Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rice balls will help my daughter get a job.

'Tis the season of giving (and shopping and eating...) so what better time to talk about volunteering than the holidays.  At my kids' school, one of the core values listed on the homepage is to develop good citizens who contribute to the betterment of our school, our community and society.
I know firsthand that the school makes an effort to get the kids involved in community projects from kindergarten on up through high school.  My daughter (1st grade) will be making onigiri (Japanese rice balls) this coming January to distribute through Second Harvest to the homeless people around one of Tokyo's major parks (yes, Japan has homeless people).

I want my kids to be aware that there are people out there less fortunate than they are. I want them to appreciate the good things they have in their own lives like a roof over their heads, food, clothing, video games, travel. I also believe that once you get your own act together it is good to help out someone else. Dropping off toys at the orphanage or rice balls for the homeless for example. Beyond the obvious benefits to the people who receive our donations, the activities give our kids a chance to practice thinking about someone else's perspective.

But will it help them get a job?

For a high school student, volunteering will certainly add something to their college application. ran a survey of colleges in the US and found that volunteering ranked 4th in importance among admissions officers.  GPA, SATs, and Extra Curricular activities (sports, music) were 1, 2, and 3.  Volunteering came in ahead of reference letters and the legacy relationship to the school. The survey also showed that colleges prefer a student who picks one cause freshman year and sticks to it all 4 years rather than hopping around to the cause of the month. 8th grade volunteering and earlier seems to be less valuable when it comes to the college application.  There are many interesting points in the survey and if your kids are in high school or close to it you may want to read the complete version here. Note to self, "make sure 8th grade son picks a cause next September."

Volunteering in college also proves to be resume worthy. An easy connection is if your son or daughter volunteers for a cause that is supported by their company or industry of interest.  The cosmetics industry offers a clear example of how this might work.  Most cosmetics firms support breast cancer awareness in one form or another. If your son wants to work for Estee Lauder then getting involved early with the various events will show a mature interest and may also lead to valuable personal connections through the networking that occurs naturally at such gatherings.

Other skills that can be inferred from regular volunteer activities throughout college are:

  • time management - our kids will need to be efficient and energetic if they are going to juggle classes, part time jobs, and volunteering.
  • real world skills - it is often easier to get a job doing accounting, marketing, or logistics when you are a college student if you do not need to be paid for it!
  • team player - volunteering by itself implies an interest in helping others but most volunteer activities also require our kids to interact well with others.  Reference letters later on can verify this.

While you may not be willing to join your kids at McDonald's and flip burgers with them in order to get more quality time, volunteering can be a family activity and a chance to share the interests of your kids for a good cause.  I know that my wife and I will certainly be out on at least one cold weekend in January handing out rice balls with my daughter.

Happy Holidays!

1/18/2015 - Decided to add a bit more from the survey:

  • "Students should avoid overloading themselves with countless hours and varieties of issues, and instead demonstrate a genuine passion for something that matters to them."
  • 72% of surveyed officers want students to be focused on one issue. "Dedication is the true measuring gauge."
  • Political campaigns are considered just as valuable as other forms of community service.  As long as it is volunteer.
  • Grades still come first!
  • Awards recognized and admired by the admissions officers:
    • 100% Eagle Scout
    • 72% Gold Award
    • 52% President's Service Award
    • 36% Prudential Spirt of the Community Award
    • 32% Do Something Award
    • 28% Jefferson Award
  • "A trip around the world may come across as an extended vacation."
  • "Essays are the perfect place for students to showcase the impact their service has had on both themselves and their individual communities, as well as highlight their motivations and inspirations for getting involved."
  • Power words for describing community service: passion, founder/leader, commitment, initiative, dedication, impact, growth, personal change, internship, coordinated
  • Danger words when describing community service: required, mandatory, Africa, showed up, forced, fun, neat, brief, obligation, summer camp

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Dropbox wants our kids to be like

Dropbox is a file hosting service based in San Francisco. I use them to back up computer files and sync between computers.  They are easy to use and free up to a certain limit.  I wish I could say I was getting paid to promote them here but I am writing mainly to talk about a recent ad I saw on their website for their Sales New Grad Program.

I am often telling my students to take advantage of all the information available to them these days to prepare for the future.  Linkedin profiles offer insights into what the actual work behind a job title might look like.  For example, looking at a headhunter's profile you should see "cold call" written over and over again! Job descriptions are another resource that have become much more valuable since the advent of the Internet.  No longer are employers limited by cost to 25 words in the newspaper but can now distribute multiple pages worth of details about the job and in this case, what is necessary to get the job.

Here are the requirements Dropbox posted for their New Grad Sales job:


  1. Internship or work experience in banking, consulting, sales, operations, lead generation, and/or marketing (SaaS experience a plus, but not required)
  2. Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
  3. Team player with excellent collaboration skills to build relationships across the company
  4. Results driven while able to cultivate long-lasting relationships with clients across a multitude of industries
  5. Fearless attitude to try new processes and iterate to scale a global sales engine
  6. Bachelor’s degree (recent graduate or graduating in 2015 or 2016)

I found it interesting that they lead off with internship experience as the first (and therefore most important?) requirement. I assume that they will screen resumes fairly strictly for this and eliminate those candidates who spent their summers mowing lawns, flipping burgers, or packing groceries. I believe we will see this requirement more often in the future which means we as parents should be on the lookout for chances to get our kids into part time jobs that look better on their resumes.

2 and 3 are straight from my article on what most employers want. I don't think there are any job descriptions out there where the requirements are to be a "problem maker" and have "difficulty working with others".

Results driven is the key to #4.  Cultivate relationships is important of course but that is similar to the teamwork requirement in #3. The HR staff screening resumes and the interviewer sitting across from your son or daughter is going to want to see examples of actual achievements. It is difficult to gauge the "driven" part of this so most people will assume that if our kids explain an accomplishment in detailed terms it means they are result oriented.  Here is an example. Joel was very into community service in high school. He became particularly concerned about feeding the homeless so organized a weekend telethon to raise money.  Nice, right? However, to sound like he is "results oriented" there need to be results.  How much money did they raise, how many volunteers did he bring in, how many people did they reach out to?  The concrete numbers for each of these answers will help to show the interviewer that Joel has the bottom line in mind. All our kids have examples of achievements. We can help to quantify them so that the explanations are stronger and more focused.

I don't believe they will look for #5 in the resume.  This is more attitude than anything else.  The interviewer will make a judgement based on the personality and presence of our kids whether or not they are "fearless". Perhaps giving your daughter an impromptu audition.  I hear that adidas often hands potential candidates a sneaker and then asks them to sell it to the interviewer. Going in optimistic and confident will help.

Lastly, a 4 year college degree.  Last because it is the least important. But, still on the list so their assumption is that everyone who applies will be a graduate.

