Category Archives: Uncategorized

When is a person old enough to have a PURPOSE?


Purpose. A lot has been written and said about it because purpose is a significant part of a life well lived. Its power may lie in one simple thought: There is no forward without purpose.

  • Purpose is a stake in the ground. It positions.
  • Purpose is direction. It orients.
  • Purpose is clarity. It focuses.
  • Purpose is energizing. It empowers.
  • Purpose is supportive. It overcomes.

Of course unstructured experimenting and discovery are wonderful tools for living. It’s not always necessary to know your purpose; mindless wandering has its place.

But having a purpose – knowing where ‘forward’ is – quickens the journey.

Coaching Point: When is having a purpose critical versus “nice to have” for teens? What’s your purpose? Where is forward for you?

Our blog’s 2014 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

What’s the Key to Success in Life?


success-really-looks-likeBelow is a link to over 80 people’s responses that address a burning question:  “What would you say if a teenager walked up and asked you: What’s the key to success in Life?” The question drew over 80 responses very quickly from professionals in a wide range of professions. Try using the compiled list of responses as a discussion topic with teenagers. If you are a teenager, try this exercise:

  • Highlight the top four responses (your favorites). Why were they your top four?
  • Were there similarities based on gender or cultural background, etc.?
  • Of your top four, what industry or job did the respondent list?
  • Which responses did you not like? Why?

Download the “response paper” here

Supporting teenagers to find their own voice in the world is what Career Coaching for Studentstm is all about. Let me know if you’d like more information.

My best,
Carl Nielson
Founder and Chief Discovery Officer
carl@successdiscoveries.com
Career Coaching for StudentsTM
a Success Discoveries program
(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

How to Stand Out


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

6 Ways Successful People Stand Out by Jeff Haden

10 Ways You Should Never Describe Yourself by Jeff Haden

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

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

Haden’s 10 Words You Shouldn’t Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words that Work

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

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

Haden’s 6 Ways to Stand Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents Guide to Career Exploration and Planning


It isn’t possible for every high school student to benefit from the Career Coaching for Student program (maybe some day). If it were, you’d be sure to receive assistance in all of the areas listed in this article and your teen would be on solid footing for the path ahead. Short of that honorable goal of serving every student, the following ideas are for parents of incoming high school students and any teen ready to consider and explore their future.Happy Teens

Parents are a teens primary counselor. As much as teachers, school counselors and other professionals try, parents play a crucial role in drawing a study plan and shaping the career direction and future of their children. Entry into high school is the time parents need to acquire knowledge about educational options, objectively understand their teens interests and skill sets and “parent” them through the exploration and decision-making process. Decision making doesn’t have to mean “choose” a career while in high school. Decision making needs to be focused on strategic direction. That may result in a career decision or it may set the student on an informed path to explore and evaluate the best potential opportunities that lead to happiness and success.  Either way, a good career choice will be made.

Why parents’ guidance is important for student career exploration

  1. Because parents have rich knowledge and experience. The teen’s interests and talents may be very different from a parents, however, the parent has the knowledge and experience to bring greater wisdom to the process.
  2. Many students choose their school or college of study after a brief, mostly subjective look at a few choices, without research and due diligence, often times going by just the hearsay. In this situation, parents can encourage their teen to gather all relevant information to make a more informed choice, considering both the short- and long-term benefits and prospects.

