Category Archives: Teen Career Exploration

This blog is for any high school student, teenager, their parents, school counselors or career coaches who provide services to high school students. We focus on the high school student mostly. But if you are a college student and haven’t ever paused to do some serious self reflection and career exploration based on your true talents you might want to read this blog and visit us at Success Discoveries. This blog is a supplement to the Career Coaching for Students™ program found at www.successdiscoveries.com/products/ccfs.
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7 Things Any High School Student Needs to Effectively Compete


There is a great deal of advice when it comes to students preparing to compete in the global economy. Showcasing your abilities properly has now become more complex – and more critical. For example, a resume is a strategic tool designed to give you the edge over other applicants (for summer jobs, internships, and eventually that first job after school). When you use a Google search for resume writing, you receive 12.7 million hits. For most students, thinking about writing a strong resume is a “just-in-time” exercise. For many seniors in high school, that [strong resume] train has already left the station.But regardless of where the student is in their journey, it is never too late to start.

A resume reflects what has been. Students that have a desire to be competitive a few years from now need to be thinking about how they want their resume to look starting in their freshman year of high school. A resume matters when applying to colleges, especially the more academically elite colleges. A resume matters when you try for the internship that 500 other students are going for and there is only one position available. A resume matters when you are about to graduate from college and are trying to get interviews with the better employers. But the strength of the content of that resume starts with the beginning of secondary education – or earlier.

It only makes sense that the better employers are looking for the better students. GPA is only one measure and it may not be the main one.

News bulletin: Your grades aren’t the beginning and end to creating opportunities.
When writing resumes, a strong GPA is a great attention grabber but it is only a beginning. According to Heather R. Huhman, a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies, many of today’s job seekers tend to forget to include the things they’re passionate about or experiences they’ve gained outside of their academic accomplishments.

For many students, thinking beyond next weekend can be challenging. The reality is many students find themselves scrambling about their second year of college because they don’t have many things to list on their resume. Getting through school is the minimum you are expected to do. It is all the other things you do – or don’t do – that will determine your competitiveness – and the quality of your future opportunities.

So you have a 4.0 and you are in the top 5% of your high school graduating class ranking. With nothing else to add, you will likely not have as many options when it comes to college application acceptances, internships and ultimately those “first job” offers upon graduation from college. A strong GPA is valuable but it isn’t any where nearly as valuable as a high GPA and several extracurricular achievements.

Freshman in high school have the best opportunity for setting the stage for having a “totally awesome” resume that will pay big dividends to stakeholders of “You Inc.”. And by the way, you (the student) are the majority stockholder in You, Inc.

So here are 7 things you can do in high school (besides getting good grades and participating in extracurricular school programs – which you need to do as well):

1. Build a professional website, blog or online portfolio.

Online PortfoliosOne of the things that seems to impress employers when they research candidates is whether the individual has a professional website or blog. In the online information portal called Student Resource Central, an entire category is dedicated to Social Media and Online Portfolios. The top 14 online tools are listed –  some you might be aware of, and some so cool you must use them.

If you’ve created a professional website to showcase your knowledge, passions, expertise and accomplishments, you should definitely include a link to your website or portfolio in your future resume. Starting in high school and adding to it each year will set you apart from the competition.

2. Social media accounts.

Facebook Find Us LogoYour social media presence is another important element. When using social media, be mindful of what you showcase. Ideally, keep your social media clean of controversial language, political views and immature content. Start thinking like a professional. Assume anyone considering you for college admission, internships or job opportunities will find your content.

3. Entrepreneurial Freelance projects.

Employers value entrepreneurial experiences. Use any freelance opportunities to help you shine. One high school student turned a photography hobby into a revenue producing part time job. According to a survey of Generation Y workers (those ages 18-29), the third-most common college major for that group is “entrepreneurial studies,” and there are now 2,364 post-secondary institutions offering entrepreneurship and small business programs. Even if these students don’t become an entrepreneur, chances are they may go on to get a job with a young, venture-backed company or work for an established corporation that places high value (higher starting salaries) for entrepreneurial behaviors.

Showcase your freelance experience in your resume. Keep track of your accomplishments and people/organizations you’ve worked with.

4. Awards or special recognition.

BSA Eagle Scout BadgeGirl Scouts Gold AwardHave you received special recognition for being an outstanding contributor? You are in control of this more than you may think. Look for intentional ways to be recognized through your volunteer work, such as tutoring younger students, or through structured programs such as achieving the rank of Eagle scout in the Boy Scouts of America or the Gold Award in the Girl Scouts or by acts of service in your church or community. Plan to graduate with honors in high school and college. You will want to include these accomplishments and awards in your resume.

5. Certifications.

Project Management CertificationJob seekers who have certifications in a specific tool or skill or knowledge area can definitely benefit from including those items in their resume. Very few students see this one. A friend of mine helped his daughter study for and pass several certification exams, normally designed for professionals, before she entered college. Many certifications require some kind of experience or completion of a related project as evidence of applicable knowledge. You don’t have to be employed in a traditional job to meet these requirements. Search out the opportunity or ask those adults in your network for support. An industry-specific or career-specific certification will definitely help you stand out.

6. Side projects.

Girl Scouts project for Gold AwardSimilar to freelance work, side projects are a type of structured work that has timelines and outcomes. But they may not be tied to revenue. Volunteer work or helping your parents in the family business can be very powerful. For Eagle Scouts or Gold Award recipients, a project is required to receive the award. Be sure to include these projects, not just the award. Look for ways to claim significant accomplishments in your personal life and definitely include them on your resume.

