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.

 

Siddiqi Ray photographer

An interview with Siddiqi Ray: A vision for entrepreneurs

Each business owner discovers the road to entrepreneurship differently. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, Siddiqi Ray, about her unique path to successful entrepreneurship.

Siddiqi Ray is an internationally acclaimed photographer, speaker, and coach. Prior to stepping out on her own as an entrepreneur, Siddiqi garnered experience in editorial photography, marketing, customer relations, graphic design, and higher education. Although Siddiqi didn’t start her own business immediately after graduating from college, she shares that her mentors planted entrepreneurial seeds in her as early as age 16 when she attended The Arts High School in New York.

“I’ve always been really good at seeking out mentors—either people who were where I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do, or who had another quality they embodied that I realized I needed,” Siddiqi shares.

The importance of mentors

This led Siddiqi to pursue internships and career-related positions throughout high school and college. Her tenacity helped her land great positions later in life with organizations like The Mayo Clinic and with clients like The Navy SEALS and The Dalai Lama. However, as Siddiqi points out, translating impressive work experience into entrepreneurial success is often a struggle.

One of Siddiqi’s most noted mentors, who pushed her to pursue a career wholeheartedly in photography, was a professor at Tish School of the Arts at New York University (NYU). While Siddiqi entered the school expecting to pursue a career in videography, her professor noticed her true talent—photography—and urged her to take her camera and “go out and experience the world and live your vision.”

So she did.

Siddiqi notes that her professor’s words, care, and mentorship impacted her profoundly.

“That was such an amazing revelation—to have someone care enough about me and to see something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.” Siddiqi mentioned other mentors, friends, and colleagues who have impacted her similarly.

Discovering our own strengths & weaknesses as entrepreneurs

Siddiqi Ray photographer
Siddiqi Ray, internationally acclaimed photographer

“Sometimes we have that knowing, but it’s hidden in plain sight,” she muses.

When starting and growing businesses, many entrepreneurs struggle with inadequacies. For some, it’s their own soft skills or interpersonal skills, and for others, it’s character strengths and weaknesses. Siddiqi admits she wasn’t immune to this struggle; she grappled with one soft skill in particular which was both her greatest quality and the “bane of her existence”—and that was vision.

Siddiqi defines vision as the internal sense of knowing, a gut instinct, and a big picture ability to see where she wants to be and what she wants manifested in her career, business, and finances. Not all entrepreneurs and business owners possess this soft skill—that’s for certain. Many business owners are simply not big picture thinkers. Many, instead, muddle through details and have difficulty with even the simplest questions, like “Where do you see your business in five years?”

Not Siddiqi. She admits that the hard work for her happens in the space between the vision and the now. She shares that she often feels frustrated because she is not truly goal-oriented even though she is vision-oriented; she can get frustrated in the translation.

Siddiqi Ray’s advice to budding entrepreneurs

Siddiqi advises budding entrepreneurs to pursue, find, and believe in their own vision yet hold it loosely.

“Hold it loosely because something better may, and probably will, occur,” she encourages.

Siddiqi notes that it’s important to keep refining your vision as you take action steps toward your vision.

“When I focus my energy and concentration, I focus on the baby steps right in front of me. I don’t worry about spanning the distance. A lot of people I work with are really busy trying to figure out how to fix it and make it work. That’s not where the mojo is. That’s not where the magic is. That’s not where the miracles live. There is vision, and there is what is going to organically happen on the way to our vision,” Siddiqi reflects.

 

If you need help developing your ability to see the big picture, reach out to me for help.

Siddiqi Ray is an internationally acclaimed photographer, speaker, and coach whose work merges intuition, creative vision and pragmatic analysis to help people come into their own power, connect authentically, and build trust through visibility. Siddiqi has worked for over 30 years with entrepreneurs, Forbes 100 listed corporations and billionaires, and spiritual leaders, including The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, several members of the Kennedy Family, and the Navy SEALS.

