Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why do kids all want to be baseball players and astronauts?

Kids have a limited view of the world of work.  I certainly was not dreaming about becoming a headhunter when I was 6 (I think I wanted to be a cowboy, more specifically the Lone Ranger) although I now love my job and cannot imagine doing anything else.  I doubt any kid at that early age has a clue about what their choices might be for a career.  

My son at age 4 came to me with this little titbit that should warm the hearts of all ambitious parents out there. "Daddy, when I grow up I want to be the guy who puts the cans in the vending machine, that looks like fun! Or maybe the guy who delivers packages because he can ride on the cart when it is empty!"  This article was born out of my desire to give my son a few more options to consider.

As you can see from the examples above, our kids are thinking about jobs in terms of what they know and see everyday (cowboys, spaceships, vending machines, etc.).  The scary thing though is that many of them will not have any better ideas when they are 18 than they do now at 8.  We can start helping them now to develop a broader knowledge of what jobs people do so that they struggle less at graduation from college and because they know what they want, present themselves with more confidence and enthusiasm in interviews.

The easiest thing to do is talk with your kids.  While watching the baseball game talk about the other jobs you see people doing on the screen (cameraman, umpire, guy selling peanuts...). For a more hands on approach, take the kids on field trips that give them a chance to see what people do.  While a trip to the zoo is still a great way to spend time with our kids, I think you will find that kids love spending time with us no matter where we go, at least when they are younger anyway.

Here are some suggestions for jobs that are likely to be available 10 to 20 years from now.  I have also included some suggestions on why they might be considered "fun" for an 8 years old.  Pick one that you think might suit your son's or daughter's temperament and interests and tell them about it.

  1. Nurses - Always needed and demand is growing all over the developed world due to aging populations. As a Nurse there are opportunities to work all over the world, you get to take care of people and help them to feel better.  You may even save someone's life!
  2. Accountants - As with Nurses, Accountants are always in demand.  If your child is interested in business and money then accounting is the cornerstone to a good career.  If they like numbers you can lay out coins and count up how much money.  Any business related interest can be swung back towards accounting.  I personally recommend this choice as a college major over almost any other business choice in college (economics, business administration).
  3. Elementary School Teachers - Teachers are overworked and the future will show an increase in the need for specialists as graduates are trending away from teaching in general.  Teachers focused on math, science or bilingual education will be good options.  This one is a little easier to explain to your kids since they already know what a teacher is and may very well even look up to their own 4th grade teacher!
  4. Computer Software Engineers - In demand now, tomorrow, forever?  This is also easy, just tell your kids that they can design video games!
  5. Carpenters - Difficult to outsource this one and predictions are that it will continue to be a stable job in the future.  Why would it be fun? You get to work outside and you get to hammer things!
  6. Logistics - The world is getting smaller and people in Sri Lanka want all the same things that people in Norway have.  Shipping all these things around the world is big business.  How to make it sound appealing to our kids? Big boats, trains, airplanes, trucks, spaceships(?)... that should do it.
  7. Mental Health Therapists - I had not expected to find this career in my research but as the world gets more crowded I guess we will all need some help getting along.  Similar to the Nurse role, this is a job that allows our kids to help people.  They can also work from home with their own practice.
  8. Physical Therapists - The growth area for this career is more towards the elderly but at age 8 I think it is OK to talk about the connections with professional sports.  Mentioning that the Therapists get to go to all the games for free and hang out in the locker room is a good approach.

Keep in mind that choosing any of the above careers does not place a limit on how high our kids can go.  Bill Gates would most likely be categorized as starting out as a Computer Software Engineer, Accountants can go on to become CFOs of major companies and Nurses can continue on with medical school to become Doctors later in life.

Feel free to get creative.  My son is nuts about soccer but I doubt that he will have enough practice time over the next several years to launch him into the professional leagues.  But, I can sit down with him now and talk about all the jobs that are related to soccer.  Besides all the usual functions that any big corporation will have (marketing, accounting, sales, legal) there are a variety of positions that are more uniquely connected to sports and teams like interpreter for that foreign player, physical therapist (as mentioned above), assistant coach, sports writer (blogger?!), sponsor management, etc.

What this means is that my son does not have to give up his soccer ambitions when he is 8 or 9.  There is plenty of time for the cold bucket of reality to get dumped on his head and when my son does realize that playing for Real Madrid may not be the most likely of futures he will have alternatives in mind to choose from.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Start kids early with sports

When I review a resume and come across something about sports it often peeks my interest in that candidate.  Additionally, I find it more appealing to read that the candidate's team (whatever the sport) won the divisional championship rather than reading about how the candidate was MVP three years in a row.  The first achievement is truly a team or organizational success that obviously required that the candidate cooperate with more than one person.  This kind of teamwork is something that every company will be looking for in a new graduate. The latter, while impressive, tells me nothing about his or her ability to work well with the team.  A classic baseball example is the batter who swings for the fences to improve his batting average or home run numbers (even though the odds are he will get an out) rather than taking a few pitches for a walk which might have a higher probability of contributing to a win.

