Saturday, October 15, 2011

Business talk at the dinner table: why it is a good idea for your kids.

Talking about business at the dinner table is a great way to give our kids information about jobs and worklife.  Eventually they are going to have to decide on a career and the more jobs they know about, the more likely they are to be able to choose one that suits them.

Growing up, many of us have heard the admonition from Mom or Dad that there would be no talk about business at the dinner table.  Of course, this was usually brought up when one of them started complaining about work that day and the other parent stepped in to change the subject.  Usually with something along the lines of, "So Larry, how was YOUR day?  What did you learn at school?"

As our kids get older, the opportunities for the whole family to sit down to dinner will decline.  Friends, events, all sorts of external influences will compete for your child's time.  Even when you can pull everyone together it may feel rushed as we all seem to have things we need to do right away and eating quickly so we can get back to Facebook is our main priority.  The dinner table may be an educational environment for our kids for a limited window of time.  Why waste it reviewing things that the kids already know about (like what happened at school today)?  Take advantage of their "forced" attention to broaden our kid's minds with a discussion about... yes, I am going to say it... work.

My son has recently become much more familiar with what a recruiter does thanks to our dinner conversations.  As we all sat down to eat the other night, I mentioned casually to my wife that the client I was working with had decided to offer the job to one of my candidates.  My wife said, "great, that is good news". My son overheard (not surprisingly since he was sitting across from us) and realizing that he might have missed something important said, "What?! What? Tell me. What?"  Which means in 10 year old speak, "Would you say that again because I did not catch it the first time."  I swallowed my mouthful of ginger pork and reminded myself that repeating things over and over again is an integral part of parenting and then proceeded to tell him what I had said to my wife.

The discussion stretched on for several minutes as he asked questions like these below which allowed me to explain more about my business but also the business of my client and the job the candidate would be doing:

  • So you found a job for the person who was looking for a job? - Actually, what a recruiter does is find a person for a company that has an open job.  Outplacement is the business that finds jobs for people who are out of work.
  • What kind of job does he do? - He is a Sales Manager who will be responsible for selling the company's products to customers and also managing (teaching) the other sales people so that they can sell more.
  • What kind of company? - This company makes software that helps other companies keep track of things.
  • How did you meet him?  Is he your friend? - No, he is not a friend.  Although a friend of mine did introduce us (networking, referrals).

While this conversation could have occurred in other places (like the car), the dinner table is the most conducive to holding our kid's attention.  They know they have to sit until they finish eating and while they are at the table the only thing they can do is eat and talk (preferably not at the same time).  Take advantage of it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Recommendation - "Lawn Boy"

In the article, "Good Night Moon" and the Interview, I talked about the importance of reading to and with our kids.  While driving out to my son's school with him and his mother we were treated to an impromptu verbal book report.  The book was "Lawn Boy" and he launched into an impassioned description of the book. My first thought was that we would not have had this discussion if we had let him bring his PSP with him in the car. My second thought was, "That is an awesome book!  I am going to have to read it as well."

So, that night after the kids were in bed, I plopped down on the couch with the 88 page elementary school book and dove in.  45 minutes later I  not only confirmed my earlier opinion that this was a good educational book for pre-teens but also found that I had enjoyed the story myself.

The story begins with what may possibly be the best birthday present ever given to a 12 year old, a riding lawn mower.  Our protagonist starts it up and begins mowing his own family's lawn only to have the next door neighbor lean over the fence and ask him how much he charges for lawns.  Thus begins his lawn mowing business.  I liked that his lawn mowing job arose while he was working rather than sitting on the couch.  While I don't believe in karma, I do think that people working hard and taking some action are more likely  to come across opportunities. A good lesson for the kids.

Throughout the book the author is continuously breaking down the finances from Lawn Boy's various enterprises.  He goes into the math and ideas related to income minus expenses, taxes, commissions, bonuses, etc.  Even if a little of the vocabulary sticks, it will be a benefit.  Confidence in interviews or any discussion of difficult topics comes from familiarity.  Learning some of the terms and concepts now about profit and loss can make it easier to understand them later.  The titles of the chapters are great just by themselves (Chapter 3 - The Law of Increasing Product Demand Versus Flat Production Capacity).

In Chapter 3 our hero meets Arnold, a new lawn client who becomes his partner/stock broker/agent.  Lawn Boy was doing fine on his own and making good money mowing lawns but through partnering with Arnold he was able to expand his business dramatically.  Throughout many books on leadership, it is pointed out that success is very rarely achieved by oneself.  Being able and willing to ask for help is a key to advancement in your kid's career.

Finally, Lawn Boy, who has been afraid to tell his parents about his success all summer comes clean and Mom and Dad surprise him with their understanding and support.  A great message to kids that it is OK to talk with Mom and Dad.  We can be trusted!

My son is 10 and enjoyed the book.  Older kids will have a better grasp of some of the bigger words.  This is also a good book to read with your kids.  The questions that come up while reading will help your kids to understand and retain more of the ideas.

Not all elementary school books have to be about boogers or ponies!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fat kids don't get as many job offers

Studies have shown that employees who are overweight earn less money than their more fit peers.  This difference is larger for women than it is for men.
Surveys of employers consistently find that they prefer "normal" weight applicants rather than those who are overweight.
Other surveys indicated that 10% of personnel managers would not want an overweight employee to meet with a client.  Amazingly, that same 10% believed that it would be OK to fire an employee for being overweight.
50% of those polled through Personnel Today thought that being overweight had a negative affect on productivity.
Unlike gender or race, overweight employees and job applicants are not protected unless they can show a medical connection that may  then be classified as a handicap.
Extrapolating from the percentages coming out of the surveys listed above, I am going to assume that an overweight new grad interviewing for a job will be declined 30% of the time because of their weight.  The common bias towards overweight job applicants is that they lack discipline or are not healthy.  For an employer, possible health issues leading to missed working days and lower productivity will cause them to decline a suspect candidate every time.

As hard as it is for young people (any people?) to find a good job these days, do we want our sons and daughters to deal with yet another obstacle "if" it can be avoided?  Fortunately, we can make a difference and the sooner we start the better.

In Sweden, researchers found that the number of fat cells in our bodies is determined to a large extent during our childhood years.  Fat cells regenerate at a normal rate throughout our lives but as kids, they also multiply (all our cells do when we are young, that is why we get taller). Fat cells growing in our kids now will be with them forever.

We need to be teaching our kids the importance of taking care of their bodies now.  It is not complicated, there are only 3 goals to remember:

  1. Help our kids to develop healthy eating habits.
  2. Help our kids to get into the habit of regular exercise.
  3. Set the right example!