Oh, you have a college age child who might want to apply?  Here is the link.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Can our kids be creative AND follow the rules?

Please consider the following case study:

In your position as manager of the marketing department for the rapidly expanding software firm, Big Data Cloud Selfie 12 (aka BDCS12), you supervise a team of 15 staff of varying ages and responsibilities.  At the end of the year when evaluations are required, you must fairly consider the value of each team member's individual contribution so that you can then assign a dollar amount for their incentive bonus. Joe, your young market researcher, is always coming up with new ideas on how to improve the business and has been known to use his own time to work on projects (of his own devising) by himself, surprising you with them when he is finished.  Sally, on the other hand, works on the social media side of things.  She is on time to work every day and is never absent.  She quietly gets along with everyone and has never missed a deadline.  Both Sally and Joe are the same age, with the same years of experience, and graduated from the same college with the same GPAs. One of them will receive a higher rating on their evaluation and therefore get a higher bonus.  Which one would you evaluate higher?

Well, according to Bowles and Gintis in their book, Schooling In Capitalist America, you (and most managers) would give lower ratings to the young employees like Joe with high levels of creativity and independence and higher ratings to the ones like Sally seen as tactful, punctual, and dependable.  This sounds eerily familiar to me as a parent. Life is easier when the kids toe the line, get their homework done on time, follow the rules and generally just don't cause trouble. Sure we are quick to praise them for their creativity but maybe not as enthusiastically when their creative endeavor results in us spending hours scrubbing paint off the walls.

Can't we raise our kids to be creative, independent, and also punctual and dependable? Are they mutually exclusive traits? Or worse, if we try to help our kids develop all of these will they be mediocre at all of them? How valuable is the employee who is punctual "most of the time" and "sort of" creative?

For Bowles and Gintis (as their book title suggests) it is a matter of schooling. I should also mention here that I have not read the book yet.  It is on my Amazon wish list though... To excel in school (graduate, get into college, get employed) the best students are the ones who do their work and do it on time. There is some room for creativity and independence but our kids can get straight As all the way up through high school without a single creative bone in their bodies. There is no incentive for our kids to be creative and independent and there is no practical incentive for us as parents to encourage those traits.

When I was in college I had to write a term paper for history class. I had no interest in the traditional approach and asked my professor if I could write a story, historical fiction so to speak.  He agreed and I banged out the 10 page story including footnotes as required to identify the historical references.  I proudly handed it in and looked forward to the rave review I would receive for my creative approach to handling this assignment.  Imagine my shock when I received the paper back and saw the D prominently written in red pen at the top of the page along with the sentence, "This is not a research paper." Arguing my case had little effect on my grade but the experience taught me that in order to get ahead, I needed to follow the rules (and the rubric) precisely.  There was no room for a new way of doing things and checking the boxes and staying within the lines is still the best way to ensure a good grade or a promotion. 

There are some exceptions, but maybe these exceptions make things even harder on our kids as they grow up. In the job interview the interviewer may be impressed with creative achievements.  He may also perceive examples of independence as proof that our kids will be proactive problem solvers within the team as opposed to the actual likelihood that they will chafe under the restrictions of the corporate world.

Dependability and punctuality may be important in the job application (showing up late is never a good idea) but it is thought of as a minimum requirement rather than something that will help our kids stand out. The more glamorous attributes in an interview are examples of creativity and independence.

So our kids need to be punctual and dependable as they go up through school then show their creativity and independence in the interview and then go back to punctuality and dependability after starting the job. So, heavy on the diligence and a splash of brilliance. As parents, we can encourage creativity on a regular basis with school while trying to make it clear to our kids that their grades are not likely to measure how creative the work is but rather how closely it follows the rubric. Independence is also good to praise in our children but combine that with the message that you don't let people down. If you make a promise or commitment then follow through. We live in communities and rely on people every day.  The corporate world is the same, a team focused world where dependability and tactful employees are valued the most.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When I grow up, I want to be a Graphic Designer

1st Semester Project, "Pineapple Skull"
I now have a 13 year old who is taking graphic design as an elective in middle school and a 6 year old who is going to art club after school. On the off chance that either of them decides to pursue a career in art/design/graphics I became curious about what it takes to be successful in that field. Like most careers, I believe our kids do not need a prodigy's level of talent to make it happen. Hard work, ambition, focus, can get them almost anywhere they want to go.

There are lots of art related jobs in the world (see the list at the end of this article). The requirements to succeed differ, for example you  may not necessarily need a college degree to be a good photographer. But for simplicity's sake, I am going to focus just on the graphic design job for this article.

Graphic designers are found in companies as regular employees but also often as independent contractors or freelance. Under the assumption that freelancers and independents will need a decent portfolio of paid work to get hired, we can narrow our discussion to what it takes for our kids to get that important, first, full time job.

Working backward from the job description for an entry level graphic designer, we see that the typical company is looking for a college degree in the arts, preferably graphic design, practical knowledge of the tools of the trade, particularly (at the time of this writing) Illustrator, Photoshop, pencils..., some sort of related work experience (ideally), and a portfolio.

Since this is an entry level job, the step prior to applying is graduating college.  There are many schools that offer design programs but let's look at what it takes to get into #1, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The assumption being that if our kids can get in there then they can get in to any of the other colleges lower on the list. According the the RISD website, applicants should have a high school diploma, preferably including classes in design. They will need an SAT composite score of 1750 or more and a B+ GPA or higher. A portfolio of 15 to 20 of their best (recent) work must be submitted along with handwritten drawings on white paper (specified on the site), plus an essay or two, and letters of recommendation. Oh, and $60 for the application.

Now to high school.  The GPA, SAT scores, and essays are something we all know to focus on for any college career so looking at the design specific points we see three areas to encourage our kids. 1) They should be signing up for whichever electives in the arts are available at the school.  If there are none, it would probably help to find something extracurricular or even start their own "Art Club" at school.  Chances are there is a teacher or parent who will support it and other kids with a similar interest.  2) CREATE and often, The portfolio is not going to be something our kids cram into the summer before college applications begin.  Have them constantly working on something and save it all.  Given the very specific requirement to submit drawings on white paper, a bit of extra work with a pencil is probably a good idea.  3) Personal connections with anyone related to design will be helpful when looking for a job but these people are also good choices for that letter of recommendation. Help your kids to meet up with people who are connected with the industry.  Advertising is the big one but product development managers in house at Procter and Gamble would also be interesting to know. If your son or daughter can get a little work (paid or volunteer) through these connections doing something related then even better.

Which brings us to elementary and middle school. Preparing our kids to enter high school at the artistic level where they can produce a portfolio impressive enough to get them into RISD is the goal. Give them encouragement so that they continue and enjoy the challenging work of trying to create something even though they might not have all the skills yet. Most of the software companies that make products for designers also offer education discounts so look into downloading Illustrator on your computer and letting your son or daughter play around with it. There are even games out there that encourage many of the same skills and 3D thinking that are essential for a designer, Minecraft comes to mind as a popular one. And, as with high school, keep drawing.  The requirements for pencil and paper submissions may change in the future but for now it is worth building that skill if a career in the arts is a possibility.

