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.

smartphone-569076_1280

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

pexels-photo-398532

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.

 

3 ways to do a branding check before a networking event

It’s the time of year when everyone’s searching for jobs, or at least it seems that way. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, and you have that unsettled, disgruntled feeling, or you’re a college student searching for your very first professional job or internship, you’re going to be attending career fairs, job fairs, or other networking events. You’ll be schmoozing with recruiters, hiring managers, colleagues, faculty members, and professionals in your chosen career field who may be able to hook you up with great job leads.

Don’t forget to properly prepare for these events. How can you do that? One important way is to perform a branding check.


If the video is not playing or displaying properly click here.

1. Check your online brand.
Don’t wait until after the event to Google yourself and start scrambling to remove undesirable links, photos, or documents. It may be too late at that point; your new professional friends may have beat you to the punch.

Don’t just remove undesirable content. Work to brand yourself in a positive light, too. You should do this regularly, and I won’t lie to you; it takes time and effort. It often takes days or weeks to tidy up your social media pages/profiles and to connect with great people online. Don’t wait until the day of a networking event to log in to your profiles and expect to drastically transform your online image.
2. Prepare a personal branding statement and elevator pitch.
Within 20-30 seconds, confidently and concisely describe who you are and where you’re heading in life. Don’t waste your new professional contacts’ time by rambling, hemming, and hawing during the networking event. You’re all there for the same reason–to build relationships and make connections. Be considerate of others’ times by preparing your spiel in advance. Prepare and practice your personal branding statement and elevator pitch by working with a career services expert if you’re a college student or with a career coach like me if you’ve already graduated from college.
3. Show your work; don’t just talk about it.
Do you have samples of your writing, artwork, graphic design projects, or research results? Don’t just blab about it at the networking event (although certainly brag about yourself and toot your own horn). Mention that you have links available to samples of your work on your LinkedIn profile, electronic portfolio, or blog site. Then follow up after the networking event and remember to send samples of your work to your new professional contacts.

It’s great to speak well of your accomplishments. It’s better to back up your claims with proof. This really brands you by creating a firm impression of who you are professionally in the minds of those who view your work.

blonde-1503202_1280Branding and networking are lifelong processes. If you need help getting started or improving your brand, reach out to me for help.

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.

Career mentors: Why relationship matters

People who know me well—both personally and professionally—know I have established mentors in various areas of my life. I don’t hide this fact from anyone. I’m thankful for the guidance my mentors have selflessly offered me over the years, and I could never have navigated life’s changes, both positive and negative, without their encouragement and leadership. I am rather fond of my mentors and have even written about them on both my personal blog and for College Recruiter.

Samantha Hartley
Samantha Hartley, my career mentor

I’m the first to admit that when it comes to mentorship, I’m biased. Because mentorship has worked so well for me, I totally believe every new professional should seek out both workplace mentors (these often change and are temporary) and a long-term career mentor.

I recently came across an article by Millennial expert Lindsey Pollak about new approaches to mentoring. It suggests that due to the nature of today’s workplace—which constantly evolves at a rather rapid pace—it might be helpful to consider letting go of the idea of having a long-term singular mentor.

While Pollak’s article suggests some good approaches to mentoring which I’m not opposed to as add-ons to traditional mentoring, I do not think these approaches—such as having a group of great people to call upon for advice, or simply emailing someone with a question one time rather than having a true long-term mentor—can stand in the place of having a long-term career mentor.

Why? I’ll explain. Let me first state that there’s nothing wrong with professional networking or collaboration. I’m an advocate of these practices and encourage career coaching clients to do these things.

I believe the activities Pollak suggests fall under the umbrella of professional networking and collaboration. I have a group of professionals in my field (and related fields) I call upon occasionally. I ask them questions, send them work to critique if they have time, and ask them to serve as references. I even ask them to analyze my strengths and weaknesses and help me develop myself professionally. This group serves as a vital force in my professional realm. Pollak also mentions reverse mentoring; as a faculty member, I can appreciate this term. I have often asked college students for help when brainstorming, particularly for ideas for titles and ideas for presentations which will engage college students.

But what’s missing from the picture if you rely on group Skype calls, mass emails or texts, or random messages sent when you need to bounce an idea off someone younger is relationship.

Mentorship is about relationship.

13442484_10153680547207544_8754319360502751195_o
Photo by Jake Pitts

How can you guide me if you do not know me?

I have served as a mentor to multiple women. The time commitment varies, but regardless, mentoring is a commitment, and it’s not one to take lightly. You’re investing in someone’s life. The irony is you’re probably benefiting just as much as the person you’re mentoring (at least this proven true for me).

And when someone is mentoring you, you shouldn’t blow it off either. They are literally choosing you over everything and everyone else in their life for the hours you spend together. I’ve had the same career mentor for about eight years. How many hours of her life has she invested in me?

I cannot replace her with a panel of advisors, a group of college students, or a few people I text randomly, no matter how smart or savvy all these people might be. None of these people have spent hours with me over the past eight years. They do not understand why I’ve made career changes. They don’t know my educational background and didn’t encourage me to create my vision card, which has helped me make career decisions for eight years and counting.

You see, my career mentor was the first person—the very first person—with whom I shared my secret idea about starting my own career coaching business. Why? Because we have a real relationship. I trust her. She believes in me, and I know that. She doesn’t fill me with fluffy sentiments, but she doesn’t shoot down my dreams either.

Is the world we live in fast-paced and constantly evolving? Certainly. We’re more likely to rely on technology to communicate and less likely to engage in real conversations with people. Reach out to find a long-term career mentor; force yourself to engage in genuine human interaction. Keep your soft skills fresh. In this fast-paced world, Millennials and Gen Z employees are certainly more likely to change jobs more often than their workplace predecessors. This is even more reason to find not only workplace mentors but also a career mentor–a mentor who will stick with you from job to job, company to company, through thick and thin.

How do you go about finding an awesome career mentor like mine?

You don’t just approach someone fabulous and ask him to mentor you. That’s crazy—usually.

This is when traditional networking skills come in handy! Reach out to your potential mentor through social media. Connect online. Make thoughtful comments on her posts. Do this for a time until you feel comfortable sending a message inviting her to meet you for coffee or lunch. Ask for an informational interview. Be honest and let her know you are interested in hearing her career story (how she found success in her line of work).

If you need help navigating the networking waters and don’t even know where to start, contact me. That’s what I’m here for.

I hope all of you find a way to take full advantage of every possible solution out there. Ask for ideas on discussion boards, attend professional networking events and gain insight from groups of professionals, and network like crazy.

Don’t fall into the trap of playing lone wolf (or lone superstar). It’s easy to believe you’ve got it all together and don’t need or can’t benefit from someone investing in your life on a long-term basis. It’s also easy to convince yourself no one has the time to hear your story or offer you guidance.

They do. You’re worth it.