Help our kids to develop healthy eating habits.
The common guidelines for a healthy diet change in small ways all the time as researchers come up with new studies but here is a list of basics for feeding our kids:

  • Five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • Healthy proteins like lean meat, nuts and eggs
  • Whole grain is better than processed (white flour)
  • Broil, grill or steam foods instead of frying them
  • Less fast food and junk food
  • More water and milk instead of fruit juices and so
Our kids will not eat the broiled salmon and broccoli we made for them while we sit down to enjoy a hamburger and potato chips.  If we want our kids to eat well, WE need to eat well too.  It is essential that this habit be developed early on when we parents still have control over (most of) what goes into their mouths.  Once they hit their teen years and realize they can buy junk with their lunch money it is too late.

Help our kids to get into the habit of regular exercise.
Kids age 2 to 3 will benefit from 90 minutes a day. Motor skills are developing and they have lots of energy at this age range.  Often just giving them enough space to run around will be all you need to do.  If your child is quieter and need some encouragement then get out there with them.  Tag and follow the leader are games your 3 year old will play with you until you fall down.

From age 4 to 18 the recommended minimum is one hour a day. This is only a minimum, more is OK! As our kids start to get older, signing them up for soccer or dance class will not only help to keep them fit but also help them to build social skills.

The ages 13 to 18 are often the most challenging as it is at this age range that the active lifestyles of children turn into the sedentary pace of teens. We can reinforce whichever activity our kids show interest in by participating.  If it is a dance recital then make sure to attend. If baseball, then play catch with them in the back yard. Added bonus! Kids who exercise sleep better and are less stressed.

Set the right example!
If we eat well, our kids will also. If we exercise regularly then so will they.  It does not happen overnight.  Habits take time to form and the only way is to repeat the same activity over and over again.  Exercise together, limit screen time, take active vacations (hiking, swimming, etc). We can start now to take away an unfair hurdle from our kid's future prospects.

Disclaimer: I believe that the candidate's ability to do the job, not weight or appearance, should be how employers make hiring decisions. Unfortunately, the world does not always work that way.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

No choices for kids! They don't know enough to make the right decisions.

Our kids have too many choices.  They are confronted with critical decisions like, "What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?" and "Which shirt do you want to wear today?" on a daily basis.  As parents we comfort ourselves by saying that we are respecting our kid's wishes and showing them that we care about their opinions by asking them. Most of the time what is really happening is that we are passing on the hassle of having to make a decision to our kids.  A bit selfish actually and I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of this.  And why not?  It is easier making the kids choose rather than having to resort to bribes and threats when they refuse to eat whatever is put in front of them on the table.

Some child psychologists recommend an approach to raising young children that limits the choices parents give them.  In the morning at the breakfast table, rather than asking if they want Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms, we are supposed to say, "Here you go, Lucky Charms for breakfast today".  When the child reaches the appropriate level of maturity and no longer wants to eat Lucky Charms, the theory says that the child will say, "No, I want Fruit Loops!" at which time the parent says sure, here you go. This tells our child that we respect their wishes and allows them to exert their own control when they feel ready.  The added benefit to this approach is that the child tells us when they are mature enough to take on more responsibility.

Choices are generally viewed in our society as a good thing.  Isn't it great that we can "choose" to do anything we want in this life?  We can be anyone we want to be as long as we put our hearts into it.  But what if we choose the wrong path?  What if what we want to do now turns out to be horribly wrong a year from now! This fear of making the wrong choice can be paralyzing and is a leading cause of procrastination.  Even in every day situations when we sit down at our desk Monday morning.  What do we start working on first?  We have a 101 things to do but which one will lead to that promotion?  Which one will help close that sale?  The worry about choosing the wrong (less productive) task causes most of us to open up our email which is probably the least productive choice we could make.

So, even as adults we know we do not handle choices and decisions well.  Kids are no different and we need to provide a stable and secure environment for them to grow up so that they will be confident to take the risk of making a choice when they are ready.

Great, I am sure most parents would agree with and apply this practice to raising their 4 year olds.  What happens (inevitably) is that 4 year old turns 5 and then 6 and then before we know it they are 15 years old and we start to think to ourselves, "My son is 15 years old and it is high time he made a decision on his own." We assume that since our 15 year old child can pick out his or her own clothes in the morning before school that they can also decide on what their major should be in college and what their career should be after graduation.  The simple truth is that they cannot.  It is a truly rare 15 year old who knows enough about the world and careers to be able to pick from the myriad choices available in a college catalogue.  We (parents) need to be involved.

Let's use the breakfast cereal example again but this time with college/careers and a teenage daughter.  Sit down with her and say, "Janet, your mother and I have been discussing your future (it is important to show a united front) and we think that a degree in biology would be the right choice for you.  You have always been interested in nature and the outdoors and you did well in your AP Biology class this year."  If your daughter agrees then you are finished.  Either your choice for her hit the mark (which is possible) or she is not ready to make a choice for herself.  Of course, the other alternative is that your daughter says, "Dad, I  don't think I could stand biology, the site of blood makes me squeamish.  I did enjoy the math class I took this year though..."  Success!  She has indicated something of interest and we can now talk through her options with her.  She showed that she has an opinion and is mature enough to voice it. As with the cereal and a younger child, our goal is not to force them to eat what we tell them to eat.  By narrowing the choices (to one in this case) we are helping them to focus and together we can then discover a choice that makes sense.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

College Part 3.1 - Helping your child get admitted to the college of their dreams; GPA and SAT

Choosing a specific college is a decision that can be postponed for kids and parents until high school.  However, the groundwork for getting into college is something we can all start working on now.  There are many articles available online about admissions to specific schools like Harvard or Yale.  They will tell you what the admissions office looks for.  Here we will try to help plan on how to build that "application" from an early age.

Colleges can be divided roughly into 3 categories, 1) Less Selective (Open Admission), 2) Selective and 3) Highly Selective.  We will mainly focus on Selective and Highly Selective since admissions to a Less Selective school does not require as much planning.

In researching this article it soon became clear that Part 3 would need to be broken down into several separate articles given the number of points a college may consider for our kid's applications (this one is Part 3.1).  Below is a list to give you some idea of what admissions professionals will/might look at when evaluating your son or daughter.  This list may grow by the time I finish writing the other articles. 
  • Grades
  • SAT scores (alternatives) *
  • Sports
  • Student council
  • Clubs
  • Jobs
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Projects
  • Essay
  • Interview
  • Alumni in family (parents or siblings)
  • Donations
  • Special skills
  • Musical Instruments
  • Experiences
  • Disability
  • Minority
  • Advanced Placement Courses
  • Appearance
  • Facebook
  • Other...

The list above is not in any particular order however the top 2 (Grades and SAT scores) do actually mean the most.  College admissions (regardless of how selective they are or are not) will look at our kid's GPA and SAT scores first.  Without a minimum score in both categories the rest of the requirements above become meaningless.