Here are a few additional qualities that employers look for in their graphic designers. Do they look familiar? They should, these are attributes every employer wants in a new employee:

  • Communication
  • Problem Solving 
  • Time Management

* Other art related jobs and average salaries:
Graphic Designer - $40,073
Video Game Designer - $55,186
Animator - $60,000
Fashion Designer - $58,278
Illustrator - $66,000
Product Designer - $82,000
Museum Curator - $53,160
Photographer - $19,000
Web Designer - $66,000
Artist - $0 to $1,000,000+

Monday, December 8, 2014

Do you want your kids to be nice or successful? Pick one!

A recent article in the Washington Post about raising "nice" kids got me thinking about whether being nice and kind to others is a career weakness.  I certainly want my kids to be considerate of others and in general be good human beings.  But I also want them to be aware of what they need to do to achieve their own goals. The post article says that parents should teach their children that caring for others is a top priority.  But, if you always let everyone cut in front of you on line then you will never reach the front.

In Tough's book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
 (which I am still reading), he brings up Moral Character vs Performance Character.  Moral Character encompasses virtues like empathy, courage, honesty, and loyalty.  Whereas Performance Character includes:self-control, zest, curiosity, and optimism.  These are not comprehensive lists but you can see that the Moral virtues are very much connected with interactions with other people and the Performance ones are possible all by yourself. Thinking as a recruiter, the virtues that are most visible and likely to get our kids a job are heavily weighted on the Performance side.  Sure, interviewers want honest kids applying to their colleges or companies but how do you screen for that?  And courage? Even the army does not send their soldiers into battle as part of the interview process.

Why do we have to focus on one or the other.  Can we hope that our kids are nice, care about others, and also get to the top of their chosen career? When the boss asks if your daughter wants that promotion to the next level up the ladder, do you want her to say "Yes" or do you want her to say "No, give it to Fred since he really wants it too."

I want it all for my kids.  I want them to be nice, caring, wonderful adults (like they are now nice, caring, wonderful kids) and I also want them to be driven and passionate about achieving their goals in life. How do we explain this to our kids in a way that does not sound contradictory? "Think about others first except when you should think about yourself first..." Saying, "Focus on yourself but don't hurt others." is a good start but it is too passive on the caring bit. "Don't hurt people" is not the same as "Care for other people." The decisions our kids will make whenever there is a choice between helping themselves or helping someone else will need to be made on a case by case basis. I can't help but feel that this is another one of those things where our kids are going to find that their compass (moral and otherwise) is aligned based on watching us and how we interact with the people around us.  If we can find the right balance in our own lives and share it through positive actions visible to our kids then they will pick it up... I hope.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The "four letter" word used by all successful people

Very few people are successful entirely on their own.  Bill Gates worked with Paul Allen, Steve Jobs with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, and to shift away from high tech you can even point to Coach Wooden and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It is impossible to be successful in your career without help from someone. Just look at the booming business in executive coaching and you can see the demand for support in the workplace.

There is pressure for our kids to do everything on their own.  Admittedly they can get away with doing less if a parent is not looking over their shoulder.  More often though, they are under the mistaken impression that asking for help is in some way like cheating.  The following conversation may or may not have happened in my household recently and the all characters are probably fictional, maybe.

8th Grade Son: So if colleges look at my grades for all four years of high school it is going to start soon!
Father: Yes it is, that is why your mother and I are always hassling you about good study habits.
8th Grade Son: I have good habits...
Father: Sure, like getting your work done without procrastinating, and asking for help when you need it.
8th Grade Son: Help with what?
Father: Well, that essay you had to write the other day for example, you could have asked me to check it for you.
8th Grade Son: Yeah, but I did it myself, I didn't need your help.
Father: But maybe if you asked me to read it over after you were finished I might have had some suggestions to make it better.
8th Grade Son: But we are supposed to do it ourselves and you will not be there when I am older so I won't be able to ask you then. [Good point!]
Father: True, but we could review it together and you could learn whatever I have to teach you and then later you might be better able to do it on your own.  And, I am sure your teacher would want you to ask for help, as long as I don't write it for you.
8th Grade Son: Hmmmm.

I am sharing the above dialogue because 8th Grade Son has a valid point.  If he asks for help all the time then what is he going to do when there is nobody around and he truly needs to finish his work on his own.  Where is the balance between building independent skills and confidence in our kid's abilities and asking for help?

Our kids were not born this way.  As toddlers they do not hesitate to ask us to do anything at anytime. I would imagine that it is part of that whole independence thing that comes with puberty and adolescence where asking for help becomes harder. We may not always be able to provide the support they need (like with the increasingly difficult math problems coming home these days...) but we can create an environment where they feel comfortable asking.  Like the study habits mentioned in the dialogue above, the habit of asking for help when needed is an important one for our kids to develop for their careers.

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Present", rather than talk to you kids

In my previous article on planning I joked about creating a PowerPoint presentation to explain to my kids the long term benefits of studying and doing well in school.  Maybe it should not have been a joke. My son (13) has had his own MacBook since grade 6 as required by the school.  He was using school computers and borrowed iPads in class from at least 5th grade (2011) and probably on and off even before then.  From the beginning of 2nd grade this year, my daughter will be required to bring her own iPad to school each day.  Currently in 1st grade they are already using borrowed ones to create eBooks out of their own stories.

There are many good reasons for learning the latest technology in schools.  In my day job as a recruiter, it is rare for me to see a resume that does not have the standard skills section at the bottom showing  the candidate's abilities to work with "Word, PowerPoint, and Excel".  It has become ubiquitous* enough that the lack of those three words in an application may disqualify a candidate for the job interview. Knowing your way around a computer is certainly a necessary business skill these days.  But, how is all this technology affecting the ways in which our kids communicate with people around them and how we as parents communicate with them?

Growing up, just about everything I learned came from a book or someone lecturing to me. Studying for a math test required a long night of flipping through the text book, writing out practice problems, and looking up examples and answers in the back.  In contrast, the other day I happened upon my son sitting at the dining table in front of his MacBook with his headphones. He was supposed to be doing his homework.  Prepared to swoop in and confiscate said headphones, I moved around to see what he was watching.  Instead of a game or movie, I saw that his browser was opened to YouTube and he was watching a video on how to solve equations for his upcoming algebra quiz.  I realized that this was not the first time I had seen him learning this way. Whereas I am much more likely to google something and then read about it on whatever site seems best, the 13 year old goes straight to YouTube and finds a video on the subject.

