Feeling the pain: Employers respond to the soft skills deficit

The soft skills deficit

Five years ago, while teaching full-time as an English instructor at a community college, I became painfully aware of my students’ lack of soft skills. When I walked into class, I greeted my students. Many times, only a few would respond. The rest stared blankly at their smartphones. When I passed students on campus, I noticed similar behavior. Lots of heads in phones. Lots of headphones on. Lots of blank, sad faces. When students chose to engage in conversation, they often seemed awkward and unsure about what to say and how to interact.

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At first, I assumed they simply lacked strong communication skills. Since I taught English Comp and Oral Communication, I made it my mission to educate and re-mediate. I tried. But I couldn’t help students who didn’t register for my courses. And I also couldn’t force feed unwilling mouths (or brains).

That was 2014. There was something in the air… it was a real turning point in the way I viewed my students. Why?

The role of technology

At first I assumed my own perception had simply changed, or I’d just gained new awareness. But statistics prove it wasn’t my perception after all. Pew Research data from 2014-15 cites that Gen Z respondents claimed to use their smartphones “several times a day,” while VisionCritical research shows that Gen Z respondents in 2015 spent an average of 15.4 hours per week on their smartphones and another 10.6 hours on their laptops. And if you want to really dig into learning about the soft skills gap, pick up a copy of Bruce Tulgan’s fantastic book on this topic (I’m a huge fan).

As employers and educators, we are starting to feel the effects of Gen Z’s addiction to digital devices and internet access. In the end, digital natives grow up and become candidates for employment. And guess who’s left to deal with the great chasm between the ideal candidate profile, which features strong soft skills (which we all need to work well with others), and the reality of today’s average candidate? The employer. YOU.

What are you going to do about it?

I hope you’re feeling the pain as you read this. I’m not trying to be mean. But I know this to be true–most of us simply won’t take action and make changes until we feel pain or desperation. And most of us won’t spend money on training until we notice negative effects in the workplace.

For years, researchers (ahem… like me) have shared statistics, information, and tips about soft skills training, the soft skills gap, and the need for awareness about this upcoming epidemic. Unfortunately, most employers and educators didn’t take action. Developing training programs takes time, costs money, and can feel incredibly frustrating. Why should you have to pay for training? Isn’t it the university’s problem or failure? Maybe. Why should the university have to deal with it? Isn’t it the high school’s fault or failure? Maybe. Why should the high school have to handle it? Shouldn’t the parents do a better job? Probably.

Choices and actions

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When we stop pointing fingers, we’ll ultimately realize we’re left with two choices:

1. Continue ignoring the problem. This will get us into a greater bind, lead to organizational chaos, and cause our businesses to lose more money and become less productive.

2. Accept reality. We’re stuck with the problem, so let’s search for solutions.

Implement mentoring programs. Reevaluate your recruiting and hiring process. Take a hard look at your onboarding process. Train your trainers to teach soft skills, and if you have no full-time trainers, hire me to train your hiring managers to teach soft skills or to directly train entry-level employees or coach selected struggling employees.

There are solutions. And as with most situations in life, we become ready to take action when the fear of moving forward becomes less intimidating than the misery of our current situation.

I am here when you’re ready to move.

Contact me to discuss soft skills training, executive coaching, and other solutions.

 

Preparing for life after teaching

About 1/3 of my clients work in the field of education (K-12 or higher education); it’s a natural fit since I have 10 years of experience in higher education and have also worked with K-12 students.  Some of my clients want to transition out of teaching; others are determined to stick with education.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Teaching is a career field most people feel passionate about–at least initially. Many educators feel exhausted after several years of managing a classroom full of students, though, and some opt to pursue a whole new career path. Some teachers retire early to pursue new careers. Other teachers transition out of teaching after only a few years of teaching; they discover that teaching wasn’t quite what they’d hoped it’d be.

