lawrence Kieffer
"The Headhunter Dad"

As a footnote to this first post, I would like to thank Mirona for the great job on the Headhunter Dad logo design you see on this site.  She is always a pleasure to work with and very professional. You can see more of her work here: