Tag Archives: career exploration

5 Reasons Parents Should Invest in Career Coaching for High School Students


While a lot is made of overcrowded classrooms and slashed funding for arts, sports and electives, Americans are less likely to be up in arms about a severe shortage of guidance counselors in schools around the country.

Colleges and universities are increasingly being evaluated on the career outcomes of their graduates. However, most institutions invest relatively little in career services. The average annual operating budget for a career services department is only $89,819 and, on average colleges have one career services professional for every 1,889 students, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

And for high schools, the number of guidance counselors ranges from one for every 500 to 1,000 students according to the Association for College Admission Counseling. Very few of these guidance counselors are trained as a career coach. Most are employed in schools to align students to “high school academic tracks” – without any valid, reliable and student-driven career matching method. School counseling has been set up to manage a herd and is not designed to effectively attend to the unique needs of each individual student.

Five reasons parents need to provide their teen with career coaching are discussed below:

Student Career Counseling interview on Here & Now

The Guidance Counselor Crisis. Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston. In this recorded segment, Young and Hobson focus on the need for better career guidance in schools. Tap on the graphic to listen to the blogcast recording.

1. The Very Real Financial Impact of the Hit and Miss Student Career Counseling Strategy

Studies show the percent of students that change majors in college at least once is too high. The number that change majors two or more times (at least three majors before graduating) is too high as well. All that changing results in a delay in graduation. If the standard is four years, every extra college course (3 or more credit hours) and the cost of extending the stay (food and housing) AND the delay in starting their career and bringing in a pay check, results in at least one full semester, and many times, one full extra year at college. National data suggests the average cost of a semester is between $15k and $25k.  The low end of the college graduate starting monthly salary is about $2,500. Multiply that by 4 months for a semester and you add $10k in lost income on top of the added costs. Therefore, one added semester costs a minimum of $25,000.

The Career Coaching for Students program for high school students provides tools, methods and confidence that leads to the right choice of major and college, resulting in on-time graduation and lower student debt. Many of our students find it easy to complete a double major in four years simply because they knew and planned for what they wanted to achieve in college – before they arrived on campus.

2. The Emotional Cost of the Hit and Miss Student Career Counseling Strategystudent career counseling

No one is immune to the feeling of failure when their plans don’t work out. For teens, the emotional turmoil can be especially distracting and takes a toll on self esteem.  If you think your teen isn’t at risk consider that the college drop out rate in the U.S. is described as “awful” by author Jordan Weissmann, in the article America’s Awful College Dropout Rates, in Four Charts. According to Weissmann, “Our dropout crisis doesn’t get discussed a great deal outside of education circles. But it should, since the issue is directly tied to other problems the public rightly obsesses over like rising tuition and student debt.” According to data in Weissmann’s article, of those who started school at age 20 or younger—as 76 percent of 2008 enrollees did—about 59 percent complete a degree. For older students, graduation rates were closer to 40 percent.

Weissmann continues, “While finances are often cited as the number one reason students don’t attend college, the more pervasive problem is clearly college dropout rates. Improving dropout rates will have a cyclical affect, helping promote a stronger future for students that obtain degrees, and improved opportunities for them and their future children as well.”

According to The New York Times, 53 percent of students that enroll in college finish their degree programs – the second worst among a poll of 23 developed nations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Furthermore, 30 percent of freshmen don’t continue on into their second year, while more students are dropping out in their final years of college as well. In 2011, 78 percent of college attendees failed to get a diploma after six years of higher education. Taking financial constraints out of the equation, we find the reasons are much more connected to a student’s emotional and intellectual readiness. Studies suggest there are 5 reasons students are dropping out of college:

Academically unprepared – One of the main reasons that students drop out of college is that they are unprepared for the demands of an undergraduate degree program. These students find themselves burning out quickly.  Looking back, many of these students tell a story of wishing they had  taken different classes during high school. While the “counseling and advising” might have been there, most students don’t gain a personal perspective that they can relate to. That personal perspective is impossible to achieve in high school if the student doesn’t have some vision for their future.

