Monday, December 3, 2012

Why forcing our kids to choose a major is important, even if they don't know what they want to do.

"College is a place for you to figure out who you are and what you want to do."

How many of us were handed this line when we were high school students?  It sounds nice doesn't it?  Put off any real decision about the future until later.  Our kids will have 4 years to try different classes and consider different careers before settling on the one that is going to make them happy. It is a lot to expect a 17 year old to know what they might want to be when they grow up.  They are still our babies after all.

This approach (experimenting) can get our kids halfway there if they enter college undeclared.  They won't be restricted by the curriculum of a specific subject and won't be limited to just a couple electives per semester.  They can experiment and challenge themselves with whatever course catches their fancy from Physics 101 to Art History.  As they toil along, doing whatever they feel like doing at the time, they may suddenly come across the course, or professor, or girlfriend that helps them decide to... declare!  If they have made this momentous discovery in their Freshman year then they will still have a good chance of finishing up in 4 years (having used up all electives in their first couple of semesters).  And if it takes longer and they are still finding themselves in year 2 or 3 well that is OK too, right?  Employers love it when grads take 5 or 6 years to graduate from a 4 year college.

The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that people who earned bachelor’s degrees within four years saw, on average, higher wages than those who earned similar degrees within six years. - schools OF thought (CNN)
All sarcasm aside, let's consider how 2 students will approach the above mentioned Physics 101 class. Student #1 is a Mechanical Engineering major and knows that this class is important not only for his degree, but also for the knowledge he will gain to help him become a car designer with Ferrari after school.  Student #2 is taking the same class and is just checking it out as he has not declared a major yet and is still experimenting.  Which student is more likely to make it through the class without dropping out?  Which one will get the better grade (which will affect the undeclared student's GPA even if they take a different major)? Which one will learn more? Hard classes are... less hard (I can't bring myself to say "easy" for Physics) if our sons and daughters are motivated to learn the material and they can see how the subject matter is connected with their future.

Of the college bound grads in 2012, about 50% of them went away to college (NBC).  The other 50%, even though they are closer to home, are still not known for their willingness to listen to their parents when it comes to just about anything. Choosing a major for college carries with it many benefits.  I won't go into the list here as I do not plan on repeating the same thoughts from my article, College Part 1- Helping your child choose a degree.  However, one lesson from forcing our kids to choose a major early will carry with them regardless of where they go to school and what degree the eventually (hopefully) end up earning.  How to think critically about their future.  We need to take advantage of the 4 years of high school when our kids are living at home with us and they have limited options for escaping.  Get them to start thinking in terms of, "If I major in Art History then what will I do when I graduate?"  These mental exercises are habit forming and will stay with them.  There are some things that our kids will need to learn for themselves but career planning should not be one of them.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Race to Nowhere - Misleading sensationalism

Last night I had a chance to watch the movie "Race To Nowhere" at a sponsored event through my son's school.  It is a documentary about kids drowning in homework, stressed about grades, and over committed in after school activities.  I found it to be deceptive though and misleading.  One finishes watching thinking that every kid in America is getting all A's and has ulcers because of it.  Three quarters of the way through I began to wonder if college admissions and the competition required for top schools would be addressed.  That is when one (only one and for about 30 seconds) UC college admissions counselor came on.  Her contribution to the film was to say that, "Of course, we are going to take the students with the best GPAs."  She claimed that UC gets 40,000 + applicants and they accept 6,000.  The average weighted GPA for accepted students is a 4.3!

Experts in the movie (psychiatrists, education specialists, teachers) talked about how the pressure to get a 4.0+ GPA and have countless extra curricular activities just so that our kids will get into good schools and make lots of money is hurting them.  They say that money is not everything and will not make them happy.  I agree, in principal, but the studies show that people with money are generally more satisfied with their lives than people without [here is one of the studies:].  So, maybe it is worth some extra effort?  We are considered kids for 18 years of our lives and adults for another 60 after that.  Doesn't it make sense to give our kids a chance at a happier 60 years at the expense of some hard work earlier on?

Of course, the movie goes on to highlight the well known college dropout success stories to prove that our kids do not need all A's to be successful or rich.  But how realistic is it that our sons or daughters will grow up to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?  Consumer Reports listed the statistic that college grads are  likely to earn $570,000 more than a high school graduate over a lifetime.  On top of that, college grads are less likely to be unemployed.  And, here is another fun stat to share with the next person who tells you that Bill Gates dropped out of college. 84% of the Forbes 400 (the richest people in America) graduated from college.  What about CEOs?  99% of the Fortune 500 CEOs have a college degree.

Towards the end, one educator talked about bringing kids out of school and into the real world who are happy, motivated and creative.  "What more can you ask for?" he asks.  How about competitive?  Our happy, motivated, creative kids will not be happy for long when they cannot get a job.  I don't mean competitive in the sense that they should always be trying to win.  Although, there is a place for that as well.  I mean that our kids should be able to compete for what they want.  When my daughter sends her resume to McKinsey & Co. I want her to have a chance to meet them.  Not have her resume screened out because her GPA was a 3.2 and she needed a 3.8.

One topic that was touched on in the film that I do agree with is that grades are not important all the time.  They have a role in our current society as a measure of discipline and an easy way for colleges and companies to screen through piles of resumes and applications.  But, actually learning the material is what school is supposed to be about.

I did come away with the intention of changing some of the ways I interact with my son and daughter about school.  They still need to strive for good grades but I think it is OK if they discover an interest early on and focus on it.  If my daughter excels in math but hates social studies, I want to give her a chance to build on that strength as long as she does the minimum for her other subjects. I think this will increase her enjoyment in school.  She may work just as hard but when you are doing something you are interested in it does not always seem like work.  As I have mentioned in previous articles, companies and colleges like kids with a focus.  Doing one thing really well and showing a passion for it may be more impressive on an application than another 4.0.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Consequences - Where to draw the line with our kids

Parents are often talking about consequences with their kids.  More often than not, these discussions regress into threats that follow the all to familiar script of,  "If you don't do what I am telling you to do right now, you will be punished!"  According to Dr. Medhus in her book, "Raising Children Who Think for Themselves", this approach only teaches our kids to be afraid of us and does not prepare them to make their own, well thought out decisions in the future.  Her advice, is to let our kids make their own choices and they will learn what is right and wrong by dealing with the consequences of those choices.  The well worn example of the child sticking his finger into a flame is wheeled out to prove her point.  We can protect our child from getting hurt by reaching out and pulling them back from the candle before they are burned.  But, won't the boy or girl have a more memorable learning experience by burning their finger and will therefore be more likely to remember that fire is hot the next time?

