Monday, September 28, 2020

What happens AFTER the test is more important than what your kid scores ON the test

The alternate title for this article was "Why a B is better than an A". Even though the one chosen is longer and therefore statistically not as marketable, I figured it told the story better.

My daughter recently came home with an 86 on her science test (gasp!). She studied for it and at least from my point of view she seemed to make a legitimate effort at preparing. She was disappointed that her grade was not an A but there were no tears and she was confident that she would do better next time. I am satisfied and think she did well. Of course, I want her to strive for excellence but not to the point where it causes an ulcer.

Why is her 86% better than getting a 96% on the test? Blasphemy you say? Sure, higher grades are generally better but allow me to explain. There are two key lessons learned from a less than stellar performance on a test.

The first is that just because her teacher said, "OK, pencils down class." does not mean that the test is actually finished. Did your daughter talk to the teacher? What did she get wrong? Can she ask for extra credit? Did she explain to the teacher that she only needs a B+ to bring her GPA up to an A and this class is the only one where it is questionable. Did your daughter mention to her teacher that this particular class is her favorite? One thing that our kids need to learn is that you can negotiate almost anything. School policy shmolicy, we are all human and susceptible to all that comes with our humanity (like guilt, sympathy, vanity, compassion...). Even teachers! Let them learn early that they do not have to meekly accept all that life throws at them.

The second point is a bit more serious. There seems to be a pandemic running amok through schools now (apart from COVID). This one is causing strong young men and women to avoid taking risks for fear of failure, increasing anxiety, and producing an unwillingness to make decisions without peer support or authoritative guidance. This article from Psychology Today, while from a few years ago, is an early indication of what we see today. Resilience is on decline. 


This ability to bounce back is a better trait to have than good study habits. In the world beyond academia, grades are rare and life is mostly pass or fail. When was the last time your boss handed you back a report you had written and said, "I'd give this about a 76%. It is passing but not by much." While there may be a few managers like this, most of work-life is either pass or fall. Did you get the sale or did you not get the sale? It doesn't matter that you prepared all week and did a great presentation hitting all the key points for the client. Did you get the sale or did you not get the sale?

The resiliency to bounce back and learn something from a bad grade is a trait much more valuable in the workplace than knowing all the answers. Because, many (most?) times in life, the right answer is not clear. Recovering and moving quickly towards another solution is critical for success in business. So embrace that 86% and teach your kids that it is OK to get a B (occasionally).


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Silver Linings - Making the most out of Distance Learning

Monday, August 25th, my daughter returned to school. She went for two days and then was home again for two days. This is the hybrid model her school has adopted to reduce student density on campus. She has multiple masks in her backpack as P.E. and Choir both need to have a different mask. The hand washing culture has reached almost cult levels of indoctrination and 


COVID-19 is a horrible disease. Even those who recover can still have symptoms for months afterwards. The economic repercussions are likely to be felt for years to come. But I am an optimist. I believe that we will invent a vaccine and that things will go back to normal. And, to quote my most intelligent brother who studied in China, “The characters for CRISIS also mean OPPORTUNITY.” With all the changes we are dealing with as a family, there are certainly opportunities to help our kids and their future careers.

First I want to share a few observations of things that happened without any planning on my part. Benefits that may not have come about if it were not for our forced changes in work/life habits.

The Headhuter Dad’s wife is a disciplined women with a strong sense of obligation. She is working from home now due to COVID and she is on conference calls throughout the day with her colleagues. She communicates in both English and Japanese depending on the call. There is an aura of competence you can almost see when she is at work. For our daughter, I am very happy that she has a chance to see what a confident and successful woman looks like. She gets to hear how she interacts with adults in a work environment that would not normally be visible to her. Sure, my daughter probably wishes mommy would get off the phone and play Uno with her but that is what the weekends are for.

My son who is now into his 2nd year of college is also home and studying online for the 2nd semester in a row. He loves not having to get up early to ride the train to classes but certainly misses spending time with his friends. I think that the enforced idleness and continuation of life at home for him has been a bit of a spur to get him thinking more about work and careers. If for no other reason than to find a way to get out of the house and away from is overbearing parents!

Both children have had to learn how to communicate through video calls which even without COVID was becoming more common with global businesses. Sure they were at ease with electronics before this. I think that if I slipped their phones into their hands while sleeping they would both immediately start texting. But texting, even with the occasional selfie still has a feel of anonymity to it whereas a video call is really “in your face”. Video call presence is definitely a useful skill for interviews and business communication afterwards. I see it being used throughout all aspects of my day job as a recruiter.