With the increase in both visual and interactive content our kids are absorbing everyday, is there any doubt as to why they find it both strenuous AND boring to read simple black text on white paper?  Do you remember how difficult it was to pay attention to your own parents when they were lecturing you?  Can we assume that our kids now find it even more painful to listen to us go on and on and on about studying, their future, responsibility, focus...?

What to do? I am seriously considering the purchase of a decent video camera so I can start marking entertaining YouTube videos of my oft* repeated lectures in the hopes that my kids will pay more attention to the screen than they do to me. Yes, seriously.  But I also believe there is something to be said for the physical presence and while YouTube is great, it is still passive and we do not get that interactive bit. The other idea I am thinking about is installing a giant white board on the wall in our dining room.  The kids all do their homework at the dining table and many of the discussions about report cards, relationships, and life in general happen there. Being able to illustrate our discussions might help the kids to stay on topic longer and therefore take more away from the conversations.  Hopefully more of what we want them to learn.

Now I just need to convince my wife that a giant white board would look nice in her dining room...

* My son sometimes reads these articles (even though they are not moving images) so I occasionally try to educate him with new vocabulary. 

  • ubiquitous: present, appearing, or found everywhere.
  • oft: archaic, poetic/literary, or jocular form of often. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pay for it - Why is bribery a bad word?

Parents, I would like to ask for a little self-honesty here.  You do not have to reply to this article, just be true to yourself. If you were independently wealthy and had the means to live whatever life you wish, would you still get up this morning and head off to your current job?  I am guessing most of you would not. Fortunately I do not have to guess.  
Forbes has run a survey on work satisfaction every year since 1987.  2014 results indicate that more than half of us (52.3%) are unhappy with our jobs.

So why do we still drag ourselves out of bed 5 days a week (when it is cold and dark outside) and brave the long, crowded commute to spend 8+ hours doing something that does not excite us? The short answer is money. The long answer is because we have responsibilities like rent, feeding our kids, tuition, saving for retirement (hoping it comes eventually), paying for our annual vacation to Disneyland, etc...  which all requires money.

Now if 52.3% of us do not want to do something hard (like work) without getting paid, is it fair to expect our kids to do the things they dislike without some reward as well?  [In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the little jury inside my head is still out on this particular topic which is why I writing through my thoughts here hoping to gain some clarity.] has an article that is quite openly against bribing our kids.  Specifically, they talk about not bribing children to behave.  If children develop an understanding that they only have to act appropriately if they are paid to do so then they will not learn the intrinsic value of good behavior.  This leads to a sense of entitlement and a lack of respect and personal responsibility.  These are strong arguments and a sense of entitlement is damaging to our kids career prospects.  I have met many students with the attitude that they will start learning and preparing for the job they want AFTER the company hires them and starts paying them a salary. "Why should I waste my time learning JAVA or C++ now? After Google hires me as a programmer I can pick it up quickly."

The same article makes a distinction I don't entirely agree with; that bribes and rewards are different things.  Bribery being a payment to stop bad behaviour and a reward offered after something good.  While I get it, I prefer to think of it in simpler terms.  Payment for services rendered (rewards, bribes, whatever).  Is it OK or not?  When we start approaching it this way and dispense with the term differences we can focus on which "services" are appropriate to pay our kids for.

I tend to agree that paying our kids to stop behaving poorly is likely to result in a reinforcement of whatever that negative activity was.  "Here is a lollipop so please stop whining." Is easily understood by kids of all ages to mean that whenever they want another lollipop they just need to start whining again.  Where I think there is room for payment (money, candy, etc.) is when encouraging our kids to make an effort towards something that will provide a future benefit to them.  Amy Chua of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother infamy, says that one of the worst things we can do is let our kids give up.  She also states that nothing is fun until you get good at it.  In her case she is talking about the hours and hours of painful piano and violin practice for her daughters. Encouraging our kids to put in the time and energy to get through all those hours of (insert difficult thing here; piano, homework, Japanese language) will lead to two positive results.  First, they will be able to play piano well or speak Japanese fluently or get all As on their report card.  These goals will not seem like much to our kids when they would prefer to be playing video games or hanging out with their friends.  They won't recognize the value of the result until they get there.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for the future, they will have achieved something impressive through their own efforts. Confidence is built through such achievements and if we can encourage our kids along the way with the occasional and timely "bribe", then why not?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are your kids in leadership roles?

May I assume that we are all familiar with the word rubric (no, not like the cube)?  Maybe no?  I did not learn about it till I had kids and they started bringing home assignments along with these charts laying out what they needed to do to get an A (see sample here).  I don't remember having such clear guidelines when I was in school...  Did we have it harder then?  Was it actually better preparation for the real world?  I doubt that the companies and bosses our kids work for will be providing such detailed instructions on what they need to produce to earn an A at work.  Oh, sorry, the definition for those of you who have yet to come across this magical little piece of paper:  A rubric (according to Merriam-Webster) is an explanation or a set of instructions at the beginning of a book, a test, etc.  There is an alternative definition that states it is a rule for conduct of a liturgical service.  That particular definition is less relevant to our discussion though.

As a teacher, I was curious about whether there are rubrics available for some of the assignments I give in classes, particularly one for writing a resume. A quick search of the Internet resulted in a fairly comprehensive rubric written by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The full version has 4 columns that descend from a perfect resume down to horrible.  The abridged version is posted here with just the best and worst shown for contrast.

This is an excellent tool for both high school and college seniors to help prepare their resumes for applications to schools and employers.  The guidelines are clear and have been created based on input from the actual people who make decisions on accepting our kids.

However, we do not need to wait until the applications are imminent before reading through the rubric and getting a head start on the content.  There were three key lines that jumped out at me and are worth considering for our kids.

In the Education Section a "Best" resume would include the student's: Major, degree, GPA, study abroad, and relevant course work.  Companies and colleges are looking for connections here to the job or degree. We know about GPA of course but course choice in college can often be more about fitting something into a schedule rather than considering what will be most relevant for our kid's future career.

The Experience Section has several points but as with education above, this line should be written in bold letters, underlined, and italics, Information relates to the intended career field. If our kid is applying to the marketing department and just happens to have had an internship with P&G (doing marketing) then their chances of getting in have jumped exponentially.

The last section, while not often the center of attention on a resume, Honors/Activities specifies something that I rarely see on resumes at the college level but also mid-career, Skills gained and leadership roles held. Typically the kids put "Swim Team" or "Piano" and leave it at that.  The positive impression that including the word Captain after swim team adds to a resume can make all the difference.  Now, if my daughter is already a senior in college we can't go back in time (yet) and convince her to look for a leadership role in whatever she is doing.  But, if your son is 10 or 14 and still in the midst of building their resume we can apply a little parental persuasion and encourage some leadership and skill building when there is still time.