Thinking for oneself is a highly sought after skill by employers.  If the boss can count on your child to solve his or her own problems at work then the boss will be less stressed.  We don't want our kids constantly looking to their peers and co-workers for direction without some sort of internal compass to help them judge what is best.

Where I disagree with the good doctor though is in the application of her consequences method.  She recommends pulling back and letting our kids make their own mistakes in situations where the actual consequences are irrelevant to our kids and worse those mistakes might have a lasting impact on their lives.  Specifically, homework and studying for a test.  If my daughter does not study for her test she will have to face the consequence of getting a bad grade.  What exactly is the consequence of a bad grade for an 11 year old?  Nothing!  It means she can skip studying for a night and chat with her friends instead. The test is finished in less than an hour and she can go on with her life.  It is all good!  By not studying, she is learning that she can be more popular and have more fun.  As grown-ups, we know that homework, tests and ultimately grades, are important in this society for getting into good schools and passing screening when applying for a job.  Many college kids don't get that until it is too late.

So, sure, we want our kids to think for themselves but we don't want them to shoot themselves in the foot while they are doing it.  There are plenty of situations (every day!) where our kids can make their own decisions and face short term consequences that will help them learn.  But, for the decisions that will affect their future we owe it to them to be more involved and yes, to make threats occasionally too.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Passing Gold and Being Good

During a summer camping trip with my son, a friend of his, and the boy's father I had a chance to learn a valuable lesson.  We were sitting around the campfire with the boys and in an effort to keep the boys chatting with us boring old folks I brought out a conversation tool I had used before with my son and his cousins.  I asked, "If you could choose any super power, what would it be?"  This is usually good for 30 minutes or so of ideas, laughing, teasing, joking and all round fun for everyone.  The grown-ups get to hear what is important to their kids (in the form of a super power) and the topic is one that we can all relate to.

My son, who has been reading a comic series called One Piece, immediately chooses a power he read about that allows him to have any power he can think of.  I stepped in there and eliminated that choice since it ends the conversation too quickly and insisted on a single power.  Teleportation is a popular one, flying is another that comes up and since our kids are 11 year old boys, several destructive powers came up (laser beam eyes, cause earthquakes, call down lightning, etc.).  The other father, when his turn came up, said that he would want the power to make people do the right thing.  His was the only power that had an obvious societal benefit to it.  At the time I did not recognize it as such.  As we continued talking about powers, the conversation turned to bodily functions, as it often does after having beans for dinner and hanging out with two 11 year old boys.  I suggested (to get a laugh and also because I thought it would be cool) that it would be a great power if every time you passed gas, gold coins popped out.  Predictably, the boys enjoyed that and tried their hardest to make as many gold coins as they could that evening.  Then, the other father, in between chuckles, said, "You could do a lot of good with all that money."  That is when I got it.  He was teaching our boys to be good people.  He had expertly inserted into our game and conversation a bit of guidance that the boys would hear and hopefully remember.  It was done in an indirect way which I think may have been easier for the kids to accept.  I also realized that while I  try to set a good example for my kids, I don't go out of my way to talk about values with them beyond the more production oriented ones like "work hard" and "don't give up".

In James Reed and Paul Stoltz's book, "Put Your Mindset to Work", they present three attributes that all employers (well, at least 97% of them anyway, according to their research) look for and desire in employees.  They want someone who has a Global mindset, someone with Grit and finally someone who is Good.  It is this last one that may be the most challenging.  We all want our kids to grow up to be good human beings.  But we also want them to be able to stand up for themselves and not get stepped on at work and in life.

The difficulty for employers is how to judge whether an applicant (in this case, our child) is good or not.  A resume is not always the easiest format to display how little Johnny once helped an old lady carry her groceries to her car or how Susie took the wallet full of money to the police station.  I am going to promote the Eagle Scout badge here again as I think it is relevant and falls into the category of "things you can put on your resume."  More on this in my previous article: The Eagle Scout Badge on your son's resume.  Volunteering for a non-profit is always nice.  Personal references though are probably the strongest proof of being a good person.  If our kids are consistently good (honest, trustworthy, loyal, sincere, balanced, moral and fair) then it will come out in a reference letter or call.

As with just about everything related to raising kids, starting with a good example is the most powerful lesson.  I am embarrassed to admit that I have performed more good deeds since having kids than before.  The desire to see them grow up to be good people is a powerful motivator to do the right thing. Especially when they are watching!

Reed and Stoltz recommend creating a code of conduct to help us (parents) be more consistently good.  They offer the following advice for writing the code to put us in the right frame of mind.  I could not have said it better myself!

 "A good way to think about this is to think of a simple, clear, memorable code of conduct that you would give to your own children to help them to be better people, the kind others would love to hire and keep."

Studies have shown (you can refer to the book for which ones) that having a code of moral conduct increases the frequency and consistency of actually acting in line with the code.  These studies were designed to test the impact of regular exposure to the code so it probably means that writing one and putting it away will have very little lasting effect.  Keep it in your wallet or even better as a screen saver at home.  Once your children are old enough to read they will see it and most likely ask you about it giving you a chance to talk about your values and expectations for them.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Highlights from "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom"

As there have already been too many reviews written for this book, I decided to just make a list of the quotes from the book that interested me the most.  My reasons for choosing each quote are appended to the quote.

Page 8
"I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: (1) higher dreams for their children, and (2) higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take."