7. Volunteer work.

student volunteersLook for opportunities to volunteer. Through school, many clubs or honors programs require volunteer work. Try volunteering every Saturday at a local food bank for the summer Are you into a particular sport? See if you can be an assistant coach on a youth recreation league (and get certified to be a youth coach while you’re at it). Look for unpaid internships too.  Volunteer experiences such as these can help you make a very strong impression on admission counselors or employers. Volunteer work also shows employers you have leadership and project management skills.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving Fortune 100 company clients. As creator and master trainer of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Do I Need to Have A Career Plan in High School?


dream-job-nextexitThe old saying “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” means if you do not know about a problem, you will not be able to make yourself unhappy by worrying about it. That belief is supported by the belief “ignorance is bliss“.

When it comes to creating/having a career plan, focusing on it (worrying about it) will actually create a great deal of happiness, help you avoid major stress and save you (and/or your parents) thousands of dollars. Based on almost daily news, the amount of college loan debt has escalated to levels considered very dangerous for our economy and for individuals. Having excessive education loan debt is a personal accountability issue – not a national economy issue.

How much debt do you want or plan to have when you graduate college? According to an article in the Huffington Post, “the average college graduate obtained a degree in 2012 with $29,400 in student debt, up from $18,750 less than a decade before in 2004, according to a new report.” To avoid unnecessary costs (which frequently ends up becoming debt) during college, avoid changing majors and choose the right college or university for you. If you are unsure about a career direction and go into college as an “undeclared major” you are likely to not have any revelations about a career direction by the end of your Freshman year. Whether you put it off or tackle career planning in high school, the only way to avoid unnecessary expense and find true happiness is to do the career planning work.

So, the short answer to the question, Do I Need to Have a Career Plan in High School?, is that you need to be doing the work of creating a career plan. The Career Coaching for Students program looks at this work as developing Decision Making skills. Decision making is a recognized skill of highly successful people and happens to be one of the weakest skills for incoming Freshman in college. You don’t necessarily need to have made a career decision but you need to be well on your way to identifying and understanding your career interests and the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with your career interests.

A career plan is the reward for the work you’ll do to determine your skills and interests, what career best suits your talents, and what skills and training you need for your chosen career.

By developing a career plan, you can focus on what you want to do and how to get there without worrying and without unnecessary expense. To do this well, you must start with a “professional-grade assessment” that helps you understand your personality strengths. Career planning is only one benefit of using assessments to become much more self-aware.  You’ll also find you will have a better understanding of your skills and experiences to discuss with potential employers (on your resume and in future interviews).

To eventually have a defined career goal, get started now.

A career goal can be a specific job you want to do — such as doctor or teacher — or be a particular field you want to work in, such as medicine or education.

Rather than limiting your future, a career goal may help you discover career possibilities you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. There are several job possibilities with any chosen career. For instance, if you choose a medical career, you may want to be a scientist, a nurse, or a doctor.

A career goal can also guide you into doing what you want with your life.

  1. Become Self-Aware.
  2. Identify Career Interests.
  3. Narrow your career interests to a top two or three.
  4. Determine what you need to do to prepare for your chosen career.
  5. Besides the right college major, do you need special training? Some careers need the specialized training but don’t require a college degree. If so, find out what schools offer the training you need. Also, determine what kind of experience will you need to be successful in the career. Consider an internship as a way to get work experience in the career field.
  6. Write your career plan.  Use online tools to help you create a visual career plan.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving Fortune 100 company clients. 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 and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Internships – So You Didn’t Get One This Year


State of Internships InfographicEvery college student knows about internships. It’s the thing to do – right? So in the Spring of your freshman year you attend career fairs, visit the Career Center on campus, create a resume, do a little research to see if there are any available internships and call it a day after finding out employers only talk to upcoming juniors and seniors.

So your sophomore year you go in a little smarter, prepared to “find” the internship opportunity that eluded you after your first year. Now, you “qualify” since you will be an incoming junior. All engines at full throttle! Then you find out all the internships are going to “incoming seniors” (this year’s juniors). Once again you are locked out.

Here are some interesting statistics from the infographic to the right before I share “the rest of the story”.

  • 97.6 percent of interns recommended internships to other students
  • As of April 15th, only 16.6 percent of seniors had received a job offer
  • 68.9 percent of college seniors have done at least one internship
  • Students with paid internships are three times more likely to have job offers than students with unpaid internships
  • Students with three or more internships are twice as likely to have a job offer than students with just one internship
  • 48.3 percent of internships were paid in 2014

Here’s the rest of the story…

So you have one last chance at an internship – next summer between your junior and senior years. You could approach it the same way you’ve done in the past – and likely end up empty-handed. Or you can take control of your own destiny and step up to the challenge. Here are some ways you can step up:

A. Meet representatives at the on-campus career fair. Get their business card. Attend profession-related association/chapter meetings in cities close to you, take business cards and get business cards from attendees.

B. Create a “drip marketing campaign where “you” are the product you are marketing (not selling!).

Identify the top 25 employers for internships based on your career direction. Don’t stop until you have 25 on the list.

Contact someone at each company to confirm an internship program exists. If not, you have to evaluate the value of keeping that company on the list or replace it with a different company. For example, the company may not have a formal internship program but you know someone who works there and they have told you it is possible to get a summer job there. In that case, you might want to keep them on the list. However, with no formal internship program and if you don’t have any “warm” or “hot” networking contacts at the company, you either need to get the networking contacts quickly (see LinkedIn) or drop the company.