Isolation – Part of college is the social experience students gain to bring them into adulthood. However, many students are faced with a sudden sense of isolation when they transition from high school to college, with no friends and none of the social relationships they have spent the last 15 or 16 years building. This isolation is strongly linked to not having a strong purpose for being at college. Going in undeclared or choosing a major that was thrust on the student by parents’ or teachers’ suggestions rather than an intentional and tangible due-diligence process is the perfect formula for feeling like you don’t belong.

Indecisiveness – One problem that many students face during their first year in college is being unsure what major to choose, or selecting the wrong one and not knowing if and how to change it and start over (the first sign of insanity is doing something over and over again the same way and expecting a different outcome).  Research has shown that the majority of incoming college freshmen lack decision making competencies. This results in indecisiveness which can be extremely limiting, causing students to flounder rather than make the necessary changes to succeed. This is addressed by helping students to learn how to make big decisions such as choosing a major or choosing a career – in high school.

Lack of guidance – Many of today’s graduating high school students feel they have had very little guidance moving forward. Empowering students with best-practice tools and methods for career exploration and planning leads to  development of a sense of ownership in their actions and decisions that will help them overcome any lack of guidance. High school students, with the right tools and methods for career planning, make smarter decisions. The resulting courage to make decisions will also mitigate worries about making the wrong choices that can hold students back from success.

Lack of responsibility – Of course, having a lack of a sense of responsibility for their own actions can cause students to drop out as well. Students who don’t understand and connect with their role to be personally accountable for creating their own future tend to over indulge in social activities and have poor class attendance that  results in poor grades and even poorer self-esteem.

In addition to extra curricular activities such as band, sports, school clubs, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc., consider giving students tools and methods for defining and creating their own desired future. The result is a student with highly developed personal accountability and self management skills, two key success skills consistently found in highly successful people. Give a high school student the opportunity to develop and display these skills before they enter college.

We don’t need studies to tell us that the more failures a student experiences the more likely they will be impacted emotionally. While some experts on teen behavior are concerned about the narcissistic Millennial generation, the college dropout rate may suggest a larger segment of the Millennial generation will suffer from low self-esteem or may self-select out of pathways to personal success –  ultimately resulting in under-achievement and low personal satisfaction.

Career Coaching for Students for high school students prepares the student on multiple levels that lead to high resiliency, many smaller successes while in high school, greater self-confidence and greater engagement and ownership in preparing for their own future.

3. The Ability to Speed Up the Development Processstudent career counseling

There are many skeptics to the idea that high school students can actually make an informed decision about what career direction to go and what post-secondary education is best for them. Yet, many high schools are expecting the incoming 9th grader to choose an education track that basically sets them up for a vocational career path or professional career path (college). To address this issue around developmental stages, check out our article The Detrimental Dilemma for College Freshman: Go in Undeclared? Should I Double-Major? and decide for yourself.

Many so-called teen development experts believe teens are not able to develop the decision-making skills and be developmentally ready to choose a major and career before age 19 or 20 (sophomore/junior in college). If they are right, if you can’t speed up learning and development, then why is there a legitimate and growing executive coaching industry? Why is there a booming SAT/ACT prep tutoring industry? Student career coaching is designed to accelerate the development process – for students.

The Career Coaching for Students™ program is specifically designed for and highly effective in giving teens the development needed to make the leap into post-secondary possibilities.

4. The True Secret: Delay in Career Strategy Planningstudent career counseling is Sadly Pathetic

So, we know that effective career strategy planning can be and is provided effectively to high school students. That has been proven thousands of times with the Career Coaching for Students program based on testimonials from students and parents. We also recognize the financial and emotional costs/risks for students not receiving career coaching. But is there a real need to worry about this while the student is in high school? Most colleges’ academic advising speech to incoming freshmen and their parents includes the following statement: “It is ok to enter your freshmen year as an undeclared or general studies major.”  How can they say that if it isn’t true? Perhaps the better question is “how does a college, university or any post-secondary educational institution benefit from students entering without a plan?”

Perhaps the better question is “how does a college, university or any post-secondary educational institution benefit from students entering without a plan?”