Resume Rubric - NACE

Resume Rubric
Resume should effectively land you an interview.
Resume needs significant improvement and would be discarded during screening
This resume fills the page but is not overcrowded. There are no grammar or spelling errors. It can be easily scanned.
This resume is either one-half page or two to three pages long. The font is too big or may be hard to read. There is more white space than words on the page. There are multiple spelling and/or grammar errors.
Education Section
This section is organized, clear, and well defined. It highlights the most pertinent information and includes: institution and its location, graduation date, major, degree, GPA, study abroad (as appropriate), and any relevant course work.
This section is missing the most crucial information. Institution is listed, but not its location and graduation date is missing. The major is included, but not degree. No GPA is stated.
Experience Section
This section is well defined, and information relates to the intended career field. Places of work, location, titles, and dates are included for each position. Descriptions are clear and formatted as bullets beginning with action verbs. (This section could be split into related and other experience.)
There is no order to the descriptions of each position. Descriptions are not detailed and don't illustrate the experience. No locations and dates of employment are listed.
Honors/ Activities
This section is well organized and easy to understand. Activities and honors are listed, and descriptions include skills gained and leadership roles held. Dates of involvement are listed.
This section is missing—or contains very little—information. Organization titles or dates of involvement are not included, and there are no descriptions.
Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

We don't plan ahead so why should our kids?

The PowerPoint presentation I made for my kids was brilliant.  The logic was irrefutable.  I had relevant graphics and 23 different charts and graphs to prove my point not to mention the 3 slides of citations from established experts in the market.  So why don't they get it?  With all the data and life experience on my side showing that if they make an effort now, it will pay off in the long run.  It will increase their chances of getting into the college of their choice and after that the career they are interested in.  Should I have used a different background theme?  Instead of "Water Bubbles" I could have gone with "Hot Air Balloon".  Maybe that would have done the trick.

Sometimes it seems that no matter how many times we explain to our kids that what they do now will affect their choices in the future, they just don't get it.  We can certainly force them to do the things they need to do: homework, exercise, learn Chinese. But if we want our kids to be self-motivated and ambitious, they must "believe" that those goals are worthwhile to them.  How important was it to you at age 10 that you get into the right college and be a marketable candidate when you graduate?  Even if you thought about it (unlikely) you probably dismissed it as meaningless since it was a "million" years away.  There is no doubt in my mind that my own kids are the same.

No, I did not really make a PowerPoint presentation on the benefits of studying now in order to get a better job in the future and then force my kids to sit through it.  I was tempted, but since I don't really like PowerPoint anyway and my kids have already heard it all from me countless times I thought it was not worth the effort.

Humans seem to have a hard time processing anything further out than their next birthday.  In my career class at Temple University I ask students to describe their life 40 years in the future.  The results are entertaining and fun to talk through but that is about it.  We work our way back to 5 years which is still a stretch but at least that milestone allows us to pick some key things they should be working on right now. Apparently we don't even know what the future (as a concept) is until around age 2 and the ability to plan kicks in at kindergarten.  Are we (as adults) any better at it?  What is your 10 year plan?  What did you do today to help you reach your 10 year goals?  Corporations are even worse, most of them look no further than the next 3 months down the road and the earnings reports that will affect their stock price. So is it unrealistic to expect our kids (at any age) to understand and feel the urgency of what is coming up for them 10, 15 years from now? 

This article started out as a thesis on how we can get our kids to appreciate the value of making an effort towards a productive future (read as "getting a job").  I had some idea that by the end I would be able to say that following this approach would helps us drive this critical point through their remarkably thick skulls. I was wrong.  My conclusion is that we need to be pulling those lofty horizons back to within range of our kids own perception of time.  Instead of 10 years from now, how about 10 days? Now the problem is how to encourage them to study for that test coming up in 2 weeks without threatening them with being jobless, homeless, and miserable in the distant future...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ambition = Goals + Energy?

In my previous article about ambition, I mentioned a formula described by Dean Simonton.  The claim was that ambition could be reduced to a clear goal plus the energy to reach that goal.  Perhaps not for all of you, but this was a revelation for me.  Ambition had always been a vague word in my mind. It seemed that people were either ambitious or they were not. Being able to think of it in very concrete terms was great.  The phrase, "plan your work then work your plan" keeps popping up for me as the template for what we (and our kids) need to do to be considered ambitious.

So why aren't we all ambitious and driven?  Anyone who has spent time walking through a playground knows that our kids have energy to spare.  They are jumping off jungle gyms, trying to spin the swings around the top bar, chasing their friends, running away from their friends, doing something with a ball. And goals are not that difficult to come up with either.  Sure they change with age from "I want to be a Ninja Turtle" to "I want to drive a Ferrari" to "I just want 5 minutes of quiet time, PLEASE!"

Well, we can certainly improve on the goal-setting function in the ambition equation. Just any goal is not necessarily enough to focus all that energy.  A common (attributed to George T. Doran) acronym for remembering what makes up a good goal is SMART.  A goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

So now we have our new equation;

Ambition = SMART Goals + Energy

Attainable answers one of the concerns I had with our original definition.  If kids do not believe that the goal is possible then they are not going to exert any energy towards it.  Attainable also happens to be a relative term and is subject to perception.  Two kids with equal capabilities may view the same objective differently.  The insecure one believing from the get go that he will fail and therefore it is better not to try and the confident one sure that she will make her dreams come true.  We may now need to add another component, A is a function of c (confidence).

Dusting off my ancient algebraic skills, we may write it like this (?)

Ambition = SMA(c)RT Goals + Energy

Relevant is the other key word.  Is the goal worth the effort necessary to achieve it?  Again, we have confidence sneaking in.  How much effort would our insecure young man expect to have to put in to achieve his goal.  Would the confident young woman estimate it the same way?  Probably not. In almost every case the more confident our kids are the less effort they will feel is necessary to reach the finish line and the more likely they are to go for it.  In absolute terms it may turn out to be the same number of hours and calories but perception will be different.  Can we have Relevance as a function of both c (confidence) and e (energy)?  Or maybe Relevance is a function of Perception with Perception being a function of c (confidence) and e (energy).  That sounds more fitting to me.  I am going to guess at the syntax here but you get the point:

Ambition = SMA(c)R(p(c,e))T Goals + Energy

So much for our simple equation...

Monday, November 10, 2014

It is not about the iPhone, it is about discipline and responsibility!

Parent1: So, what are you going to do to show us you understand?
Middle School Teen: Well, as soon as I get home from school I will give you my iPhone and I can't get it back until I finish my homework.
Parent1: OK, let's see how that works for a while.
Parent2: (Thinking to himself) No! Not OK!  It is not about the iPhone. 