In sports like football, soccer and hockey to name a few, our kids will need to learn plays, follow instructions and execute precisely.  As viewed by a potential employer, these are the attributes of a dream employee.  One who listens, learns and does his or hear job correctly!

It is best if the sport on the resume is at the college level.  A high school athlete with nothing in college may be perceived as someone who peaked early in life and is now declining or has lost their drive.  The famous example being Al Bundy from the Married With Children sitcom.  Al was the high school football star and was never quite able to achieve anything afterwards.  In order to get to the college level in a sport though, our kids will need to start young and at some point should probably narrow their interests to one or two sports they can focus on.  Not all of our kids will grow up to be like Bo Jackson with a pro career in the NFL and Major League baseball.

This article began with a focus on team sports but as it developed, more and more of the benefits of any physical sport for our kids became clear.

Team sports can help to build confidence through a sense of belonging but any sport can be a fun activity that we as parents can do with our kids.  Each time we have a chance to interact positively with our children it will help them to feel more loved and therefore more secure and willing to take the necessary risks they will all face in life.  By playing a sport (or doing anything for that matter) over a reasonably long period of time, our kids will see the results of hard work.  The fast ball they could not even touch with the bat a year ago is now a line drive over the pitcher's head.  The knowledge that if my daughter puts the time and effort into something she can succeed is an invaluable lesson.

Physical fitness is a huge benefit of playing a sport regularly and one that parents of kids in many developed countries need to think about.  With the size of portions consumed by our kids and the amount of sugar in almost anything they drink, it should be mandatory for them to get out and run every day.  On top of the obvious health benefits, employers generally like good looking, fit applicants.  Rightly or wrongly, most will assume that if my child is out of shape then he or she lacks discipline.  Individual sports like tennis or golf in particular can indicate discipline and a self-starter attitude.  When your son is out there on the tennis court facing down a killer serve, he is all alone and needs to find his own motivation.

Running, especially distance running, has a definite appeal in business.  A friend working at a well known chain of restaurants told me a story about how his CEO became a marathoner later in life.  Since then the CEO has often compared running a marathon to running a business.  Both require, preparation, persistence, motivation and the ability to pace yourself.  On a resume, a young runner will be thought to have all of these qualities.

Learning about sportsmanship, the drive to win, losing gracefully are additional qualities that will help our kids well beyond the needs of a job search.  So grab your mitt/skates/sneakers/racket/whatever and head out with your kids.  Chances are we parents could use a bit of exercise as well.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Confident Self-Starters - The world's most attractive employers and what they want

For the last of the traits required by the world's most attractive employers, I combined Confidence and Self-Starter into one.  I did this because, being a self-starter requires confidence.  Confidence that you will succeed and confidence that if you don't, it is not the end of the world.  If your child does not have some confidence, he or she will never have the courage to start anything.

Why do companies want confident self-starters?  If my daughter is confident, she will be more likely to bravely take on new jobs and responsibilities.  This is important since when your son or daughter starts their first full time job, everything is going to be new.  A self-starter will not need 9 to 5 supervision in order for them to get their job done.  They will tackle problems and obstacles themselves before pestering their boss.  A new grad who sits around waiting to be told what to do is a not only a drain on resources but will have a negative affect on morale in the office.

How do interviewers judge whether your son or daughter is confident and how do they know they are a self-starter?

There are several attributes that indicate confidence in a person.  Eye contact is important, a firm handshake is great, showing that you are relaxed, calm in the face of criticism, tone of voice, and others.  However, confidence is not something that you either have or don't have.  Everyone is confident about something.  My son could be confident about his soccer skills but start sweating and panicking when he has to speak in front of other people.  Certainly helping our kids to be confident in an interview situation would be great for getting them into the job of their dreams.  But that seems a bit too limited.  Perhaps the best approach is to help our children develop confidence in handling new situations.  Confidence that they are worth something, even if not everyone else can see it.  This could be applied to the interview as well as many other situations in their lives.

To show an interviewer that your son or daughter is a self-starter, it is best to have a few examples.  Along with the part-time job stocking shelves at Wegmans, it would show initiative if they also built and sold Yule Logs (something my Mom had us do) during the holidays managing time, money and resources.  Continuing with the Wegman's job, an example where your son suggested a change in how the creamed corn was stacked resulting in increased sales is another way of showing to the interviewer that not only can your son claim to be a self-starter, he can point to actual situations were he self-started!

Here are a few ideas on how to build up your kids confidence and encourage them to be self-starters.

