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. 

 

Is a portfolio career right for you?

I’ll be honest. Until recently, I’d never even heard the term “portfolio career.” I’d heard of people working multiple jobs to make ends meet. This isn’t quite the same thing as a portfolio career, though.

A portfolio career carries a bit more intention and weight behind it; each venture is selected carefully and scrutinized. Does it contribute to my ultimate career goals? If not, I must decline, thank you very much.

As a portfolio careerist myself, I decided to stop working my full-time job on purpose. I wasn’t laid off or fired. I requested to transition to part-time status in order to pursue my interest in teaching college again. About this time, a long-time dream of mine (to pursue career coaching and owning my own business) came to fruition through the encouragement of my career mentor, Samantha Hartley, owner of Enlightened Marketing. There’s no such thing as perfect timing when it comes to taking a leap of faith as an entrepreneur; at some point, you simply have to do the best research you can, concoct some sort of back-up plan, and then leap forward and hope for the best.

I recently had the good fortune of being interviewed by Dr. Steven Lindner, a talent acquisition, assessment, and hiring process expert at The WorkPlace Group. We discussed the rise of portfolio careers among Millennials, reasons for this trend, and my own career journey.

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The article Dr. Lindner wrote mentions multiple benefits to working as a portfolio careerist, and I can vouch for many of them. In just a few months, I already believe that the greatest benefit for me is flexibility and work-life balance. As the mother of a young child, spending time with my daughter is of utmost importance. However, it comes at a price. I have to manage my time more carefully and strategically than ever before. Starting a business and managing content for a company while taking care of a three year-old little girl (with only part-time childcare assistance) is pretty tricky at times. At the end of the day, though, it’s worth it.

I won’t list all the benefits to working as a portfolio careerist, but here’s one more. I have always had so many interests that I’ve found it difficult to remain focused at times. I’ve felt like a kid in Baskin-Robbins when taking interest and skill inventories. Should I pursue a career as a writer? Oh yes. But what about a physician? I love biology and science. Oh wait–what about philosophy? I could discuss Plato’s dialogues all day long. As a portfolio careerist, I allow myself the license to explore a few of my favorite things simultaneously: teaching, career coaching, and writing/content management. The result? I’m fulfilled and am able to use multiple abilities/talents rather than just one teeny tiny skill set. For college students and recent grads (or rambling adults, for that matter) who make all A’s and can’t ever make up their minds about which direction to turn, a portfolio career might be a great fit.

Is a portfolio career right for everyone? Absolutely not. Is it a great fit for many Millennials? Certainly. For people who match the descriptions laid out in Dr. Steven Lindner’s article, it’s worth considering whether pursuing a portfolio career is right for you.

Need help figuring out your next career move? Contact me for assistance. 

 

 

The spirit of coaching: Paying it forward

I never set out to become a networking expert. I’ve simply always applied a few basic principles instilled in me at a young age. By my mid-twenties, I earned the title of Director of Career Development at a private liberal arts institution. Most of the other directors were in their fifties. I should have felt like a fish out of water, but I didn’t. My boss mentored me and surrounded me with great mentors, and because of his wise leadership, I learned one of the greatest truths about networking: it’s not always about what I can get from the relationship but what I can give. I am forever in debt to the dozens of higher education and recruiting professionals who answered my calls, returned my emails, and visited with me over dinner during that time. I’m still paying it forward.

11695536_10101687271446497_3658427641815678578_nSince then, I’ve worked in various fields, in both private and public sectors, in higher education and in the corporate world. Helping college students, recent graduates, and other job seekers in need of guidance take the next best steps for them in their individual career journeys still thrills me. Whether writing content for students and grads or teaching college students how to write, I still find myself circling back to the questions, “What do you want to do with your life? And how are you going to reach that goal? Do you need help to get there?”

I can’t tell you how many of my former students’ resumes and cover letters I’ve edited and how many friends, former students, and coworkers I’ve advised regarding career choices before starting this business. I don’t regret one minute of that time. I have invested in their careers; I have invested in their lives.

This is the crux of networking.

For this reason, striking out as a career coach was an easy decision.

My goal as a career coach is to offer you the same level of genuine care, consideration, and thoughtful reflection as I have shared with my students, friends, and coworkers in the past and yet to take things to a deeper level. I won’t just share thoughts with you; I’ll ask you to take actions. The goal of our time together is to work, after all.

I recently shared this networking tip of the day on LinkedIn, and I think it captures the spirit of my goal when working with clients. I certainly look forward to applying these principles when working with you.

Networking tip of the day: Do more than is asked of you on a daily basis for clients, colleagues, and supervisors. You never know when someone you’ve gone above and beyond for will do the same for you when you least expect it (and really need it). This is networking at its finest, but it only works if you suit up and show up with a high degree of ethics, passion, and kindness on a daily basis.