Connect on LinkedIn with all employer contacts you can find at the employers on your list.

Construct a “Contact Management” Excel spreadsheet includes the name, job title, company name, mailing address for the contact, phone number and email address.

Use the Excel spreadsheet with Word Mail Merge to create printed letters and other materials you’ll be mailing (via USPS or FedEx) to your contacts. You can also track all activity with each contact using the contact management spreadsheet. For 25 companies, your goal is to obtain at least two contacts at each company. One is the key HR or “Talent Acquisition” specialist that handles internships. The other is a line manager, meaning a department head. This might be a VP, Director or Manager.

Design a campaign of ten communications, use e-mail, printed letters/postcards and phone calls.

Drip Campaign Sample Design

  1. SEPTEMBER: “I Want the Internship” postal mailing – This could be a letter or postcard design stating that: “I am so interested in what [xyz company] is doing related to [your field of interest] that it would be a great thing to intern at their company. I will be completing my junior year this upcoming May and want to intern at your company. I know this is a little early but I do want you to know of my interest. I’ll be reaching out to you a few more times over the next six months. If the possibility of an internship goes away just let me know and I’ll stop sending these. I’ve attached my resume in case you are personally interested. If you know someone who might be interested, don’t hesitate to send my resume to them.
  2. OCTOBER: “My LinkedIn Profile” – Hopefully you are already connected but if you aren’t no problem. If the contact has a LinkedIn profile, you can send them a “message” (if you are connected) or an “Inmail” (if you are not connected). In this message, you have to be brief. You might ask a question related to news you read about the company like “Hi ___, I read about the 80% layoffs at the corporate headquarters today. I hope you weren’t one of them but I feel for everyone who lost their job. Speaking of jobs, is the internship program going to survive the cuts?” That example, while using great ironic humor, probably won’t be seen in a humorous way. A better example might be “Hi ___, I just read about the new product release [check their Media page on their website for latest press releases]. Congratulations! I’m sure it took a lot of work by a lot of people. Reading about it made me wish I had been one of those contributing. I hope to do an internship with your company next summer so maybe I will be able to contribute in some small way. “
  3. NOVEMBER: Postal mailing, postcard or letter. Dear ___, Just a short note to say I am still very much interested in the ___ internship opportunity this upcoming summer. On a related note, I made a 4.0 in my Fall semester classes which included [name a relevant course, don’t name a course that they wouldn’t care about]. I also was elected president of the ___ club [if relevant to your career direction or if you feel it helps identify your leadership or project management skills development focus].
  4. DECEMBER: Phone Call
  5. JANUARY: Postal letter. Attach resume. This is a more formal letter requesting to speak with the person about upcoming opportunities to intern at their company. This may be customized based on what you already know.
  6. FEBRUARY: Email. Find something relevant about what positive things are happening at the company. Let the reader know you saw it/heard about it and that you are excited about the possibilities of working at xyz company. You can state that you’ve submitted your resume to the online applicant system per recommended procedure. [if that is true] or you can state that you are hoping to hear about any possible internship soon. If they can provide insight, it would be appreciated greatly.
  7. MARCH: If necessary; if no action has taken place. Obviously, if you are in mid-stream of getting the internship, you’ve stopped the regular drip marketing campaign by now and following the company’s requests/directives. But if they are like 50% of companies, an internship job posting hasn’t even happened.  Send another more formal letter with resume attached. You might expand who you send it to as well. Go higher in the organization if you can identify the right contacts.
  8. APRIL: Time for a phone call. Time is running out. At this point you need to talk to someone who knows what is going on. Certainly, you need to call the people you’ve been sending all the other communications to. But ask for and look for others who may be more appropriate or have more decision making authority.
  9. MAY (twice): Check the job posting site for internships that might have come in late. Make follow up phone calls to all you know in the company.
  10. Late MAY: Email. Send your contacts a short note saying you haven’t landed that internship at their company yet but remain extremely interested. Tell them that “if an opportunity to job shadow for a week is available, you’d like to talk with the right person to make that happen”.

USPS mailings are low cost. If you have the budget, FedEx envelopes cost more but they are more notable. Remember that for the higher-level executives, there may be a gate keeper opening the mail for them. The more you can be appealing to the gate keeper, the better the chances your material is seen and discussed. Designing all ten communication pieces up front makes it much easier to do the actual design work and follow a theme. Use respectable humor occasionally but also be professional and direct with most of your communications.  For example, all of your pieces might open with “From [Name], Your #1 Prospective Intern”.

Don’t forget how to use the phone.

Calling these contacts too often will not be good, however, perfect call timing has to do with one time of the year it is and what time of the day it is. For a summer internship, a first inquiry phone call in September (about 7 months before the actual internship timeframe) is very appropriate and accepted by most. A phone call in December just before the holidays hit is a great time for the second call. People are feeling the giving spirit and starting to wind down from the year. Your purpose of the second call is to ask for career advice (if a line manager, not HR) or, if it is HR you are contacting, you are inquiring about their plans for internships related to your field. Keep in mind you’ve already sent emails and postal mailings to these people.  A third call is appropriate around February if you haven’t already been invited to interview.

So, if you really want an internship, move out of your comfort zone, manage yourself like a PR firm would manage you and get proactive in your pursuit.

Good luck next year!