Certainly a lot of parents I have spoken with dream that their kids will grow up to be good human beings.  That is nice but they also need to be employable.

Page 29
"What Chinese parents underrstand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences."

Yes, yes, yes, I totally agree.

Page 56
"He would never have forced things like piano or violin on them if they refused.  He wasn't absolutely confident that he could make the right choices for them."

Wow!  This makes a very uncomfortable point.  Are we as parents doing less than we should for our kids because we are not confident enough in our choices? 

Page 62
"But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for a child's self-esteem is let them give up."

Another good one.  This fits neatly into the advice from parenting experts on how to raise confident kids.

Page 131
"...their parents think, correctly, that going to Juilliard will help them get into and Ivy League college."

I could not find out on the web whether this was true or not.  I would imagine it is though as a child at Juilliard would already have demonstrated the discipline and focus a top college would desire in a student.

Page 146
"The Chinese parenting approach is weakest when it comes to failure; it just does not tolerate that possibility."

OK... so how do we know when to use it or give it up?

Page 148
"Unlike my Wester friends, I can never say, "As much as it kills me, I just have to let my kids make their choices and follow their hearts. It's the hardest think in the world, but I'm doing my best to hold back." Then they get to have a glass of wine and go to a yoga class..."

I read a similar comment from the mom of a 13 year old who said that she had done what she could to get him to do his homework and now it was up to him to deal with the consequences.  Sounded like giving up to me.

Page 171
"...Jed always too my side in front of the girls.  From the beginning, we'd had a united-front strategy..."

Another big YES.  I don't think parenting of any kind can succeed with the kids if they are allowed to play one parent off the other.

Page 201
"'ve given your girls so much... A sense of their own abilities, of the value of excellence.  That's something they'll have all their lives."

This is great.  Kids with confidence that they can accomplish anything if they work hard at it will go far.  I wondered often throughout the book though why it had to been piano and violin.  Wouldn't it have been more productive to have your kids become really good at typing or programming?

Page 212
"When Chinese parenting succeeds, there's nothing like it.  But it doesn't always succeed.  For my own father it hadn't.  He barely spoke to his mother and never thought about her except in anger."

See my comment on the quote from Page 146.

Page 215
" can only be really great at something if you love it... But just because you love something, I added to myself, doesn't mean you'll ever be great. Not if you don't work.  Most people stink at the things they love."

Read my previous article titled "Set your child's mind to it"

Page 220
"...she has an unbelievable work ethic - I've never seen anyone improve so fast.  She's a great kid.  You and your husband have done an amazing job with her.  She never settles for less than 110 percent.  And she's always so upbeat and polite."

Definitely marketable attributes, justifying the parenting approach.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

When I grow up, I want to be a Film Director

My friend's 10 year old son is going to be a film director when he grows up.  I know this because he is already a film director.  He has his own video camera, has made several (very) short films and does not hesitate to cast his 5 year old brother in whatever role is needed to make the scene pop. Of course it is tough to find investors for a big budget 3D movie when you are only 10 but he is in the enviable position of having time to build his resume and give himself the best chance of making it in the future as a director.

Film Directors are a fairly public bunch and it is easy to research the career paths of the big ones.  There are two likely avenues to becoming a world famous film director.  First, become a world famous actor and then start directing.  Second, plan on becoming a director first and focus exclusively on that function.  The first approach is the more difficult because the talent to be a great actor and the talent to be a great director do not always land in the same person.  The following is a brief synopsis of how a small sampling of super directors made it into the show.

1) Make movies now and keep making them -  Spielberg won his first award for a film at age 13 and directed his first independent film at age 16.  Lucas was a young photographer who became attracted to films in college.  Coppola began by building homemade puppet theater productions in his bed as a kid.  Scorcese watched movies and TV often growing up and started his film making in college. The Coen brothers saved money from mowing lawns to buy their first Super 8 camera.

2) Film School - Spielberg was declined admission to USC Film School twice and ended up going to California State University, dropping out to make films.  George Lucas started in anthropology at Modesto Junior College but later transferred to USC Film School.  Lucas went back to grad school at USC where he won first prize at a student film festival. Coppola entered Hofstra University majoring in theater arts.  After graduation he enrolled at UCLA for graduate film work.  Scorsese went to NYU's college of Arts and Science followed by a graduate degree from NYU's Tisch School of Arts.  David Lynch went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as a painter but then switched to film. 

3) Get into the business - Spielberg worked as an UNPAID intern at Universal Studios 7 days a week.  While with Universal he made his first short film for theatrical release.  When the VP of Production saw the film he signed Spielberg for a long term contract with Universal.  Lucas received a scholarship from Warner Brothers to observe and work on a film of his choosing.

4) Don't stop making movies - All the greats have consistently worked on films making, editing, camera work, etc.  David Lynch applied for a grant from the American Film Institute which he received and used to make a film.  Coppola made a softcore porn film early in his career.  Whatever it takes to keep filming.

5) It usually takes more than one person to make a film.  Many directors met the people they would work with in college or at film related events early in their careers.  Lucas and Spielberg met during their college days and went on to work together on the Indiana Jones films.

6) Let people see what you made.  The early lives of most successful directors include at least one award received after entering into a film contest.

Taking the above guidelines into account, here is an ad hoc plan for our young Scorsese.

Middle School - Age 10 to Age - Continue making movies and look for opportunities to show the films to an audience.  If at all possible, enter the films into contests whenever a chance arises.  Look for support from parents and other adults to meet film makers (even the small ones) and see what a real movie set looks like.  Parents should be supportive.  This is a legitimate career!

High School - Age 14 to Age 18 - Internships in anything related to movies.  Don't worry about making money, do it for free. The possibility to sit in on a movie set is worth looking into at this age.  Concentrate on getting good grades in school and building a portfolio.  The average GPA for admissions to USC is a 3.8.  For the SAT, a score of 2020 or higher is recommended.  Applications to most film schools will want letters of recommendation, a portfolio, film samples, and TOEFL scores for non native speakers of English.  Awards for your films and recommendations from anyone related to the film industry will help so get out and meet people.

