Monthly Archives: July 2012

How to Stand Out


Jeff Haden (Inc. Magazine and Business Insider) posted two articles that any college student (and high school students for that matter) should use to “audit” their resume and their elevator speech. I’ve provided highlights of the main points here with my own bits of advice. The full articles are:

6 Ways Successful People Stand Out by Jeff Haden

10 Ways You Should Never Describe Yourself by Jeff Haden

Let’s face it. Your resume is a frustrating document to write. Do you include details or keep it high level? Do you include all work history or just the relevant stuff for the position you are applying for? Is one page the rule or is it best to have multiple pages?   The article “10 Ways You Should Never Describe Yourself” makes some very valid points. But how do you describe yourself? As Jeff states in his article, the 10 ways to describe yourself are great for others to say about you but probably not okay for putting on your resume.

At the end of this article, I’ll offer a complimentary assessment that will give you words to describe yourself. Yes, putting a few descriptors on your resume isn’t wrong, just don’t put words that are too general. My rule of thumb is, “if you are using a descriptive word because you think it is what the employer is looking for then you are misusing the space in your resume.

Haden’s 10 Words You Shouldn’t Use

Motivated – A better word might be “self motivated” which can be substantiated by things you’ve done.

Authority – Taking charge and leading (position authority) or having exceptional expertise (knowledge authority) need to be self-evident in your resume. A better strategy might be a statement like “Recognized for my leadership on the xyz project.” or “Recognized for my research on the zyq study.”

Global Provider – This may not be applicable to students, at least not right now, but many students have taken advantage of a Study Abroad program. This doesn’t make you a global expert. List the overseas period and describe what it gave you.

Innovative – Some people actually are innovative. That can be a good thing or a curse depending on the job. Some bosses don’t want a young upstart coming in and challenging or changing everything. They want you to learn. Employers want to know you are able to appreciate and follow their policies, procedures and work strategies. A better word might be creative if you were solely responsible for something new and creative that was recognized. However, that word has been overused.

Creative – We gave this one away as part of Innovative. Overused is the issue. Just be sure you have been recognized for something special. If not, don’t bother using it.

Passionate – This has no value. However, in the assessment report you might see “customer focused” or “results oriented” or “goal oriented”. Use those if you have a story to connect the word to.

Unique – Everyone is unique. I don’t see this word used too often but if I did, I think I’d file the resume in the round file.

Guru – Even if you could substantiate this some how, a student or recent grad isn’t a guru in anything. Be a learner.

Incredibly… – This is way too informal and is an exaggeration word. Avoid all words that exaggerate what you are trying to say.

Words that Work

If you’d like to take an online assessment to find better descriptors for your resume and for your interviews, go to http://www.ttisurvey.com///142181FUW This assessment takes about 20 minutes (2 parts @ 10 minutes each). The report is approximately 46 pages and will come directly to your email.

Haden has also made a list of 6 ways to stand out. There are many ways to stand out. I saw a person with pink and yellow hair. Yes, they stood out. Many young people today are  getting tattoos. To stand out from an employer standpoint, get into the recruiter or hiring managers head. What if you were them? What would you be looking for in a new hire?

Haden’s 6 Ways to Stand Out

Be first, with a purpose – From showing for the interview, to finding the job opportunities before they are posted on the company website. A position is officially approved and being recruited for 10 to 15 days before it gets any public exposure. Also, some companies have a policy of posting a position for as much as 30 days internally before posting it publicly. Make it your business to get the inside scoop from current employees and managers at the company you want to get hired. A great starting point is LinkedIn. But you have pursue that rich networking tool with purpose.

Be known for something specific – My son was advised to play down some of his high school accomplishments in his resume by a visiting industry mentor. The fact that he was accepted to and graduated (June 2012 –  and yes I’m very proud) from a prestigious university “assumes your high school years were impressive.” Whether it is high school or college stuff, be known for something! If you are currently in high school (or a parent of a HS student), be involved in something. I recently provided career coaching to a group of HS students (see Career Coaching for Students) and one student took this advice to heart and met with the school counselor and principle of the HS to request formation of a Poetry Society/Club. Stating on your college application resume “Founded and served as President of the Poetry Club” is what colleges and employers like to see. Just be sure you are able to say something about what you did after you founded it, such as, “grew first year membership to 48 students” and/or “Held 8 club meetings where 25 student-written poems were presented.”