Dan Johnston does college financial aid presentations and workshops at over 50 high schools each year as the Regional Director of Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). One of his most frustrating examples of bad college advice is: “If you don’t know what major you want, go as an undeclared student. You can decide on your major after a few basic courses.”

Johnston says that, “For most students that is the worst advice possible. Granted, there will always be students whose best initial choice is undeclared, but they represent a very small percentage of students. The idea that a large number of students without a career plan can take a few basic courses, then suddenly ‘find’ themselves (to the tune of $20,000 to $50,000 per year), is sadly pathetic and needlessly expensive.”

We simply can’t say it better than that.

5. Student Career CounselingGaining a Competitive Advantage

Let’s say the first four reasons that we’ve covered above aren’t making an impact in your thinking. Let’s move off of “career coaching” and look at something that seems to be very popular – SAT/ACT prep tutoring courses. These programs are now being offered for free by Khan Academy. The goal at Khan Academy is to level the playing field. It is well documented that high income families, those who can afford a couple of thousand dollars for the SAT prep courses, are spending the money to “increase the odds” of their son or daughter receiving a higher test score that gives them an edge when applying to the more elite colleges and universities. You might call that “gaining a competitive advantage”.

If more students will be receiving SAT/ACT prep, that suggests a higher SAT score won’t be a competitive advantage much longer. Many see an SAT test taking skills course as a superficial prop that doesn’t have any long-term benefits for the student, especially if it fails to land the student in the top tier school. However, becoming self-aware and having greater self-esteem, knowing one’s strengths, understanding the connection between what motivates you and ideal career options, being confident about your ambitions and goals, feeling in control of your future, knowing the critical path for success, demonstrating key soft skills for success and knowing how to make big decisions is a real competitive advantage that elite colleges and universities look for in applying students.

So perhaps it comes down to whether Career Coaching for Students gives students a competitive advantage. A few think it does.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting and executive coaching firm that provides executive development coaching, high-potential development, 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 a career exploration process that works.

Carl Nielson to Conduct National Webinar – Student Career Exploration Seminar – for student and parent


Better Career Planning Better LifeWe’re calling it an Extravaganza!

Two 3-hour webinars (time will go by very fast), one 1-on-1 personal tele-coaching session (for student and parents), student binder, over 70-page Talent Profile, and much more.

We’re putting everything a high school student needs for career exploration, choosing majors, choosing schools, choosing career options and strategic academic planning into this program. And we’re doing it in an engaging way for students.

No classroom. Participate from the most comfortable seat in your house. Webinar dates have been set: Part One – Sat. July 18, Part Two – Sat. July 25.
To learn more go to http://tinyurl.com/2015studentcareerwebinar

Life’s Reality Check for Students


success-really-looks-likeCharles Sykes lists eleven things you did not learn in school and directed these eleven rules at high school and college grads in the book “Dumbing Down our Kids” by educator Charles Sykes.

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Rule 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters.. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Before you choose a career, Choose to be a Linchpin


Linchpin by Seth GodinSeth Godin published a book in 2010 called Linchpin which quickly became popular. This article is dedicated to his teachings from the book – mostly quotes from the book. I encourage any high school student to buy the book and read it. If you are a parent of a student, read it. If you work in the home or outside the home, read it.

In the book, Godin positions work by first stating “The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can. The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job.

On the other hand, your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo of your own work, and influencing change in people and processes to achieve goals.

Godin shifts our perspective. He calls the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.  The job is not the work.”

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist? Godin states that he doesn’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo of their work. And an artist takes personal responsibility.

That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artist, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.

Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artist, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artist because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.

The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.

Here’s the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there would be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.

The dimension of work that has a map isn’t where your art is applied. Your art is applied where the map stops.

Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.

If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.

At the age of four, you were an artist. And at seven, you were a poet.

The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny. The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry. The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.

A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.

The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.

The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.

Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.

If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job.

Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.

…Treasure what it means to do a day’s work. It’s our one and only chance to do something productive today, and it’s certainly not available to someone merely because he is the high bidder.

A day’s work is your chance to do art, to create a gift, to do something that matters. As your work gets better and your art becomes more important, competition for your gifts will increase and you’ll discover that you can be choosier about whom you give them to.

The competitive advantages the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. All of these attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you.