How parents can help in career selection

  1. A parent’s attitude matters a great deal! Stay positive and focused on a future of success. The work place today is always changing and may seem scary. Don’t make the past seem perfect and the future terrifying. Encourage your teen to develop a positive attitude and learn about a variety of industries. Many career choices can be applied in diverse industries which present very different experiences.
  2. Do not shoot down ideas that your children may come up with on their educational and career choices. If you react negatively, it will likely shut down or reduce the communication process. Keep the lines open as you encourage information gathering and informed choices rather than “your” choices.
  3. Jump on opportunities. Informal discussions about the world of work with your teen can be productive. Current news and websites like www.ted.com can be a catalyst to a rich discussion.
  4. Provide guidance and blind encouragement. Do not impose your ideas against theirs. Your goal is to help your children find their own way based on their interests and skills and not follow your ideas and interests, which could prove counter-productive. By discussing interests, dreams and goals, you can get to know your children better, which will help you guide them.
  5. Encourage your teen to set goals. By starting early with goal setting and action planning, simple and rewarding goals will lead to extremely valuable skills for life and more consistent achievement of goals as an adult.
  6. Be practical and realistic in your approach but don’t assume something isn’t possible. Examine and find out whether their interests are genuine, or mere aspirations influenced by external forces.
  7. Encourage your child to explore their options through work experience and by talking to people in occupations that interest them. Visits to relevant businesses will help. Putting your teen in contact with those in a career of interest is extremely valuable. Meeting multiple people to gain “inside” career information can be more valuable than a summer job.
  8. Let your teen identify and select their area of interest. Parents can help students to identify the broad area of work that interests them, what sort of environment they would like to work in and then link it to their skills, interests, abilities and values. Be wary of popular assessments used for students. Many are not effective and can create confusion. Their validity and reliability may also be questionable.

How to begin

1. The best way to begin career exploration with your children is by talking about your own career. What do you do in your job. What decisions did you make that led you to this point in your career. Teens aren’t always overly interested when parents begin to share their wisdom with them. Be patient. When it comes to “telling”, asking questions more often is a better strategy for opening the door to rich discussions. Discuss a variety of occupations that you observe in everyday life and what those jobs may involve.

2. Emphasize personal accountability and self management. These are two critical skills consistently found in highly successful people – regardless of what career they choose to follow.

THE ACTION PLAN

The career decision-making process described below includes activities that can begin pre-high school and go through high school and post-secondary education.

Action 1 – Enable self-awareness through valid and reliable assessments. When it comes to assessments, start with yourself. Evaluate the assessment administration experience and the results.

Action 2 – You and your teen may also want to consider lifestyle implications and the overall impact that lifestyle preferences will have on career choice. For instance, will the job require irregular hours? Will the salary support the lifestyle your child wants? How much education does the occupation require vs the desire for continuing education? It’s important for your child to understand the relationship between lifestyle, personal preferences, occupational choice, and educational pursuits. Help your children understand and balance the difference between wants and needs.

Action 3 – Help your teen stay focused on career exploration.
Help your child to explore a variety of options with the goal of narrowing those options to a manageable few. Most students want to look at college choices first, major second and career third. Help them avoid that mistake.

Action 4 – Evaluate educational strategies that support a career direction. Evaluate educational options before looking at college choices. Schools vary greatly in their reputation for different areas of study. The best employers know which schools are at the top for a subject and which are not.

Action 5 – Research school choices based on career direction and desired post-secondary education. No school has everything for everyone. Even the most prestigious schools such as Harvard might not be the best school for what your teen is interested in. Choosing a college or university takes a little work.

Action 6 – Make choices based on quality information. Encourage your child to explore a variety of career areas, before making a choice. The economy, demographics, and technology will continue to change the workplace. Some jobs become obsolete while other new jobs emerge. Some occupations may maintain the same title, but they may change or evolve so drastically that they no longer resemble what they were a decade earlier. As the workplace continues to change, it will be more important to focus on personal soft skills and how they can be applied. Some soft skills are more important than others depending on the career. Decision making has been identified as one of the most important soft skills required for career success. It has also been identified as the weakest of soft skills of incoming Freshmen in college.

Action 7 – Create an action plan

Planning is much easier to do when a passionate future view exists. The passionate future view serves to motivate your teen to take challenging courses.

Action 8 – Begin planning for the expense of college. Motivation goes up when a teen sees that excellent grades will pay off in significant scholarship money and improved odds of being accepted to their first school of choice. Don’t think you can afford the most expensive colleges and universities? Explore all options available to get scholarships, financial aid, fellowships and interest free students loans. Why? Many of the scholarships will be based on achievement and required courses through the high school years. Many students of lower income families are provided significant financial support.

Action 9 – Take action. Encourage your child to stick with a rigorous school curriculum to build a strong foundation in math, reading, writing, computer skills, and science. The stronger the foundation, the more career options will be available later in life.