 

Higher ed: Branding your campus

Recently, my family and I traveled across two states to the Gulf Coast to visit the beach. My daughter is still at that wonderful age of resisting the notion of “potty breaks.” Half an hour after a pit stop, she insisted on stopping again–immediately. We passed two exits, no buildings or signs indicating businesses in sight. As we neared the third exit near Goodman, Mississippi, I encouraged my husband to take the exit. We were in luck. Three miles after exiting, we came across Holmes Community College. We’d hit the jackpot.

I’ve worked at four colleges/universities as a director of career services, academic advisor, and English faculty member. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about institutions of higher education–or any educational institution, for that matter–it’s this: you can form a pretty accurate first impression within five minutes of walking on campus. How? By paying attention to the way people treat you. Let’s extend this to any place of business. How many times have you walked into a restaurant, physician’s office, or boutique and been almost immediately turned off by the lack of warmth? How many times have you walked in for a job interview and felt immediately welcomed and at ease because of the way people treated you in the parking lot, the lobby, and hallways? If this isn’t proof that interpersonal skills–soft skills–make or break an organization’s ability to earn business, I don’t know what is.

32736559_670392302152_1795969454182498304_nCampus brand = people

Immediately after driving onto campus at Holmes Community College, people–faculty, staff, and students–waved, nodded, and verbally greeted us. When we entered the student center to find a restroom, the security guard smiled and asked if we needed help, a student opened the door for me and greeted me, and a woman walked out of an office to ask if we needed assistance all within a matter of 30 seconds. The women who worked in the bookstore were equally as friendly and helpful (and I insisted on purchasing a Holmes Bulldogs t-shirt to represent their excellent soft skills and campus brand).

Losing sight of people

Too often in higher education, we’re obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses. Bigger state-of-the-art buildings. Rad new programming ideas. Next, newer, tech. More students. I get it. It’s a business, right? We’re obsessed with the bottom line. We’re bean counting, as one of my former VP’s used to say as he shook his head sadly. We’re counting beans–and I understand why–but we ought to be careful that we don’t become obsessed with numbers. If we lose sight of people, our ability to attract and retain quality employees and students wains. If we sacrifice the quality of our human resources in order to boost the quantity of our student population, our students will ultimately suffer, too. 

And remember that first impression I was talking about, the one you feel when you walk on campus, the reflection of your campus brand? That’s not something you can fake. Students are smart. If your employees are content thanks to a positive workplace culture, your students (and potential students, their family members, potential donors, and alumni) will sense it. That becomes part of your brand. The opposite is true. If your employees are disgruntled, frustrated, and showing up simply out of obligation (or worse, to continue earning a paycheck), that is your brand.

The solution

The bottom line is this: the soft skills your employees possess translate into the vibe they emanate. That vibe becomes your campus brand.

If you want to improve your campus brand, improve your workplace culture. If you want to improve your culture, take a look at your employees’ soft skills. If you’re a higher education administrator, and you want to improve your employees’ soft skills, start by taking a look at your own. 

Ready and willing to take action to improve your campus brand by seeking soft skills solutions? Reach out to me for help.

 

 

The bravest thing a leader can do

What is the bravest thing any small business owner, leader, or manager can do? What is the boldest question a leader can ask? I propose that it’s this: “What’s my part of the problem?”


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Recently, a lifelong friend and small business owner contacted me for help with executive coaching, particularly in the area of soft skills training. He confessed that he felt overwhelmed by conflicts within his company related to internal communication, lack of collaboration, and systemic problems with corporate culture. What surprised me about our conversation is that he did not rant about his employees. He didn’t whine about their performance or attitudes. He did cite a few specific instances as examples of poor communication and difficulties in the workplace, but he primarily focused on his part of the problems.

Do you know how refreshing it is to offer executive career coaching and soft skills training to companies whose owners accept responsibility for their part of the problem? I think it’s incredibly brave when leaders step up to accept ownership of their  deficiencies. It’s even more powerful when they’re willing to do something to amend the situation by seeking help. “What can I do to make this right? How can I be a better boss?”

Brave questions lead to business solutions

These are the right questions! These are questions leading to solutions. These are questions generating return on investment, greater productivity, retention of excellent employees, improved morale, and better company culture.

