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.