Carl

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving Fortune 100 company clients. 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 and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

The Dreaded Phone Interview


This article is one of literally hundreds we’ve posted or referenced in Student Resource Central™, the online research portal for high school and college students. Student Resource Central supports the various research tasks that students complete in the Career Coaching for Students™ program.

Even adults will benefit from taking the advice in this article to heart.

Phone interviews have become a common way for employers to screen interns and potential employees during the hiring process. Unlike traditional, in-person job interviews, phone interviews are usually fairly short. This makes phone interviewing an effective way to narrow down the list of candidates before scheduling in-person interviews. Unfortunately, many people are not comfortable conducting a conversation of that importance over the phone. Many times the student feels intimidated. The truth is, when it comes to students, especially for internship opportunities, the employer is NOT wanting to learn more about your academic accomplishments or those extracurricular activities you did in high school. They are also not looking for perfectly polished phone presentation skills. They are looking for an authentic, engaging and intelligent person.  The following tips can help turn an awkward interview into a confidence-inspiring success.Phone_interrview_The_Office_images

Preparation is the Name of the Game

When preparing for a phone interview, don’t forget that not all recruiters and employers schedule the call ahead of time. At any moment, anyone connected to your network could stumble across your resume or an employer you’ve contacted could decide to call you. Your chances for success in your job search will be greatly improved if you try to always expect the unexpected (especially during a job interview).

Keep Your Resume Near the Phone

Knowing that you could get a call from an interested employer at any time, whether for an internship opportunity, summer job or that first job out of college, you should always keep a recent copy of your resume near the phone. That way, whether or not your phone interview is anticipated, you will have all the information you need right at your fingertips. Of course for a job interview, your resume is not the only resource you should keep handy.

Create a log for keeping track of the resumes you send out, recording each company, position title, contact name, date the position was applied for, and qualifications for the job. If you have a chance to research the company, make a file with that information, and keep it near the phone as well. Finally, you should always have access to a notepad and pen during a phone interview, so that you can write down additional instructions they might provide such as a name and phone number of someone at the company. Be sure to write down the interviewer’s name, key questions he or she asked, and your responses.

Practice (and a Cheat Sheet) Makes Perfect

Just like with a traditional job interview, you should try to anticipate questions the interviewer might ask. If you have come up with examples and practiced your answers ahead of time, you will sound much more intelligent and confident in the interview. You might record in a journal the questions you are asked in phone interviews and write an ideal answer with it. Moreover, since the interviewer cannot see you, there is nothing to stop you from referring to a “cheat sheet” – notes to help you remember your practiced answers, so that you never sound like you have been taken off guard. Your cheat sheet should be bullet points only, do not read directly off the cheat sheet.

When you practice your answers and put together your cheat sheet, you should think about job interview questions that are traditionally asked, such as:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are you looking for in [an internship] [a job]?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in 1/5/10 years?
  • What is your leadership style? Please give an example of a real situation where you took the lead.
  • Describe a situation where you had to work with others to solve a problem.
  • Give me an example of a stressful situation you have encountered on the job or at school (not a personal situation). How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about your three greatest accomplishments so far.
  • Do you have any questions? [Have a few questions that are directed at getting more information about the opportunity and what traits or experience the employer is looking for in the ideal candidate.]

Many of these questions are difficult to answer on the spot. By preparing your answers ahead of time, you give yourself the opportunity to think through your answers carefully. Your notes will refresh your memory if you draw a blank, and help prevent you from freezing up during the interview. As for the first question above, “tell me about yourself”, that is not a speed dating question. The interviewer wants to know about you relative to the job opportunity. If you are sharing things about yourself that have no relevance for how you fit the job, you have crashed in the ditch.

Giving a Fabulous Phone Interview

If you’ve done your homework, the phone interview itself should be a breeze. The important thing at this point is to remember to make sure the interviewer can hear and understand youand vice versa – as well as possible. Be articulate in the way you talk. You don’t have to use fancy words but you need to project what you say with a clear voice. No mumbling.Student phone interview

During the phone interview, you should:

  • Find a quiet place immediately. Other students, children, pets, televisions, and music are all noisy distractions that should be avoided. If the phone interview is scheduled in advance, you can arrange to have a quiet room all to yourself. If you receive the phone call unexpectedly, retreat into a quiet room or suggest another time for the interview. If using a cell phone, be sure you are stationary and have excellent reception.
  • Sip water periodically but quietly (no bottles). Nervousness often causes your mouth to dry out, which can in turn change the way your voice and pronunciation sounds to the interviewer. If you know about the phone interview ahead of time, you can have a glass of water on hand, along with the other materials you have prepared.
  • Avoid eating, smoking, or chewing gum. Excess movement of your mouth and throat will make you harder to understand, and possibly distract or even irritate the interviewer.
  • Give short answers. This is a critical element to conducting a great phone interview. If you are talking more than 40% of the time, you are too long winded. Many people talk too much when they are nervous. This is especially easy to do in a phone interview, because you don’t have the other person’s visual cues to indicate when it’s their turn to talk. To make sure you don’t make this mistake, only talk long enough to directly answer the question –  and do not repeat the answer. A moment of silence, while it might seem awkward to you, lets the interviewer know that you are done. Silence on their end is probably them taking notes.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Speaking too fast, whether out of nervousness or habit, will hurt your chances by making you harder to understand. Instead, make a conscious effort to slow down and enunciate clearly.
  • Stand, stretch, or pace occasionally. Standing improves the quality of your voice by increasing airflow to your lungs. Additionally, many people find it easier to adopt a salesperson-like attitude when they are standing or moving around. As a result, changing your posture occasionally can make you sound more confident to the interviewer.
  • Smile. Believe it or not, a smile changes the quality of your voice. If you are smiling, the interviewer will hear it in your tone!

