Monthly Archives: March 2012

Career Mapping Catching on in High Schools


The article Career Mapping Eyed to Prepare Students for College by Caralee J.  Adams, reviews the current state of high school student preparation strategies for researching and making career choices. I’ve pulled a few quotes and provided some comments and insights into what the reality of today’s efforts are producing.

Secondary schools are becoming more intentional about helping students discover their career interests and map out a plan to achieve them.

This effort is only as good as the foundational approach. As the article suggests, “Finding time during the school day can be a challenge, and the job of overseeing the process often falls on already stretched counselors, according to researchers and program administrators.” The assessments that schools use (see comment further down about Naviance) are not valid and can not be used in the work world to match people and jobs. Students recognize these issues quickly and consequently dismiss the entire exercise as a “waste of time”.

About half of all states mandate that schools help create individual or student learning plans, and most others have optional programs.

A student learning plan is something schools have been providing since student guidance counseling was created. Designing and attaching a student learning plan to a career direction is not something that should be done until high school. Mandating this activity has not created any measurable change that can be associated with increased post-secondary education, higher GPA or better test scores.

Enabling students to make their own plans puts them in the driver’s seat and encourages a long-term look at their course selection so their choices match their career goals, experts say.

The key here is “match their career goals”. A high school student is not equipped to make sense of the assessment results and do not have the necessary knowledge about different career paths to make decisions about career direction on their own. Schools do the best they can to expose students to different career areas but it is a shot gun approach that results in students feeling lost and/or overwhelmed.

Often, districts give students online accounts with passwords to track classes; create an electronic portfolio of grades, test scores, and work; research careers; and organize their college search.

These online accounts, including the one mentioned in the article, Naviance, have been around long enough to measure their effectiveness. Ask any student, and I really mean any student, that attends a high school with Naviance (or other online solutions) and ask them how they used Naviance. The answer I receive is “I didn’t.” or “It wasn’t helpful at all.“.

Schools, meanwhile, have not yet experienced the payback on their investment. As with many education programs, the rollout is left up to districts, creating a patchwork of approaches throughout the country.

This is a great “excuse” for the companies such as Naviance and the school administrators. A person I respect who works with at risk kids and served on a school’s trustee board and knows Naviance very well stated the online solution was “used only to help students get into a preferred college” – not to help them identify and focus on career direction.

Students create plans starting as early as the 6th grade. Of course, they can—and often do—change their minds about their career path. …Typically, a student might have a career-exploration unit in 7th grade. Through an interest inventory, in which the student answers a series of questions about preferences for working, say, with people or numbers, indoors or outside, his or her interests are matched with career clusters and pathways.

Childhood development studies clearly show that a student’s behavioral style and motivators are being established through middle school. The motivators (personal values) are set earlier. Behavioral style is in “wet cement” as students enter high school. The behavioral style and motivators are key to aligning a person’s “talent” to career options. Therefore, serious career exploration and career mapping is not useful until high school. Schools need to use a broader “exposure” strategy until high school. In high school, the focus needs to be at the individual level. That is where true career coaching is most effective. Also, did I mention the assessments used in school are not valid and reliable.

Knowing that high school students today connect best with online materials, the College Board recently launched a new interactive college-planning site, the BigFuture.org. And U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., recently introduced a bill to pilot a project in which students beginning in 1st grade could start portable online college-planning and -savings accounts.

Students connect best with online materials? Give me a very talented teacher and the student will choose the teacher over online every time. The issue may not be the “preference for online materials” but rather a rejection of low quality teaching. With respect for Senator Coons, if we want to make college more affordable, fund the use of career coaching programs like Career Coaching for Students™  that are known to reduce the risk of changing majors in college and provide a student with an exciting personal future view that leverages their motivational and behavioral career match.

Todd Bloom, the chief academic officer for Hobsons, the Cincinnati-based company that produces Naviance, an online career- and college-readiness system, said the depth and breadth of individual learning plans are expanding, and the cost can run less than $5 per student per year. “It’s not a hard sell,” he said. “It’s socially desirable to have that vehicle. ”

And here you have the issue. School boards look at their budget and what they are “required” to provide and see online systems like Naviance as an “easy” solution to implement. Parents that are aware of the offering assume it is providing something helpful. The saying “you get what you pay for” is very applicable here. There is no hard data that shows any ROI on these “low cost” online system solutions like Naviance.