This friend and business owner is willing to work on his part of the problem, and he will. But keep in mind that problems in the workplace typically involve multiple people. And when people are involved, things get messy. Each person usually contributes to the problems which exist in the workplace; you can’t pin a problem on one person most of the time. So each person, at some point, may need coaching or training (individually or as a group). For example, if a leader recognizes problems with communication within the company, it’s unlikely that there is only one team member responsible for the breakdown in communication. It takes at least two people to communicate.

Problem-solving is a collaborative process

While it’s great for a leader to take responsibility for his own actions, a leader cannot shoulder full responsibility for every single defect in the workplace, just as he can’t claim full responsibility for every single accomplishment. Teams fail and succeed collaboratively. Should the leader take initiative, step out bravely, and begin the process of coaching himself first? Certainly, if he desires to go that route. But he should not neglect to offer training/coaching to his team members either.

After the leader begins to see the results of coaching himself, it’s a good idea to pull the team in for training. I’ve always told people I manage, teach, coach, and mentor that I won’t expect them to do anything I haven’t done or am not willing to do myself. I think good leaders can operate by the same principle.

Undergoing executive coaching first—and then implementing team training for soft skills—works incredibly well. When the leader address his part of the problem first, seeks a solution, and takes actions to make changes, the team members see results. Why wouldn’t they want to follow the leader after they’ve seen him model problem-solving and solution-finding so well?

Can I help you identify your part of the problems within your team or small business? Contact me to discuss executive career coaching or soft skills training.

Learning from everyone in the workplace

I once joined a professional organization with a diverse membership. We met weekly and discussed industry-related research. Every member sought to grow professionally; most attended at least one yearly conference hosted by the organization so the members grew pretty close. But one of the members drove me nuts, honestly (isn’t that always the case?) She arrived late, laughed hysterically at inappropriate moments, and insisted on interrupting people. When she shared information, it didn’t seem to add value or substance. I whined to my mentor, who was a fellow member. She turned to me and smiled.

“Bethany, you learn something from everyone. You either learn who you want to be or who you don’t want to be. I guess you’re learning who you don’t want to be.”

Ugh. YES. But I didn’t WANT to learn from her! I wanted her to go away. She didn’t.

But I did learn from her. For a few more years, I sat through meetings with the obnoxious woman, who continued to exhibit the same behaviors. Nothing changed about the woman’s behavior. The only thing that changed was my attitude toward her.


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It was a great lesson learned. I probably learned more from her than from many of the solid, professional, appropriate, timely, well-behaved members of the organization who had their ducks in a row. Now don’t get me wrong–I learned plenty from those people. We need excellent role models and mentors in the workplace. Without them, we’d have no idea how to behave appropriately, how to carry ourselves through crises, how to prevent and manage workplace conflicts, how to handle harassment and other touchy situations, and how to seek promotions without steamrolling others along the way. By all means, we need great leaders and strong colleagues who have it all together.

But we need to learn from our colleagues who are barely making it, too. We need those people who have so many personal problems that they’re doing well just to show up to work an hour late, hair disheveled, tear-stained mascara across her cheeks. We need the colleagues in the cubicles next to us who take 10 phone calls per day from their elderly parents with dementia. We need the supervisor who is a micromanager, unable to let go of counting every single bean. We need the one who simply cannot stop telling crude jokes (and gets himself fired as a result–please, dear God).

We need those people because we learn our best and hardest lessons–often gaining soft skills–from the people who are most intolerable, most obnoxious, most needy, and most broken. Do you know how I learned how to communicate competently in difficult situations? By working in difficult situations, time after time, with very difficult people. Want to know how I learned how to prevent conflicts while interacting with volatile people? By working with emotionally disturbed teenagers with criminal backgrounds and a history of abuse.

We often do not choose to learn difficult lessons in difficult moments and situations. But when we find ourselves in tough situations, we have a choice. We can let those situations make us better or bitter, as the saying goes. We can either learn and grow through the situation, or we can whine, complain, and claw our way out as quickly as possible, refusing to accept that there may be anything we could possibly learn from the people and conflicts surrounding us.