College - Age 19 to 22 - There are several good film schools around the world but let's focus on USC for the purposes of this article.  Continue making movies and making friends.  This is the center of the film industry and professors, classmates, advisers and mentors will all contribute to your success.  Submit films wherever possible.  You never know who might see it and offer you a job.

Post College - Age 23 to ? - If you don't have a job in film yet, go back to school for a masters and keep making movies.  This is a lifetime career.  Don't give up!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Son, this is what your life will look like...

This is an interesting exercise to go through with your kids.  Contrary to what we all know is true, life can appear to be rather simple and straight forward when it is flowcharted.  I originally included a section on "Family" as well but removed it as it would have tripled the length of this article.

No choices, no tests, unconditional love, financial support and affection from your parents.  Just eat, sleep and poop, no worries.

Simple Choices - Which color crayon to use, what toys to play with.  No approval needed to move to the next stage other than learning some manners and how to stay out of trouble.  Still no tests (none that affect your future anyway) and your parents are still providing unconditional love, financial support and affection.

Elementary School
Choices become slightly more complex when confronted with the decision of whether to take after school soccer or after school basketball.  Classes have begun to challenge you as you begin learning the basics of math, vocabulary, study skills and social interactions with classmates.  You can fail here but for the most part elementary school is not competitive.  As long as you do the minimum required, you will still be moving up as equals with your classmates.  However, if you do not do your homework and pay attention in class, you may not be able to keep up with your classmates and you may have to repeat a year and all your friends will go on without you. Mom and Dad still love you no matter what and you have yet to pay for anything you consume with your own money let alone worry about paying.

Middle School
Suddenly, the grades you were getting on tests in class are now showing up on your report card.  An F is bad and an A is good.  If you plan to go to a different high school then your grades will be important in order to make the transition.  The admissions office at the high school (the people who get to say whether you can come to the school or not) will be looking at your grades and comparing them with the grades of everyone else who wants to go there.  Only the best students will be approved.  If you want to go to the same high school as your friends then make sure to get good grades so that you will be accepted.  You still have yet to work a day in your life and yes, you have unconditional love, financial support and affection at home although Mom and Dad can sometimes get a little freaked out about obedience issues and homework.

High School
Grades have now become really important.  When you finish high school and apply to college the admissions people at the college will throw away all the applications from kids who do not have high enough grades in high school.  Then, they will throw away all the applications of kids who did not do well enough on their SATs.  Of the kids who are still in the running, the admissions people will look for some early indications of interest in the subject they are applying to study.  If you want to go to college and study marketing, it helps that you did something related to marketing during high school, preferably some sort of summer job.  The colleges will also choose the kids who have achieved something.  Eagle scout from the boy scouts is a good one, captain of the soccer team is also nice, volunteering every summer to build homes in Indonesia stands out as well.  Top score in Mario Kart will not help.  Hopefully, you will have earned some of your own spending money during these 4 years but you don't need to worry about feeding, clothing or sheltering yourself.  Mom and Dad may be more stressed about your school and paying for college but rest assured, they love you as much as they ever did.

You got into the college of your choice and are now studying something relevant to your future job.  Mom and Dad are still paying for everything OR you took out a loan to help with the costs of school. You are making your own schedule and managing your days of school and social activities.  But, looming ahead is a job.  When you graduate from college you will need to work and start supporting yourself.  You will need to find a job that pays enough money so that you can rent an apartment, buy groceries, clothe yourself, pay off the college loan and maybe have enough left over to go out with your friends after work.  Employers are going to look at your grades and take the students with the highest so you need to keep shooting for high marks.  Companies also want focused workers so figure out what job you want now (freshman year) and study for it.  Get an internship EVERY summer that is relevant to the job and industry you are interested in and start making connections through networking both online and in real life.  Love and affection are still unconditional but financial support may be contingent on getting good grades.

Congratulations, you have a job!  Mom and Dad no longer pay for anything but love you and bestow their affection whenever you find time to visit them.  You have a personal life and are in control of your destiny.  Except of course that your boss can fire you if you don't work hard and show results. Grades don't matter anymore, you are back to pass/fail.  Decisions are all yours to make and they are not simple black and white issues.  Set goals for yourself and strive to achieve them.  Welcome to the real world.

As my son transitions from 5th grade to 6th grade one of the big changes will be the use of letter grades from now on and through the rest of his schooling life.  Effort, is no longer a meaningful form of evaluation, results are all that matter now.  The flowchart above grew out of my desire to share with him the benefits that come with good grades and why he should care about getting an A rather than a B.  Of course there are many variations to this chart depending on your location and situation so customize it to make it applicable to your own son or daughter.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

From 6th grade to the 1st day at work, not much has changed

Click to Enlarge
As my son prepares for the terrifying transition from 5th grade to 6th grade, we parents are being inundated with conflicting messages from his school.  An email will arrive letting us know that middle school and elementary school are so completely different that our children may literally burst into flames on their first day of school.  The next day an email arrives explaining that our kids are resilient and smart and wonderful and millions of kids not only start but actually finish 6th grade every year.  I don't actually remember my own "graduation" from 5th grade.  I think it was just another year separated by a summer break.   During one of the orientations held at the school to prepare us (I think the school is actually more worried about the parents than the kids) the handout you see here was... handed out.  It was a relief to read through it and recognize many of the symptoms of 6th graderosis that my wife and I had assumed were exclusive to our son.  Who knew that other 11 year olds were "often aggressive and argumentative" too!  The more disturbing discovery though and the reason I am sharing this on Headhunter Dad is the spooky similarities with several of the common traits of a 6th grader and the complaints made by corporate recruiters after interviewing Generation Y candidates (the current new grad applicant generation).