Here are a few other ideas for what else can we do in the midst of global changes and quarantines to help our kids prepare for the future:

  1. If your child’s school is not teaching classes online you can still give them a chance to practice their video presence. Set up a call with Grandma and let your son lead the call. Host a family dinner with another school family and force your kids to stay on camera and actually talk!
  2. Practice your listening skills with your kids. Since you are bound to be thrown together more often now since you cannot go out, stop talking and be open to what they bring up (see the relevant HHD article here).
  3. Watch a movie together. What? "How is that going to help my kid and his career?" It will require some input from you either during or perhaps better after the movie but take the opportunity to share what you know about the different jobs people are doing in the movie. A lot (all?) of kids have no idea what it means to be a stock broker, doctor, plumber. The only career they see day in and day out with any detail is teacher!
  4. Get more involved in the classes and work your kids are doing in school. Grades do matter. If we are more actively supportive about what they are learning perhaps our kids will take a more focused interest in their studies. Time and energy are certainly components of learning but motivation ranks right up there. If our interest in our kids and what they are doing helps them to become even a little more motivated it can translate into real world results, maybe an A instead of a B.

Lastly, and I know that this one isn’t particularly related to careers and jobs for my kids, we have had the opportunity to spend more time together as a family in the last 6 months than in the last 6 years. That has to count for something.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

What if you do everything right?

 Your daughter got straight A’s in high school, was captain of the soccer team, played the oboe in band, and actively participated in multiple charities. She got into a great college and studied hard graduating at the top of her class. But, she is now living at home and is miserable because the only job offers she has received were over the counter when she was picking up her coffee. 


What happened? You did everything right  You provided tutors, attended every soccer game, harassed your friends for internships, donated to her causes... I guess that by definition if we did everything right then there wouldn't be any problems. The fact that our daughter or son did not end up in a job they love right out of college indicates that something might be amiss. Right?

While the example above assumes that she got into a top school, there are actually two milestones that the HeadhunterDad considers critical on the road to career success. The first is getting accepted at the right college. For most, that means the highest-ranked one your kids can get in to. The statistics tend to support the belief that higher rank = better. Payscale.com shows the schools with the highest-paid graduates are also the schools that are big on prestige and low on acceptance.

With an average acceptance rate of 8.12% for the top 20 colleges in the US, inevitably there are going to be worthy kids who are not accepted. After you remove all the Dean's List entries (read legacy, donors, money) and any other seats given without going through the regular process, the math is such that for each teen who earns a spot as a freshman, there are 2 or more who are equally qualified who do not make it. Apart from going down the road that Lori Loughlin and her husband chose, your only other option is to donate money to the college and hope that it is enough.

Fortunately, as Frank Bruni points out in "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be", the college your child attends does not define their future career limits. I tend to agree with this (for the most part) so for this article, we will skip milestone one and move on.

The second milestone for judging your success in preparing your child for the workplace is whether or not they were able to find meaningful work. Did your daughter have multiple job offers well before graduation? Was your son being recruited aggressively by top firms? As our kids work their way through college, studying hard and getting the grades they need to stand out, the one thing that might be missing is a functional focus. What kind of job are they trying to get when they graduate? Why go to college in the first place?

Whenever I bring this up with other fathers or mothers I inevitably hear responses like,

"They are only 19, they will figure it out."

"Did you know what you wanted to do at 17? I didn't think so!"

"I am 46 and still don't know what I want to do, how can we expect them to?"

I get it. It is hard to figure out what to do with your life. If your kid is one of the lucky ones who latches onto something early then not only college but their career afterward will be simpler and in many cases easier to manage. If your son has been playing around with spreadsheets since highschool, was student council treasurer, and majored in accounting then he will be MUCH more likely to get the job offer for accountant than the business major who is trying to figure things out as he applies in his senior year. That accounting kid is not the norm though. From my experience teaching career strategies to undergrad students for the last 10+ years, I can tell you, most of them have no idea what they should or want to be doing after graduation.