I’m not suggesting you should wallow in suffering or willingly expose yourself to demeaning, inappropriate, or dangerous situations at work. If you find yourself in a hostile work situation, fraught with harassment, bullying, or conflict, you ought to immediately take appropriate action (whether that means contacting your human resources director, filing a legal complaint, filing a police report, or searching for a new job). But if you’re just feeling disgruntled or miserable because you don’t like the people you work with, or you find that a few of your colleagues or supervisors rub you the wrong way, or you’re not fully appreciated in the workplace, perhaps there’s something you can learn or gain.

Remember that obnoxious woman I dealt with in the professional organization? She never quit attending organizational meetings. She even attended conferences with us. She never changed. But my attitude toward her evolved. I stopped expecting her to change, and over time, that helped me see her in a softer light.

Most importantly, I learned deep lessons: acceptance, tolerance, patience, and compassion for a woman who had some significant personal struggles.  Hear this: I didn’t have to like her, and I never did. Her struggles didn’t excuse her professional pitfalls. But extending kindness to her didn’t harm either of us. And offering a simple prayer on her behalf didn’t hurt me either.

What are you learning from your most difficult colleagues (or supervisors)? What are they learning from YOU?

If your organization needs a speaker/presenter on workplace communication or other soft skill, reach out to me to discuss scheduling.

branding best light

Branding yourself in your best light

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Transparency. Isn’t it lovely? Unless we’re talking about bra straps or Scotch tape, not necessarily. No one wants to see (or smell) your dirty laundry. I promise. While transparency certainly has its place in the world of business and marketing, it doesn’t translate well to personal and professional branding.

Why? We’re flawed. We all possess defective character traits. If we care about our colleagues, and we care about creating a positive impression on others, we spend all day long hiding those little flaws. We work to build better character traits. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired, sad, or overwhelmed, we try to suck it up and carry on. We may let it all hang out the minute we walk in the door after work. We heat up a frozen pizza, throw on the sweats, and lean into the sofa with a beer and our dog. We have ourselves a good cry. But do we show it at work? Absolutely not.

Is this healthy? Are we all imposters? What in the world is wrong with us? Why can’t we just be ourselves in the workplace?

First of all, let me be clear. If you’re struggling to get out of bed every morning due to depression or anxiety, seek professional help from a counselor. If you’re so overwhelmed by stress in the workplace, and this topic is causing you neck pain, you may need to consider yoga (or a new career path altogether).

But most of us aren’t struggling with emotions or concerns which are extremely out of balance. We’re just trying to make it through the day. Some days are tougher than others.

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How do you make it through those tough days without losing your cool and burning bridges with people at work–your professional network? How do you brand yourself in your best light on a regular basis? And is branding yourself in your best light really being honest with yourself and others?

Here are a few thoughts on branding yourself in your best light and the notion of transparency in the workplace.

  1. Don’t be transparent at work. Set appropriate boundaries. If you need to learn how to set appropriate boundaries, hire a professional counselor or therapist. Read the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Don’t expect yourself to understand how to have positive, healthy relationships with coworkers if you’ve never had positive, healthy relationships with anyone else in your life. You cannot snap your fingers and gain this ability.
  2. Remember that you choose the brand you portray. A brand is simply your reputation. A reputation is built by choices you make. Choices include words and actions. Our words and actions are preceded by decisions. We make decisions all day long every single day.

    Did you know that decision-making is one of the most sought-after soft skills by employers? It’s true. If you brand yourself as level-headed, positive, kind, and thoughtful, you simultaneously brand yourself as someone capable of making good decisions on a regular basis.

  3. When you choose to showcase yourself in your best light–to bring your good stuff to work and share your struggles with only your closest friends, family members, and paid professional counselors–you are not being dishonest. You are being wise. You are behaving in a way which builds your self-esteem. You’re building dignity and confidence in the workplace. You’re giving yourself space from whatever problems you’re facing outside of work, allowing yourself to focus on work while you’re working. You are growing professionally.

    Here is how to brand yourself in your best light… Be the best version of yourself. Continually grow. Make choices you’re proud of on a daily basis. Develop your strengths and character assets. When you focus on developing your soft skills, strengths, and assets, guess what happens to your weaknesses and defects? They die of neglect.

