Category Archives: Student soft skill development

Look Past the Now to Understand What You Should Be Doing Now


Advice for both high school and college students

Students who can see the future will be more successful doing things nowAs a student, it is absolutely normal to be focused on the here and now. You may even think you have no capacity for anything else. If you have clear academic goals for yourself, achieving a good GPA, active in a few extracurricular activities, etc. you are certainly on the right track. Things may seem to be going very well.

One of the areas we focus on in the Career Coaching for Students™ program is networking. In the high school version, we introduce the concept of networking to find people in the career of interest. Students are assisted in finding and holding informational interviews to learn about a particular career. In the college version, we go much deeper. Career informational interviews are still important but just the beginning. Networking has a much bigger role to play in your success, perhaps as much as the high GPA you are working so hard to get. If career centers are bringing in employers hungry for your skills and knowledge you may see networking as unnecessary and time consuming. If you take that approach, you are most likely cutting off 80% of job opportunities, including internships that may be within reach if you were to take networking seriously.

For high school students, use career exploration as a reason to do the networking. Adults in careers that you are interested in are very willing to talk about what they do. Once you get to college it won’t be so easy to get that interview. Many will think you are just trying to get a job.

Look Past the Now

J. T. O’Donnell, Founder and CEO of CAREERREALISM.com and nationally syndicated career expert posted a blog on LinkedIn titled No Job Posted…Send Resume Anyway?  She is speaking directly to people in the work world who are actively looking for a job. The question a reader presents is fixated on the resume and how to submit it. Ms. O’Donnell tries to educate you to the barriers that will stop your resume from getting seen. She recommends a different approach that most don’t follow. Look at what she is saying and see how you can be doing the “planting of networking seeds” now so you have a high-quality network later when you need it.

She starts her article with a quote from a reader:

In one of your webinars recently you said go straight to the companies and avoid the postings. My question is: Do you make sure that a company is hiring or do you just send your letter and resume and hope for the best? Some companies do not accept resumes if they don’t have a specific job opening.

The answer is “no.” You shouldn’t blindly submit your materials. But, not because a company won’t accept them. They will. However…

Here’s Why Your Resume Won’t Get Seen…

When I tell people to go straight to the company, what I mean is there’s no point in applying online unless you have someone you know in the company who can walk your credentials into the hiring manager and ask them to pull your resume from the thousands they’ve received online and take a closer look. Yep, I said THOUSANDS. Today, applying via job boards is the easiest way to look for a work – so, everyone is doing it. Yet, it also happens to be the least effective method for getting noticed. Why? The ATS (applicant tracking system) employers use to gather applications automatically screen you out for not being an exact keyword and experience match for the job. Still, people continue to waste hours upon hours filling out online applications only to be shocked and disappointed when they never hear back from the employers. They say to me, “But J.T., I was perfect for the job.” I respond, “Yes, you and hundreds of other people.” The reality is your chances of making it through the online process and into the hands of a human being are only slightly better than you winning the lottery.

Effective Job Seeker Rule #1: Submit Resumes to Actual People

Want to improve your odds of getting noticed by employers? Only submit your resume and cover letter to human beings. How? Network and connect with employees of the companies you desire to work at. Then, when a job gets posted you are a match for, instead of going into the ATS blackhole, you can reach out to your contacts and see if they can help you get your credentials in the hiring manager’s hands. There’s a reason 80%+ of jobs today are gotten via referral – it works!

No Job Posted? Even More Reason to Network

When there’s a company you’d like to work for but they’ve no jobs posted, you’ve got an opportunity to prepare for the day they finally hire for your skill set. You can start the networking process now with employees and get to know first-hand what it will take to eventually earn a position at their company. Better still, you may learn about the “hidden” jobs at the company. The ones that are open but not posted anywhere online. While sending a resume to HR will likely end up in the circular file. (a.k.a. trash can), connecting and having meaningful conversations with employees will result in you being fully prepared to fast-track your resume to the right hiring manager.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Higher Education Career Services Must Die


Better Career Planning Better LifeOn May 15, 2013, Allie Grasgreen published an article on Inside Higher Ed based on Andy Chan’s report “A Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience“. That article is referenced here as a foundation for my thoughts offered at the end.

In an interview, Andy Chan starts by saying, “Well, not die, exactly. Transform. The term ‘career services’ has been a phrase that has been used for several decades to describe what colleges have been doing,” says Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development at Wake Forest University. “It’s not working.”Chan co-edited the new report, “A Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience.”“I’m being a little bit dramatic by saying it must die,” Chan says in an interview. “It’s just that that traditional model needs to be totally rethought and resurrected as something different.”