When the HeadhunterDad's Dad was looking for work in 1956 an early focus did not matter. A college degree was unusual enough and graduates were in demand. When I graduated in 1992 it was getting tougher as everyone had a college degree but graduating with good grades from a good school could still lead to job offers. Now, in 2020 and going forward, not only does everyone have a college degree but for the first time in history (I think) we are seeing a decrease in the number of jobs in many functional areas. The sad truth is that competition for the best jobs is increasing and we are entering a time where, like college admissions,  there are only enough spots for a few top graduates and equally qualified kids are losing out. For more on this trend, you can take a look at Rise of the Robots.

As parents, we need to face this reality and by extension, let our kids know what is in store for them. There are going to be fewer jobs and more people competing for each job. In addition to everything your kids are already doing, they are going to have to focus earlier on the career that seems likely. We, need to stop telling them they have plenty of time to decide. The reality is that time is running out.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

What would I do differently?

 Last week's article brought a rush of comments and suggestions. Thanks to all who contributed. The one that struck me the most though was from the Headhunter Dad's Dad who asked, "Would you do anything differently?"

Many of my friends responded saying that they are happy with their lives and would change nothing. I found that a bit pretentious and/or downright dishonest. At the very least it showed that they were not thinking seriously about the question and about all the different moments and decisions in their lives. My friends are not young, I hit 50 this year and most of my crowd are around the same age. It is just not possible to live for 50 years and not make mistakes. There are many decisions I would gladly change and there are certainly mistakes I made along the way.

I am convinced that I could get these friends of mine to admit that there are changes they might have made if I pointed the question away from them. If I asked them what advice they would give someone else who is faced with a similar situation or challenge. For example,  a friend who married young saying that he would not change that decision when faced with giving advice to a young couple might urge them to wait a little longer.  

But this question, "What would you do differently?" is too broad for this newsletter/blog. While the Headhunter Dad's Dad probably meant it in a broad sense, for the purposes of this article I am looking at it from the point of view of my kids and their future careers. Rephrased it would go something like this:

Is there anything I would have done differently that I think would have better prepared my kids for their future jobs and careers?

This is a more complicated question and it is made more difficult by the fact that my kids have still not started their careers. One is a freshman in college and the other is in the middle of middle school. Maybe everything I did was correct so far and they are the optimal path to a life of financial security and career gratification? It would nice if life worked that way and you had instant feedback on your decisions related to your kids. 

I am going to start with a few things I would not change. For one, I am happy with where my kids are with language. My wife and I seem to have done things well enough in that department to have raised two bilingual kids. Having a second language can certainly be a benefit to one's career and Japanese and English are a good job hunting combination. If my kids seek their future in Japan there is always a demand for bilingual talent and usually a premium in terms of salary as well.

Both of them are generous and friendly and are able to deal with people well. I am not sure how much credit I can take for this but I am going with the assumption that Mom and Dad showed them enough love and attention for them to feel good about themselves and therefore spread that out to others. We also must have set a good example of how to act. Kids are always watching and learn a lot more from what they see than from what we tell them.

While on the topic of my kids' personalities we can pivot to the things I might change. For one of them (to remain unnamed in case they read this) I would like to see more motivation and discipline. Motivation is a tricky one and I am still trying to figure out how to get the "yaruki" switch turned on but I think by being more disciplined in the home, the kids would have become more disciplined themselves. The other one could be more confident. I have written about confidence before and certainly try to follow my own advice but it is not easy to be consistent every day. I can recall situations where I resorted to yelling to push my kids to achieve something and it did not work out as planned. Certainly, those are moments I could have handled better.

Sports, interestingly, has a very positive effect on your kid's career options. It teaches teamwork, encourages discipline, builds healthy habits (leading to more energy), etc. Most of these benefits can come from just participating. There is no need to be a star. However, there are a few perks that come from excelling. The obvious financial one is the potential scholarship and entry in a prestigious university that might otherwise be out of reach. Yes, the name on your diploma is not the only thing that matters with a career but it certainly does not hurt. Additionally, the effort and discipline it takes to achieve a high level in a sport are visible to admissions counselors and interviewers. I am certainly aware of it when I see a resume and give additional points to such applications (all else being equal). For my elder one, I wish I had pushed harder on getting him out to practice in the mornings, maybe forcing myself to get up and do it with him. While other fathers were videoing and editing their son's games making montages to send to college coaches I was just sitting on the bleachers. It would not have been so hard to make that change.

When I started writing this article I promised myself that I would finish it on a positive note (again, because my kids might read it!). There are definitely mistakes that I made as the Headhunter Dad. Mistakes that a perfect career counseling father would have handled with finesse and vision. I am far from being a perfect father and with that said, I can only look in amazement at how well my kids have turned out. The biggest fear when faced with the question of "What would you do differently?" is that by making one small change, all the wonderful things you love about your family and your life might also change. I think that fear of losing what we have is why we respond with a confident "no, I would not change a thing".

