Tag Archives: career orientation class

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.

State is Planning Career Education Overhaul


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

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Choice?

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

The Real Problem

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

Transfer Ownership – Understanding Self: How, Why and What

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

“But We’re Already Using Assessments”

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

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

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

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

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

What Should Be Required?

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

We Can’t Afford That

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

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

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

How Could We Get This Started?

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

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

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

My prediction

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

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

I know this was long. Thanks for reading.

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

Higher Education Career Services Must Die


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I Want to Quit (My Career)


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

Here are excerpts from the article…you be the judge


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How to Have an Effect on Student Achievement


visible-learning-infographic-whatworksinschoolsFirst, let’s put this in context. I am a career coach. I designed a career coaching program, Career Coaching for Students, that I hope is provided to every high school freshmen or sophomore student in the future (I’m not over shooting here am I?).  I am not one to think my hammer is the tool needed for all situations. Student academic achievement is a very complex issue. And ironically, many students would excel if everyone and everything got out of their way.

This article is trying to find why Career Coaching for Students is more effective than what is now offered in high schools and why it has a positive impact on student engagement and achievement.

A very high percentage of students that go through the Career Coaching for Students increase their academic achievement after completing the program. Besides the anecdotal evidence (common sense) that a person who really understands themselves, has identified a potential career that matches their talent design (found a passion) and has developed their own plan for their future tends to be much more engaged – are there more predictive specifics related to why this program works better than other programs?

Osiris Educational in the UK produced an info graphic that reports many statistical findings about what has a positive and negative effect on student achievement. As I examined their data, I became very excited to see many of the strategic pieces in the structure of the Career Coaching for Students program were matching up to the top effects. The authors of the info graphic gave their short explanation of why the top effects work to increase student achievement. I will use their explanations (posted in italics) to form the basis for my comments here.

Top Effects and Why They Work for Career Coaching for Students

1. Self-reported grades/student expectations. This means they are more likely to be successful than other learners as they will be the active element in their learning. Students experience the Career Coaching for Students program like a journey. A coach is not a teacher or parent. We co-create success in examining post-secondary education and career options based on the student’s personal interests. The coach has the methods and tools for the student to quickly identify and learn about high-potential career ideas and engage in research. We don’t leave it to a career assessment listing of job titles found in many assessments. We find the student quickly feels in control and is able to set their own expectations at every step. We just make it easy – it’s all about the student.

2. Teacher credibility. Students are perceptive to which teachers can make a difference to their learning. Teachers who command this credibility are more likely to make a difference. There are two areas of credibility that are crucial to student career coaching. First is the coach’s credibility. It is very difficult for a teacher or counselor whose career has been entirely in the academic world to have a full perspective. Those career coaches that have the greatest credibility tend to have experience in human resource management and/or business management across diverse industries. The second is the assessment’s credibility. Students are perceptive when it comes to reading the different assessments offered through schools. If the assessment produces garbage – or the student perceives the information as less than helpful, you’ve lost the student. Our assessments provide over 40 pages of insights about the student. Our most common comment from students – “This is incredibly accurate.

3. Feedback. Speed of learning doubles following effective feedback. Praise, punishment and rewards are the least effective forms of feedback. Feedback should be just in time, ‘just for me’ information and delivered when and where it has the best benefit. I couldn’t write a better statement to describe the design of the Career Coaching for Students program. Our feedback comes in many forms. First there are the assessment reports (about 40 pages of feedback about who you are). Then there is how to use that information. We unfold the information and integrate it strategically so that the student can connect the dots quickly and easily. ‘Just for me’ is a perfect description of the feedback at every step.

4. Classroom management. Teachers who have well managed classrooms can identify and respond quickly to potential issues and are emotionally objective. Whether we are delivering the Career Coaching for Students program in a classroom or workshop environment or in a more personalized one-on-one setting, the structured approach to “peeling the career exploration onion” with the student enables us as coaches to identify and respond quickly to questions and issues. Remaining emotionally objective has more to do with being non-judgmental about the student’s aspirations. Our approach leaves very little room for subjective reactions to career ideas. We ask great questions that make the student think for themselves. We don’t tell them anything.