Do any of these sound familiar to those of you who have interviewed, hired or work with Generation Y employees? 
  • Egocentric
  • Short attention spans
  • Erratic and inconsistent behavior
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Moody, restless and self conscious
  • Needs frequent affirmation of love from adults
There may be more on the handout that match up with Generation Y'ers but the six shown above are ones that will cost our kids jobs.  Even if they make it past the interview process, if our sons and daughters have short attention spans or cannot handle criticism they are going to have a hard time in any working environment.  Assuming that 6th graders (kids aged 11 and 12) have consistently followed this pattern since time began, why is it that college graduates these days have not grown out of these young adult stereotypes?  More importantly, how can we as parents help our own offspring to overcome these weaknesses and stand out from the crowd?

Perhaps the most effective way for us to treat these symptoms is to focus on the root causes.  Short attention spans and erratic and inconsistent behavior could be blamed on the multi-tasking, electronic world we all live in now with instant gratification only fingertips away.  We can start by taking away the video games and cutting back on screen time in general.  Habits are built through continuous repetition.  Find ways for your kids to experience delayed gratification through longer projects or games.  Models, for example take time and patience and the achievement is delayed until the end when it is complete.

The other 4 traits point to insecurity and a lack of self-worth.  Building confidence in our kids is a recurring theme for The Headhunter Dad (To do lists build confidence and Confident Self-Starters).  Please read the other articles for further ideas.  Confidence begins with a secure home environment where our kids feel free to take risks knowing that Mom or Dad will be there to catch them when they fall.  Each time they take a risk and succeed, they add to their internal store of security.  Eventually, they will feel good enough about themselves that they will be able to take those risks even after they leave home.

As endearing as 6th graders are, no employer wants to hire one.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Help your 9 year old write his resume

It seems that regardless of the age of the job seeker, the foremost question in their mind is "How do I write a resume that will get me a good job?"  Unfortunately, this question is fundamentally flawed.  A resume does not get one a job.  There is only one purpose for a resume beyond the administrative record-keeping aspect of one, to convince the employer to interview the candidate.  Once the interview is arranged, the value of the resume drops almost to zero.  Any discrepancies in the document can be explained verbally and experiences that the candidate forgot to include can be brought up on the spot.
There has been much written about the death of the resume.  I would agree with this sentiment with a few reservations.  One only has to consider how many faxed resumes they have seen in the last few years to realize that how a resume is delivered has changed.  More often than not it arrives as a .pdf by way of email rather than printed on nice paper and delivered by the post office.  Many employers have dispensed with a resume completely by forcing applicants to fill out online forms which feed directly into their candidate tracking systems.  This makes it easier for the recruiters to evaluate and sort the various applicants in a uniform way.  So, the delivery may change (snail mail to email) and the form may also change (paper to electronic or even video) but there are some enduring elements of a resume that will remain: relevancy, perfection (no mistakes) and readability.

I am torn with which of these three elements to state as the most important as it is difficult to imagine a resume as effective without all of them.  Therefore, I am going to weight them equally here and endeavour to explain their value without ranking them.

Make no mistakes.  That is worth writing again and in big letters; MAKE NO MISTAKES!  A resume is not a test.  The job seeker is not forced to recall all he or she studied and made to regurgitate it in a specified time period.  The resume is created in the comfort of home (although more often than not it is done in one's office) and usually with the very weakest of deadlines.  The document or text or whatever format it is taking, can be drafted, re-drafted, edited and reviewed over and over again.  Friends, relatives and consultants can be asked to look it over and even our computers these days will tell us if words are spelled wrong or if a certain sentence is grammatically suspicious.  There is no excuse to send in a resume with mistakes on it.  Yes, some employers will overlook a small error. But why take the chance?

Your daughter might create a beautifully formatted and perfect (no mistakes) resume and still it would not be effective if the content is not relevant to the job she is applying to.  It is no longer good enough just to show that our kids have graduated from college.  Everyone applying to that job graduated from college.  It is also not enough that the GPA is high anymore.  Companies receive more resumes than ever thanks to the Internet and a GPA is now used just to screen out candidates in the first review.  The resume must show that our sons and daughters have learned something or experienced something relevant to the job and the company they are applying to. While equally important to a resume as readability and perfection, relevancy is the one element that requires some forethought and planning.  The business major with a summer job as a lifeguard will find it almost impossible to create a relevant resume in order to apply for the entry level computer programmer job.

So your son now has a beautiful resume with no mistakes and documented experiences extolling his relevancy to the job.  But, it is 4 pages long, size 10 font, single spaced and 1/2 inch margins.  Whoever in the organization responsible for reviewing the initial batch of resumes (possibly in the 100s or even 1,000s) will be exhausted half way through the first page.  If the reviewer is particularly conscientious they may read the whole resume but more likely they will either decline or put it aside to focus on other applicants first.  It does not help your son to have written about his relevant experience only to have it lost in the formatting or volume of the application.  Readability is about considering what the other person needs to see to make a decision and how to make it easy for them to get there.  I use the word "readability" as traditional resumes are print based but this also applies to the oft mentioned video resumes as well.  The video needs to be easy to watch and easy to understand so that the relevant strengths of the candidates can be recognized quickly.

I hope that this information is helpful to some of you parents as well as your kids.  Perfection, relevancy and readability are as important to a mid-career application as they are to a new grad resume.  Therein lies the rub.  Many of us "old" folks don't know how to write our own resumes and are therefore not equipped to help our kids when they need it.  Very few of the college students I teach come to my class with an understanding of what the real purpose of a resume is and how a recruiter looks at one. 

So, here is the exercise for today (it will be graded pass/fail as all resumes are).  Sit down with your son or daughter and write a resume with them.  This assignment is for those of you with children at the age where they can read and write well enough to accomplish this task.  If your son is finishing up elementary school this year and moving to middle school next year then use that transition as the goal for the resume.  Ask him what he thinks he needs to be accepted for an interview by the middle school admissions team.  Write out his accomplishments from elementary school and point out how those achievements might impress whoever reviews his resume.  If your daughter is a freshman in college then choose a company and a job she might like to apply to when she graduates.  Writing the resume now will help her to see the blanks that need to be filled in and it is much more useful to know them now when she still has 4 years to gain the experiences and knowledge necessary.  While you are at it show them your resume.  Maybe they will catch a mistake on it you missed!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Book Review - Ready or Not, Here Life Comes

Two sentences on page 5 of Dr. Levine's book provide a fair summation of his ideas.