 

If you’re a teacher, and you’re unsure whether you want to continue teaching, you should begin training and preparing yourself for what lies ahead… even if you’re not certain what lies ahead. Whether you renew your teaching contract this year or not, taking these three action steps will strengthen your resume, boost your confidence, and provide you with networking leverage if you search for jobs in the future.

  1. Develop one technical/hard skill in an area of interest unrelated to education.

Even if you’re sure you want to continue teaching right now, developing a technical skill unrelated to teaching will benefit you. Putting your mind to work on a topic unrelated to your students can actually help you relieve mental stress and anxiety. Taking an online course in photo editing or SEO can stretch your mind; you’ll become a well-rounded teacher, and who knows? Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to incorporate what you learn into the classroom.

If you have an inkling you may want to search for jobs outside of teaching, brainstorm about which career fields interest you. Are you considering looking for jobs in curriculum design, training, or sales? Enroll in a local public speaking course or reach out to a career coach for communication skills development assistance. Many community colleges and libraries also offer free workshops. You don’t have to invest much of your income to learn a new skill.

  1. Identify three soft skills you’d like to improve and focus on improving one at a time.

Which soft skills matter most to you personally? Which soft skills matter most within your chosen career field (education or your future field)? A little research, coupled with self-assessment to determine which soft skills you currently possess and which soft skills you currently lack, should help you determine which soft skills to focus on developing.

Create an action plan to develop one soft skill at a time. Don’t even think about working on more than one thing at a time—you’ll feel overwhelmed, and you’ll give up.

If you prefer working alone and roll your eyes when your principal mentions breaking into groups during in-service training, working on teamwork and collaboration skills might be a good idea. Collaboration is hot in the workplace now; you’ll need to convince employers—with actions, not words—that you are very comfortable working well with others. Develop your teamwork skills now, and when you begin interviewing for jobs in a few years, you won’t be grasping at straws when asked for an example of a time when you collaborated with your coworkers to solve a problem.

  1. Spend 30 minutes networking twice weekly with people outside of teaching.

In education, we often work in silos. We work in separate classrooms, teaching our own students, and sometimes—without meaning to—we don’t share information or stories or successes with one another.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Break out of your silo, whether you’re going to transition out of teaching or not, and spend 30 minutes twice weekly networking with people outside of teaching. If you already have professional contacts online or offline, reach out to them. Schedule visits after work. Meet for coffee or iced tea and chat about summer vacation plans.

 

Do you know someone who works in a career field which has always interested you, but you don’t know every detail? Break down and call that person and ask for an informational interview. Most people love to talk about themselves and their careers. If meeting face-to-face intimidates you, start by networking online. Develop your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Both offer plenty of opportunities to connect with real people via professional groups and chats.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do is teach for 5, 10, or 30 years without considering that someday you might want to transition out of teaching. We’re only human; even if we expect to work in the classroom our whole lives, sometimes a career is only for a season. And that’s okay.

Be smart and teach yourself to prepare for life beyond the classroom. Someday you’ll thank yourself.

If you need assistance finding a new teaching job or transitioning out of teaching, I’m happy to help.

4 ways teachers can transition to new careers

I’ll be honest–I fell into teaching after graduating from college. I didn’t major in education; I’d only taken two education courses. I’d never dreamed of becoming a teacher. I simply didn’t have a solid career plan, and having majored in English, everyone asked me the same question: “So are you going to teach or what?”

So I did. It seemed like a logical career path. Although I loved most of my students, for a variety of reasons I detested the job itself and vowed never to return to teaching after spending one long year teaching high school.

I spent about 15 years exploring various career pursuits—most of them related to writing and student services in higher education—until I returned to teaching after earning my Master’s degree in English language and literature. I love students and teaching. I’m still teaching as an adjunct faculty member while managing my career coaching business.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What’s your story? How did you become involved in education? Which chapter are you writing right now?

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you relate to my experience; you desire change. You may feel frustrated with your teaching position itself, or maybe you’ve been teaching for years and are simply exhausted and have determined it’s time to pursue a different career path altogether.