Our kid's GPA for a non-selective school needs to be a minimum of 2.0 (a C).  At the more selective schools the minimum rises to 2.5 or 3.0 and at the highly selective schools it can be difficult to pass the initial screening without a 4.0 or very close to it.  All GPAs are not created equal though.  A 3.5 from a well known and prestigious high school will be better than a 3.8 from a school with a lower reputation.  Scoring high marks on classes that are considered college level will also add weight to a GPA.  Most high schools will offer AP or advanced placement classes to their students.  These courses are great for impressing admissions as they offer some indication as to how the students will do in real college level classes.  Therefore, getting a C in an advanced placement course can actually be a negative on a student's application even if it would translate into an A in a regular high school course.  If your kids are up to taking an AP course, make sure they know they need to get a good grade in it as well.

Grade trends are looked at carefully as well. A 4.0, 3.8, 3.5 and 3.2 in consecutive years of high school results in a respectable 3.6 GPA.  However, looking at the trend, this student is headed for a B average or lower in college if he or she continues to slide.  Admissions knows this and will select It is much better to finish strong with the higher grades at the end of high school.  As parents we should not wait until junior year of high school to start talking about college.  We should sit down with our kids the first day of high school and talk through the goals for the next 4 years (Be your kid's career coach). Let them know that grades will be important and that they will need to make an effort right up to the last day of senior year.

College admissions will not normally look at anything that happened (grades anyway) before high school.  So if your 10 year old son is consistently getting "Needs to work on" grades when it comes to essay writing it is not the end of the world or of your ambitions for him.  However, how to study and concentrate are both habits that can be developed.  It is not easy for our daughters to suddenly become master students at the age of 14 or 15 when for the last 8 years they have been slacking.  As parents, we need to focus on helping them to build these basic habits early on so that they can rely on them when needed.  Additionally, elementary school is where our kids will learn the underlying facts (2+2=4) and skills (writing, typing, etc) that will be the building blocks for all of their high school classes.  While the grades are not as important at this level, actually learning the material is critical.

The other necessary number for any college application is the SAT score.  The score can range from 0 to 800 for each of the 3 sections of the test (reading, writing and arithmetic).  The SAT is a standardized test which means that every kid will take the exact same test on the same day.  The College Board website which is the organization that manages the SAT testing, shows the percentile rankings for the actual test score.  For example, a perfect score on the test puts your son or daughter into the 99th percentile which means that he or she scored higher than 99% of all other test takers for that test.  Along with a good GPA this also guarantees that they will pass the first step of admissions screening.  Here are a few examples from well known schools and their SAT requirements:

92nd percentile
88th percentile
88th percentile
San Diego State 
36th percentile

Once in high school our kids can make the best use of their SAT preparation time taking practice tests.  But at 7 years old it might be a little early to force them through a full exam.  There are some basics though that will come in handy.

The Reading section tests for vocabulary (known and through context) and reading comprehension (reading between the lines).  For younger kids, this can best be approached through reading to and with them. When confronted with a new word, ask your son what he thinks it means.  The challenge of figuring it out from the context is part of the what the SAT tests and after learning the new word he will have one more in his repertoire.  Then, at the end of the book, ask what he thinks the author wanted to say.  Perhaps the author was trying to show that sharing is a good thing.  Whatever the answer, it is good practice for the kids to think beyond just the words on the page.

The Mathematics section is more fact driven and getting the basics down early on will help the most.  For the kids who still struggle with multiplication tables or long division, the more complex problems on the SAT will be challenge.  Since the test is timed, speed is an issue so running the occasional drill with your daughter and timing her on how fast she can finish 20 math problems is good practice.  Throw some word problems in as well since the SAT uses multi-step questions.  For high school students, an AP class in math will give them an edge. 

Writing was added in 2005 (I only had to take reading and math). At present, many colleges are not requiring this section of the test.  Most likely because they ask for an essay as part of the application anyway.  However, it does not hurt to cover some of the areas that the writing section claims to test on; word choice and grammar.  With younger kids, again, reading is a great and relatively painless way of helping them to improve.  Under the assumption that what you read to them is considered well written, they will pick up new words as well as a feel for sentence structure.  As they get a little older it is often recommended that kids take up journal writing.  A family vacation can be a good time to start. We had a family journal on a trip to Guam one year and each of us took a day to write something.  This approach made it less like homework for my son and we came home with a nice souvenir from the trip.

* In order to save myself the hassle of typing "SAT, ACT, and others" I use "SAT" to cover all accepted standardized tests of the same caliber.  While the SAT and ACT are ubiquitous in the United States, there are some other acceptable tests from other countries.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Be your kid's career coach... Now!

There is a consistent element in the background of all professional athletes. From a very young age, they had a coach helping them to develop.  For many kids, this coach was also their Dad or Mom (Tiger Woods being a good example).  A coach provides guidance, encouragement, discipline, training, and also acts as a role model for the kids as they strive to impress their mentor and improve. 

So, why aren't we providing the same support for our non-sport superstar kids when it comes to their careers?  Unfortunately, parents are led to believe that studying hard at school and getting good grades is all it takes to build a career. So as long as we make sure the kids get their homework finished we have done our job, right?  This may have been true in the past but these days getting through school is at best, the minimum requirement for a successful career.  From today, make a commitment to become your child's career coach.

There is no coaching without trust.  For our kids to open up to us and talk about their ideas and worries they have to feel safe.  They have to know that they will not be scolded, told they are stupid, belittled or ignored.  While chatting with a 5 year old about her plans for the future may seem premature, it is never too early to start building an environment of trust and security between you and your kids ( There is more on listening to our kids in the article: Listening to your kids will help them get a job).  The goal is to become a confidant for your son or daughter so that as they get older and need to start making decisions about their future they will feel comfortable coming to you for advice and coaching. 
"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."
- John Wooden - Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee as both Player and Coach
Trust will lead to communication.  As a coach, we need to be able to reflect our kid's ideas back to them so that they can examine them in a new light and make a decision about how to proceed rather than giving them the answer "we" think is right. Tim Coomber, an Executive Coach and Managing Partner with ChangeManagementJapan states that a successful coach is one who is able to maintain neutrality and work exclusively for the benefit and needs of the one being coached.  Jacinta Hin, a Life/Career Coach echoes this need for objectivity. "You don't bring your self into it, and certainly do not lead the client towards something just because you think it will be good for them."  The challenge, is applying this to a coaching relationship between a parent and a child. It is OK to dispense advise and knowledge but it has to be done without upsetting the balance of trust. We know so much more than our kids.  We have gone through it all and know all the answers and it is extremely hard not to turn from coach back into Dad or Mom and start dictating how things will be.  With younger kids we may offer more advice and share our knowledge but as they grow to high school age we will need to pull back and give them room to explore their own ideas.