    Your brand will begin to evolve as you evolve. Your brand is simply a moon. If you are working toward career fulfillment and toward becoming the best version of yourself, you’re going to be reflecting nothing but light–and branding becomes much easier.

 

If you need help developing a written branding statement, a bio, an elevator pitch, or a solid LinkedIn profile, reach out to me for help.

For more thoughts on branding yourself in your best light, check out this 3-minute video.

 

 

 

 

Before an informational interview

You might need to learn more about a career field to determine your degree path in college. Maybe you want an “in” with a particular company. Or perhaps you’re considering changing careers or seeking a promotion into a career zone that’s unfamiliar. Whatever your reasons, requesting an informational interview can feel pretty intimidating. Here are some tips to ease your nerves and help you prepare.


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  1. Ask the right person for the right reasons. Do you know how many people randomly ask professionals to meet with them for 30 minutes for an informational interview yet don’t give adequate thought to why they’re asking? Many—and this is why some mentors and seasoned professionals are a bit aloof when you ask for an informational interview.If you’re going to ask someone for 10 minutes of talk time, be sure you’re asking the right person first. Do you want advice about starting a consulting business? Ask an entrepreneur who’s started her own consulting business. Are you considering leaving teaching as a career? Ask someone for advice who’s already been there, done it, and is happy with the outcome (and ask someone who wishes he’d never left, too, because balance in perspective is crucial when making career decisions).
  2. After you’ve identified a great person to interview, nail down your purpose for the interview. Notice “purpose” is singular—don’t ask more than 3-5 questions unless you’re sending questions via email. And even then, respect your interviewee’s time by sticking to a clear, concise plan. Don’t forget to clearly communicate your purpose when requesting the interview. Most people don’t want to agree to spend 30 minutes with a pseudo-stranger unless there’s a stated purpose/plan or perceived benefit.
  3. As much as you need to be clear and concise, you also need to be flexible. If your interviewee offers you a tour of her company’s manufacturing facilities, by all means, say yes! Does that mean you’ll spend an hour and a half there instead of the 30 minutes you expected? Yes, and that’s fabulous! Leave your schedule open for at least a 2-hour block of time when you schedule an informational interview; however, try to watch the clock and wrap up your line of questioning in 30 minutes unless your interviewee is obviously enjoying herself and rambling. Let her go on and on if she likes. She’s the expert/mentor, so sit back, listen, and absorb her experience and knowledge.
  4. While we’re on the subject of time management, remember to arrive on time. There’s simply no way to make a worst first impression than to arrive terribly late. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, call ahead to let your interviewee know what’s happening. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, ask if he would rather reschedule or continue with the interview. Be prepared for him to request to reschedule.
  5. Prepare your list of questions (3-5, ideally) and bring a hard copy with you. It’s very distracting to talk to someone while she’s clicking or scrolling on an electronic device. Put your phone down, leave the laptop at home, and break out a pen and paper for informational interviews. This allows you to make better eye contact and display your soft skills, including active listening and mindfulness.
  6. Be prepared to tell your interviewee a bit about yourself, too. Create an elevator pitch and practice in advance to avoid stumbling over your words when he asks you to tell him about your own career background and goals.
  7. If you plan to share information learned during the interview in an essay, an article, or a post on social media, get permission from your interviewee first. And good grief, NEVER record someone without his permission either.
  8. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. If you’re meeting on-site at a company or office, dress professionally (business casual). If you’re meeting for coffee or lunch on the weekend or in the evening, tone it down slightly. But remember, just as when dressing for job interviews, you’re not trying to show off your assets during an informational interview. This meeting is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you by selecting flashy or provocative clothing.Dress comfortably, not just appropriately, because sometimes we can’t predict how far we’ll walk from the parking lot to the building or whether we will climb three flights of stairs. An informational interview isn’t the time to wear new shoes or a tight, straight skirt.
  9. Follow up and express gratitude. This should always be your last step. Don’t walk away from an informational interview, shake hands, and forget to send an email or thank you card (I prefer thank you cards). Connect on social media, too. This makes it easy for you to regularly touch base with your new contact, mentor, and friend.