Finishing Your Phone Interview on the Right FootPhone_Interview_student_image

The phone interview is drawing to a close; what do you do now? These final moments are just as important as the preparation and the interview itself, as they can determine what comes next.

  • Thank the interviewer. Verbally thank the interviewer for taking the time to speak with you. If you don’t remember his or her name, ask for it again and write it down, so that you can send a thank-you note as well.
  • Suggest an in-person interview. The whole point of the phone interview was to score a traditional face-to-face job interview, so if the interviewer doesn’t mention what will happen next, you should bring it up. For example, you can say, “Thank you very much for taking the time to call me. I’d like to have the opportunity to meet in person. When will you be scheduling the next round of interviews?” If you don’t feel comfortable being that direct, you can ask “What do you expect to be the next step for me?”
  • Reiterate your interest in the position. You want to leave the interviewer with the impression that you are enthusiastic about the job. Let him or her know how interested you are about the prospect of working with the company.
  • Send a thank-you note. Just as with a traditional job interview, you should follow up with a polite thank-you note (written on paper and mailed with a stamp!). You can also use the thank-you note to reiterate your interest in scheduling an in-person interview. Just be sure to send the thank-you note out promptly (same day), as the interviewer may soon be making final decisions about who to call back!

Phone_Interview_hiring_mgr_2_imagesMany people find a phone interview more nerve-wracking than a traditional job interview. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. While some phone interviews happen with little or no warning, in most cases you have just as much time to prepare as you would ordinarily, with the added benefit of being able to use your notes during the interview.

5 Things Lucky People Do


Luck starts with a plan and action“The Luck of the Irish” is an American phrase that comes from the days of the gold rush in the 1800s.  Intolerant Americans figured the Irish people weren’t smart enough to find gold, and blamed their success on being lucky rather than skilled. In reality, America’s early immigrants have time and again proven themselves to be hardworking and smart enough to generate their own good fortune consistently.

We often excuse our own inadequacies by crediting the success of others to luck.  If everyone went at their personal goals with the level of commitment and follow-through as the “lucky ones” the probability of success becomes fairly equal. In baseball terms, the big hitters are simply swinging the bat more often.

good_luck_four_leaf_cloverThe truth is that seemingly lucky people are opportunists. They do things to be prepared so that they are ready to take advantage of the world around them. For them, it’s not about being in the way of good luck or bad. It’s the actions they take to get what Jim Collins refers to as a high return on luck whichever way the pendulum swings. Follow these five tips and you can be as lucky as anyone, no four-leaf clover required.

1. Play to your strengths. So much time and energy is wasted trying to do things you probably don’t do very well. Author and Inc. columnist Lewis Schiff learned from his survey of incredibly wealthy people that they got that way by focusing only on what they do best. Choosing a career that aligns with your personal motivation and talents gives you an advantage over 50% of those currently in the workforce. By knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you will shine where you excel and attract opportunity. You’ll find ways to compensate for your weaknesses, such as delegating or partnering with someone that has your weakness as a strength. Good things come to those who emanate success.

2. Prepare in advance. Unlucky people often get that way because they’re reactive and unprepared for whatever comes. The college student who chooses to organize and follow a self-study program so they can take and pass a difficult certification exam outside of their course work – just so they are better qualified to secure a key summer internship – are expecting to be successful. They wouldn’t consider themselves lucky when the internship offer comes. Some people consider planning to be useless because everything changes and you can’t predict the future. The point of a plan isn’t to follow it no matter what, it’s to establish a structure for smart decision making that allows you to succeed no matter what the future might bring.

3. Start early. Some people seem to have more hours in the day. They get that way by planning projects in advance – this gives you the extra time you need – and then using a disciplined approach to allocating time on a consistent basis. Make promises to yourself using integrity to hold yourself personally accountable. So many people only want to put their energy into things that provide immediate gratification. The most fortunate people I know are the ones who planted seeds early and took the blind leap of faith that the investment in time would be personally rewarded exponentially.

4. Connect with as many people as possible. The key to success is access to opportunity. Access comes from influence. If you aren’t meeting people of influence regularly, your ability to access opportunities is limited. In a way, your network of influencers becomes your following. The bigger your following, the more opportunity you are being exposed to. The only way to build a big following is to provide value to many people. You have to provide the sort of value that will cause people to think of you at the right time. Influencers take great joy in knowing a wide range of people and recommending or connecting others. Being open and making yourself available to be known is a kind of value. Are you creating that kind of value? If not, figure how you can. Being an influencer isn’t important, being of value to influencers is critical. If you want more luck, you’ve got to break out of your cocoon.

5. Follow up and be of value. Opportunities often come and go because people don’t respond in a timely manner. I’m constantly amazed when people ask me for something and I respond immediately only to never hear from them again. I make it my business to know and recommend only the best ideas – whether to family, friends, colleagues or clients. That takes work – which I am always glad to do. I believe that following up is often more powerful and impressive than the act of initiating. I have learned to become wary of those that use me for my ideas and never seem to see the need to be of value to me. To be of value to me is simple. It could be as simple as letting me know you followed my advice and the outcome (the value of letting me know I was helpful). On a bigger scale, in a business context, it could be that you recommended me to someone that would benefit from my services (The Nielson Group or Success Discoveries) or, if you were in a position of authority in an organization, and recognized how I could help, that you made it a priority to introduce me to those stakeholders that need to know I exist. Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be seen by others as a user. User equals looser in the end. Following up is simple.