Yet a goal of the program was to increase high school graduation rates and that did not happen, said Jay Ragley, the director of the office of legislative affairs for the state. “It’s difficult to peg why we are not increasing graduation rates. That goal has still eluded the state,” he said, adding that it’s been a challenge to get parents used to the idea of career planning as early as middle school.

Until parents demand and receive better solutions in schools, I strongly recommend engaging a career coach for your high school student – as early as incoming HS Freshman rank and no later than the beginning of the Sophomore year.

Side Note from the trenches: We’ve approached school districts about integrating the Career Coaching for Students™ program as part of a high school curriculum. This program can easily fit into one class per week for a semester with other classes referencing parts of the program throughout the four years of high school. Students have access to the online career and education research tools throughout the four years. The most common statement we received as feedback: “Wow! This is exactly what we need. If we had this, we’d push our “online-only system” to middle school and have this for all of our HS students.” Our response to that: “Great! What is the next step to make this happen?” Reply: “Oh no, we’re too invested in what we have now. To go back to the school board and say we’ve got something better would not work out well for us. And besides, we know we won’t receive more funding to cover a more expensive solution.

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.

Is FastWeb Worth the Trouble?


FastWeb has done a great job of marketing. Even this not-so-complimentary article is giving them publicity. The saying “any publicity is good publicity” fits when trying to assess the value of FastWeb and other “for profit” Internet marketing portals. Stick with me to the end of this article for some excellent resources.

Working through the FastWeb site, I quickly found the volume of personal information requested to get going—from the student’s prospective major to grade-point average and ethnic heritage and much more – was a marketer’s dream come true. Steve Boyce, director of marketing for FastWeb (which started as an independent company but was acquired by the job-placement site Monster.com in 2001), explains that it’s necessary to link relevant scholarships to applicants. If customers agree to release that information, FastWeb shares all of your data with third parties (who pay them good money for your data). According to the FastWeb privacy policy, recipients include “data aggregators” and marketers compiling lists to sell to colleges, for-profit vocational institutions and even the military.

Before seeing the scholarships, the site required me to click “no thanks” to offers from survey companies, online universities and U.S. Navy recruiters. Boyce says that FastWeb tries to maintain a proper balance between users and advertisers who fund the business, but the pushiness of the ads gave me the impression that FastWeb knows that its users won’t bail because they’re desperate for college funds.

Once you get to the scholarships FastWeb finds for you, how many are really worth pursuing? Put aside for a moment the esoteric nature of some of the grants, like the $1,500 scholarship for duck-calling. The Internet’s instant access to information about potential awards, as well as the desire of sites like FastWeb to list thousands of opportunities, has led to an abundance of what are called “promotional scholarships”. These are very inexpensive marketing strategies for a company to woo customers under the guise of kindness to a worthy young person. Since FastWeb doesn’t rate the quality of its scholarships, the listed scholarships are positioned as just as valid as more-traditional, less-exploitative grants. There also seems to be know real way to confirm a scholarship was ever awarded. It would be nice if there were a clearing house that certified the scholarship and verified the money was actually paid out. (Boyce says that the site is working on a system to identify and explain the promotional scholarships.)

Donald Heller, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University, says that applying for scholarships found on FastWeb and similar sites isn’t worth the effort for most families.

Scholarship Success - Money is Out There!A case in point is the Coca-Cola College Bound Contest, brought to you by the Chuck E. Cheese pizza operation. The winner gets $25,000 toward a college fund. To qualify, you are asked to register for the “Chuck E-Club,” thus opening one’s IN BOX to a stream of offers from the company. (Tucked in the bottom of the Web page was a link that allowed you to enter the contest without joining the club.) According to Chuck E. Cheese spokesperson Brenda Holloway, more than 1.6 million contestants signed up for the contest. She doesn’t specify how many of those joined the club (typically in contests, the majority of entrants take the suggested path), but did say that the club’s population rose. That’s hundreds of thousands of new Chuck E. members, at a nominal cost to the company compared to other types of marketing. And only one person receives a scholarship. They’ve redefined the saying “one in a million odds”.

Many of the FastWeb offers ask entrants to write essays—in the aggregate, students spend millions of hours creating themes that will pay off to only a very few. Sometimes the assignments appear to be a form of indoctrination, like the ones offered by the Ayn Rand Institute to expound on issues in “The Fountainhead” or “Atlas Shrugged.” Then there is the $250 prize given to the best essay based on the themes of the book “High School’s Not Forever”—a gift offered by the book’s authors.