An informational interview can be a great strategy in your career development or job search process. But knowing when to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and how to pull it off can be tricky. Contact me if you might benefit from networking coaching or an interview prep session.

Why manners matter

Have you ever met someone who made a terrible first impression? Chances are, this person practiced manners poorly and lacked communication skills. He may not have had a firm handshake. Maybe he avoided eye contact with you (or worse yet, ignored you while interacting with others). Perhaps the person was attempting to sell you something yet failed because he was so over-the-top, aggressive, and obviously only interested in earning your business rather than getting to know you as an individual.

Manners matter. If you don’t think so, read up on the importance of soft skills. Manners matter to employers; they ought to matter to you, too, if you’re searching for a job or hope to earn a promotion at any point in your lifetime.

Here are five outcomes of practicing good manners. Consider these outcomes proof that manners matter.

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  • You make a great first impression.

We’re all prone to interpret others’ behavior and make a judgment call within the first 20-30 seconds of meeting people. It all goes back to the primacy effect and negativity bias. When you meet someone new, and the person makes a poor first impression, it sticks with you—often permanently, even if the person’s future behavior is completely different (and better) than the behavior he exhibited when you initially met.

This means you need to make a great first impression every single time you meet someone new. One tried and true way to do this is to practice great manners, proper etiquette, and strong communication skills.

  1. You stand out.

Let’s face it. People who go above and beyond to practice good manners are an endangered species. Many Gen Z students and recent grads have faced the conundrum of being kept on a tight leash as children while given unlimited virtual access to the world (and beyond). Under the thumb of ever watchful parents, afraid of tragedies, kidnappings, and accidents, many Gen Z children have been thrown electronic devices to keep them pacified since they were preschoolers. These devices introduced them to social media, video games, and false realities. Many Gen Z students and recent grads feel more comfortable communicating via devices than face-to-face as a result. The same students and grads express a desire to spend more time face-to-face with others, even though their communication skills are often lacking.

If you lack knowledge of how to practice good manners, and you know your communication skills aren’t up to par, seek help to improve these soft skills. Your ability to gain and maintain employment may depend on your willingness to develop better manners!

  1. You brand yourself well.

If you want to stand out to employers, college faculty and staff, alumni, and peers, you’ll attempt to practice great manners. When you interact positively and politely with others, you brand yourself as the kind of person people want to hire and work with.

As I discuss in the video accompanying this blog post, when you practice good manners, you brand yourself as courteous, thoughtful, attentive, kind, generous, helpful, and grateful. The people you meet will remember these great character traits and assets when they think of you. And maybe the next time they learn of a fabulous job opening, you’ll be one of the first people to come to mind.

  1. You build a strong network.

When you’re polite, courteous, thoughtful, attentive, and grateful, who wouldn’t want to hire you? Who wouldn’t want to keep in touch, connect with you on social media, interact with you in discussions, or meet with you for an informational interview? All great employers want to hire candidates who exhibit good manners and strong communication skills.

If you treat others well and make a positive first impression, you build strong, lasting relationships with other professionals, your peers, and your supervisors. Networking is all about relationships. When you practice good manners, connecting with others, building those relationships, and maintaining them is natural.

  1. You improve your self-esteem.

When you take esteemable actions, you gain self-esteem.

When you possess a sense of self-esteem and self-respect, you behave differently in the workplace, particularly in times of conflict. You can carry your head high because you know you’re doing the best job possible. When people gossip, you brush it off because no one else’s opinions define your sense of value or worth. This sort of self-esteem is a direct result of your actions. If you’re doing the next right thing each day at work, and you treat everyone politely and courteously, you can feel calm, comfortable, and proud of the work you’re doing.

At the end of the day, the way you treat others speaks volumes about how you feel about yourself.

If you recognize that practicing good manners and interacting with others positively is a challenge for you, reach out to me for help with soft skills coaching.