Whatever your circumstances, you’re in a good place to make a change.

Why? Educators understand better than most professionals how to take the following four steps.

  1. Transform frustration into constructive, future-focused action.

As a teacher, you’re accustomed to problem-solving on the spot and to making the best of bad situations. You have probably transformed a shabby, cinder-blocked classroom into a Pinterestesqe wonderland on a budget of $300 or less each fall. You have scoured the internet for quizzes, downloads, and videos and are the queen of all things royalty-free.

Do not allow frustration with your current job situation—or even your overall career field—to weigh you down.

Instead, let that frustration fuel you as you focus on planning your future. Every time you feel downtrodden or frustrated with work, allow yourself five or 10 minutes to make notes about people in your preferred career fields with whom you could reconnect over winter break. Take five minutes during your planning period to write a thank you note to someone you currently work with—fellow teachers, counselors, or partners in other districts. Maintaining current connections is just as vital as networking with people outside your current circle of influence, too. And when you find yourself sick of grading at night, take a 15-minute break and sign up with two job search agents (online job boards).

  1. Create a plan, set specific goals, and meet deadlines.

You create curriculum and lesson plans, for Pete’s sake. You do this every day! You’ve got this.

What’s your overall objective? To land your dream job.

How will you get there? Outline a plan, step by step, to help you reach your goals. Use your school’s academic terms to shape your plan. Count out the number of weeks left in the academic year and set small, attainable goals (with weekly deadlines).

Are you hoping to transition from teaching to a career in educational sales? You’ll need to revamp your resume to highlight skills and accomplishments valued in the world of business, sales, and marketing. Do you have many professional contacts at educational/academic companies? Allot time to network online and to reconnect with old acquaintances by phone.

  1. Identify areas of strengths and weaknesses. Showcase your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

As a teacher, you’re constantly asked to assess yourself and your students. This is nothing new to you. Now it’s time to assess yourself as a job seeker.

If your resume is already strong, and you are a fantastic writer, bypass seeking help with your resume and cover letter. Perhaps you need assistance in answering on-the-spot interview questions instead, or maybe you feel nervous about networking with employers at events and dinners. Whatever your weaknesses, don’t pull the ostrich-in-the-sand move and ignore them. Work to improve yourself this fall, and in early spring, you’ll be ready to apply for jobs.

  1. Ask for help. Don’t make the job search process harder than necessary.

If you find it difficult to create an action plan, set small, achievable goals to transition out of teaching and talk to others who are doing the same. If you discover your resume needs a major overhaul, and you lack social media skills, and you haven’t interviewed for a job in five years, perhaps you should contact me and let me coach you through the process.

It’s okay to admit you need guidance. As we advise our students, the sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can move toward the solution—the transition to a brand new career.

 Ready for a change? Contact me to schedule a free career coaching consultation. 

 

Does your major really matter?

Today I presented a workshop for high school seniors about selecting a college major and career options for English majors. I provided them with a list of over 20 career options.

But most importantly, I ensured they understood this truth: which degree path you choose doesn’t matter.

I noticed many raised eyebrows at this point in the presentation, and for good reason. We’re taught all our lives to contemplate the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And later in life, during elementary and high school, we’re asked, “What are you going to study in college?” or “What are you going to major in?”

Aside from highly technical career paths, it simply doesn’t matter much which degree path you choose. Sure, it’s better to major in psychology than history if you’re interested in working as either a social worker for a private agency or for the Department of Human Services someday. Think of degree paths and majors as umbrellas. Aim to huddle under the umbrella which suits you best. If you find yourself interested in social services, pursue a degree in either criminal justice, social work, psychology, or counseling. Which one should you choose? Good grief. Just pick one. Seek wise counsel, of course, from mentors, faculty members, advisors, a career coach, career services professionals, and others, but the choice is ultimately yours.

A bachelor’s degree is a gate opener. There are very few instances when your selection of a bachelor’s degree path is going to make or break your ability to earn the right to land a job.