One of the more ubiquitous scholarship sponsors on FastWeb is a company called Brickfish, which often asks students to compete for small grants ($500 or less) by making a video or blog post involving a consumer product that pays Brickfish to run a marketing campaign. “Offering a scholarship program sends a positive message, one of good will,” says Brickfish CEO Brian Dunn. And though college costs are high, modest prizes are sufficient to get the reaction Brickfish wants. “Oddly enough, people react better to smaller amounts-—they think they’re more likely to win,” Dunn says.

Donald Heller, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University, says that applying for scholarships found on FastWeb and similar sites isn’t worth the effort for most families. “The real action is in the dollars given by the institutions themselves,” he says. (FastWeb’s Boyce says he has no statistics to prove it, but “anecdotal evidence suggests we are helping students meet their goals.”)

As for my own family’s strategy, my wife has become an expert on completing the necessary FAFSA forms and following the specific college financial aid process that most colleges post on their website. We also keep an eye out for scholarship programs related to our kids activities (Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, Athletics, local/community) that don’t involve competing with FastWeb’s 38 million registered users. We also found Pete Becker’s e-book, The College Financial Aid Game: How to Get Your Fair Share to be a refreshing guide and explanation for how “to get your fair share”, which is found on our resources website.

Like Pete Becker, I found  Linda Byerly, a dedicated volunteer blogger, writes words of wisdom at http://scholarshipcentral.wordpress.com/. You might check her articles out.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is also providing an interesting blog called The College Solution and has a great article titled “Are These Financial Aid Letters Misleading?.

And last but not least, I have compiled a definitive list of Financial Aid and Scholarship books that you can find at Amazon.

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.

What Advice Did Successful People Receive? Sounds Like Great Advice for Teens


Business Insider.com recently posted snippets of advice that highly successful people received from mentors as they were growing and developing. As I read each one, I felt like they were speaking to teens (or should have been). Yet, the quotes were pulled from speeches, articles and interviews intended for adults already in mid-career. Since most teens don’t have Business Insider que’d up as an RSS feed I thought I’d post the quotes. You can click on the link above to go directly to the article.

Also, if you are looking for more in the “advice for success” you can find some great videos including Steve Jobs infamous 2005 Stanford college graduation commencement speech posted on the Career Coaching for Students “Got Motivation” page.

Great advice and motivation videos - best motivational videos

1. Terry J. Lundgren, CEO, Macy’s
Gene Ross, the man who recruited Lundgren at Bullock, told him: “You’re not going to do this forever. There’s a finite amount of time you’re going to be doing this. Do this really, really well. And if you do this really, really well, everybody will see that, and they’ll move you onto the next thing. And you do that well, and then you’ll move.”

2. Richard Branson, founder and chairman, Virgin Group
“My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running ALL the Virgin businesses — so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.”

3. Marissa Mayer, VP, Google
“My friend Andre said to me, ‘You know, Marissa, you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to pick the right choice, and I’ve gotta be honest: That’s not what I see here. I see a bunch of good choices, and there’s the one that you pick and make great. I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.”

4. Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs
His boss at Goldman during the 1980s told him:
“First, it’s good to solicit your people’s opinions before you give them yours. And
second, your people will be very influenced by how you carry yourself under stress.”

5. Maureen Chiquet, Global CEO, Chanel
Mickey Drexler, CEO of Gap at the time, told Chiquet:
“I’m going to give you some important advice. You’re a terrific merchant. But you’ve gotta learn to listen!”

6. Tory Burch, co-founder and creative director, Tory Burch
“When I started my company, many people said I shouldn’t launch it as a retail concept because it was too big a risk.They told me to launch as a wholesaler to test the waters — because that was the traditional way. “But Glen Senk, [then] CEO of Urban Outfitters and a mentor of mine … told me to follow my instincts and take the risk. I wanted to create a new way of looking at retail.”

7. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google
“Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids.”

8. Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook Sheryl Sandberg COO Facebook
When Sandberg was thinking she wouldn’t accept an offer to be Google’s general manager, Eric Schmidt told her, “Stop being an idiot; all that matters is growth.” She says that’s the best advice she ever got.