"In all these instances, years of schooling and parenting have entirely missed that elusive target, work-life readiness.  Our graduates may well lack the practical skills, the habits, the behaviors, the real-world insights, and the frames of mind pivotal for career startup."

Society as a whole, is not doing what it should for our kids, namely getting them ready for the rest of their lives.
At 300 plus pages of small print this book took an effort to get through.  The content was occasionally heavy and his use of graphics did little to add to my understanding of the text.  With that said, the content was refreshing and hard hitting.  Several of the ideas and a few of the practical suggestions for raising children were new to me.  Dr. Levine takes an aggressive approach to how parent's are raising their kids as well as how schools and teachers are educating them.

Related to teaching, he says, "In truth, kid's minds are strikingly diverse. To treat and to teach them all the same is to treat and teach them unequally."  He challenges the focus on memorization in schools. Multiple choice questions rarely occur outside of academia. Comprehension and application of what is learned is much more important than simply regurgitating the facts. He points out that almost all challenges in life are "open book tests" and impressive memory is rarely a job requirement. 

He then transitions into the parent's responsibilities with, "I have come to believe that schools are mainly responsible for teaching kids how to learn and that parents should take on the assignment of teaching them how to work."  Parents (and teachers as well) can start on this by praising the hard work that went into studying for the science test rather than praising the A on the report card.   Acting as a role model is also important.

His section on Mind Debts was particularly interesting as I thought it dealt with a topic similar to my article on strengths, Focus on the strengths and "critical" weaknesses, forget the rest.  A Mind Debt is a lack of skill or ability in a basic physical or mental function that when ignored as a child and teen can come back to hinder the adult's life.  The example (among others) given was "verbal communication problems".  This particular Mind Debt could lead to "Trouble selling products, ideas, plans; difficulty relating to others; poor understanding of instructions (oral and written)".  In later sections of the book he goes into some detail on how we might focus on eliminating these debts or guiding our kids toward other more suitable interests.
Insight or inner direction is one of the 4 growth processes discussed.  A child or teenager needs to start identifying who they are and where their strengths lie.  A report card is used as an opportunity for the parent to point out that perhaps young Ralph would be successful in a future where math is important since he has consistently done well in that subject (as opposed to others).

A section on pattern recognition also struck home with me.  How often have you as a parent felt frustration or anger at your son or daughter because they repeated the same mistake or misbehaved in the same way they have done a hundred times before?  Dr. Levine suggests that the child could keep a notebook of rules to help with recognizing these patterns thus avoiding the negative ones and repeating the positive ones.  I am thinking of starting one for my son with rule #1 being, "When Dad tells me to do something I should do it right away."

I recommend this book but with one caveat.  If you do not have the time to read it carefully you will miss a lot.  There were a few times while trying to read on the train when I would realize that I had gone through several pages and could not remember anything I had just read.  It is a book that requires concentration and time to get through. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Dad, you would have to give up your job for Lent."

We can all use a little positive feedback now and then. I have certainly been preaching it's benefits when it comes to raising our kids but it is particularly gratifying when a little bit comes back my way.

My son came home from school today and started talking about Lent.  Apparently it began today, Februrary 22nd, and a few of his Christian friends were discussing the challenges of coming up with something to sacrifice during the next 40 days.  The usual necessities like chocolate, video games or TV were soon discarded as unreasonably harsh.  Giving up homework or math turned out to be the more popular deprivations among the 5th graders.  I am not sure how their parents will react to those suggestions though.

I asked my son what he would give up if we were to follow this particular religious tradition.  Would he give up ice cream or maybe agree not to play Angry Birds?  He brushed off the question and after a few seconds looked up at me and suddenly said, "Dad, you would have to give up your job for Lent."

The first response that popped into my head was, "Give up my job? That would't be too hard to do." Then a moment later, before I made the mistake of speaking my mind, I realized, "My son thinks I like my job so much that it would be a sacrifice worthy of Lent to give it up!".  While I do love my jobs (recruiter, teacher, board member, writer) and am grateful that I can do something I enjoy to make a living, giving them up would not necessarily qualify as denial in the strictly canonical sense.  However, I was thrilled that I have been able to make such an impression on my son.

How many kids out there are growing up listening to Mom and/or Dad complain on a regular basis about their crappy jobs and tyrannical bosses.  As our children grow into young adults, what will be their view of work and careers?  Will it be something to look forward to with enthusiasm as the next step in a fullfilling and exciting life?  Or will they fear the coming 40 to 50 years as ones of drudgery and imprisonment.  And, when they fear it, how enthusiastically will they prepare for it?

We parents all know that work is never good or bad all the time.  There will always be days when nothing seemed to work out well and it feels like it will be more of the same tomorrow.  Sharing only the good with our kids is a disservice to them as it will not equip them for their futures.  Likewise, exposing them only to the complaints is going to dampen their motivation.  Employers want young people with enthusiasm, energy and optimism.  Setting an example by visibly enjoying our lives (including work) can help to encourage that attitude in our kids.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Play to win, not for you but for your kids.

Stanford University received 34,200 applications in 2011; they admitted 2,394 students.  The same year, 35,000 high school students applied to Harvard University; 2,450 were accepted.  In the corporate world, Goldman Sachs received 150,000 applications (new grad and mid-career) and hired only 6,000.  Whether we like it or not, the world is a competitive place.  There are limited resources such as job openings at Goldman Sachs and the candidates who are better at doing the job, impressing the interviewer, networking or just lucky will get the job.  The other 144,000 will have to look for something else.

football,victory,sportsI had a chance to play dodge ball with my son, his friends and their parents at a school event recently.  It was great fun and all sorts of muscles I had forgotten about were hurting the next morning.  During the game though, one of the other fathers kept trying to even out the sides to the detriment of our side which happened to be stronger and winning.  I am not an ultra-competitive person myself but I would like my son to be more driven to win.  If he is going to play, he should play to win.  I don't want him holding back on the playing field because he thinks he needs to be "considerate" or "give other people a chance" to be first sometimes. 