For older kids (high school) a more systematic approach can be used to provide some structure to the discussions about careers and future.  Chris Lamatsch, an Executive Coach and President of Executive Coach Japan, designs custom programs over a set time period for each client focusing on practical areas such as research, informational interviews, resumes and networking to achieve a clear goal (getting a job).  Try laying out a timeline with your daughter at the beginning of her freshman year of high school.  What can she accomplish this year related to her future career?  Let her answer and create her own goals.  We are adding value by initiating and facilitating the process not by choosing her interests for her.  Tim Coomber often uses psychometric assessments to initiate the conversation with a client. There are a lot out there and they should be used to start the process not end it.  Tim suggests Hollands 6 Personalities or a personality profile, an early and well-known example of which is Myers Briggs but cautions that the use of such assessments may require experienced interpretation to be most effective.  It might be fun to take the assessment along with your son and compare results.  

Kids, unlike seasoned executives, are not signed up for this.  Given a choice they are likely to turn down an offer to be "coached" (Hint: Don't give them a choice!). Because of this difference, kids are not necessarily committed to making the effort needed.  If we do not coach our kids, someone else will fill that void.  It is likely to be their friends, or maybe the TV.  Even the school career counselor may have motives that do not align with your child's (some career counselors are judged by the level of the college the kids they counsel get into).

Jacinta states that coaching succeeds when, " the end of the day you want the client to make the right choices based on self knowledge and aligned with who they are and what they want; their strengths, personality, passion."  Isn't that what we want from our kids as well? 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why are we talking about careers with pre-schoolers and not high schoolers?

The same day I wrote the previous article, Kids who know what they want: a competitive advantage, my daughter brought this worksheet home from pre-school. At 3 years old she is being exposed to possible career choices in school.  Sitting together we chatted about what the people are doing in each picture and she quickly responded to the ones she remembered such as the baker, "He makes bread!"

This experience reminded me of a book I had when I was a kid and later purchased to read to my son, Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day.  This book shows people (well, not people actually, rather dogs and baboons and worms) going about their day in a variety of easy to understand jobs for kids. Richard Scarry's book is recommended for kids 4 to 8 years old.  So what happens when they get older?  Based on my own experience as a kid and seeing the education my son receives now, all discussions of possible careers end when our children start elementary school.

Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All DayThe focus in elementary school is on skills training (reading, writing, arithmetic) which is all well and good but there is a lack of discourse about real world applications (read jobs) that continues up through high school.  It is understandable actually considering the focus on grades and standards as our kids get closer and closer to college application age.  How do you justify spending valuable class time going over what a marketing manager for P&G does versus an actuarial for Hartford Life Insurance? Wouldn't it make more sense to take a practice SAT exam during that time?

For us as parents it gets harder as our kids get older as well.  Most of us can explain in a fair amount detail to our 3 year old daughters what a baker does.  The same is true for firemen, baseball players, mailmen and hopefully whatever Mommy or Daddy do for a living.  But, how many of us can talk with any conviction to a 16 year old about the day to day life of an investment banker?  Do you know what a supply chain management consultant does?  Once our kids are old enough to understand adult level explanations about jobs the shear number of possible careers becomes an obstacle to talking about any of them.  So we don't, figuring that our kids will work it out when they are in college (and out of our house). Let them get a good, well rounded education and it will all work out.  Laissez-faire may be a legitimate strategy in economics or politics but I think it is out of place when raising our kids.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Kids who know what they want: a competitive advantage

After writing part 1 of the series of articles on college: College Part 1 - Helping your child choose a degree, I received several comments both verbally and emailed saying it was unrealistic to expect a 16 or 17 year old to know what they want to do with the rest of their life.  I agree that it is unusual.  But that is the point isn't it?  We all believe our kids are unique and special and will be superstars.  Why settle for "usual".  When the recruiter is screening 50 kids for one open position, he is not likely to choose the 49 typical new grads who are still trying to figure out what they want to do.  He is going to choose the one who made a choice early and therefore shows his or her commitment to that job.

Nobody, not even our own amazing and talented kids can do everything and do it well.  As is often the case in sports, the 10 year old that spends all his time playing soccer is more likely to get onto the high school soccer team (and therefore college, and maybe even pro) than the other kids who are splitting their days up with other sports and activities.  The same goes for academic and career choices.  It is worth the effort for both our kids and for us to start earlier with decisions on the future.

I clearly remember a friend of mine in college telling me freshman year that he was going to get his degree in English Literature, go to law school, get a job in the local personal injury firm in his hometown and eventually buy out the owner.  He is now running the firm just like he said he would.  For me, it was "something in business... maybe".  I am happy with where I ended up but it took a lot longer for me to get here.

Keeping one's options open is not always a good thing.  According to Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational, The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions humans are wired to keep their options open even when it is not such a great idea to do so.  As parents, we need to stop saying to our kids that they have lots of time to decide and we should start encouraging them to explore their options now.  Freshman year in high school is probably a good place to start.  4 years is enough time to come up with some idea about the future.  This forward thinking and goal setting is a valuable habit to get into.

One candidate I met obviously did not have this habit. He was 38 with a background in sales and very presentable however he fumbled when I asked him what his career goals were for 10 years from now.  His answer was that he "guesses" he will be doing sales in a similar company and industry.  This was not a goal, this was a prediction based on inertia and a lack of thought.  The thing is, he was probably right!  10 years from now he will be doing the same thing he is doing now.  A dead end job with a company going nowhere selling a dying product and making no money.

The hard part for our kids is that they don't know what jobs are possible.  We parents, with out infinite wisdom and experience can step in here to fill in these pesky gaps of knowledge.  Imagine talking about one different career choice per night at dinner for one month.  By the end of the month you will have shared 30 different career options with your son or daughter.  Kids will remember the ones that interested them and will come back asking for more information. Try to answer as much as you can yourself and when you run out of information, look to your friends for help.

The Internet is also an endless source of details on jobs.  There are countless free online tests our kids can take to point them towards certain careers.  Here is one I just took at  It says I should be a Scientist...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Headhunter Dad's Dad

I never doubted that my Father loved me.  I remember walking with him in the woods of upstate New York when I was 4 years old.  The snow was coming down and we came upon a bird feeder with cardinals and chickadees gorging on sunflower seeds.  My Father took me closer with his hand on my shoulder whispering to me to take small slow steps so as not to scare them away.  He reached down and scooped some of the fallen seeds into my mittened hand and told me to reach it out slowly toward the birds.  I was trembling with anticipation as I waited.  It took no more than 5 seconds (it felt like 2 hours to a 4 year old) for one of the chickadees to land on my outstretched hand and start pecking away at the seeds.  I can still see that tiny bird perched on my maroon, knit mittens but more so I can feel my Father's hand on my shoulder, warm with calm and love and pride.