Some experts suggest that giving your child choices will help them to learn to motivate themselves.  I tend to agree with the alternate opinion which is that kids have too many choices, especially when very young.  I learned of an approach when my son was about 3 years old and find that it works well for us.  Rather than forcing him to make a choice, we try to let our son tell us when he is ready to take responsibility.  In the morning I will tell him that we are having oatmeal for breakfast.  He can accept that or he can reply with his preferred alternative.  Saying, "I don't want to eat oatmeal" and waiting for me to come up with an alternative is not an option.  My willingness to consider his request, "I would rather have toast and jelly" gives him a sense that he has some control over his life (confidence) and that he can make his own decisions.

Overlooking honest mistakes or not making a big deal out of them also helps.  The opposite, screaming when your daughter (accidentally) drops her full glass of milk on the new carpet will lead to her feeling that all mistakes are reasons to feel down about herself.  Please don't tell your kids they are bad or stupid or worthless. If we put them down often enough they will start to believe they really are bad, stupid and worthless.  Aside from this making them feel miserable, it is also making them unattractive to future employers.   You would be hard pressed to find a job description asking for dumb kids with no self-confidence.

As always setting an example is great.  If we as parents are taking on a new challenge (regardless of the size), share it with our kids.  Let them know that we are nervous too but that we won't let that stop us from trying our best.  Since most kids want to be just like Mom and Dad they will emulate us and what begins as mimicking will soon become habit and part of their own personalities.

Saying yes to your children's offers to help more often will inspire self-motivated thoughts and also increase their confidence.  The next time you are changing a light bulb or raking leaves in the yard and your son asks if he can help too, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is an opportunity to help your son, not the other way around.  Sure it will take longer with him helping, did someone tell you parenting was going to be easy?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maturity - The world's most attractive employers and what they want

Along with problem-solving, teamwork and confidence, the world's most attractive employers are looking for maturity. Maturity is not a single competency but a collection of traits that combine to make one "mature".

What makes up maturity?  Emotional control is one, manners is another indication of maturity, knowing how to act appropriately in any given situation.  Using profanity in the interview (to take an extreme example) might be considered a sign of immaturity in our children.

In the parlance of the job description, there are several words/competencies that are related to maturity.  "Professional" is most likely the closest match.  "Stable" is used occasionally and sometimes in combination with other words like "Emotional Stability".  One phrase that indirectly points to maturity is the "Ability to Work Independently."

What can we do as parents to help our kids develop a natural maturity and what do I mean by natural?  I for one do not want my kids to grow up faster than necessary.  When my son is 10 I want him to act like a 10 year old.  And again, at 22, I want him to act like he is 22, albeit a mature 22... That is what I mean by natural maturity.

Focusing on maturity as a goal is to vague.  For the elementary grade school level, we here at the Headhunter Dad house are focusing on three of the elements of maturity: 1) How to act in different situations, 2) Ability to work independently and 3) Manners.  Emotional control and stability are important but I plan to touch on those in my article on Confidence.

Teaching our kids how to judge and then act appropriately depending on the situation requires what might be best referred to as on-the-job-training.  Simply telling my daughter that at a fancy restaurant it is not appropriate to crawl under the table is not going to have as deep an impact if we are sitting at home in our dining room.  Most of the key situations for a job application will be centered around interactions with people.   Take advantage of opportunities at the park when you run into a friend to smile, shake hands and show your daughter how meeting someone is done.  Give her a chance to introduce herself and praise her for speaking clearly and shaking hands well (also relevant to manners). You can make a game of this by coming up with two different situations and then asking your child, "In which situation is it OK to scream and jump up and down; A baseball game or church?"  You can't cover all the possible events in your daughter's life but if you can get her to recognize that there is a time and place for certain actions or words then she will be able to think and handle it herself in the future.

Homework can be a good training ground for the ability to work independently.  I have mentioned before (and will likely mention again) that grades matter.  Due to this irrefutable truth, my wife and I often find ourselves reminding our grade school son to get his homework done.  Unfortunately, this is not helping him to develop the ability to work independently.  So, we have begun biting our tongues when the urge to remind him pops up and have let our son get to it in his own time.  The ability to work independently requires my son to recognize what needs to be done, when it needs to be done by and then do it.  There are still days when I will lose the battle with patience and 10 minutes before bedtime force my son to sit and get to work. But there are also days when he will casually announce as he is pulling his books from his bag, "I think I will do my homework now."  Hopefully as he gets older there will be more of the latter.

Teaching and learning proper manners can be a lifelong endeavor.  Since this article is about preparing for the job search I am going to focus on the manners connected with a job interview: pay attention, stand up when you meet someone and shake hands firmly, don't interrupt, use the person's name, use all the manner words appropriately (please, thank you, your welcome, excuse me), don't slouch and don't groom in front of people.  For all these societal tools of adulthood, we as parents only need to keep setting an example and reminding our kids at the right moments.  Repetition is a great teacher.