The tragedy is that society (your school, your boss, your government, your family) keeps drumming the genius part out. The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.

The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.

As our society gets more complex and our people get more complacent, the role of the jester is more vital than ever before. Please stop sitting around. We need you to make a ruckus.

You cannot create a piece of art merely for money. Doing it as part of commerce so denudes art of wonder that it ceases to be art.

…the greatest shortage in our society is an instinct to produce. To create solutions and hustle them out the door. To touch the humanity inside and connect to the humans in the marketplace.

Not only must you be an artist, must you be generous, and must you be able to see where you can help but you must also be aware. Aware of where your skills are welcomed.

When you set down the path to create art, whatever sort of art it is, understand that the path is neither short nor easy. That means you must determine if the route is worth the effort. If it’s not, dream bigger.

I think art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace.

The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.

A brilliant author or businesswoman or senator or software engineer is brilliant only in tiny bursts. The rest of the time, they’re doing work that most any trained person could do.

If you can’t be remarkable, perhaps you should consider doing nothing until you can.

The reason you might choose to embrace the artist within you now is that this is the path to (cue the ironic music) security.


Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving businesses ranging from Fortune 100 multi-national corporations to small family-owned businesses. 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 really works. Professional-grade assessments and co-directed 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 or submit an inquiry here:

Is Student Privacy in Jeopardy? What Parents and School Counselors Need to Know


Student Data has left the barn.Every year, parents of junior and senior high school students are inundated by marketing materials from hundreds of post-secondary public or private schools and for-profit trade schools – many you might never have heard of before. One of the common statements I hear is “How did my son or daughter’s name and address get out?” Welcome to the new age of big data.

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s Lead Education Blogger, wrote a great article published on NPRed entitled, What Parents Need To Know About Big Data And Student Privacy.

In her article she explains the main law that governs data kept by public schools is based on the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. It gives parents and students, once they turn 18, three rights: to inspect their own records, to correct those records, and to give consent in writing before the release of those records to any third party.

Kamenetz writes, “Well, for the most part. There are two blanket exemptions. One covers the “what” (of student information) and the other the “who” (is authorized to see it).”

According to Sheila Kaplan, a privacy activist mentioned in Kamenetz article, “The big hole in FERPA is directory information”. She explains: FERPA allows schools to release a student’s “name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance” without first obtaining consent (although they are supposed to disclose the release and allow parents to opt out of directories).

The second hole got much, much wider in the past few years.

FERPA always allowed school officials to release records to other education officials without parental consent. In 2008, that right was expanded to contractors and volunteers, as long as they were under “direct control” of schools. This included for-profit cloud service providers.

Are Marketers Providing a Service or Simply Making Money?

One of the concerns that Kamenetz raises in her article is whether student data will be monetized. It already has – in a billion dollar way. Reidenberg’s study found that fewer than 7 percent of district contracts restricted the sale or marketing of student information by vendors. It did not, however, say how many of the cloud service providers are actually selling that info. And who are these vendors?

You don’t have to look any further than your local school board and junior high and high school counselors. They have likely signed “site licenses” with cloud based solution providers such as XAP (“XAP Corporation is the pioneer in electronic and Internet-based information management systems for college-bound students and the leader in online data”) or Naviance, a program of Hobsons. XAP’s privacy statement states that “We will not share your personal information with outside parties except when we have your permission or we are required by law to provide it.” As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. You are giving your permission and they are selling your information.

At the College Board, their privacy policy states “Our Student Search Service is a voluntary program that connects students with information about educational and financial aid opportunities from more than 1,200 colleges, universities, scholarship programs and educational organizations. According to their policy, here’s how it works:

  • Students may choose to participate in Student Search Service when registering for a College Board exam.
  • As part of taking a College Board exam, students are asked to fill out a Student Data Questionnaire (SDQ).
  • Participating, eligible organizations can then search for groups of students who may be a good fit for their communities and programs, but only among those students who opt to participate in Student Search Service.
  • The search criteria can include any attribute from the SDQ, except the following: disability, parental education, self-reported parental income, social security number, phone numbers and actual test scores.
  • The most searched items are expected high school graduation date, cumulative GPA and intended college major. A full list of SDQ questions is available in College Board test registration materials.