Action 10 – Review and revise. As your child matures and gains more knowledge and experience, his/her interests may change.

Course selection in high school will determine what opportunities are presented and the available course of action after graduation. For instance, if your child wants to go to college and she/he hasn’t taken the required advanced level courses, remedial courses may be necessary.

Help your child to stay on target by taking the necessary courses. Remember that all plans should be flexible in case your child wants to change some of the goals she/he set earlier on.

It is your child’s future, not yours! It is your role to separate your innermost desires and wishes from that of your child. Help them reach their own dreams.

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

Choosing a College


There are many variables that go into choosing the right post-secondary college or vocational school. Before a student considers which school to focus on for their short list, it is important to first consider the career path and the educational requirements to be successful in that career path. The next step is to shorten the list of schools that carry a strong reputation for the major/subject and for placing graduating students into a first job upon graduation in that career.  With all of that said, this article assumes you’ve done that work and you are now focused on the short list.

To compare schools, try using a four box chart that allows you to compare two variables. The variables that you might consider need to be relevant to your needs. By combining the two variables, make a determination about what it means for a school to be in any of the four quadrants. The following examples are just a few of the variables to consider:

  • Retention Rate
  • Cost
  • Average Starting Salary of Graduating Students at that School (available at the school’s placement office)

Example 4 Box Chart
Using the link in the second paragraph above, you can download, print and create your own comparison chart for Retention Rate vs Cost. Here is what it might look like when you are finished (Legend of Colleges would be the names of the schools represented by the corresponding letter):

About Retention Rate

Retention rates at colleges varies widely and is a hidden metric that some schools would prefer you didn’t know about. The “retention and graduation rate” can be analyzed for 4-year undergraduate, 5 yrs, masters, all students, etc.

About the Cost of college

The cost becomes complicated when you consider all of the variables such as scholarships, grants, financial aid, etc. To keep an analysis simple, you can use the “Estimated Student Expenses (before Aid)” or the “Net Cost”.

Where to find College Retention Rate and Cost

The Career Coaching for Students™ program has an extensive and comprehensive research portal called Student Resource Central™ with the best of the best links to information on the Web for both college search and career exploration. One of the most informative sites that provides you with retention rates and cost data is the U.S. Department of Education sponsored site called College Navigator.

With College Navigator, you can search for and select colleges based on many variables that are important to you. Once you have a list of schools from the search, add those schools you consider to be “Favorites” to the Favorites List. From the Favorites list, you can “Compare” up to four schools at a time.

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

Six Mistakes Made on Resumes


It has been over 20 years since I was in the corporate HR world handling 200 resumes for one job opening and handling 50 job openings at once. Today, being focused on organizational development consulting and coaching for the corporate world  I still get involved in helping mid-career professionals as well as provide the Career Coaching for Students program to high school and college students. Whether you are a college grad hoping for that first break out job or looking to make a 5th job change due to lay offs, mergers and acquisitions, a resume is more of a show stopper  than a qualifier unless you are utilizing relationships to get that interview.

Your network, statistically speaking, will most likely be the way you obtain the job, but every once in a while your resume is one of the 250 resumes that HR filters through before handing off 100 to the hiring authority. So your resume must be right.  I’ve compiled six reasons from my own experience and that of other bloggers in “corporate HR/recruiting”.  I’m amazed at how the reasons for going in the trash haven’t changed in 20 years. Here are six reasons your resume will get thrown in the trash.

#1 You don’t meet the minimum criteria. From a hiring manager: “It took only two minutes to find that first red flag in my four-inch stack. I saw an application on which someone from human resources had written ‘experience may not qualify.’ The candidate had spent two years working at a work-force-development agency, but the HR staff member didn’t know if that would count toward our need that the applicant have experience in vocational education. After reading the job summary on the résumé, I knew the experience wouldn’t count. Case closed.