There are several games now out on the market under the category "cooperative games" such as Count Your Chickens.  There are no losers and everyone works together to complete the game.  Learning to work together is a great skill and one that employers value.  However, cooperation in the real world may be more like my experience with Monoply as a kid when my siblings and I would team up to beat my Dad (we never did actually beat him).

I know it might look funny seeing a 40 year old playing all out against a bunch of 10 year olds with the dodge ball but our kids will see if we hold back and they will learn from that. If they watch Mom or Dad playing hard and playing to win (fairly of course), then our kids will feel that they too have permission to do the same.  No, we are not really talking about dodge ball here.  We are talking about our sons getting into college, we are talking about our daughters beating out the competition for a job or a promotion.  We should encourage our kids to win.  Interestingly, the word "encourage" means to inspire with courage, spirit or confidence.  That is what we should be hoping for, that our actions and support are inspiring our children to reach for something more. 

In the previous article, Focus on the strengths and "critical" weaknesses, forget the rest. I spoke about the need for our kids to be outstanding when applying for a job.  The drive to win can supply some of the motivation and energy needed to get beyond mediocre.  It can even help them to stand out in an interview and it could be the deciding factor on getting the job.  I have had managers tell me that they chose a candidate because she seemed to want the job more than the others.

I know, winning isn't everything but it is definitely better than losing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Focus on the strengths and "critical" weaknesses, forget the rest.

Let's start with a few assumptions. 
  1. There are only 24 hours in a day.
  2. Parents are human beings and therefore not perfect.
  3. Kids are little human beings and are also not perfect.
We all want our kids to excel.  We put them into after school activities to encourage their artistic streaks or sports teams to help their bodies develop.  We hire tutors to get them through 6th grade math and then secretly read the texts at night so that we have some idea of how to solve the problems ourselves.  When our kids fail, we feel as though it is our failure and we then dedicate ourselves to spending more time reading with them, playing catch with them, signing them up for more programs, buying them more study tools (ipads??) in the hopes that next time they/we will succeed.

Parenting is a full time job but even so, there is not enough time to help our kids in every area of need.  Now say this with me, "Our kids will never be perfect."  That wasn't so hard was it?  Now how about this one, "It is OK if our kids are not perfect." This should not be a difficult concept to comprehend since nobody out there is perfect but for a parent it can be a struggle to admit it.

All children are born with certain strengths and weaknesses.  Genetics is funny that way.  Then, as our kids grow, they develop additional strengths and weaknesses.  Some of the weaknesses are critical ones and our kids will need to work hard to overcome.  Reading well is a difficult skill to do without in the world today.  If your daughter has trouble in that area then it is great that she has loving parents to help her improve.  Other weaknesses, are not such a big deal.  It is OK if your son is tone deaf.  He may not become a successful musician but that is OK too.

Please recall assumption number one, there are only 24 hours in the day.  There is not enough time to improve on our son's every weakness and build on each of his strengths.  Doing so would result in a young man who does not stand out.  He will be mediocre.  Instead, we should go for "outstanding" or "amazing".  The only way to do that is to focus on his strengths, improve on the "critical" weaknesses and leave the other weaknesses alone.

We all want our kids to grow up to be confident, self-sufficient adults.  Their future employers want that from them as well.  Confidence comes from a regular diet of success.  Building on existing strengths increases the probability of frequent achievements.

When our children head out for job interviews and careers they will need to show how they are better than the competition.  There will be many mediocre kids applying for jobs and differentiation will be the key to getting the offer.  Along with  the confidence that comes from being good at something, employers will also appreciate the focus and dedication that went into becoming the captain of the soccer team, a published author at 19 or the developer of five popular iPhone apps while in college. 

And, our kids will be happier too.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To do lists build confidence (good for interviews!)

One of the key requirements for success in any interview is displaying confidence.  Interviewers are not looking for cockiness or arrogance but they do want to see a young person who is sure of themselves and believes that they can be successful.  With new graduates, most companies will not expect your son or daughter to actually know anything specific about the job.  The assumption is that our kids will need to be trained.  They will not be adding much value to the organization any time soon.  A confident young man or woman will seem more capable of taking on something new.  And to be perfectly frank, almost everything they are exposed to in the job will be new.

Building enduring confidence in our kids is not easy.  They know nothing about the world (compared to us parents), they are physically awkward initially, then just when they are getting more comfortable with their bodies puberty hits and it starts all over again.  Hormones wreak havoc with what we adults refer to as logical thinking and social pressures are everywhere.  Add school and grades on top of all this and you can see how our kids might feel knocked down or powerless fairly often.  This brings us to a powerful weapon in our educational arsenal, the to do list!

Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the tough days for our 11 year old son.  He gets home from school and on Monday he has swimming and Wednesdays and Thursdays he has soccer.  There is no time in between school and the activities for him to do homework so dinner, shower/bath and homework all have to happen between 6:00pm when he returns and 9:00pm (ish) when he is supposed to go to bed.  He is rushed, there is usually yelling involved and I am sure he often heads off to bed feeling cranky and depressed.

Exhibit A

Enter the to do list.  When he arrived home from school the other day I wrote out a simple schedule (see Exhibit A).  I sat next to him and handed him the pen and told him to write down what he needed to do and when he expected to do it.  He grumbled at first but finally wrote out the different assignments he had for that evening including a shower (particularly important on soccer days).  At first he just listed them all between 7 and 9 but I made him add in the times he expected to start each one.  By then it was time to head off to soccer and he gratefully escaped from his annoying father.

That evening (after I reminded him about his list) he finished everything with a little time to spare.  Getting his work done with a minimum amount of fuss is great of course and learning time management skills will be useful no matter what he ends up doing with his life.  But, I think there is more.  He now has a tool that gives him control.  He is a master of time and with that comes a certain amount of confidence in his ability to get things done.  If this relatively simple and universal tool becomes a habit, he will be less intimidated by big projects at school (and work), confident that he can tackle new problems by breaking them down into smaller ones on his list and in all likelihood be more productive.