Later in life, as I started off on the various adventures one confronts (like heading off to college or taking a chance and moving to a foreign country), I always knew that I had someplace safe I could return to if things did not work out.  I knew without any doubt that my Father would be there for me if I asked for help.  That feeling of security was like having a net under you when you swing out on the trapeze.  If you are going to make it to the other side you need to let go and stretch for the other bar.  Letting go and taking that risk was easier because of him.

As a father in my own right now I find myself acting in ways I remember him acting when I was a kid.  I try to set an example for my children by working hard and showing them that anything worth having is likely to require some effort.  My Father taught me that it is not necessary to be the biggest or the smartest or the fastest to succeed.  If I work harder than anyone else, I can be just as good.

Growing up I never recognized the challenges my Father (any father) faced: bills to pay, kids to educate, compromises. I admit to thinking at times that it was my parent's choice to have me, I didn't ask to be born!  It was his decision so now he should deal with the consequences.  Now that I am facing the same issues I see my Father in a different light.  I recognize the times when he must have had to make difficult decisions or suppress his own desires for the sake of our family.

The part we play as parents and the effort we put into raising and loving our kids will stay with them their whole lives and affect every major decision they make.  My Father gave me the strength to take risks and taught me the meaning of dedication. I can only hope that my own children will be as lucky.

Happy Father's Day Dad, thank you for everything. You are the best.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

College Part 2 - Helping your child choose the right college

In the previous article on choosing a degree, I stated a premise.  This is an important point to keep in mind so I am going to repeat it here:

The ONLY reason to pay for college is to get a better job.

I began with the article on choosing a degree because not all kids need to go to college.  If your daughter wants to be a photographer, she will get more experience working for a a pro than she will studying about theory and a degree is not a requirement for the job.  On the other hand, if she wants to be a lawyer, well, there are specific requirements for that one.  Before picking a school, our children should have job in mind and an understanding of how the next 4 years at school will improve their chances of getting that job.

There is a fair amount of debate over whether it matters which school you graduate from and how it affects the quality of your life.  Some will claim that it is absolutely essential that your child get into and graduate from the best school he or she can.  Others will say that it is the student not the school.  This article is meant to advise parents on how to help their children choose the right school for their career goals.

Since we began with choosing a degree, we can take the next step directly from there and narrow the list of possible colleges to the ones that offer that particular degree.  If the degree is pretty standard like accounting then it will be difficult to find a school that does NOT offer it.  However, remember that specific is better and for some programs there may be limited options.

Next we should eliminate all the schools that are out of budget.  This can be a complicated exercise as you and your child evaluate the possibilities of student aid or scholarships, many of which are school specific.

I recommend that our children try to go to school where they want to work.  The professors will have local connections and there will be a history of hiring from the school by businesses in the area.  After 4 years in cloudy, overcast Syracuse, NY I had no wish to spend any more time there than absolutely necessary.  Unfortunately, the majority of the companies that came to the school career fairs were all from the immediate area.  Returning to NYC was challenging where I was then competing with local graduates from NYU, Columbia, etc.  If your child says something like this: "But Daddy, I don't know where I want to work yet."  Then she does not go to college until she figures it out.  This is not a small investment and asking our children to give it some serious thought is a reasonable request.

In general, a big school is better than a small school.  Everyone is affected by brands, even employers and there is better name recognition from a big school.  With a larger student and alumni population, the chances of your son's interviewer being from the same college or fraternity also increase.  A friend was recently invited to lunch at the Princeton Club in NY.  This is an exclusive members only organization for alumni of Princeton University.  There are meeting rooms, restaurants, fitness equipment and even hotel rooms available for members.  Just graduating from this one school gives your child a ticket to shmooze with the other senior alums and established business people who frequent the club.  Compare this to the small college in upstate NY which I graduated from.  The alumni are mainly US based with the majority staying in the northeastern US.  A search of the alumni directory for those alums in Japan brings a grand total of 4.

Finally, with a list of schools that offer the appropriate degree, are in your budget, are big and in the right locale, you can look at the school rankings.  For example, US News and World Report has rankings based on the degree.  The University of Texas in Austin is #1 for accounting.

The cost of college continues to increase.  When my son heads off to school in 2019 I will need $174,000 to see him through graduation (based on the World's Simplest College Cost Calculator).  We parents must take an active role in this choice and not only by controlling the checkbook.  It is unfair to our 17 year old child to ask them to figure it out for themselves and expect them to know what the future will hold for them based on their choice.  We have seen a lot more of this world than they have and they deserve the benefit of our wisdom, even if they don't always appreciate it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

College Part 1 - Helping your child choose a degree

This article will be the first of 3 (at least!) regarding choices our kids will face about college.  Part 1 is about how to choose a degree, Part 2 about how to choose a college and Part 3 about what we can do to ensure that our kids get into the school of their dreams (admissions).

Much of what you will read in the following paragraphs and articles will be based on the this premise:

The ONLY reason to pay for college is in order to get a better job.

Therefore, the degree our sons and daughters choose to major in for 2 to 4 (5?) years should be one that is well thought out and has a practical application once they graduate.  These days our children have an almost infinite number of degrees to choose from when they head off to college.  Some degrees are more valuable than others though.  Business is as excellent example.  When an employer interviews a new graduate for an open position in their company, if the role is not specifically for one department (marketing, accounting, etc) then the type of business degree becomes less important (often it does not even have to be a business degree). Most degrees will be considered equal for screening purposes in that case.  The prestige of the school, the GPA, extracurricular activities and internships will play a larger role in the process. Let's take that same application now for the same company but this time they need someone specifically for the marketing department.  Now, all the kids who majored in Marketing will have a slight edge in the process.  At the same time, the Marketing majors will also be able to apply for the first job which was not specific.  What if your daughter majors in Business Administration though and wants to apply for the marketing department job?  She will be at a disadvantage.

Here is another premise to apply to our children's college degree choices: The more specific the better.

As in the business example described above, a more specific degree will offer a better chance of passing screening for twice as many jobs as the general alternative.  Rather then Business Administration, go for Accounting,  rather than Biology choose Molecular Biology, rather than Physics choose Nuclear Physics.  Specifics are good but which degree is best?  To answer this refer to premise number 1.  Which job is the goal of the degree.  Don't let your children tell you that they want to "leave their options open" and therefore do not need to choose a major yet.  It is OK to change their minds, grownups change their careers all the time, but all freshman should start with a plan.  My plan was get a liberal arts degree and then wait for the offers to start pouring in.