The above dialogue and subsequent non-verbal response by Parent2 occurred because of an incident with Middle School Teen.  This was the more subdued conversation at the end of about a week of having his iPhone locked away.  It began because he had his phone taken away by his teacher for using it in class but he also lied to Parent1 and Parent2 about finishing all his homework so he could watch TV and later was caught because he was ratted out by a different teacher who sent a note home (thank you).  He promptly had his iPhone privileges revoked and was told that he has to discuss what he did with Parent1 before he would get it back.  It took a week for Middle School Teen to summon the courage to talk to Parent1 (see dialogue above) and he now has his iPhone back, for which he is greatly appreciative.

So what is the problem with Parent2?  Middle School Teen was appropriately disciplined for misuse of technology and now learned that screen time is not a right but a privilege.  Case closed, let's move on. The problem is that the suggested solution by Middle School Teen seems to address the symptom rather than the disease.  The real issue here is whether Middle School Teen understands that he needs to be responsible and self-disciplined.  Our kids have one main responsibility growing up (as it refers to their future careers anyway), they need to concentrate at school and learn to manage their time so that homework is completed and they are ready for whatever tests and quizzes are coming up.  From age 6 to 22 their job is going to school.  We don't normally put our kids to work in the fields these days or force them to earn their keep in the local textile factory.  Responsibility means that even if Mom or Dad does not remind him to do his homework, he will break out the books and get it done.  Discipline means that they will do the hard things first and get them out of the way, they will not put off the big project until the last day because they want to play games or watch TV.

Yes, these are high expectations that adults fail at on a daily basis but we still need to do what we can to encourage the right habits in our kids.  These are the same habits that will eventually serve them well in their careers.  Maybe we should try to set the right example?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Is ambition a product of our kid's environment?

A friend of mine who had been living here in Japan for many years decided to take his family back to his home country last year, India.  The two boys in the family had been going to a very good International school in Tokyo and found the transition to the local public school in India challenging.  They are good kids though and thanks to a supportive Mom and Dad they were soon adjusted to their new life.  A year later I had a chance to catch up with my friend on one of his business trips back to Tokyo.  Inevitably, our conversation turned to the kids and how they were doing and our hopes and dreams for them.  We are both entrepreneurs, have hired and fired people, and know what the challenges are to finding a meaningful career.  We both want our kids to grow up to be confident and self-motivated... and ambitious.

I was curious about the boys and their school life.  My childhood experience (both my own and for my kids) has been limited to the United States and Japan, both arguably well developed countries.  India, at least according to the IMF, is labeled a developing country.  This developing country though is expected to grow 6.4% in 2015 whereas Japan is 0.8% and the USA is 3.1%.  Probably based on my extensive research of life in other countries around the world (mainly thanks to Hollywood movies) I have the impression that kids are more driven, hungrier, and ambitious if the country they grow up in has fewer amenities.  So, I asked, "Is school life different for your boys now?  Do you think they are more or less ambitious than when they were going to school here in Japan?"  His answer was immediate and definite.  "Absolutely," he said, "the competition at even the lower grade levels around age 8 or 9 is aggressive and out in front."  The children are very aware of who's father makes more money or has a more impressive title or drives a fancier car.  When the test scores come back there are immediate comparisons throughout the class.  When you ask the kids what they will do when they grow up, you get the usual responses such as professional athlete (maybe soccer or cricket in India and soccer and baseball in Japan) but you also get answers like CEO of a big company or just billionaire.

I certainly dreamed of being rich when I was growing up and I know that my son (maybe even my daughter) understands that with more money you can buy more toys.  But, I never felt that "hunger" or "drive" to get there.  My ambition was more laid back.  Reading that last sentence I have to wonder if ambition can be laid back...  Anyway, my point is that our kids growing up in more "comfortable" countries like Japan and the USA do not seem to have the drive that kids have in some other parts of the world.  We are not likely to move to India anytime soon (although I did suggest it but was vetoed by my lovely wife). So, how can we "teach" our kids to be more ambitious regardless of where they grow up?

Dean Simonton, from the University of California in an article in Time Magazine makes the point that ambition, is actually just a combination of energy and goals.  Having one without the other is not enough but someone who has both of them together is they guy or gal you would say is driven.  Back to the question then, can we teach our kids to set goals and then get them energized about achieving them?  My feeling is that goal setting is a skill that can be learned.  There are countless books, classes, podcasts, etc. on how to set and manage goals.  The challenge with our kids (and us?) is how do we convince them to use their considerable supply of energy in pursuit of those goals?

Many of the examples I have read or seen about people who transformed from a laid back, take life as it comes attitude into a driven, ambitious, seize life by the throat mania, have done so because of a dramatic change in fortunes.  They are living an easy life and suddenly Mom or Dad loses their job and they have to sell the Benz and move to a small apartment.  The slap in the face of dropping down the income scale triggers the energy to go after the goals that more than likely existed already.  But can we do this with out kids without giving up the good life?  Or without sending them to boarding school in a poorer country?  There must be a way to trigger that singularity of focus right here at home.

If we look at the example given in the preceding paragraph, perhaps we can adapt it to other aspects of our kid's lives rather than just focusing on money.  The theory being that if we can encourage the "habit" of ambition, it may carry over to other goals.  We can choose a goal that means something to our kids at their age.  Most likely getting good grades or practicing the piano is not high on their list so how about starting shortstop for the JV baseball team.  It is a clear goal and one that your kid may be willing to exert some energy to achieve.  With goals, a key component is the belief that they can achieve it.  That confidence comes with having achieved something (anything) in the past.  If we can encourage and support them to put in the time and practice to make the team and get the position we will have helped them establish a benchmark on what is possible if they make an effort.

I think all kids have goals and dreams and if they are more confident about their chances of achieving them (thanks to past experiences) then they will be more likely to put in the energy.  Goals + Energy = Ambition.  There you go, problem solved.  Right?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Executive Functioning, the CEO in your kid's brain

In Paul Tough's How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, he reveals that while IQ is more or less maxed out by the time our kids reach 3rd grade, executive function can be improved well into adolescence and beyond.  What is executive function you ask?  Well, according to
"Executive function refers to a set of mental skills that are coordinated in the brain's frontal lobe. "
Now it is clear, right? No?  Let me elaborate a bit. goes on to say that executive function is that little bit of our kid's brain that is responsible for helping them to: manage time and attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, curb inappropriate speech or behavior, and integrate past experience with present action.  Basically just about everything they are going to need to do well in life.  Kind of like a CEO for your brain.

As parents we can immediately see how a higher level of executive functioning in our kids would make life easier for the whole family.  Homework would get done on time, past consequences would contribute to current appropriate behaviour, they would not forget their lunch, ever!

Applied to work and preparation for work these attributes become even more critical.  Assuming the goal of passing the job interview for our kid's dream career out of college, we can start from grade school.  Executive functions will help our kid's to develop the appropriate study habits and (hopefully) stay out of trouble in school.  Even with an average IQ, the work ethic and discipline from a mature executive function will help them to progress.  The higher grades resulting from those same study habits in high school along with being able to present oneself with maturity in the admissions interview (speech and behaviour) increase our offspring's chances of getting into the college of their choice.  College, with its myriad distractions, tests the executive functions to the limit but our young heroes survive which brings us to the job interview.