Create your own side project – Integrating the project with another activity makes it exponentially easier and more likely to be completed. Many students are critical of, or sarcastic about, students that are in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts but colleges and employers value the experience. Both of these organizations have an “ultimate level” (Eagle Scout or Gold Award respectively) that is usually attained during high school that includes a significant project.  My daughter was president of the ecology club and also achieved the Gold Award by designing and building out the grounds as part of a “Greenhouse Enrichment Project”. This required fund raising, organizing volunteers and working with the high school administration for approval and support. The fact that she was involved with the Ecology Club gave her the ability to offer service hours to club members. Getting volunteers was easy.

Put your muscle where your mouth is – Don’t talk about what is wrong, even if the interviewer asks you to describe something that someone else screwed up. When put in that awkward situation, always share a situation or problem that you were at least partly responsible for delivering the solution – even if you were the one that screwed it up. Being part of the solution is what everyone wants.

Show a little of your personal side – Personal interests help others to identify and remember you. For many interviewers, asking the proverbial “tell me about yourself” can lead to all kinds of responses. Stay focused on the purpose of the question and environment you are in. If the interview is a standard 30 minutes, and you talk for 10 minutes about “who you are”, it is likely you won’t be getting the job or internship. Be prepared for how to “share a little.”

Work harder than everyone else – There is a book titled “Only the Paranoid Survive” by Andy Grove, ex-CEO of Intel, that gets this point across and then some. If you are in the right major and career for you, (or soon will be) this isn’t a hard thing to do. If you feel apathetic about your major/career choice, now is the time to do the work to find your passions. Working harder than everyone else should not be a chore. Look for the career that you can say “I can’t believe they pay me to do this stuff.”

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and in group and on-one-one offerings through certified career coaches throughout the United States, Canada and other countries. Contact Carl Nielson at carl@successdiscoveries.com or call 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs. Or visit us at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net

Choosing and Changing Majors: Status Quo or A New Standard?


The following graphic is from The College Board. We’ll start the discussion here.Is Changing Majors OK?

From the quote in the green bubble, “It’s okay to change your plans even if it means changing your major.” Well, yes, if you find yourself going in the wrong direction, change direction. But The College Board position, and that of most colleges and universities, is that changing majors multiple times to “find yourself” is okay. It isn’t. What it tells me is that the student didn’t do the work to determine a career path prior to showing up at college.

Many colleges and universities report the statistics that support the 2005 article by MSNBC.com that indecision about what major to choose can prove very expensive.  According to Dr. Fritz Grupe, founder of majors.com, eighty percent of college-bound graduating high school students have yet to choose a major before arriving on campus.

With tuition averaging $18,000 or higher in 2012-2013 at public universities, and much higher at private universities, indecisiveness can drain college savings accounts as students restart course sequences or transfer schools – losing credits in the process. Ultimately the result is that the student extends their college days beyond the four years parents planned to finance.

According to College Board, five- and  six-year students are not uncommon. Roughly 40% of those who start a four-year degree program still have not earned one after year six!

There are a variety of good reasons for dragging a college career into its fifth and sixth years—from taking time off for foreign study, to taking advantage of internships and co-ops or needing to balance academics with part-time employment to pay tuition. But changing majors is the one thing that drives up an education’s cost while potentially driving down a student’s self-esteem. It is also the easiest to avoid.

Bad Advice?

There are many (too many) assessments that aren’t valid and reliable. There are also “exercises” that professional counselors recommend if you don’t have access to professional tools such as valid and reliable assessments.