5. Parental involvement. Active and positive parents who help students to have high expectations have a positive impact on student achievement. Surveillance or supervision can have a detrimental effect. The Career Coaching for Students program encourages the student to welcome parental involvement and encourages parents to be involved at the right level. Parental involvement is a two-way street that can be more like a slippery climb up an icy road sometimes. Parents who quickly react negatively to career ideas will kill the student’s engagement. We’ve seen it happen more than a few times. Helping the student recover from that slows down their progress. Career exploration is a journey. The student needs to know they are free to explore and will be encouraged throughout the process. With that said, parents have a huge impact on student self esteem and healthy development of responsible independent thinking. We refer often to the program as a “How to make big Decisions” skill development program. It just happens to be focused on career exploration. Parents play a big role here.

6. Cooperative Learning. Students learn better cooperatively than alone or competitively. This form of learning also increases interest and the ability to problem solve through interacting with peers. This one explains why I like the workshop venue. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The student-coach relationship exists to co-create success for the student. Alone doesn’t work – we’ve seen that with the web portal (XAP, Naviance, others) solutions that many high schools subscribe to (see earlier blog article for more about this). In the workshop venue, we see many students with friends in the same workshop. They sit next to each other. Given that career exploration is a very personal exercise, the relationships with fellow attendees in the workshop is very supportive.

The six effects above help to explain why the Career Coaching for Students program is highly effective with all types of students. When it comes to improving academic achievement, I still think the anecdotal evidence is the most valid – that a person who really understands themselves, has identified a potential career that matches their talent design (found a passion) and has a plan for their future tends to be much more engaged – and therefore, much more interested in their own academic achievement.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from parents is “Wow! I wish I had this when I was in high school.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Career Coaching for Students. He is also an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, and creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study coaching package.

7 Myths About Career Exploration in High School


5 Myths about Career Exploration blog picAround 2004, as a parent with kids approaching high school, I found myself curious about the “state-of-the-art” in career exploration and coaching that the students would receive. As a corporate organizational development consultant and executive coach, focusing mainly on adults either in career transition or executive/high-potential development, I had some insight into “talent” and success in life and work.

My adult clients would ask me to coach their “graduating senior in college” who hadn’t figured out what they wanted to do with their life. That was a warning sign to me – not about the person but about the system. How could a student go all through high school, choose a major, complete an undergraduate degree in college and not have a clue about what they wanted to do? What was the root cause of the failure? What was being done to help students and why was it not working?

Fast forward to 2013, and nothing has changed. Students continue to struggle with who they are and how their personal talent design connects to career choices and educational strategy. In some ways, it comes down to something even broader – learning how to make big decisions. But I am finding the same assessments used in 2004 are being used today. And schools are letting technology deliver career coaching.

Based on what I am seeing and hearing from school administrators, parents and students, I’ve put together a list of myths that are in desperate need of being corrected. These myths are prevalent with teachers, counselors, school boards and parents. See if you carry some of these myths as your own beliefs:

  • Myth #1 The high school has this covered. They’d like you to believe they’ve got career exploration covered. Even community colleges and universities want you to think they’ve got it covered. Be wary of the high school’s use of buzz words and descriptions of programs. For example, “all students take one or more career assessments to help them identify careers” may be technically true as a task they have the students complete. Ask your son or daughter what they thought of the assessment results. Ask them to show you the report. Ask them how the results are being used and what are they doing for career exploration. And for the bottom line question, ask them if they feel they are getting appropriate and tangible support for identifying and evaluating personal career options.
  • Myth #2 The assessments used by your high school are valid and insightful. The best way to check this myth is to take the assessments yourself and check your reaction to the report. As for technical information about the validity and reliability of the assessments, the school’s website will point you to the organization’s website that produces the assessments. With a little digging, you’ll find some kind of statement about validity and reliability. Some assessment companies will actually state “this type of assessment does not fit the criteria for validity and reliability studies”.  Taking the assessments yourself will surely enlighten you to the horribly designed assessment that is expected to “tell” your student which careers will be best for them. But even if you were to accept the quality of instrument as credible, what insights has it produced for the student?  What insights has the student learned about themselves after taking the assessment?
  • Myth #3 Counselors and teachers are focused on this. Ask a counselor about the amount of time they focus on coaching students in making career decisions and they will start explaining (after they stop laughing) how their day, week and semester is spent. It isn’t focused on coaching students in career decisions. Some counselors are leaving schools because their job isn’t about helping students, its about pushing paper.
  • Myth #4 The paid-with-tax-dollars school-site subscription to a cloud-based software program (Naviance, XAP, etc.)  is focused on helping the student find their path in life. Actually, many of these site-licensed “portals” are administrative tracking systems to help teachers be more productive. It is possible they also help students to be more productive with the college application process too. However, the primary focus isn’t on helping a student gain insight into who they are and what they want to become (even though the web-based marketing lingo sounds like they do focus on this). These systems are more focused on workflow management, specifically, “the process of getting students into college”. Who cares if the reason they are going to college is faulty or once they get there they change majors 3 times and graduate in 5 years. Put the ladder on the wrong building and you get to the top of a building with no purpose for being there.
  • Myth #5 High school students are too young and immature to focus much on career exploration or make any kind of career choice. This one is mostly on the parents. All I can tell you is if you think this, you are wrong. I am consistently amazed at the level of engagement and deep thinking that students put into developing a future direction, career exploration, choosing a major, choosing the right college for what they want to do and setting goals for themselves. Even those students that start the Career Coaching for Students program with less maturity quickly shed that cover and engage effectively. Watch for the colleges and universities to  empathize with the “high school is too early to know what you want to do with the rest of your life” thinking. The standard language at on-campus college visit presentations is to tell the student and parents it is perfectly fine to come in “undeclared” and take a year or two to decide what to study. Sure, you can start taking the “required Freshman classes” and a few electives to see what floats your boat. In the meantime, some students are figuring out a lot while still in high school and walking into college with a clear plan that may include double majoring, targeting specific companies for internships and obtaining summer jobs that will give them experience that makes them a top prospect upon graduation. In the meantime, being undeclared seems like a slow path to nowhere, and let’s not to mention the extra expense (thousands of dollars) for changing majors and extending the college stay by just one semester. Oops, I guess I did.
  • Myth #6 High achieving students don’t need as much career exploration support. One of the most challenging (and exciting) situations in coaching students is when the student is “All American” (or “All Canadian” for my Canadian readers). You know the type – very high GPA, active in sports, band, club officer, outside activities, loved by the teachers, respected by the administration, etc.).  The fact that these special individuals have so many capabilities, they have the most choices available to them. Many of these report feeling that they are expected to just know some how what they are going to do. The pressure to have a career direction figured out “on their own” is tremendous. From where I sit, there is no class of students that holds some special psychic ability to know what they want to do. All groups of students from under-achievers to over-achievers need professional career coaching.
  • Myth #7 Career exploration and planning is a “nice to have” but not the primary purpose of high school so it doesn’t deserve the funding or attention in high school. Many research studies have shown a clear connection between a student’s clarity about their future and their level of engagement in school. The result – higher academic achievement. If a student is under-performing academically, there is a good chance it is because they don’t see the potential in themselves and how that potential relates to a future. Many parents have reported back to me that their son/daughter raised their GPA the very next semester after going through the Career Coaching for Students program. But it doesn’t stop there. Students who were never on the academic honor roll in high school, and went through the Career Coaching for Students program their senior year were found two years later to have been on the Dean’s list at college every semester. The studies say this happens with credible career coaching at the high school level. Our experience is saying the same thing.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, career coach and author of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students. For information about career direction and job search coaching for college students, check out Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads. Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer.

My Summer Internship was an incredible and valuable experience


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

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

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

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