Currently, half-a-dozen — or maybe a dozen, if it’s a big university — overbooked counselors sit in an office and advise students who waited until their senior year to think about how they’re going to get a job. They work alone, independently, one office of many with a given student affairs niche to fill. They counsel and host job fairs and help students network — but only for the students who show up to get help.

“It ends up just being treated as an office that’s one of dozens that performs a specific service,” Chan says, “when in the students’ mind it’s one of the most important questions they have when they come to the school.”

The Higher Ed Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience

  1. Develop a Bold Vision and Mission for Personal Career Development
  2. Secure Backing from Institutional Leadership
  3. Strategically Position the Personal and Career Development Leadership Role
  4. Strategically Transform, Build and Align Personal and Career Development Organization and Staff
  5. Gather and Report Personal and Career Development Outcome Data to all Constituents
  6. Engage and Equip a College-to-Career Community of Influencers with a Focus on Faculty and Parents

The transformed model has more staff – plus faculty members and administrators – working together to reach out to all students, from Day One. They work on career counseling and employer and alumni relations, network development and professional development. Their mission squares with the institution’s mission: they provide “personal and career development” to build lifetime employability. They are also a crucial unit of the college and are housed accordingly — under a major administrator.

They gather and report personal and career development outcome data, which they publicize to all stakeholders to make a case supporting the value of higher education and the liberal arts. And they engage with faculty, parents, alumni and employers to build a network of “influencers” to provide help along the way.

“If you take the traditional idea of ‘career services’ and throw it out,” Chan says, “you can come up with a model where the institution is taking responsibility and being accountable for teaching students how to live meaningful, purposeful, successful lives.”

“What we’re pressed to do,” says Kelley Bishop, an assistant vice president of strategic initiatives at Michigan State University whose work is featured in the report, “is embed the career development process into the academic experience. That is the crux of our challenge for our profession for the next decade.”A critical component of this approach is data-gathering. Many colleges, for whatever reason, just aren’t good at tracking and reporting graduates’ career outcomes. That lack of information leads people to decide that colleges – particularly liberal arts ones – aren’t making good on their promise to get graduates gainfully employed, even though that may not be true.

“To the extent that they’re paying attention to their students’ needs and the realities of the world of work today, I think many of them will say this is bold, but it’s the kind of thing that we need to be thinking about if we want to justify the value of higher education,” Chan says. “There are a lot of issues around trying to manage costs, which I completely understand, but the flip side of that question is, how do we continue to create and justify value that matters to our students?

The report cites research from Michigan State’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. A survey of more than 800 employers found that the people hiring (or turning down) liberal arts students for jobs believe those recent graduates are equipped with the work place competencies they need, but were not able to articulate and demonstrate their abilities in job interviews, and did not learn several key technical and professional skills that are highly valued by employers. The report lays this problem at the feet of the universities.

“When we think about how dramatically the world of work has changed, it is remarkable that the methods utilized to prepare students to enter the world of work have remained static,” the report reads. And though the methods may be static, the resources aren’t: colleges slashed career office budgets by an average of 16 percent this past year, the report says.

And there are costs – in time and money — associated with this change.

At Michigan State, Bishop started forming a new “distributive approach” in 2001. Under that model, career services is still decentralized, in a way, as it is at most large universities. Typically, a university will have a very small office, perhaps just one person, at each school or college, but there is little if any coordination between them. At Michigan State, there are three main hubs whose staff are closely connected (or even reside) with those schools. They coordinate the college’s goals and agenda with the main center offices, embedding career development into the curriculum and helping to build students’ professional identity from the get-go.

Michigan State has overcome the traditional model’s challenge of getting students to use its services by taking the services to the students – and it increased demand so much that strains are emerging. At some point, the existing staff members won’t be able to personally handle 50,000 students. So they’re going to have to rethink how they allocate resources and work with third parties. The “everything you need is here; come get it” approach is not going to fly anymore with new generations of students who expected everything to be taken care of for them, Bishop said.

“What we now set in motion, we need to reinvest,” he says. “We’re not going to pull back at this point…. This is where the scrutiny of higher education is coming — what is the return on this investment?

The report calls for bold change; change that could take decades. But Chan believes colleges are ready for it.