It would be nice if the to do list guaranteed that our kids would all grow up as confident, secure adults but unfortunately it is not that easy.  Self confidence is influenced by everything around our kids; families, friends, physical appearance, grades, luck, etc.  The to do list works because it is a tool that helps our kids achieve something and feel good about themselves.  They write it, they are responsible for it and therefore it is solely their accomplishment.   Remember to praise their hard work and independence when they are finished as well.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oral Presentation Rubric - Teaching kids to interview in 4th grade

Exhibit A
In 4th grade, my son brought home a scorecard for his oral presentation.  He was 9 years old yet the grading categories could have come straight from a "How to Interview" book (see Exhibit A).  The first category listed at the top , "Preparedness" may seem an obvious one for school assignments but it is stunning how often grown ups ignore this essential point for their own job interviews.  Recently, a 40 year old General Manager candidate of mine was declined after his first interview for being unprepared.  He told the interviewer that he had not even seen the homepage of the company yet!

Oral presentations are not unusual and most kids get started with them as early as kindergarten when they bring in their latest toy and get to "show and tell" in front of the rest of the class.  However, what amazed me about this particular assignment was how relevant it was to my son's future.  Sure it is nice to be able to name all the state capitals and maybe it helps to develop basic memorization skills but is it really worth the time and energy involved?  Many times I think that the tests and evaluations in grade school are created just so that there is an easy way to figure out the grades at the end of the semester.  As a college professor myself, I know it is a lot easier for me to give my class a quiz with right or wrong answers than it is to grade an essay or try to put a number on class participation.  Now take a look at the grading guidelines on Exhibit A, level 4 for the category Enthusiasm for example. "Facial expressions and body language generate a strong interest and enthusiasm about the topic in others."  In the case of the 4th grade report, the topic here is a book review but let's replace that with an interview where the topic is your child and his or her application to a job.  If your son or daughter can generate a strong interest in the topic with an interviewer through their facial expressions and body language they will increase their chances of getting the offer dramatically.

A big challenge for kids in school is getting themselves motivated to learn something they see as useless.  OK, let's see a show of hands from all those parents out there who use trigonometry in their lives on a daily basis?  Anyone?  I remember asking teachers (more than once), "When am I ever going to use this?"  The typical refrain was that I probably would never use it since I would end up getting a low-paying, unskilled job if I did not study harder.  Perhaps this works on some kids but I don't recall feeling any more enthusiastic about the class than before I asked.  Maybe what my teachers could have said (specifically related to trigonometry) was that most employers want new grads with "problem solving" skills.  Trigonometry helps to develop those skills and doing well in the class will help me get a job.

As parents, we cannot delegate the education of our children entirely to their teachers nor can we assume that they will be able to explain the benefits of learning in a practical sense.  Follow along with your kid's studies and whether it is an Oral Presentation or Trigonometry, explain to them how it will help them in the future.  Talk about how you actually use the skills that they are learning on a daily basis at work like problem solving, communication and team work.

I like these guidelines so much I am thinking of adapting them into my own "Interview Rubric" to hand out to candidates. Maybe I will give a copy to my clients and suggest they use it for evaluations in interviews as well!

Monday, January 9, 2012

How a hula hoop got my daughter a job

This Christmas, my 3 year old daughter received the present she has been asking for all year, her very own hula hoop.  It is a fancy affair and comes in 6 sections so that it can be re-sized for smaller kids.  With great anticipation she pranced to the center of the room. Hoop at the ready, with a quick glance around to make sure we were all paying attention, she whipped it around her waist while wiggling her body in all directions.  The hoop dropped almost immediately to the ground.  For a few seconds there was silence, then the crying began, "I can't do it!" she said and came rushing over to Mommy.
My wife and I were not terribly surprised since in our 40s neither of us can spin the hoop for more than a few rotations ourselves.  My wife explained to our distraught daughter that with anything new, it takes time and effort to become good at it.  "You just need to practice more." she said.  With that brilliant parental advice in hand she returned to the center of the floor and proceeded to spin and drop the hula hoop over and over again.  The rest of us, my wife, I and my son returned to our own projects like getting another cinnamon roll or refilling our coffee.

About 20 minutes later we were called back to observe her progress.  She had been practicing constantly and without any guidance from us (since we don't really know how to teach hula hooping anyway) she had achieved the form and speed necessary to keep the hoop going.  We could see from the look on her face how proud she was of her accomplishment.

Fantastic!  good for her, but how does this help her get a job?  Well, unless she is trying out for Cirque du Soleil or planning to be an Olympic gymnast the hooping is probably not going to be valuable on her resume.  However, following a brief parenting/praising error on my part when I called her a "hula hoop genius", my wife and I were able to focus on some of the aspects of the experience we hope she takes with her through her life.  We praised her for her persistence.  Telling how great she was for continuing to pick up the hoop and spin it again and again even when she was not able to do it well.  We pointed out that through her "dedicated" practice she became better at it. We told her that she was super for working so hard on her own to learn how to do the hula hoop.

If our three year old develops any one of the traits above thanks to the hula hoop, it will be great for both her career and her life.  Persistence, never giving up?  What employer would not love to see that kind of attitude.  Knowing that if she practices hard enough she can learn something new is a tremendous confidence builder.  Life, school and jobs are full of challenges and we are all confronted with new situations on a regular basis.  Feeling that since she mastered the hula hoop she can do anything would be a wonderful takeaway.  And finally, as she was left to figure out the problem of form and technique all on her own, and did it! Self-confidence, problem-solving, a belief in her own abilities and potential.

Of the 5 traits identified in "The world's most attractive employers and what they look for in our kids", communication, maturity, confidence, problem-solving and team work, it is pretty amazing that the humble hula hoop can contribute to two of them, confidence and problem-solving. Maybe we should all take a spin?