9. Larry Page, co-founder, Google
“In graduate school at Stanford University, I had about ten different ideas of things I wanted to do, and one of them was to look at the link structure of the web. My advisor, Terry Winograd, picked that one out and said, ‘Well, that one seems like a really good idea.’ So I give him credit for that.”

10. Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks
“Jim Sinegal, the founder of Costco, gave me fantastic advice because we were going down the wrong track. We brought him in to look at our plan and he said, ‘You know, I don’t want to be rude but this is exactly the wrong thing to do.’ This was my idea, and he was right. “His advice was the cost of losing your core customers and trying to get them back post-recession would be much greater than trying to find new customers, so we completely shifted.”

11. Maria Bartiromo, anchor, CNBC
“My mom says, ‘You have to have alligator skin. You can’t believe the good stuff, and you certainly can’t believe the bad stuff’ and that’s something I’ve come to accept. “So when I see someone say anything nice about me in a magazine or anywhere, I probably won’t read it, because I don’t want to be in a place where I start believing my own press releases.”

12. Richard Parsons, former chairman, Citigroup
Steve Ross, the former CEO of Time Warner, told him:
“Just remember, it’s a small business and a long life. You’re going to see all these people again.”

13. Jennifer Hyman, CEO and co-founder, Rent The Runway
“Just do it. There’s no benefit to saying, ‘I’m just doing this because it will get me to this new place,’ or ‘I’m just going to go into this analyst program because it will prep me for X.’ “If you’re passionate about something, go for it, because people are great at what they love and when they’re the happiest.”

14. Edward Rust Jr., chairman and CEO, State Farm
“[My father] had the uncanny ability with just a couple of little phrases. One: ‘You know better… don’t you,’ and ‘you can do better… can’t you.'”

15. Joe Uva, former CEO, Univision
“Always have the courage of your convictions. Always state what’s on your mind. Follow your gut. And observe what other people are doing around you.”

16. Mohamed El-Erian, CEO and co-chief investment officer, PIMCO
“I remember asking my father, ‘Why do we need four newspapers?’ He said to me, ‘Unless you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you’ll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you’ll never question.'”

17. Kenneth Burdick, president and CEO, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota
Burdick received this message from various successful people he has met:
“Surround yourself with good people. And part of that is surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you. Surrounding yourself with people who have different experiences than you. In business, it’s all about the team.”

18. Steve Schwartzman, chairman and CEO, Blackstone Group
“[My high school] coach, a 50-year-old named Jack Armstrong … would shout, ‘Remember—you’ve got to make your deposits before you can make a withdrawal!’ …”Coach Armstrong came to mind in one of my first weeks on Wall Street, 35 years ago. I’d stayed up all night building a massive spreadsheet to be ready for a morning meeting. … The partner on the deal, however, took one look at my work, spotted a tiny error, and went ballistic. “As I sat there while he yelled at me, I realized I was getting the MBA version of Coach Armstrong’s words. Making an effort and meeting the deadline simply weren’t enough.”

19. Peter Swinburn, president and CEO, Molson Coors
“The then-big boss asked me to go and do basically a turnaround job. And he said, ‘I don’t mind what you do, as long as you don’t do what we’ve done before.'”

The College Essay Strategy – Got One?


Student Resource Central - Explore Careers, Choose Majors, Find Colleges

Student Resource Central provides high-quality, unbiased resources for career research, choosing educational options and finding colleges.

The folks at Best Colleges Online asked me to write about or reference their article on 10 Admissions Essay Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make. Before I get to the 10 mistakes (they did a good job on covering the subject matter in the article) let me be clear that Best Colleges Online is funded by those colleges and universities that pay them money. So, finding the best colleges is really a little misleading which is par for the course in most “free”online resources (as is the case with those “free” assessments). Part of the mission of Career Coaching for Students™ is to provide high-quality, unbiased and complete information. The resources that you will find in Student Resource Central™ are stringently vetted to meet our requirements. Students automatically have access to Student Resource Central when they attend one of our workshops or purchase either the Home Study program or a subscription to Student Resource Central.

Now for those top 10 Mistakes Students Make with their Essays:

  1. Spelling and grammar errors
  2. Sending it in Late
  3. Over-sharing personal information
  4. Going over the Page or Word Limit
  5. Flirting with Controversy
  6. Using Cliches
  7. Being too Confident
  8. Being too Humble
  9. Trying to Suck Up to the Reader/School
  10. Not Lining Your Essay Up With the Rest of the Application