May you be so lucky to have people in your life that follow up. So start creating your own luck. Now.

Can/Should High School Students Go For Corporate Internships


New Generation Embraces High School Internships

A magazine I read frequently to stay up on happenings in the corporate organizational development world is Chief Learning Officer. Their content focuses primarily on enterprise productivity. Through a partnership with Human Capital Media, they’ve held a symposium to discuss high school students’ desires and needs to obtain a corporate internship before college.

A recent report outlines how high school students are feeling pressured to find corporate internships before they venture off to college. Editors Ladan Nikravan and Frank Kalman discuss if it’s worth it.

State is Planning Career Education Overhaul


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: While this article starts out covering the focus on high school student career education in Louisiana, it is actually about how to reduce the dropout rate in high schools and increase average grade point averages, SAT/ACT scores and student morale – in any high school – in any state.

Career and college readiness The state of Louisiana, as part of a career education overhaul, is planning to end the practice of requiring students to declare a “career path” in the eighth grade, which Superintendent of Education John White said “is too early.” The main focus of the overhaul is to increase high school retention and graduation rates and place more effort into career and technical education, another name for “the vocational track”.

The revamp, which is called Jump Start, is touted as a way for school districts, colleges and businesses to re-energize career and technical education, and ensure that students have the technical skills to land what economic development officials call a wave of top-paying jobs in Louisiana, according to The Advocate.

First, “declaring a career” in the 8th grade was an incredibly bad idea. Dropping that is a good start but not exactly a “jump start”.

According to Jump Start’s own white paper, Blueprint for Public Comment, “While most Louisiana jobs do not require a four-year college degree, the majority of them do require education beyond high school. They require fundamental academic skills coupled with technical preparation for the workplace. Today, however, one quarter of Louisiana students do not graduate from high school in four years. Of those who do graduate from high school, 28 percent students end up achieving a university or two-year college degree.

“Simply put, too few young adults in Louisiana have the skills and credentials to assume the high-wage jobs offered in today’s Louisiana economy,” the blueprint documents say. So far, so good. The Blueprint then states, “Missing from this picture is a different choice for students and families; a state-of-the-art system of career and technical education.”

A Different Choice?

I’m all for choices. Jump Start will be an elective path for students pursuing a university-preparatory diploma, however, it will be a required path for students pursuing a Career Diploma starting in the Fall of 2014. Certainly, curriculum requirements are necessary to manage an education program.

The Real Problem

In most high schools across the USA, students are not provided the kind of career exploration and counseling that would enable them to make an informed decision about which diploma path to take. So if they aren’t provided that essential piece, career decision-making skills, to make such a big, life-impacting  decision, what can we expect to happen. Absolutely nothing.

Transfer Ownership – Understanding Self: How, Why and What

Once students are given the opportunity to receive a competently delivered debriefing of assessments that describe “how” they work, “why” they will work, and “what” kinds of tasks they enjoy along with a valid and “believable” method for narrowing the world of opportunity to career options that are truly a good fit to their personality,  they will be ready to make decisions about which career path to consider.

“But We’re Already Using Assessments”

If you work in a high school and whispered to yourself the above quote, please re-read the previous paragraph. I can’t say what level of quality of career counseling exists in every high school but I can say that 100% of all students that have participated in the Career Coaching for Students™ program stated  “nothing from the high school comes close to what this program has done” or “my high school isn’t doing anything to help me evaluate career options”.

The Main Thing is To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

I’m all for advancing the ability to deliver state-of-the-art Career Diploma curriculum. Consider dropping the “required” wording in the Blueprint with one exception, to be discussed below. The main thing is to give a jump start to student engagement. To do that requires a strategy that truly engages the student in their freshman year – not a curriculum diploma requirement. If a teen feels in control and empowered, they will likely be engaged. Feeling incompetent about making career decisions does not provide the feeling of “in control” nor does it create a feeling of empowerment.

Instead of in control and empowered, the student feels alone, insecure, fearful of making a decision and generally apathetic.  Many studies have shown that adults in the work world that don’t feel in control and empowered are not engaged as much as those that are and generally perform at or below a minimally acceptable level. How can we expect teens to be different?

How would the members of a school board feel if 100% of all students were shown to be engaged. Student engagement is the main thing. Which career direction to take will no longer be an issue if student engagement is high. So that solves a part of the problem – the risk of dropping out. Students who are engaged don’t typically drop out. The school board still has to ensure learning opportunities reflect the needs in the marketplace but also match up to what students want to pursue. Simply put, the world might need more wheel barrow movers but if students aren’t interested in that as a career direction, all the state-of-the-art classes and work experience opportunities for wheel barrow moving won’t increase course enrollment and won’t reduce drop out rates. In fact, make wheel barrow moving 101 as a required course for the Career Diploma and you will see an increase in the drop out rate.

What Should Be Required?

Let’s use our imagination for a minute (it doesn’t cost anything). Let’s say all incoming Freshmen students are required to complete the Career Coaching for Students™ program during the summer before their Fall freshmen semester. The program is provided at no cost to the student and is offered as a morning, afternoon or evening program. The program will include a total of 20 classroom hours (10 two hour classes) and four one-on-one coaching sessions. A coaching session is between 30 minutes and one hour.