“I think given my conversations with many schools that this is something that many people would say, this should have happened a long time ago,” he says – and students and alumni might agree. “I think they’ll be pleased.” Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/15/career-services-it-now-exists-must-die-new-report-argues#ixzz2Zszxs9i7


The excerpt above included a few key points which I highlighted. What is missing from the “solution” is student-focused design and a recognition of the need to go outside, to outsource either the content development and delivery or the career coaching or both. In manufacturing, we see top performing companies outsourcing the design, development and production of sub-components that are brought into the final manufacturing process at the right time. Critical elements like quality and customized requirements are managed in a partnership with the supplier. Universities are still thinking “if it wasn’t developed here it isn’t going to meet our needs”. Manufacturers source suppliers and then partner to ensure the supplier will be successful in meeting their unique needs. The current reality is that home grown Higher Ed career counseling programs are the standard, and for the most part, inferior to what 3rd party programs such as Career Coaching for Students’ Career and Success Skills Master for College Students and Recent Grads offers. A better higher ed career development model that is ready to implement now might look like this:
Higher Ed Career Development Strategy from DOC

Until higher ed catches up, the good news is that college students (and high school students) can receive a best-in-class program at Career Coaching for Students.
Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study student career coaching package. Summer special ends August 31, 2013

I Want to Quit (My Career)


Talent Management MagazineThe July 2013 issue of Talent Management Magazine, a respected journal for human resources executives, highlighted some new statistics that reinforce what I’ve been trying to communicate to parents, high school administrators and college and university career centers for some time now – “what you are doing isn’t working!”

Here are excerpts from the article…you be the judge


First there was the Gallup survey that came out in early June 2013, which found the majority of American employees (70 percent) were either not engaged or actively disengaged with their work.

As if that wasn’t enough to raise red flags for employers who care about and are tracking employee engagement, a new Harris survey for the University of Phoenix in Arizona that was released July 8, 2013 showed that more than half of U.S. employees want to change not only their jobs, but their careers.

Apparently, only 14 percent of workers say they’re in their dream careers.

Some of you may not be surprised to learn this feeling is more pronounced among workers in their 20’s (80 percent), but it’s certainly not specific to this demographic alone: Sixty-four percent of those in their 30s want to change careers and 54 percent of those in their 40s reported the same.

Is this the classic “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the unstable economic environment coupled with debilitating student loan debt coerced many graduates to scrounge up any kind of employment they could secure just to have a steady cash inflow. Consider that nearly three-fourths of those surveyed (73 percent) said they didn’t end up with a job they had originally anticipated when they were younger.

And before you go on a rant about how flaky millennials are, you may be surprised to learn that those in the upper echelons of corporate America are among those who want to sign up for a different career. Nearly half (43 percent) of C-level executives said they were somewhat interested in switching careers, while 26 percent expressed a stronger desire to do so.

Offering lateral moves and defining a clear career path for employees might not be the silver bullet when it comes to engagement and retention problems, but it’s a start.


Employers can’t fix this. And then there are high schools and colleges continuing to do the same things they’ve been doing for the past 10+ years, only now the high schools have teacher productivity work flow tools in the cloud (Naviance, XAP, etc.) to help track high school student college readiness tasks.

This is a wake up call. Want to decrease student loan debt? Get smarter about planning career and educational strategies. You can delegate career exploration and career matching to an overworked high school counselor with outdated assessments or delay this work until college where students are going in undeclared, changing majors 3 or 4 times and taking 5 years to graduate at a cost of thousands of extra dollars. Or you can take a proactive approach and do something different.

Better Career Planning Better Lifehttp://www.careercoachingforstudents.net

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study student career coaching package.

My Summer Internship was an incredible and valuable experience


Mentoring is a big part of a summer internshipSummer internships, and summer jobs in general, are in short supply. They are also over in a flash. Regardless of what you are doing for the summer, starting with a mindset that you will get the most out of that summer internship or job is critical to leveraging the opportunity. If you are thinking, “Wow! I got the job, I can’t wait to see who of the opposite sex will be working there too. I hope they’re hot!“, your hormones are creating a barrier to you having your priorities straight.  That isn’t what we mean when we say “get the most”.

The best internships are win-win relationships where both parties get everything they want: At the end of an ideal summer, you’ll be able to say yes when anyone asks if you have experience and you’ll also be able to speak clearly about the value of the experience (what you learned, technical skills, soft skills you developed, etc.). And your employer will feel good about the investment they made (time and money) to hire you, train you to do the work, mentor you and pay you.