Thursday, September 3, 2020

STOP talking and your kids might listen

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to go back in time and relive your life in middle school or high school but with all the knowledge of life and relationships that you have acquired through great pain and effort over the years? Hollywood is with you! IMDb actually has a category for this, "To Be Young/Old Again: Age-Changing Films". There are 12 titles on the list, here are just a few of them:

  • Freaky Friday (1976)
  • Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
  • Like Father Like Son (1987)
  • Vice Versa (1988)
  • 18 Again! (1988)
  • Chances Are (1989)
  • The Kid (2000)
  • Freaky Friday (2003)
  • 17 Again (2009) Netflix

The appeal is obvious. We can all look back at times when we made mistakes, said something stupid, or realized far too late that we should have done something differently. These movies tend to focus on relationships and experiences more than anything else but the same theme could be applied (maybe not as profitably for the cinema) to careers. Knowing what we know now about how the world works, about how resumes are evaluated, how interviewers make decisions... imagine what changes we could make to put ourselves ahead the 2nd time around. 


When we have kids, this feeling of "what if" is brought to the fore again as we watch with frustration while they go about making all the same mistakes (and a few new ones) that we made. While it is a cliche, when it comes to experience and guiding our kids, we really do "know better" most of the time. It certainly isn't because we are smarter. My two kids can run circles around me when it comes to brainpower but they have not sat through a job interview on both sides of the table. They don't get what it is like to be a teacher and feel that your students are not respecting you. When we say that sometimes getting good grades requires more than just test-taking they ignore us as out of date and ignorant.

Keeping with the job focused narrative, here are just a few of the areas where we can help our kids with the benefit of our many years of life. I would go so far as to say that it doesn't matter if we got it right the first time around either. Even if you got all Cs in high school, you can still help your kids to make better choices.

  • Study habits
  • College choice
    • Major choice
  • Interview tips for job or school
  • Dealing with teachers
  • Job experiences (what different jobs involve)
    • Job/career choice
  • Dating advice ;-)
Where am I going with all of this? Bear with me, I am getting to it. This article came together based on my own questioning of how to get my kids to listen to what I have to share about life. I have not been shy about telling them what I think they should do. The problem is getting through to them so that they make fewer mistakes. Why don't they just listen?!

I have compiled two lists for you from my research as well as my own anecdotal experiences. Let's start with what doesn't work:

What doesn't work
  1. Lecturing your kids
Yep, that's it, just the one. Don't do it, you are wasting your time and theirs and you both end up tired and frustrated at the end. For those of you who doubt me, I have references for you here and here. Can any of you remember the content of a lecture you received from your parents when you were growing up? I can't think of even one. Most likely because I tuned them out almost immediately at the time of the lecture. What I do remember though is my Dad changing the oil in our car in order to save a bit of money. That has had a much bigger and more lasting impact on my thinking about fiscal responsibility than any lecture on the benefits of saving.

What works (sometimes)
  1. Getting other people to talk to your kids.
    1. No always a timely option but if you want to make an impression on your daughter about the importance of study and how it can affect their future, she will more likely listen to another adult than to you. I have often seen my son listening attentively to one of the other Dads as they talked about the EXACT SAME STUFF I have been saying for years. Other parents will be glad to help. Just let them know what you want to be passed on.
  2. Actions speak louder than words.
    1. Like my example of watching my Dad change the oil. Kids see everything.
  3. Being available AND quiet.
    1. This is trickier than it used to be. Just being in the same room with your kids does not mean they will talk about anything. More likely they are glued to their phones. If you can find a situation where the phones are put away and it is just the two of you it might surprise you how quickly they open up if you keep your mouth shut.
  4. Talking about your own experiences but in a group, so it does not sound like you are lecturing them directly. The family dinner table is good for this.
    1. This is from a book titled "How to talk so kids will listen"
  5. Asking non-threatening questions.
    1. Often kids can come up with their own right answers if given the chance to think things through. 

I am finding that I can apply this new knowledge not only to my parenting but also to my work as a recruiter, manager, and teacher. Both my jobs as a professor and as a manager for a recruiting team involve teaching. Finding ways to make my lectures... not be lectures... is my new goal for the next few months.