Take off your parenting hats now and put on the hiring manager hat for the company your son or daughter is applying to.  Who do you think is going to do better in your firm?  The genius with the high IQ but has difficulty staying organized (perhaps late for the interview) and makes the occasional inappropriate comment?  Most jobs and organizations will require the full complement of executive functions to not only succeed in their given job, but also to get along with their co-workers.  Read that list of executive functions again: manage time and attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, curb inappropriate speech or behavior, and integrate past experience with present action.  Isn't this what companies want?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ask your kids: "Would you rather make something or sell something?"

The problem I faced in high school when choosing a college, did not go away after that first decision was made.  I faced the same issue trying to decide on a major (I started out undecided) and then again as graduation approached.  The question that kept popping up and demanding an answer was, "What are you going to do with your life?"  Shortstop for the Yankees was no longer an option and America had done away with royalty back in the 1700's so I could not be king.  Hollywood had given me a few options to consider with the obvious one being movie star.  I was never really into theatre though so did not think that would work out.  There were also the roles portrayed in movies: Police Officer/Detective, Stock Broker, Doctor, Assassin/Ninja, Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine, Wizard, Knight, CEO, and Cowboy.  While some of these were appealing, I was not convinced that any of them were for me (or possible).  And here lies the crux of the problem, these few jobs were really all I knew.  How could I make the right choice for myself if I did not know what else was out there?

I see the same frustration today in the faces of the students in my undergraduate courses and to a lesser degree (due to the lack of urgency at ages 13 and 6) in my own kids.

The typical response to this is to ask the young student, "What do you like to do?" or "What are you good at?"  Good questions and relevant however the answers are all too often something along the lines of, "I am good with people." or "I like a challenge."  Which do not do much to reduce the number of possible jobs and solve the problem.  So, we then move to the Big Book of Jobs (similar to the Big Book of Colleges or the Big Book of College Majors).  Of course, now you can search online and get endless details on all sorts of jobs which because of the sheer volume of data soon becomes an overwhelming and meaningless task.

What we need is a Choose Your Own Adventure book for jobs.  Starting on page 1, the student reads a page or two about life and work and is then confronted with the first of what will be many guiding choices.  With this format, we need to narrow the options down to something manageable, say two choices?  The first fork in the road will be the most basic, something that allows us to divide all jobs into two different categories, a very basic and fundamental division.  Since this is my book, I am going with the following:

  • If you want to have a job where you make something, go to page 23.
  • If you want to have a job where you sell something, go to page 37.

I figure that starting with these two choices we can eventually cover every possible job out there. Which would you choose?  Which one DID you choose?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Licking and grooming your kids will help them become confident adults!

Studies show that children who are licked and groomed by their mother more often as infants and toddlers will grow up to be more confident and well adjusted adults.  As confident and well adjusted adults, our kid's chances improve for finding happiness (or at the very least, satisfaction) in their lives through a meaningful job, caring relationship with a significant other, loving and positive relationship with their children, etc.

A quick review of previous Headhunter Dad articles shows no fewer than 8 articles that mention the word confidence (complete list available at the end of this article).  When speaking with recruiters and managers who interview our kids for jobs and admissions to college, confidence and maturity rate highly on their evaluations.  If our kids seem to have their s*** together they have more opportunities in life.

OK, so the study is actually about rats... but the message is the same. Baby rats that were licked and groomed more often by their mothers were more confident and adventurous than their peers in adulthood (Nature article - warning! lots of big science words). Since my son is older (13) I tend to think more often about his career as his applications to college are more imminent than his sister's (6) so I was excited to find a study that shows how our parenting can contribute to our kid's future working life at an early age. 

Perhaps licking our kids is a bit over the top but we can certainly spend more time cuddling with our toddlers while reading to them or at the very least, holding their hand while walking down the street.  This has been referred to (at least in part) as attachment parenting and while the definition for what "attachment" means and how to practice it has changed and multiplied, I find this one to be the best, "sensitive and emotionally available parenting".

While reading about the rat study, I was encouraged about how it might help me to raise my daughter as a well adjusted adult but then I began to worry about whether or not I had "licked" my son enough when he was younger.  Is it too late for attachment parenting in middle school?  Fortunately, it is never to late in my opinion.  And, in this particular case, my opinion happens to be backed up by science, neuroscience to be precise.  The key to applying this to teens is being aware of the changing needs of your children.  Maybe he will not appreciate you holding his hand while crossing the street  when he is 15.  This is why I like the definition above, sensitive and emotionally available. It focuses us on the needs of our kids at any age. The word "available" implies a slightly more passive approach that allows our older kids to reach for independence as they grow but also allows them to turn back to us for support.

So let's get out there and start licking!

Other Headhunter Dad articles relating to confidence:

Update (4/2/2015) Paul Tough suggests in his book, How Children Succeed, that when our kids reach adolescence, motivating our kids is less about licking and grooming and more about taking them seriously.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Programmer, Lawyer, Medieval Weapons Expert, Let Them Choose.

When I was 15 years old, my Dad brought home an Apple IIe computer he had bought used from a friend.  I convinced my parents to buy a book on BASIC programming and was soon impressing my friends and younger siblings with programs that would print my name on the screen over and over again (by copying the code verbatim from the book).  Obviously I was a prodigy.  It was not long after that I decided computer programming would be a great job.  I could play with computers all the time and make cool games and then play more. I can still remember my Mom's response to my sharing this career revelation with her.
"Larry, computer programmers spend all their time sitting alone in dark rooms typing away at the computer and never see any other people.  It is a lonely job.  You are so good with people and you will not like it.  You should do something where you are dealing with people all the time, like sales or psychology."
What could I say?  My Mom was awesome.  I knew she loved me and she was always saying that I could do anything I set my mind to.  And of course, she was older and wiser than me so if she thought I would be miserable typing away in the dark then I should follow her guidance.

Years later, today actually, I am a successful recruiter, my job is definitely about people, and I truly enjoy what I do.  But, I still love sitting at my desk and fiddling with my database, creating scripts to automate tasks, organizing the way the interface looks, linking data.  I think I would have enjoyed the computer life.  Contrary to my Mom's impressions, programs are not written in isolation.  At least not anymore.  There is a tremendous amount of collaboration that goes into creating software and a "people person" programmer is extremely valuable.  

If we are raising our kids right then they are listening to what we say and maybe even considering our advice. We will have built up a relationship of trust where they believe we actually do have their best interests at heart.  Even if they don't show that they understand this all the time.  When someone our kids trust and believe in (us, the parents) tells them that they are not suitable for a certain career, chances are they will take that advice seriously.  They might give up on it altogether like I did, or still pursue it but with enough self doubt as to make it very difficult to succeed. 