So how can you make sure both of you walk away satisfied when the summer wraps up and your internship comes to a close? Keep these tips in mind.
  1. Build credits first before you ask for what you want. There’s no need to be intimidated by your internship “boss”, this experience belongs to both of you. If you’re being tucked away in a corner to sort paper clips and you aren’t getting the exposure and experience you need, first, gain the trust and confidence in your manager by doing good work. Get the menial tasks done as quickly as you can (but with quality) and then ask for other projects you can help with. Asking to work on “projects” is key here. Task completion is the test for more responsibility. Let other people know you. Introduce yourself to other managers in other departments. Do not complain to anyone about anything – be optimistic when interacting with others.
  2. Recognize that “learning” in the workplace doesn’t happen the way it does in school. In the real world, lessons are in the air all around you, and they don’t announce themselves when they show up. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you to pick up a note pad and write things down. Take responsibility for keeping your eyes and ears open, asking your own questions, and making the most of the answers that come your way.
  3. Talk to people. During your internship, you’ll be surrounded by professional working adults who have been immersed in this business for years, and these people have plenty to teach you. But they may not open up unless you make the first move. Eliminate the thought that you can’t ask for something. Your youth and inexperience give you a certain freedom in this regard that won’t last forever. Ask all the stupid questions you want. Now’s the time.
  4. Make yourself valuable. Even if you aren’t a licensed practitioner and you aren’t able to take on high levels of real responsibility, try to make your presence a welcome sight. Keep your attitude cheerful, keep your hands busy, keep your eyes up—not on the floor or your desk—and keep your mind open. There’s nothing more appealing than an enthusiastic intern who helps older employees remember why they first got into this business.
  5. Develop a thanking habit. Showing appreciation is a habit that will serve you well throughout your professional life. The more generous you are with your thanks, the better. Keep them sincere.

The most important thing to remember as you launch into your internship can be summarized in one word: respect. Show respect for your employer, your coworkers, the work you complete on the job, your company’s customers, and yourself. The more respect you give, the more respect you’ll get, and with respect comes opportunity. Walk away from this experience with everything you need to get your career off to a strong start after you graduate.

Are “soft skills” really that important?


Adapted from: Downing, Skip. (2005). On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. Originally posted on http://advising.wvu.edu

The key to success is in the connected mindCareer success or lack of it affects nearly every part of your life: family, income, self-esteem, who you associate with, where you live, your level of happiness, what you learn, your energy level, your health, and maybe even the length of your life.

Some students think, “All I need for success at work is the special knowledge of my chosen career.” All that nurses need, they believe, are good nursing skills. All that accountants need are good accounting skills. All that lawyers need are good legal skills. These skills are called hard skills, the knowledge needed to perform a particular job. Hard skills include knowing where to insert an intravenous feeding tube, how to write an effective business plan, and what the current inheritance laws are. These are the skills you’ll be taught in courses in your major field of study. They are essential to qualify for a job. Without them you won’t even get an interview.

But, most people who’ve been in the work world a while will tell you this: Hard skills are necessary to get a job but often insufficient to keep it or advance. That’s because nearly all employees have the hard skills necessary to do the job for which they’re hired. True, some may perform these skills a little better or a little worse than others, but one estimate suggests that only 15 percent of workers who lose their jobs are fired because they can’t do their job. That’s why career success is of ten determined by soft skills. As one career specialist put it, “Having hard skills gets you hired; lacking soft skills gets you fired.”

A United States government study agrees that soft skills are essential to job success. In the early 1990’s, the Secretary of Labor asked a blue-ribbon panel to determine what it takes to be successful in the modern employment world. This panel published a report called the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). The SCANS report presents a set of foundation skills and workplace competencies deemed essential for work world success today.

No one familiar with today’s work world will find many surprises in the report, especially in the foundation skills.

The report calls for employees to develop the same soft skills that are asked for in employment ads, that employers look for in reference letters and job interviews, and that supervisors assess in periodic evaluations of their work force.

The SCANS report identifies the following soft skills as necessary for work and career success:

  • taking responsibility
  • making effective decisions
  • setting goals
  • managing time
  • prioritizing tasks
  • persevering
  • giving strong efforts
  • working well in teams
  • communicating effectively
  • having empathy
  • knowing how to learn
  • exhibiting self-control
  • believing in one’s own self worth

Learning these skills will help you succeed in your first career after college. And, because soft skills are portable (unlike most hard skills), you can take them with you in the likely event that you later change careers. Most career specialists say the average worker today can expect to change careers at least once during his or her lifetime. In fact, some 25 percent of workers in the United States today are in occupations that did not even exist a few decades ago. If a physical therapist decides to change careers and work for an internet company, he needs to master a whole new set of hard skills. But the soft skills he’s mastered are the same ones that will help him shine in his new career.

So, as you’re learning these soft skills, keep asking yourself, “How can I use these skills to stay on course to achieving my greatest potential at work as well as in college?” Be assured, (these soft skills) can make all the difference between success and failure in your career.

How to tackle development of soft skills

Self-directed work is possible using the Life Skills for Students program offered at Career Coaching for Students. However, using the same material and content, holding weekly focus groups with friends is much more meaningful and fun.

Carl Nielson is the creator of Career Coaching for Students and Student Resource Central, the most comprehensive one-stop resource for career exploration, major and education institution research and leading thought for students in high school and college.