The first step in the application process is understanding whether or not you even qualify for the job. Your application typically will not go straight to the hiring committee. Instead, it will first go through the filter of the human-resources staff members who won’t forward unqualified applicants or will flag someone whose qualifications are uncertain. If you don’t have the job’s minimum requirements, the process is over. Note those minimum requirements and clearly demonstrate how you meet them.

#2 Employers fail candidates for bad grammar. It’s sad that I have to write that. The number of misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and other cardinal sins of writing is shocking. While the average employer would certainly drop you for such transgressions, some employers get twice as irritated about it. Misspellings signal laziness, inattention to detail, and just the overall sense that you aren’t taking this seriously.

Here are three pieces of advice: proofread, proofread, proofread. Every word processor on the planet has spellcheck. Is it that hard to click the little button? You’ve already (I hope) spent an hour or more writing the thing. Would taking another five minutes for a once-over be too much to ask? Ask someone that is known for their editing prowess to review your writing. One final question: Would you take this article seriously if I butchered the wording? Of course not. The same perspective applies.

#3 Did you even try to tailor your résumé? The next red flag comes from an excellent, well-crafted résumé. Clearly demonstrating the candidate’s expertise in accounting, it included specific accomplishments in previous accounting jobs. It was without flaw. The HR screener may have even said aloud, “This is the best I’ve seen in a while.” There was one small problem, though. The company isn’t hiring for an accounting position. On to the next candidate.

I’m sure many of us have either used or heard of the “spray and pray” method of applying for jobs. It means rapid-firing your résumé to every opening you can find. I have rarely seen that strategy work. In fact, one of the best things that applicants can do is demonstrate that they know what they are applying for. Mentioning specific programs or people you know that work at the company will be seen very positively. But the biggest desire is that HR wants résumé that deal with the company’s specific needs as a department line by line. You can’t do that if you haven’t bothered to notice what the department or company has open.

#4 I know you’re lying to me. Here’s a great rule of thumb—don’t lie on your application or resume. In fact, don’t ever lie, because the truth eventually surfaces. With social media, networking everyone to everyone, employers can chat with someone who will know you didn’t do half of the things listed on your application or will have very different dates of employment. Once that happens, into the shredder you go. Even worse, you might get hired and the truth will get you fired quicker than you can say “oops”.

Even if your lies help you make the first cut, you should know that HR and hiring managers (in small and large organizations, with or without HR expertise) will do research on you before the call for the interview. If they sniff deception, you’re gone.

#5 You didn’t speak our language. Here’s a strategy connected to #3 above used to land jobs: Copy specific phrases and buzzwords from the job posting into your résumé. Then build them into the bullet points. “Instructional design a plus” from the posting becomes “experience in instructional design” on your application. (Obviously, only do that when the statements are true.) Don’t refer to the descriptive term (instructional design) as something else not relevant or valued by the employer (such as “building course materials”).

Hiring Committee members who quickly scan résumés often look for the specific phrases they put in the job posting. Using other phrases to describe the same activity might cause a committee member to unknowingly pass over critical parts of your experience while they speed read. Many corporate employers are now using an automated filter that electronically weeds out applications if they lack the right number of “keywords,” which essentially are the words from the job posting. That is why so many refer to the online job posting systems as the “black hole”.

#6 You used too much personality fluff. This one is claimed to be a common mistake as reported by HR recruiters. It happens when candidates use descriptive phrases about themselves like, “dedicated worker,” “innovative thinker,” “cares about …” Those read like fillers you stuck in because you didn’t have enough concrete work experience to fill a page or perhaps you were trying to populate your resume with key words.

The problem is that the descriptors must be substantive and job-related. I coach my clients to add descriptors that come from their talent assessment results. For example, the following are from a mid-career client assessment and are listed on the first page of the resume prior to the Experience section:

Here is the challenge in using these descriptors. As one HR person stated, “I don’t care if you think you’re ‘motivated to succeed’ or ‘enjoy new challenges.’ Anyone can say those things and most people do, to the point of being cliché. Furthermore, just because you can say them doesn’t mean they’re true. I will be able to read your personality from the interview. That’s what the interview is for.” The person was making a fair statement until the end. “I will be able to read your personality from the interview” was arrogance and ignorance at its best, however, explaining why that statement totally discredited the HR person is outside the scope of this article. For each “talent descriptor” you include in your resume, be prepared with a job-related story that supports the claim. For example, in the list above, “Likes to bring people of common interest together” is something that came from the assessment report but is a huge strength for this person. She is in sales. She has many examples of how she not only exceeded sales quotas but connected others in her organization to selling opportunities – because she enjoys it.