Even if you have worked for 20 years and want to transition into a new career field but find that your degree/major doesn’t match with your preferred line of work, don’t sweat it. Take a look at your skill set. Work with a career coach to revise your resume to highlight your skills and experience to match your preferred field. Seek volunteer or part-time experience in your preferred field.

In today’s world, employers value soft skills and experience at least as much—if not more than—they value the type of degree a candidate possesses. Hiring managers look for work experience on a resume—internships, externships, job shadowing, volunteer work, and part-time and full-time jobs. Candidates make or break the opportunity to earn interviews by their ability to write a quality resume/cover letter, to network appropriately at job fairs and during on-campus interviews, and by branding themselves online. During interviews, employers ask questions which allow candidates to showcase soft skills, including communication skills, problem-solving skills, team-building skills, and time management skills.

Today’s employers understand they’re not going to hire entry-level candidates and interns with every single qualification out of the gate. However, competition is fierce in this job market, and candidates need to showcase themselves as quick, willing learners. Employers simply don’t have time, energy, or funds to train candidates extensively.

Ultimately, just go to college. Just earn your degree. A degree is a door opener; you can always fall back on it when you find yourself unemployed and searching for work. And lastly, select a degree path you ENJOY. Life is too short to waste four or more years studying material you despise.

Need help discerning your future career path? Contact me for a free consultation.

Resume templates: Just say no (and why)

I recently read an article explaining why using resume templates is a bad idea. At the end of the article, the expert quoted in the article admits that most resume writers use templates themselves and that “they’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper every time.”

This depends on the resume writer, I suppose, but I must protest!

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Photo by Pixabay.com

Let me explain my own resume writing process and the rationale behind the old school approach I take to resume writing.

First of all, I believe in helping people write resumes. I do not write resumes for people—I write resumes with clients. As a career coach and as a former faculty member and career development director, I believe in helping clients create documents they can send to employers as honest representations of themselves. If I do all the work and 100% of the writing myself, I don’t believe the end products (resumes and cover letters) are honest representations of my clients. For this reason, I work closely with clients to create well-written documents (that’s where my expertise as a professional writer comes in). The end products reflect my clients, featuring their own unique voice and tone. I probably spend more time with clients than the average resume writer or career coach during the resume writing process, and that’s okay with me.

When you need help with your resume, you contact me. Most of you already have a draft of a resume or an existing resume on hand. You send it to me to review, and we begin working to create something much better together. In this case we’re not starting with a blank page, but we’re not starting with a template either.

Let’s say you have absolutely nothing created and that you’ve never drafted a resume in your life. We would literally start with a blank page, but I’d ask you to gather documentation to help me understand your work history, your educational background, and other key components to help us create a killer resume.

I want to be clear that when I say “killer resume,” I’m referring to the CONTENT of your resume, not to any fancy design elements. Resumes are not meant to be pretty or graphically impressive. They should be streamlined and easy for recruiters and hiring managers to read. After all, the average recruiter spends about six seconds reviewing your resume. Your resume layout should be ATS (applicant tracking system) compatible. If it’s not, you will not likely receive many interview offers.

At no point in time would I suggest that any job seeker—whether a college student, entry-level candidate, or executive-level candidate—use a resume template. Not only will templates reduce the likelihood of ATS compatibility, but they will also reduce the odds of your resume standing out from the stack of resumes on the recruiter’s desk. How many candidates do you think used the same template, including the same suggestions for wording? In addition, editing resumes created in templates is almost always clunky and time-consuming.

Your resume is the key which opens the door to potential job opportunities. If you’re using the wrong key, you can try as many doors as you like, but you won’t make it into the lobby for the next phase of the process—job interviews—if recruiters don’t respond well to your resume.

Let’s get to work on your first step toward success.

Need help editing or creating your own resume or cover letter? Reach out to Bethany for assistance or to ask questions about how career coaching might help you.