According to Kamenetz, often the issue is murkier than the outright sale of information. For many cloud services, like Google Apps, the entire business model is based on mining data for marketing. “A quarter of the services are free to the districts — the providers are monetizing it somehow,” Reidenberg says. Even the nonprofit Khan Academy allows third parties like Youtube to track students’ Web usage.

In practice, defining the commercial misuse of student data is tricky. A program such as Pearson’s enVisionMATH, a software-based tutoring platform, continuously analyzes millions of data points on student performance in order to improve its products and pitch more relevant products to school systems. That’s both an educational and a commercial use.

Alternatives do exist. For example, Success Discoveries, developers of Career Coaching for Students, recently released their Student Resource Central information repository for public access. Part of the criteria for an information site being listed in Student Resource Central is the ability to provide useful information without providing any personal information. Sites like College Board are included due to the ability to gain value from the information on their site without sharing your personal information. They also list sites like Kaarme, founded in 2006 by concerned parents to expand college opportunities for high school students. Their goal is to make college education and scholarship information accessible and affordable by connecting colleges, parents, counselors, and coaches in a safe networking environment, free of charge.

Now you know why you receive a mail box full of marketing material. Safe surfing.

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.

What is the ROI Value for Career Coaching in High Schools?


Supply vs Demand for Student Career Coaching?A posting on LinkedIn’s Life Coaching Teens and Young Adults asked for advice on pricing coaching services to schools. That started my brain thinking about the pricing formula I typically use for in-school, school-partnership, public workshop and private one-on-one programs using the Career Coaching for Students program.

Pricing – and value/ROI – for high school career counseling and coaching is very interesting and important. I certainly don’t have a definitive answer for other coaches but I’d like to share a few discussion thoughts, one formula for pricing and compare that to the per-student cost to deliver a one-semester course.

Note: All examples in this article use “typical” data but a specific proposal always gives consideration to the client’s needs and how the program being delivered is customized to meet that need.

Pricing vs Value/ROI vs Demand

In my corporate work, I have a minimum day rate of $3,500 as a starting point. That fee is neither high nor low, more likely it is about in the average for a consultant/coach to deliver a day’s worth of work in a corporate setting and includes costs such as assessments, books and other supporting materials. If the number of people participating is larger than 15 the fee goes up based on value and expenses on a per-person basis.

Deal-Demand-and-Supply-ForcesFor example, I am about to kick off a high-potential coaching program for 15 employees of a large multinational corporate business unit that includes an opening 2-day program, four months of one-on-on coaching and a closing 2-day program for a fee of $55k+. What does this have to do with schools/colleges? I think I have a lot to offer to schools. I would love to be full-time in that venue. Unfortunately, corporate clients tend to value my services greater. The irony is that if an education institution went all-in with say a thousand students in my Career Coaching for Students program over a 4 year contract, the math would work out ok for me (not great but doable). Most school administrators and college career centers think on a much smaller scale – especially when it comes to outsourcing a service they want to deliver with in-house teaching staff. From my information, the in-house staff model is failing – resulting in a great deal of wasted $$ and low-to-no benefits for the school or the student.

College-Students-Following-The-Career-Path-SheetsAt the college level, student participation in a college’s career exploration coaching service within the career center is less than one percent of the college’s student population according to several articles and social media postings by Career Center Directors. One thing we know is that students will recommend or not recommend to their friends based on a program’s value – regardless of if it is free or fee-based. If a program isn’t growing and the value isn’t driving demand, it is likely not being recommended by students to students. Having less than one percent participating in a service tells me students are “not” recommending the offered program to their friends. With a low participation rate, college presidents decide to fund other programs. But the need for credible career coaching remains a “big” need as evidenced by the “average” number of changes in majors per student in college and the average number of semesters to graduate with an undergraduate degree.