How to own your career journey and keep peace with your helicopter parents, too

I spoke to an incredibly bright, hard-working, promising senior in college yesterday. She told me about her summer internship with a major corporation in northwest Arkansas. She seemed excited about the possibilities of applying for graduate school and working full-time after graduation, too. With a solid GPA, plenty of leadership experience in athletics and extracurricular activities, and excellent soft skills, this girl will not have difficulty landing jobs. She’s top talent.

graduation-2276495_1280Whether you’re a college student who has it all together or not, senior year is still an exciting time full of promise if you’re completing graduation requirements and embarking on the next steps in your career journey.

One thing can really slow you down, generate drama and confusion, and inhibit your ability to make clear, strong decisions about your career, whether you’re top talent or not. And that’s a helicopter parent who refuses to stop hovering and insists on interfering in your career process.

Many helicopter parents recognize their children’s lack of soft skills—communication skills included–and inability to make decisions quickly, clearly, or easily. They want to help their children (soon-to-be adults), particularly when it’s time to choose a career path. Our world is evolving, in large part due to the role of technology, and many parents understand this and feel antsy about it. They want to help their children select a career path which provides stability, great earning potential, and solid benefits.

If you have a helicopter parent, it might not make you feel better to hear that your parents have your best intentions in mind. You probably don’t want your parents’ input regarding your career choices, the job application process, or your resume. Even if you love your parents, you may not love your parents’ opinions and steady stream of advice. You just want to own your own career process, whether you make perfect decisions or not.

Brandi Britton OfficeTeam District President
Brandi Britton, District President for OfficeTeam

Brandi Britton, OfficeTeam District President, advises college students to strike a balance when dealing with parents and to avoid shutting them out of the process completely. “It’s perfectly fine to talk through potential job opportunities with your parents. Since they have more experience, they may bring up factors you hadn’t considered.”

Britton also points out the importance of utilizing parents as valuable points of contact when networking. “Family members and others in your network can alert you to job opportunities and help set up introductory meetings with employers through connections. After all, networking still can’t be beat as a top way to get a job,” Britton notes.

Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary, suggests keeping parents informed but retaining ownership of the job search process. He offers three tips for college students.

Mike Caldwell
Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary

“1.  Inform your parents of the progress in your job search and what you’ve done to prepare. E.g. ‘I recently met with a career coach/advisor who helped me update my resume and structure my search process.’  Parents may assume you need help getting started if you don’t let them know!

2.  Ask your parents to help in specific areas which may be beneficial to your search. E.g. ‘I could really use additional networking contacts in XYZ field. Do you happen to know anyone who might be able to help?’ Your parents may have not written a resume in several years, but they may have great networking leads.

3.  For company selection, ask for input, but realize that your parents may focus on employers who are familiar or have existing name recognition. When discussing your selection process, it may be helpful to let them know a bit about the company or organization.”

Britton also reminds college students that asking parents for assistance on interviews and resumes is fine but cautions students about allowing parents to become overly involved. “Your parents can help you practice for interviews by posing questions that’ll likely be asked. Get their constructive feedback after mock interviews – how were your responses and delivery? Any parental involvement in the job search should be behind the scenes, such as using them as a second set of eyes for materials. Have your parents review your resume and cover letter for typos and to ensure you’ve highlighted key information.”

Ultimately, college students, particularly seniors, must strike out on their own and forge their own career paths. Not all career decisions will please your parents. That’s okay. We all make our own choices since we’re the ones living with the outcomes and consequences of those choices. Today’s college students have a wealth of resources available to them via career services, too. There’s no excuse for making uninformed career decisions, for not having a resume upon graduation, or for being unprepared for a job interview. Students should take full advantage of the career services office on campus, which ought to provide assistance with all this and more.

With the help of career services, faculty members, advisors, and yes—even parents and other family members—you’ll find that landing your first entry-level job after graduation and making career decisions probably isn’t as overwhelming as you thought it would be.

If you reach out to career services and don’t receive the help you were hoping to find, feel free to contact me for resume writing assistance, career development coaching, interview preparation tips, and more.

 

How do you make decisions about your career?

When contemplating changing jobs, applying for promotions within your company, quitting a job to spend time with your family, or other major career changes, how in the world do you make those big decisions? And how do you make major career decisions without undergoing stress and anxiety?