Your résumé should show why you have the best background and skills for the job. Your “talent” as I refer to it includes your personality. That is part of why you have the best “total talent” for the job. As the arrogant/ignorant HR person stated, “If you are good at written communications, I should be able to glean that from a perfectly written resume.”

As you assemble your application, remember: When employers sift through a giant stack of applications, they look for excuses to end the relationship quickly. Don’t give them one.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and through certified career coaches throughout the United States and other countries. Call Carl Nielson at 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs.

New College Grad Survey Finds High Hopes for First Job


Reposted from Workforce Online magazine.

Despite spending most of their college years at the depths of the Great Recession, new graduates have high expectations of their earning power. About 40 percent said they expect a starting salary of $50,000 to $75,000 for their first job out of college.

The Class of 2012, soon to be spilling out of colleges and universities and applying for jobs, has high expectations for their career prospects.

In a new joint study by websites Experience and Achievers, this new batch of millennials is shown to be career-minded, loyal, brand-savvy and likely to know from the get-go at which company they want to work. Further, they’re most likely to simply pick up their smart phone and apply for a job online at that company’s website.

And apparently money isn’t everything to new graduates. Even though the Class of 2012 collectively is graduating with more debt than ever from student loans, 54 percent said career advancement opportunities were more important than salary, according to the study, which is in its third year.

Despite spending most of their college years at the depths of the Great Recession, new graduates have high expectations of their earning power. About 40 percent said they expect a starting salary of $50,000 to $75,000 for their first job out of college.

According to an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, new grads may be aiming a bit high. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based NACE’s April 2012 Salary Survey report—the first report on salaries for the Class of 2012—shows the overall median starting salary for a bachelor’s degree graduate has risen 4.5 percent to $42,569 for the Class of 2012 from the last median salary of $40,735 for the Class of 2011.

“The overall median salary increase is the result of gains throughout most sectors,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. “Even in those sectors that showed decreases in median starting salaries, the dips were very slight.”

Education and communications majors are seeing the most significant increases to their median salaries over last year. Graduates with education degrees are entering the work force with a median salary of $37,423, 4.5 percent higher than the $35,828 earned by members of the Class of 2011.

Hiring of graduates is up as well and is improving. NACE actually revised its figures upward in April, showing that businesses expect to hire 10.2 percent more graduates this year.

Razor Suleman, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Achievers, said the study also uncovered a disconnect between statistics and reality when it comes to millennials. Twenty-two percent of respondents expect to stay with their first employer more than 10 years.

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they stay 18 months on average” in a job, Suleman says. “But that’s not what they’re telling us their intent is. They’re entering this relationship with their employer, and on average they’re telling us they want to stay for 4.7 years.”

Knowing what this new generation of workers wants vs. what they do in the workplace is an opportunity for companies to change their approach to millennials, Suleman says. Most companies tend to be stuck in the past, using antiquated notions of performance review and recognition that don’t cut it with Gen Y workers, Suleman says. For example, a gold watch after 25 years of service means nothing to them.

“Gen Y grew up being praised, getting gold stars, getting trophies just for participating,” Suleman says. “When they enter the workforce, they’re not going to change; companies need to. If you want to keep them engaged in a workplace, feedback and recognition on a weekly basis is paramount. Of the nearly 8,000 respondents to our study, 84 percent said that is what they wanted.”

Suleman adds that employer branding has never been more important to the recruiting process. The study notes that 87 percent said they would apply for their first jobs at a company website. “These students already know who you are. You need to fish where the fish are biting, which is online.”

Carl Nielson is a professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and through certified career coaches throughout the United States and other countries. Call Carl Nielson at 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs.

Career Mapping Catching on in High Schools


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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