When I was applying for colleges there seemed to be a different article in the newspaper every day saying that employers were frustrated because they could not find staff with good, basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic.  This was like inside information to me at age 17 and with my parent's well intentioned, yet incomplete guidance I narrowed my applications to those colleges with strong liberal arts programs.  What the articles and my parents and anyone else who I spoke to at that time failed to explain (or perhaps they did not know) was that while employers were certainly frustrated with the lack of basic skills in the marketplace, that was not the whole story.  Employers did not just want someone who could write a grammatically correct report, they wanted an accountant who could write a report or a computer programmer who could write a report.  The basic skills provided for by a liberal arts education are not enough on their own.  An employer who needs an accountant when given a choice between an excellent liberal arts graduate with no accounting experience and an accounting major with bad syntax, will choose the bad syntax 10 out of 10 times.

Just because an area of study is interesting to your son, does not necessarily mean it is a good choice for his career.  Kids don't know enough about the world to make these decisions independently.  As parents we should take an active role in their careers.  When your enthusiastic offspring comes home with the college application forms for the Omaha School of Medieval Weaponry,  sit down with him and ask him if he knows what job he will get after graduation.  Agree to support him if he can find 3 people who graduated from the same degree and are now working in the job he expects to get. This is a great exercise and has a number of positive benefits.  First, chances are most 17 year old kids will not exert much effort finding someone who has done what they are trying to do.  It is a test of their enthusiasm to see if they actually follow through and look for proof of concept for their choice of degree.  Second, if he does look and your son cannot find anyone who is gainfully employed he may give up on this particular hobby job (there is a good article about hobby jobs here called the Danger of the Dream Job Delusion) and find something more practical.  Third, if he does find someone he can then follow up and learn what it took for that person to be successful.  Perhaps it was the degree in Medieval Weaponry followed by a PhD and three books on the subject before his mentor could move out of his parent's house.

To help our children with this choice, start with the jobs.  There is a list of 8 jobs that are still likely to be hot 20 years from now in my article Why do kids all want to be baseball players and astronauts.  Which degrees would be best to get into those jobs?  In an article in the New Yorker, Louis Menand (Harvard Professor) pointed out that, "As work becomes more high-tech, employers demand more people with specialized training." Technical degrees will be more in demand as our universities continue to pump out liberal arts grads in increasing numbers.

You will find that often the degree matters, not the courses.  This is another interesting anomaly about college.  Just like college grades matter and graduate grades do not. For undergraduates (and graduates also) the courses one takes are not important to a hiring decision.  The only exception to this rule is the thesis.  If your child is applying for a job as a junior equity analyst in a securities firm then it is great if their senior thesis was an in depth study on stock prices and how to predict them.

Here are some questions to start the conversation about degrees with your child.  Remember, it is OK to help.  Kids do not need to make the same mistakes we made in order to learn.

  1. What job are you going to apply for when you graduate?
  2. Is this the best degree for that job?
  3. Do you know anyone who has a job like that now?  
  4. What was their degree and which college did they go to?
  5. Is there a more specific degree you can apply to that will give you more options?

It is interesting to note that the degree you choose becomes less and less important the further you advance in your career.  When your daughter is contacted by a recruiter to become the next head of GE they will not care whether she graduated with a history degree or molecular biology.  They will also not care what her GPA was at that point.  The fact that she graduated from Harvard however might tip the scales in her favor if she is competing against another candidate for the job from a lesser known school, assuming all other aspects of the two careers are similar. More on choosing a college in Part 2.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Guest Interview - New Grad Recruiter for a global telecommunications company

As I have pointed out in previous articles, it is OK to ask for help.  I am no exception and have unashamedly taken advantage of the good nature and generosity of my friends for insights into new grad hiring and raising awesome (marketable) kids.

The transcript below is from an interview I had with Janet (name changed to protect her innocence) who has worked on new graduate recruiting for a large telecommunications company.  She asked that her name and the name of her company be withheld as the information below could be used by applicants to cheat the system.

Headhunter Dad: Janet, thanks for coming in. I am going to jump right into the questions if it is OK with you? How long were you involved with new grad recruiting?

Janet: I worked on recruiting for several years but was particularly focused on new graduates for about 1 year.

Headhunter Dad: Were you recruiting for specific entry level positions?

Janet: Not really, we were looking for 12 to 15 hires and started with about 140 applicants. The departments were all expected to take a couple of them. It was not pre-decided which departments would get a grad. There was a plan for rotation so to some extent it did not matter where they started. We did not know how they would turn out so it was better to keep an open mind about it. The only real distinction was whether to point them towards front or back office.

Headhunter Dad: Did you screen the candidates differently depending on the position?

Janet: Yes, but only for front vs back office.

Headhunter Dad: What were the criteria?  Did the school or grades matter?

Janet: Yes, grades did matter.  We asked for a transcript at the time of application, and then again upon graduation. Generally we were not necessarily looking for straight As but not much less than B-. If things got really tight between a couple candidates from the same school, we may compare grades. The school does matter. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the academic system does do an initial filter of intelligence/ability to compete.

Headhunter Dad: What other criteria were there?

Janet: We used a personality test to filter in the beginning. The test screened for competitive drive. Candidates were declined if they scored as too accepting or shy or had no analytical skill. Too conforming was a negative as well. Although, it is important to distinguish between conforming and teaming. Teamwork was definitely a positive. We assigned candidates to the front or back based on their perceived personality.  Typically introverts for the back office and extroverts for the front. Extroverts should be inquisitive and good at building relationships. Back office people should have good analytical skills. Good teamwork was important for both.  Candidates needed to be able to show that they were tolerant, worked well with others and have clear opinions. After the personality test the candidates who passed went to the English test. This was outsourced and mainly focused on speaking. The last step was face to face with the executives. Usually 2 executives would meet one candidate and afterwards the candidate would move to another room to meet 2 more. Each candidate would meet a total of about 6 executives for 20 minutes each. The final decision was based on a vote. Executives were supposed to consider what the company needs to grow in the future and look for a match in the candidates. We wanted generalists, people with basic skills we could train. If one executive REALLY did not like a candidate he was declined, even if the others liked him. This was because of the rotation system. That candidate would have eventually rotated into that executive’s group.

At one point, we put all of the candidates that would receive an offer in a room to mingle and interact with each other and a few of the executives. This helped to identify where they should start.  Candidates who initiated conversations were more likely to be assigned the front office for example.

Headhunter Dad: What did you look for in the resume?

Janet: To be honest, they all looked the same. Although there was a preference for anyone with an engineering background. Hobbies were something that helped to set them apart if the hobby was interesting.

Headhunter Dad: What did you look for in a face to face interview?