We Can’t Afford That

I was having a conversation with a parent of a high school student that was participating in the Career coaching for Students™ program recently. This parent happened to be a senior’s Social Studies teacher in a prestigious high school in a very large public school district. I happen to know this school district has several millions of dollars invested annually in a Career Counseling Center at each of its high schools.

This teacher thought so much of the Career Counseling Services through the district that he paid for his daughter to participate in the Career Coaching for Students™ program out of his own pocket. During a break, he ask me about this program being designed for delivery within a high school. He then stated, “you know the school district pays for every freshman to take the PSAT at a cost of $60 per student”. He then stated, “It seems this program [Career Coaching for Students] would be a much better investment.”

The irony of that statement is that while the price to attend a group Career Coaching for Students 12-hour workshop starts at $399 and is higher in some parts of the country, it would be much less, and could even approach “under $100 per student” if a school district were to go “all in” for their Freshmen students.

How Could We Get This Started?

I love pilots. Most businesses don’t implement a big, expensive program or launch a new product without some testing in the form of a pilot. Businesses understand pilots.

To get started, either through the state education agency or through local efforts:

  1. Obtain school-business partnership funds to cover a first year Career Coaching for Students™ pilot that includes 25% of incoming freshmen students
  2. Create and approve an ongoing funding plan that is based on the success of the pilot. if the pilot isn’t successful, kill the program and move the money to other, proven programs. But don’t bother with the pilot if you have no way to fund the 2nd year.
  3. Second year, 100% of incoming freshmen students participate
  4. Track drop out rates, diploma option decisions, post-secondary direction, 2 and 4 year post-secondary follow-up (longer term outcomes)

My prediction

Based on feedback about the program from hundreds of students and parents, and my observations of these students decisions, directions and level of success after high school (not scientifically documented), the following predictions are offered:

  1. Drop out rates decrease substantially
  2. Choice of diploma direction is the right choice based on a low rate of transfers across diploma plans.
  3. Student engagement stays consistently high based on grades
  4. SAT/ACT scores for university-preparatory diploma students will average higher due to stronger interest in their future and the connection between their course of study and their desired career direction
  5. Certain types of students who in the past might have been directed toward the Career Diploma option based on subjective teacher evaluations may choose and succeed in a university-preparatory diploma program due to increased self-awareness, self-confidence and clarity around career desires
  6. Students no longer look at the Career Diploma option as being for the “slow” or “not-so-smart” kids and see it as another path worthy of pursuit and just as valuable as the university-preparatory diploma program
  7. High academic achievers will look at Career Diploma options with more objectivity and some will choose the Career Diploma path
  8. Graduation rates rise significantly
  9. Post-secondary follow-up shows colleges students not changing major, graduating college in four years and pursuing careers with passion – less (if any at all) will graduate college without a career plan (it is hard to believe but too many college students actually graduate without a plan for their career)

I know this was long. Thanks for reading.

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 and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a 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.

This Is Your Time


dream-job-nextexitThe world of work is Darwin at its’ best…survival of the fittest. Ask any recent college grad or professionals that have lost their job within the last 6 or 7 years. As a student career coach (and in adult coaching sometimes as well), most high school students and many college students are challenged to engage in researching and planning for their future. For some, lack of confidence or fear makes the entire idea of investigating and planning for a future to be very intimidating. I use the following questions when I see a person struggling to engage or seems to have a lack of confidence:

Low level of confidence/lack of engagement

  1. What makes you think this isn’t the best time to do career exploration and planning?
  2. What makes you think that you have a low confidence level?
  3. What do you want to do about it? Something? Nothing?
  4. If you are not going to do something about it, who will?
  5. If you are going to do something about it, how will that help you reach your goal?
  6. What are your goals?

Help for those that don’t know what they want to do

  1. Know that a goal without a plan is merely a dream. Dreams rarely become reality. Plans almost always become reality.
  2. What DON’T you want to do? There may be options or a “plan B” that others are suggesting you pursue. Think with integrity about what you don’t want to do. Own it. Move on.
  3. Examine the current job market supply-and-demand ratios. Within Student Resource Central, we offer several excellent career research sites that provide quick information about high growth jobs and industries.
  4. How does your current interests and background fit with these ratios. Use assessments (for high school students or for college students) to provide a more structured and valid approach to examining your interests and “fit” to different career possibilities.
  5. Choose a career field to research – research it thoroughly. You aren’t making a decision here, just research.
  6. How can you gain more insight (talk to people in the career) and experience (internships) to further investigate the career of interest?

It should be reinforced that even if a student does everything above (as well as much more) there is no guarantee of employment today or tomorrow. Be prepared to reexamine and reinvent as you walk the path.

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 and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a 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.

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.

11 Pieces of Career Advice That go 95% Ignored


Originally posted on July 21, 2013 by  Mark Babbitt, founder of YouTern, a site for student internships.

Take the AdviceNo matter how many times mentors say them, there are pieces of advice – golden nuggets of been-there-done-that wisdom – that no one (okay, almost no one) ever follows.

Not the clichés you see every day like “Become a morning person”. Or the false-positive, affirmation-ridden stuff like “Make someone happy… with a smile!” Nor are these the really bad bits of advice dispensed so often we accept them as fact, like “Follow Your Passion”.