Here are seven steps I go through when making career decisions (or other big life decisions, for that matter). Decision-making is a soft skill you need while navigating your career journey. It’s also a “must have” soft skill employers look for in candidates during the hiring process. You’ll notice that many common interview questions are worded to ascertain your ability to make good decisions. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision.”

My personal decision-making process may not work for you; that’s okay. I’m sharing it with you because it might encourage you to find a process that does work for you. Take what you like and leave the rest. The important thing is to develop your own personalized decision-making process. If you need some help developing a decision-making strategy, let me know.


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  1. Pray. Make conscious contact with your Higher Power if that’s part of your lifestyle. This works well for me because spirituality is a major part of who I am. If you don’t feel a connection with a Higher Power, spend some time mindfully meditating or quietly contemplating the options you’re considering.
  2. Consult mentors. Don’t try to fix the stuff in your head with the stuff in your head. That typically doesn’t produce great results. I made many poor career decisions—large and small—by relying too much on my own thoughts and feelings.Talk to people who have lots of experience and expertise. Seek a real career mentor if you don’t already have one. It takes guts to reach out and ask for help, but eventually you’ll surround yourself with experts who are kind and supportive. And you’ll give back to others, too. That’s what networking is all about!
  3. Make a pros and cons list. Get it on paper and out of your head. What if you’re weighing two really good options? Then weigh the pros and pros instead. I once had to consider whether to remain a full-time faculty member or to leave my faculty position to accept a position as content manager of a company I had admired for over a decade. I loved teaching—but I loved that company I’d admired and the people who managed it, too. It was a tough call!
  4. Do research thoroughly, whether it’s researching a company, a position, the financial impact of your decision, or the impact of your decision on your family. Simply perusing a company website isn’t going to cut it. You should reach out and talk to people who work at the company you’re considering aligning yourself with. Crunch numbers. This is due diligence, and if you don’t do thorough research, you may regret it. 
  5. Release outcomes. Whether you simply mentally let go of outcomes or spiritually let go of outcomes, understanding you’re not in control of whether you land jobs—even if you do ALL the right things—is important. One of the prayers that helps me when making decisions is, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”This helps me stop worrying throughout the decision-making process. I can do all the right things, but there are many X factors involved in the hiring process. I often have no way to know what recruiters are really looking for, whether or not I’m the best fit for the position or company at the time, and whether the company already has an internal candidate in mind for the position.

    I’d like to believe my destiny rests in my hands, but that’s not realistic. Sometimes other people have a big hand in outcomes which affect me. I have learned to do my best—that’s all I can do. If I’m not happy with the outcome, I move on and knock on other doors of opportunity. Eventually, I’ll find a great fit.

  6. Wait before responding to invitations or job offers. When making decisions, responding rather than reacting is key for me. Impulsive decision-making is almost always a poor idea. Don’t burn bridges with recruiters or hiring managers if you don’t get hired. Recently, a client of mine was not offered a position he’d applied for. Less than 24 hours later, the recruiter called back and offered him the position because the “first choice” candidate rejected the offer. Had my client reacted negatively to being rejected, there’s no way he would have been called back and offered the position. He had to swallow his pride knowing he was the second pick, but who really cares? He got what he wanted in the end, and he was mature enough to handle himself with dignity.Waiting before responding to job offers also gives me time to consult experts and mentors and do more research. Sometimes I need to negotiate salary and benefits because I’m not being offered what I’m worth, and if I react impulsively out of excitement, I may not see the offer realistically.
  7. Take action. If I don’t eventually take an action, and do the next right thing for me—whatever I can determine that may be at the time—I will get stuck or paralyzed in fretting about trying to make perfect decisions. I have to understand that I’m imperfect and will make mistakes throughout my career. And boy, have I made some big ones! However, I’ve learned from every mistake I’ve made. All my mistakes have helped me coach other people in similar situations. As long as I continue to learn, I don’t carry regrets, so there’s really no losing in the learning process.

If you find yourself stuck in making decisions and need guidance along your career journey, reach out for help.