For those of us in the coaching profession, there is great economic diversity. Some professional coaches are the primary bread winner in the family. Others provide coaching services as a secondary and discretionary family income. If you fall in that latter category of “discretionary income” coaching, you might look at volunteering. If you don’t need income to live on and are in a position to do volunteer work, volunteering is a great and noble thing to do. Many high schools and colleges may consider you but you may also find trying to volunteer to be as frustrating as pricing for your services. I see too often those in the coaching profession who have the spouse’s income providing for the primary financial needs of the family. The need to price professionally isn’t as great and consequently, there is a low-ball pricing mentality. My opinion is that our passion for coaching (serving the needs of others) shouldn’t dictate our pricing strategy. I suggest you try to identify what the benefits will be for the client and price based on value – not based on a minimum income requirement.

A Pricing Formula for In-School Offering

The following is a general formula that I use for nonprofit/education institutional pricing proposals. My belief is that I either choose to volunteer or I choose to propose a professional solution that adds real value and price the proposal accordingly.

Sample educational institution pricing formula for Coaches:

  1. Calculate a desired hourly rate. What annual amount of income from coaching are you wanting? In other words, how do you value yourself in this profession on an annualized basis? Example: Let’s say you have a goal of $50,000 per year from coaching. And you think, “if I reach my ‘goal’ of 30 hours per week (pretty much full time), I will be pleased”. That equates to $50,000/2080 hours = $24.00 per hour (nothing for vacation, insurance, home office expenses).
  2. Double the hourly rate. This covers your personal expenses, taxes – any general costs of doing business and time for marketing to this client = FINAL HOURLY RATE.
  3. Determine all program delivery expenses (student materials, reproduction costs, etc.). Calculate down to the per student cost.
  4. Calculate the Total Program Delivery Rate. How many hours for delivery + how many hours for prep = Total Hours. Take Final Hourly Rate x Total Hours = Total Program Delivery Rate
  5. Calculate Total Raw Cost. Multiply # of student participants x per student cost =  Total Raw Cost
  6. Calculate Total Cost. Multiply Total Raw Cost x 1.25 = Total Cost
  7. Calculate Proposal Amount. For Small one-class proposal: Add Total Program Delivery Rate + Total Cost for a Proposal Amount.
    For a Large, multi-class calculation: [Total Program Delivery Rate x # of classes of 25 students] + Total Cost = Proposal Amount

Program Benefits and Goals:

For fun, let’s test this with a program called Career Coaching for Students delivered in a high school class room setting for one semester (http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net):

Better Career Planning Better LifeThe expected benefits need to be articulated and assigned measures that we can refer to later. Here is a short list of expectations for the Career Coaching for Students program:

  • Higher overall student academic engagement
  • Lower drop out rate
  • Greater percent of students with a plan for post-secondary education
  • Higher average class GPA at graduation
  • Higher SAT/ACT test scores.
  • Less higher education costs for students and parents (due to less changing majors and graduating on time from post-secondary education).

Applying the Pricing Formula – A Simple Example for the Coach

  1. Annualized net personal income goal: $50,000 = $24 per hour
  2. 2 x $24/hour = $48 hourly rate
  3. Program Delivery Expenses per student (binders, assessments, online student resource center):
    $129 for 50 students
    $99 for 350 students (we can lower costs dramatically when we have higher quantities, plus customize the binder with the school’s name and mascot)
  4. Program design.
    One class time per week for a semester for a class of 25 students.
    15 weeks per semester = 15 delivery hours for 25 students = .6 hours per student PLUS prep hours of 10 hours (rounds up to 1.0 hour per student)
  5. Total Program Delivery Rate
    $48 x # of hours (25 students = 25 hours in this example) = $48 x 25 = $1,200 Total Program Delivery Rate
  6. For a smaller program of 50 students: 25 students x $129 = $3,225
    For a larger program of 350 students: 350 x $99 = $34,650
    =Total Raw Cost
  7. Total Cost
    For smaller program: $3,225 x 1.25 = $4,031 one class of 25 students
    For larger program: $34,650 x 1.25 = $43,312 for 14 classes of 25 students
  8. Proposal Amount
    For one semester, one class of 25 students: $1,200 + $4,031 = $6,231
    For one semester, larger program of 350 students, 14 classes:
    $34,650 + 43,312 = $77,962

Analyze for Cost/Value Proposition:

Career Coaching for Students offered in-school:
Small one-class program cost per student: $249
Large program, multi-class cost per student: $223

To compare, as a publicly offered program to families, we average around $500 per student in a group workshop setting of 10 – 15 students for a 12 – 15 hour program. One-on-one for the CCfS program (about 12 – 15 hours) is $750+ per student (higher on the East and West coasts).

vs the Cost for One Teacher-Delivered Course in High School

What is the cost per student for any high school course? To be more exacting you could do the following calculation:

Teacher hourly salary rate x [# of hours for class + # of prep/support hours]

or  use a simpler calculation:

Teacher annual salary ($57,000) divided by # of classes taught over two semesters (14) divided by average # of students in the class (25)
References
http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/high-school-teacher/salary
http://new.every1graduates.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/OVAE_Cost_of_SLCs_Final_Balfanz.pdf

Teacher-Delivered Cost per Student

Teacher = ($57,000 / 14)/25 = $162 per student per class.
Of course adding school payroll burden for benefits and retirement of approximately 30% = $162 x 1.30 = $211 per student as a minimum. Double that to cover physical buildings and staff overhead which brings the teacher-delivered cost per student per course up to a more realistic $422 per student per course.

Your Pricing

Based on teacher-delivered pricing, you have room to price your offering in a way that is a win-win for you and the school. Keep in mind you are being given the facilities within the school and you are benefiting from the administrative overhead and lower overall marketing costs so it is not realistic to set a price of $422 per student for your offering. The price you want to stay closer to is the $211 per student for  a work agreement of 15+ students on one or two scheduled days per week.

Doing single student counseling/coaching with a school district? You need a contract based on multiple students in a semester that you will be providing one-on-one services to. That might be an estimate but at least you see what kind of interest, if not commitment, the school district has in using you.

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.

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.

Is Choice of College Setting Your Destiny?


Your destiny based on college choiceThe article in the Washington Post, The Resume That Makes for a Top Executive, by Gena McGregor, references a new study published this week in the Harvard Business Review, which provides a snapshot over time of the demographics and career trajectories of Fortune 100 executives. The study shows how much the boardroom is changing. Not all students are interested in becoming the next CEO of Google, but choosing a college continues to be riddled with anxiety for those that have choices. The study’s data reveals some changes that are worthy of noting for any high school student (or parent) struggling over which college/university will be best – regardless of career direction.

The study states the majority of top executives now have undergraduate degrees from state universities, with only a fraction going to college at one of the Ivies. Nearly 11 percent of the top executives are foreign-educated, up from just 2 percent in 1980. And however few women there may be in leadership positions, they actually climbed the corporate ladder faster than men, spending fewer years, on average, in each job and taking a shorter time to get to the top.

The research, an effort by professors from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and IE Business School in Madrid, compiled the backgrounds of the top 10 executives at each Fortune 100 company in 2011 — those who might be called the most powerful 1,000 people in corporate jobs. They conducted the same study in 1980 and 2001.

What has interested people most about their study has been the details about where executives got their education. “I was surprised that’s been such a remarkably big deal for most folks,” Cappelli says. “I guess it’s something that makes people think about their children. Anyone with kids is thinking about these roles, and it’s an aspect of inequality that’s very noticeable to people.”

The study shows the education backgrounds of top corporate leaders are becoming much more equal over time. In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges. While the percent of Ivy Leaguers has dropped slightly, from 14 percent in 1980 to 10 percent in both 2001 and 2011, those with degrees from private non-Ivies has plummeted, falling from 54 percent in 1980 to just 35 percent in 2011.

Why are we seeing so many more corporate executives from public universities? More meritocratic corporate cultures could be playing a role, Cappelli notes, but he thinks it’s mainly due to history. “It’s a bit of an archaeological story,” he says. “If you think back to when the executives now went to school, around 30 years ago, it was sort of the…golden era of state universities, which really boomed in the late ’60s and ’70s. Schools like Michigan and Berkeley — they were building these fabulous campuses, and pulling people in who would have otherwise gone to Ivy League schools.”