Janet: Kids are all too nervous so we spend a lot of time calming them down before we can really get to know them. Even if the English was bad, it was positive to see someone try hard and keep at it throughout the interview.  Smiles were great, if not faked. Too confident, "Nothing to learn" is not good.  It is OK to make mistakes, learn from them. Self-awareness is also important. Finding a good fit helps them to grow. Being able to answer questions like the ones below show self-awareness:
·      What am I good at?
·      What am I bad at?
·      What interests me?

Headhunter Dad: What questions do you ask in an interview?

Janet: We asked:
·      What is the toughest thing you ever had to do?
·      When have you shown leadership?
·      What do you think of China (for example)? This one to check or tolerance.
·      Why are you interested in us?
·      We talked about the business to see how well they can follow along and make connections to check their analytical skill.
·      What are you looking for?
·      What is the biggest problem you faced and how did you solve it?
·      What drives you? - Bad answers would be money or travel, good answers might talk about family or things the candidate was proud of. A part time job is always nice to hear about.

Headhunter Dad: Do you have kids?

Janet: Yes, one boy in grade 6

Headhunter Dad: What are you doing now to help him prepare for that resume or interview?

Janet: He is signed up for karate and has been doing it with his father since 1st grade. This has really helped to build his self confidence. Candidates need to be able to sit in the interview and explain themselves without help. This is hard to do if they are not grounded well. The karate helps to give him something. No matter how hard the interview is, he is still going to be good at Karate.

A job is not the end all of life it is just one thing, important but only one part of life.

Headhunter Dad: Appearance is obviously important but what do you look for? What turns you off?

Janet: Appearance is more important for front office. Candidates should carry whatever they look like with confidence. You cannot change your height, even though tall is generally better. It would be refreshing to have a candidate confident enough to acknowledge their height/weight. "Am I the biggest candidate you are interviewing?" might be an amusing comment coming from a heavy kid and would show some comfort with their appearance and confidence.

Headhunter Dad: Which job should a young person choose?

Janet: The one where they will learn the most.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Take away the Gameboy/DS/PSP/iPhone and help your kids ace their interview

My son is lost to the outside world once he starts playing video games.  His mother may have to call him 3 or 4 times before the sound of her voice punches through the haze of virtual reality where he is energetically scaling digital walls or racing down silicon highways in his purple and yellow Ferrari.

I should make something clear before continuing with this article.  I like video games.  I think they are a fun and entertaining past time and depending on the game they may actually provide some benefits to our kids.  But, only in moderation and more importantly, when they are played.  We have a one hour screen time rule in our house (for the kids anyway) and while my wife and I are guilty of being indulgent parents occasionally we do our best to limit the amount of time our kids spend in front of the TV, handheld games and computer.

To some extent though, the bigger issue is when the games are played.  I prefer the one hour our children are allotted to be used at home, after the homework is finished and when my wife or I are around.  This gives us more control over what is played or watched and even allows us to interact with our kids while they play (even if we have to talk louder to drown out the game noises).

One of our goals as parents is to raise our kids to be socially adept.  Along with the pleasure this skill will give to our kids and the people they interact with throughout their lives, it is also critical in their job search.  Time and again I see employers make hiring decisions on what they refer to as "chemistry" rather than the hard details of a resume.  Chemistry, in case you were wondering, is hiring manager code for "I just liked him better".

In order to help our kids develop this important skill set, I have become decidedly less enthusiastic about anything with a screen attached once we leave the house.  If we head out as a family for dinner or a trip to Costco it becomes a valuable opportunity to interact with our kids and to set an example of proper behavior in public.  If my son is playing his game for the entire car ride then he will not hear a word my wife and I say nor will he join the conversation.  The car is one of the few places these days where he cannot get away from us and as such it is a good spot to talk with him.

Restaurants are a fantastic location to work on manners, small talk, patience and of course, which fork to use and when.  Allowing our kids to break out their Nintendo's as soon as they sit down eliminates any chance of small talk and does not force them to practice their patience.  I know the temptation.  You and your spouse would love to have a moment to chat about adult things without the interruptions (dragging the kids out from under the table) and whining about being hungry so you relent and gain some peace until the food arrives.  I get it!  We are not perfect either but we can try not to give in as often.  Every positive experience is another brick in the foundation of our children's future career.

If (and hopefully when) you try to cut back on the external gaming you will find that it helps to be prepared to entertain.  With the younger kids and occasionally with the older ones, I Spy is a simple and also play anywhere game that can help to take their young minds off of their growling stomachs.  There are many other games that would work but just talking and more importantly, listening to your kids is the best.  Be patient in order to get past the initial whining and you will be surprised at the conversations that develop.

Once your kids get comfortable with leaving the games at home, maybe Mom and Dad will leave their iPhones behind as well.  Wouldn't that be something!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Watching the news with your kids builds vocabulary, presentation skills and expands their world view

Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month our kids were inundated with images of the disaster on a daily (hourly!) basis as my wife and I followed the rescue efforts and meltdown of the nuclear power plant on the TV news.  It did not help that schools were closed and the kids were home all day. In retrospect, we should have had the discipline to turn the TV off as we would have been able to catch up on any important issues in the evening when they had gone to bed.  We did however make sure to talk with them about what was happening.  The conversations I  had with my 10 year old son about what was going on were surprisingly mature and made me realize that there was also a positive side to exposing him to what was going on in the world.

Expanding our children's vocabulary is an excellent reason to watch the news with them.  When writing a resume or participating in an interview, it is always better to know a few extra words, their meanings and usage.  While you are watching, let your kids know that they can ask you about words they do not understand.  Watching the news with your kids does not mean just sitting there with them.  If they ask you in the middle of a report what the word "expedite" means, don't tell them to shush and wait, explain it to them when they ask (look it up if you need to).  If you want to watch the news in peace then do it when the kids are not around.  In order to get the benefits of watching the news without the negatives it is critical that it be an interactive process between the kids and parents.  Along with vocabulary, the speaking skills (enunciation, pronunciation, inflection) of the newscasters are very good examples for children to copy.

Children can pick up presentation skills from watching the sharp dressing, smooth talking  newscasters. They typically dress conservatively and well, they have good posture when sitting or standing and even occasionally smile.  These are all attributes that a child may emulate after watching and will help them to make a better impression in a job interview.

An expanded view and understanding of the world will come naturally if you watch more than just the local news with your son or daughter.  We keep a globe in our living room and whenever a country is mentioned, the kids can look for it on the globe to find out where it is in relation to us.  The globe is an electronic one from LeapFrog so they can also hear music and other trivia about the country once the find it. Often searching for the country on the globe leads to a more active discussion of the related news topic.  If we treat our kids with respect during the conversation by listening to their thoughts and replying seriously to even silly or obvious questions our children will feel more confident about discussing their thoughts and opinions with others.  An important skill in an interview and life.

Make sure that your kids understand that what they are watching on TV is not going to happen to them and that they are safe.  Images of war and disasters can be scary and although it may be happening half way around the world, it will seem a lot closer to a 9 year old.