Support your kids interests, no matter what that interest may be.  Instead of pushing them away from a career that you disagree with or towards one you prefer, help them to make the most of what THEY want to do.  If they are intent on becoming a professional soccer player but do not have the talent, help them to investigate related careers like physical therapist or sports agent.  Don't just tell them to give up.  

Passion for one's job and career is something I rarely see in the workforce today and even with the best intentions it is a shame to take that away from our kids.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bunny Whisperer

He gently lifted the shivering and frightened rabbit up out of it's box and settled it on his lap.  He was careful not to squeeze the young animal too tightly but at the same time using enough pressure that it would not jump away or feel that it was in danger of falling.  As the bunny peered nervously around, whiskers and nose twitching rapidly, the boy began to calmly stroke it's back and scratch lightly that sweet spot right between and behind the long, soft, furry ears.  Almost immediately the boy could feel it's tiny heartbeat slow.  With the same patience and care he lavishes on his little sister, he continued to hold the small life in his hands until finally, the bunny drifted off to sleep, safe and secure in the arms of it's guardian.

Kids have 21 years (more or less) to figure out what job they want to do when they graduate college.  If you are like me and think that they should try to clarify that before choosing a college (since it is going to cost them more than the value of your house to attend for 4 years), they are now down to 17 years.  Assuming that any real discussion about what work means is not going to happen until they are almost in high school they have a grand total of 5 years to narrow down the almost infinite possibilities.  We should also keep in mind that in those 5 years when our kids are trying to figure out what job is right for them, they have ZERO work experience and know almost nothing about what different jobs are like.  If only there were an experienced, older person in their life.  Someone who has been watching over them the whole 21 years and knows their strengths and weaknesses.  Someone who has 30 or 40 years of adult experience in the workplace.  Someone who could advise these young men and women on what "might" be a good career choice...  Wait a minute!  That would be us, their parents!

"I want to let them find their own way" is a nice sentiment but not practical unless our kids are independently wealthy.  You can read more about "Choices" in my No Choices for Kids! article.

So what career would you advise for the young man described in the beginning of this article?  A job that requires patience, sensitivity, a love of animals.  Rabbit Rancher, Kindergarten Teacher, Veterinarian?  Since the average salary for a Vet is about $84,000 and a Kindergarten Teacher is $37,000 (not sure about Rancher) I am going to push for the Veterinarian.  A small note here, if the young man says, "No, Dad, I don't want to be a Vet, I want to be a Teacher." that is great.  As long as he has a direction.

Back to the Veterinarian.  My curiosity peaked, I did some research on what it takes to become a Vet and what he can do now.  The first activity meets 2 needs.  Volunteering at a veterinary clinic or animal shelter.  It gives the child a chance to find out if they really like working with animals all the time and the experience will be valuable on their college application for vet school.  Next, science (particularly biology) is important so getting good grades in this subject and keeping up with the curriculum will make the undergraduate degree easier.

According to a few sites I found, there are a limited number of graduate veterinary schools (28).  This makes for very competitive admissions.  Standing out with good grades, letters of recommendation, and specific, focused internships and volunteer activities both in HS and college will make a difference.  Finally, recognize the commitment it will take.  A vet needs a 4 year undergraduate degree, followed by a 4 year graduate degree (Doctor), then you have to pass the licensing exams for both national and state and often start with an internship after all that before getting full time work.

Now I just need to find a place where he can volunteer with animals over the summer!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Do iPads build confidence in 2nd graders?

The other day I learned that my daughter's school will be moving to a one-to-one environment for technology from 2nd grade.  My son, who is now a 7th grader is already a part of this program as middle schoolers need to have their own MacBook when they begin 6th grade.  The new policy will require all 2nd graders to have their own iPads to bring to and from school.

I am sure that we are looking at the future of education with tablet technology.  Laptops and netbooks are already common in every class at the college level and visible all the way down the line through high school, middle school, and elementary.  It is simply too efficient having your textbooks, library, and notebook all at your fingertips in a neat multimedia package the size of a piece of paper for it not to end up that way.  So, I am not arguing against that introduction of technology into schools.  But, what are we losing and how will it affect my kid's chances of getting a good job (since that is what this blog is about)?

The influence (interference?) of technology in education is not limited to the gadgets the kids and teachers are toting around.  Blackboard or Moodle (enterprise level education software/service) along with intranets and blogs are allowing teachers to share information with their students 24 hours a day.  My son often has no idea what his homework is until he gets home and checks online at the end of the day.  This is great for everyone involved as it eliminates the excuse of forgotten homework assignments.  How can my daughter claim that she forgot when it is on the website every night?  The only challenge we have in our house is that sometimes my son will check his homework, do the first subject and then forget that he had more.  For that we created the printable to-do list you see here.  He is responsible for writing it all down so it is all in one place as soon as he gets home each day.  This is an open source to-do list by the way so please feel free to use it if you like.

The problem I forsee is that when our children head off to work, their boss is not going to post their assignment online.  I worry that along with all the other distractions that come with growing up these days (iPhones, soccer, puberty!) that knowing you can always check online to see what you missed will impact our kids efforts at paying attention.  Like everything else, concentration and attentiveness improve with practice and deteriorates through lack of use.  A common reason for companies to turn down applicants after a 2nd interview is because that candidate forgot what was said in the 1st interview or asked the  exact same question to the next interviewer!

For the iPad, MacBook, and technology overall, my Headhunter Dad mindset is asking, "Will my kids be more competitive or less competitive in the job market because of this early introduction of technology in their schools?"  There are some common technical skills that most companies will expect of new employees such as: basic typing skills, able to find their way around a computer, Word, Excel, PowerPoint. Early use of these tools of the trade will certainly help to increase the comfort and confidence of our kids so in that sense I would agree that technology contributes to their job-seeking competitiveness.  However, there are more critical virtues which will affect not only getting a job but succeeding at the job. To answer this question I referred back to a brief study I did about what the world's most attractive employers are looking for in our kids.  It came down to four common attributes: problem-solving, teamwork, maturity, and confidence (the articles can be seen by clicking on the maturity or confidence links).  So, does technology add to the opportunities to build on any of these four recruiting points? No, it does not.  Yes, you can exercise your problem-solving abilities on an iPad. You can collaborate electronically and learn how to work as a team. Technology, when taught properly also teaches responsibility when interacting with others and also about protecting that expensive hardware. Any achievement whether technology based or otherwise can help to build confidence.  But, I do not believe technology teaches problem-solving, teamwork, maturityand confidence any better than it can be taught without an iPad.

There is a need to learn how to use the tools of society but at the same time there is also value to getting away from the screens and keyboards. Each of our kid's will be different and the challenge is finding the right mix for each of them.  My conclusion?  Balance.  As the Headhunter Dad's Dad is fond of saying, "Life is all about balance Larry."