That’s not to say elite schools don’t still hold sway among MBA-holders and the very top leaders. If you look at the three most senior executives in each organization (say, the CEO, CFO and Chairman), 21 percent have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, compared with 10 percent overall. Additionally, 40 percent of all the executives who hold MBAs got them at one of the top 20 ranked business schools in the country, many of which are at Ivy League universities.

Another way the makeup of the boardroom is changing, of course, is in the number of women. Like other studies before it, the Wharton/IE Business School professors counted the number of women at the top, finding that almost 18 percent of the top jobs were held by women in 2011. That’s a massive swing from 1980, when they reported finding no women among the top 1,000 corporate leaders.

More interesting than the stubbornly few number of women at the top, however, was the finding that women are managing to reach the top faster. It took women an average of 28 years to reach the “top-tier positions” (CEOs, vice chairs, presidents and the like), compared with 29 years for men. Women reached “middle-tier” jobs (executive VPs, general counsels, chief marketing officers) in 23 years, compared with 26 years for men. In addition, women were promoted quicker in each of their jobs, at an average rate of every four years, while it took men five.

Cappelli offers three explanations for why this might be. One, he says, could be an explicit effort by companies to get women into top jobs faster. “It’s possible that a type of affirmative action is going on,” he says. Another could be that the talent pool of women in these executive jobs is simply better. Because we see more women than men change work paths or drop out of the workforce in the middle rungs of their career, he says, it’s possible “the women are actually better because they’re self-selecting.”

Finally, Cappelli suggests, the difference may be due to the fact that there are more women in functional jobs — such as human resources, legal or marketing — for which the technical expertise needed means they’re promoted more quickly. In the report, the researchers call it “riding a different elevator.”

“If you’re going up through a functional track,” Cappelli says, “you could be advancing at a very different pace than the folks who are going up through operations jobs” that may require more rotations or longer tenures at each stop along the way.

Quirks about the leadership ranks at different companies, and what they might reveal about the different corporate cultures, may be even more interesting than the broad-based trends the study found. For instance, the average length of a top Google executive’s career is just 14 years (the shortest in the Fortune 100) while at Hewlett Packard and ConocoPhillips, it’s 32 years (the longest). Meanwhile, some companies have outstanding male-to-female ratios among the top 10 execs — at Target, Lockheed Martin and PepsiCo, women hold half the senior management jobs — while as of 2011, there were still 17 companies in the Fortune 100 with no women at all among their top 10 leaders.

To Cappelli, this is among the most interesting of the study’s results. “They’re all just so different,” he says. “There’s a UPS model, there’s a Google model and there’s an Exxon model. The idea that there is a corporate model of leadership just doesn’t seem to resonate any more.”

The take-away – Strategically narrow your college choice

Many high school students choose a college mainly on emotional criteria. The following is based on a study by the University of California—Los Angeles‘s released in January 2013, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012.” The 2012 study is based on the responses of 192,912 first-year students at 238 U.S. four-year colleges and universities who entered college in fall 2012.

Strategic Reasons Emotional Reasons
1. College has very good academic reputation (63.8 percent) 5. A visit to this campus (41.8 percent)
2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (55.9 percent) 6. College has a good reputation for its social activities (40.2 percent)
3. I was offered financial assistance (45.6 percent) 10. I wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
4. The cost of attending this college (43.3 percent) 11. Information from a website (18.7 percent)
7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.8 percent) 12. Rankings in national magazines (18.2 percent)
8. College’s grads get into top grad/professional schools (32.8 percent) 13. Parents wanted me to go to this school (15.1 percent)
9. The percentage of students that graduate from this college (30.4 percent) 16. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)
  18. Athletic department recruited me (8.9 percent)
  19. Attracted by the religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.4 percent)
  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.8 percent)
  20. My teacher advised me (6.8 percent)
  22. Private college counselor advised me (3.8 percent)

To make the best choice, identify your personal preferences for industry and career direction first (you can still be somewhat general but the more clarity the better at this stage). Then research which universities are tied into those industries and are academically highly ranked for the major you are wanting. Look for major corporate donors to a university to see the connection. As they say, follow the money trail. Another way is to call the placement office and ask which companies consistently hire interns (in your major) from the university’s student population.

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.  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.