These never-fail insights would make a significant impact on the lives and careers of many… if (sigh) anyone would actually follow the advice:

1.  Follow Up

As a society, we suck at following up. I have no idea why… laziness; fear of success; a failure to prioritize, perhaps. I just know that about 2% of those who take a business card, or say they will follow up – after a tweet, phone call, one-on-one meeting, networking function, etc. – actually do.

Want to stand out among all your competition – no matter what you hope to achieve? Follow up.

2.  Personalize Everything

Think those generic connection requests on LinkedIn and auto-DMs on Twitter will get you noticed in a positive way? Think that generic cover letter and resume will get you an interview? Think that email template you send to potential mentors will be the beginning of a valuable relationship?

Your thinking… is wrong. In today’s world, every communication you send must be personalized. Period.

3.  Make a To-Do List

“I don’t do to-do lists” is one of the biggest red flags in the professional world. No matter how you keep track – pen and paper, smartphone, laptop, iPad – a to-do list is a mandatory element of staying organized and being able to properly prioritize your next activity.

Don’t come by list-making naturally? Try the “CNN” method of listing tasks, which by default helps you prioritize: C = “Critical”. N = “Need to do”. N = “Nice to do”. Works, every time.

4.  Find a Mentor (Lots of Mentors!)

One of the key traits of crazy-successful young careerists comes down to one thing: the existence of professional mentors. Perhaps a stable of them, or a “Personal Board of Advisors”.

Not sure where to find mentors? LinkedIn Groups are a place to start. Or visit #InternPro chat and/or #jobhuntchat on Twitter, each Monday evening starting at 9pm and 10pm ET, respectively. Those chats are mentor goldmines… you just have to do some digging.

5.  Read, Read and Read Some More

Check out the autobiography of just about any major innovator in modern times… insatiable reading is near the top of everyone’s “never fails advice” list. Blogs, books, white papers, best practices, rants… it doesn’t matter what you read. Just read. And get your brain moving in a direction different than it might be used to going.

Don’t think you have time for a lot of reading? Next time you’re tempted to download a game to your smartphone, download a book or blog post by someone like Seth Godin or Ted Coine instead.

6.  Know that No Soft Skill is More Important than Hustle

I’m at the point now that if I hear one more person talking about establishing their personal brand – but never really see that person actually DO anything – I’m probably going to go ape sh*t.

Present all the soft skills you want. Create the most polished profiles possible. But if I can’t clearly see that you are a “do-er” and not just a “dream-er”… that you are not willing to bust your ass, old-school style… it is all just talk. And I am not interested.

7.  Present Yourself as a Problem Solver

In our current economy, every organization is trying to do more with less. There is just no room for automatons who simply “do their job”. Those companies seek innovative thinkers who provide solutions… or at least ideas that contribute to solutions. They want those who will generate impact.

How to do that? So simple:

  1. Identify a challenge.
  2. Think – or build a team to think – of a solution.
  3. Present the solution.
  4. Actively listen to the feedback.
  5. Improve the solution.

8.  Own “It”

It doesn’t matter what “it” is. It could be that challenge that needs a solution. Or maybe a big project that gives you a chance to shine. Perhaps it’s the garbage that needs taking out, or a bathroom that needs cleaning before a client comes to the office. Or, just maybe its a mistake you made. No matter what is thrown at you, or to you… own it.

How do you project this in-demand trait? Take on this mindset: “This is my job to do. I will do it to the best of my ability. Once done, I will ask for more responsibility.” Not a bad way to go through a career.

9.  Be a Stalker

Yep, a stalker. Just short of the restraining order… stalk. Stalk recruiters. Stalk potential mentors and influencers. Stalk potential business partners, collaborators and innovators. Yes, you’ll eventually run into someone who thinks you’ve crossed the line into creepy; that comes with the territory… (just know THAT is the time to back off).

Tom Bolt, recruiter extraordinaire, puts this best: “If anyone wants to get my attention as a recruiter, they will approach me on social media, email me, apply to my jobs online, call me… literally stalk me.”

10.  Be THE Expert (at least more knowledgeable and desiring to learn than the other candidates)

Here’s the aspect of career development that falls on deaf ears more than anything else…

Perhaps it is because many young careerists have been in academic-theory-hell for too long. Maybe it’s because we think being everything to everybody is the best way to get that job. Or maybe it is because we don’t yet have a narrow point of focus.

Whatever the reason, trust me on this: if you want to get noticed, become THE expert on whatever marketable subject works best for you. Candidates get passed over, all the time. Experts (real subject experts, not the self-promotional variety) get recruited, all the time.

11.  All Anyone Cares About: Results

My personal favorite, especially when someone says: “But I worked really hard on that!”

In the real world, it does not matter one little bit how much effort you put into a project. The only thing that matters is… results. How does your work measure up against milestones? Did you meet the goals of the project? Did you exceed expectations?

If not… the last thing you want to talk about to a boss, mentor or potential employer is how hard you worked… to achieve nothing.

success-really-looks-likeAs you build your career, be the 5% who will follow this worthy, career-changing advice. And don’t be afraid to pass it along to others. Just don’t be surprised when they don’t listen (but be incredibly grateful for those who do… that’s when the magic happens!)

Thanks to Mark Babbitt, CEO and Founder of Youtern for this post! Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO.com regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. Contact Mark on Twitter!

If you know what you want to do for a career, and are wanting to find an internship, check out Youtern. If you aren’t sure about what career to pursue, check out Career Coaching for Students, a program for college students or high school students or recent grads. Developed by corporate talent management career coaching experts – not academic counselors.