Point out the heroes.  Many shows focus on the criminal or the disaster or the terrorist.  Point out the police officer or the fireman on the screen (even if they are only standing in the background) and explain how they are helping to make the world a safer place.

Every child is different and matures at a different speed than their peers. Each parent should make their own decision about when to start watching with their kids and how much is acceptable.  I would recommend against allowing younger children to watch by themselves. The news on TV is almost always sensationalist and if left to watch on their own, kids can develop an image of the world as violent and disaster prone.  Watching the same content and discussing it with your kids afterwards will result in a more balanced understanding of what they are seeing and of the world around them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Teach your kids to type properly, it is not just for secretaries

I learned to type in college.  It was not required and I taught myself while struggling through term papers.  I did not teach myself the proper method though.  I only use my right thumb for the space bar and when I type a capital letter it is almost always with my right little finger on the shift key, even if the capital is also on the right side of the keyboard.  When I need to type the numbers and symbols at the top I revert to hunt and peck.  Even so, on a simple internet typing test website I was scored at 49 words per minute.  Respectable, but I often wonder how fast I would be if I could type properly.  And more importantly, would I be more productive?

A typical term paper at your daughter's college is about 10 pages and there are 250 words per page.  Typing using the hunt and peck approach averages about 10 words per minute which means that just typing the paper will take about 4 hours (not counting the research).  With a little practice, even a beginner can bang out 30 words per minute using the right fingers and placement on the keyboard. At that speed, the paper will be finished in under 1 and 1/2 hours giving your daughter an additional 2 and 1/2 hours her hunt and peck peers do not have.  That extra time can then be used for additional research to make the paper better, to move on to another project for a different class or study for an upcoming exam.

In most colleges, a student will take 5 classes each semester.  Our kids will probably have to write one paper for each class (some may not require one while others may ask for two) that gives our kids an additional 25 hours per year and 100 hours over the course of their college life (if they graduate in 4 years!).

The above calculations only take into account college.  These days papers are required to be typed for high school and even elementary school for some projects.  At my son's school, a laptop is now required for all high school students.  I would imagine that typing is going to be more common than writing by hand for our kids.

Now, your son has successfully navigated his way through college and is preparing to apply for the job of his dreams.  Along with his excellent GPA, school activities, internships and sports, he also puts down that he types 80 words per minute.  New grads often get the grunt work in an office.  A hiring manager may be happy to see that your son can produce documents at that speed.  Is it required?  Probably not but this is a competitive world and chances are all the other applicants will have an excellent GPA, activities, internships and sports just like your son.  Every little bit helps to make him stand out.

There are jobs that will require typing and like learning a second language, some skill at typing can open doors for our kids.  Here are a few jobs where typing would be a big plus:

  • Court Reporter
  • Secretary
  • Programmer
  • Journalist
  • Paralegal
  • Editor
  • Date Entry

There are many free websites available to practice and learn typing.  My son is using one called Custom Typing and seems to enjoy it.  There are also typing games online which are free and fun.

In today's developed world there are few kids who will grow up without touching a keyboard as Facebook and other sites vie for their attention.  It is important to help them to learn the efficiencies of proper typing form.  It is a basic skill and will be valuable to them long term.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A thick skin and a backbone are learned, not something our kids are born with

At a school event over the weekend I was sitting near one of the other Fathers as his son came up to him crying and holding his arm.  I overheard the following conversation:
Dad: What happened?  Why are you crying?
Tommy: Billy bumped me and knocked me down!
Dad: Why did he do that?
Tommy:  I don't know!  He just did it.
Dad: Well, why don't you ask him why and tell him not to bump you?
Tommy: .....
This is similar to exchanges that I have had with my own son which is probably why it stuck with me.  The boy in this instance (and my son or daughter when it happened to them) were probably confronting the following emotions:
  1. Surprise at being suddenly knocked down.
  2. Embarrassment about being knocked down in front of other kids.
  3. Confusion, "Does that boy or girl hate me?"
  4. Pain (although probably the least of the problems)
  5. Fear, "I don't want to be hurt again!"
  6. Guilt, "Was it something I did?"
All of the above are normal reactions for growing kids.  Emotions run rampant in our kids and to a certain extent it is biological and not just youth or lack of maturity.  Babies are building connections in their brains at an incredible rate.  It is only around age 11 that their brains begin to organize and eliminate connections they do not need.  What this means is that our kids are dealing with a whole lot more inside their heads than we might imagine as a parent.  A 3 years old for example, has twice as many connections as an adult.  So, when Billy knocks down Tommy, Tommy's brain (which is already super active) goes into overdrive and the tears flow.  In steps Mom or Dad with the handkerchief.

For the example above, our kids need to learn two key skills to handle this situation.  But, as with every article on this site, the skills will also be useful in a job interview and for their working future.

Many employers like to demonstrate their power over job seeking candidates.  This is not limited to young new grads but to any candidate who has ever had to submit to the potential humiliation of a job interview.  Hat in hand, our kids come begging for approval and the offer of a job.  At least that is how the employers often think of it.  The stress interview is one of the ways for employers to show their power.  Granted, it can also be a tool to judge a candidate's suitability for certain tasks that might come up in the job.  If your daughter is applying for a sales position then she is likely to face a rude or angry customer at some point in the future.  The employer will want to know if she can handle that kind of situation.

The first line of defense for our kids is to develop a "Thick skin".  When Billy bumps Tommy it is not because he does not like you, it was probably just an accident.  If it was on purpose, then it is Billy's problem, not because of something Tommy did.  Even though it happened in front of other kids, they all probably forgot about it 10 seconds after it happened.  Help our kids to see that everything that happens to them is not necessarily a personal attack.  Similarly, at the job interview when the interviewer pauses and looks at your son our daughter and says, "You went to a small college and frankly I don't think you can cut it in this job." Our kids will be able to take it in stride, using what they learned on the playground.

Learning how to take an attack is only the first step though.  Employers want to see that young candidates can stand up for themselves and show some backbone.  This has become more important in recent years as companies have been destroyed by a few bad eggs who acted unethically along with the many other employees who turned a blind eye to what was happening.  For Tommy, it is important for him to get up, brush himself off, turn to Billy and ask him why he bumped him.  Chances are Billy did not even know he bumped Tommy and will mutter a "sorry" and they  will both go back to playing. 14 years later, in response to the interviewer's comment in the above paragraph, if Tommy can respond as below then he will pass the stress test with flying colors.
"My school was small but it gave me the opportunity to build strong relationships with the professors as there were fewer students in each class as compared to a larger school.  I feel I gained a lot from that experience.  Additionally, while I know that I have limited experience, I am passionate about this role and determined to succeed here.  I want this job."