Kate Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks surveys can help focus a student’s attention on potential courses of study but she warns about the the students tendency to apply the results too inflexibly. “Often a student will say, ‘the test says I should be a florist, so that’s what I have to be,’” she says. A valid and reliable assessment and process doesn’t result in one career choice. A student that has that belief wasn’t counseled properly and was most likely not using a valid and reliable assessment instrument.

“Nationally, we see statistics quoted that as many as 80% of all college students change their major or that the average college student changes his/her major an average of 3-5 times. If you were able to count how many times students change their mind about what they want to do after graduation, it would be much higher. “
University of Missouri • MU Career Center, 2010
Student Success Center

Rather than properly designed, validated and reliable assessments, Brooks favors an exercise to help undecideds identify and translate interests into majors and eventually careers they will succeed in and enjoy.

She sends students to the nearest Barnes & Noble to browse the magazine racks. They are instructed to buy the three magazines they find most interesting. “We then discuss what prompted them to buy those magazines. It may be they chose Newsweek because they are interested in current events and politics. Or possibly there was an article in ESPN about nutritional sports bars. We talk about how pursuing chemistry could lead them to create a better bar or sports drink. Or maybe it is the marketing aspect that appeals to them — the ads. The point is to help them understand what things excite them and what careers are connected to those things, and which majors would lead them to those careers,” explains Brooks.

That exercise is wonderful but too simplistic. Choosing a career and the best major for that career direction is a little more complicated than that.

Tips for helping your student choose major

What can parents do to help their children get through college in a timely fashion while staying passionate about their choice of major? Here are some suggestions I think are worthy of considering:

  • Refrain from pressuring children into making quick choices or pursuing majors associated with high income professions. Not everyone should or can be a doctor or a lawyer.
  • Focus attention on pursuing courses of interest based on a career direction, even if the immediate relationship to a major or career is not obvious.
  • Double-majoring is a great way to keep opportunities open. With good planning in high school, double-majoring is not only very doable, it may very well be more interesting and provide an extra level of motivation and self esteem.
  • Encourage participation in job shadowing — going to work with people to see what their jobs actually entail and asking people they meet how they got into their careers. While in high school, interview people in the career of interest that are passionate and successful. Parents can help set this up.
  • If they do enter school undecided, engage in a career coaching program that provides professional-grade (highly valid and reliable) assessments and a process that leads to clarity and good decisions. It doesn’t hurt that the program will also assist in a broader sense of creating success across the bigger picture of life.
  • Refrain from giving advice based on the job market of twenty-some years ago or the “parent ego”. Today’s employers need a different kind of worker and favor different degrees. Many parents see their own career as a great direction for their son or daughter. Genetics may have played a part in creating that awesome son or daughter but choosing a career is a highly individualized event.
  • Urge them to take full advantage of campus advisory services to avoid floundering, shifting from one course of study to the next, and prolonging their dissatisfaction and their academic careers. While I am generally strongly negative in my bias about college advisory competencies when it comes to assisting students in choosing a career direction and then matching potentials majors for that career, if you are taking any of the other advice above, this may not be necessary but it is usually the first option. students rely on and is the one option with the greatest gap between expectation of value and actual value. Just keep in mind, you might be told to go to the local magazine store to find your career.
  • Help them understand that a major is not a career. There are multiple paths to most careers, just as there are multiple careers that can be had from a single major. Encourage them to explore their options. Having a career direction is much more powerful than choosing a major.
  • Help them prepare academically before arriving at college to avoid spending their high-priced time on remedial or review classes.
  • If a child is undecided, consider seeking out a college with the resources to acquaint them with all the options to make a well-founded decision. Not all schools have or emphasize such programs.
  • Understand that the student-to-counselor ratio averages 450-to-1 nationally at the high school level. Do not rely on high school counselors to guide children through the exercise of choosing a major.

However they get there, encouraging children to think through their career interests before choosing a school or program can help them avoid future frustration, academic let-down or feelings of failure. It is also key to helping them graduate in four years and move into their ‘real’ lives before they out-spend their college savings accounts.

A more up-to-date and informative article is available.

2015 national webinar to be held in July for career exploration and planning that leads to choosing a major