Tag Archives: student soft skills

How important is your handshake?

student-money-handshakeFrom the picture above, you can guess the answer. YOUR handshake will have a financial impact on YOU. Guaranteed. So it is very important. Do I have your attention? I hope so.

When I shake your hand, it’s neither too rugged, nor too tough; it’s solid. And even though I feel uncomfortable staring into a stranger’s eyes (it is a form of intimacy) I will look you in the eye as I shake your hand. My corporate clients, C-level people and managerial level decision makers who are involved in hiring and college recruiting tell me all the time, “The handshake tells me a lot.”

Everything starts with a handshake and you may be judged by your handshake in interviews, business meetings and day to day encounters, whether you like it our not and whether you know it or not! So, take heed, your handshake may define you.

Improve your handshake with these simple guidelines:

  1. Prepare to meet someone when possible by reflecting on who they are and what you know about them and their different roles (all of their roles like mother/father, son/daughter to an elderly parent, manager, executive, young recent grad representative of the company, etc.). Take a moment to consider their world, their day and their goals.
  2. Proactively reach out your hand to the person you are greeting.
  3. Look directly into the eyes of the person’s hand you are shaking – be bold, do not look away.
  4. Firmly grab the whole hand of the other person and squeeze firmly. Some people use the squeeze to make a statement and squeeze too hard. Squeezing too hard is WRONG and rude. But giving a limp handshake is uncomfortable (yuk!).
  5. Shake with firmness twice (it’s ok if the other person extends the shake).
  6. Smile if it is natural for you, but simultaneously nod or gesture with a clear and confident voice, i.e. “Good to meet you.” or “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” If you don’t have confidence or feel intimidated by the meeting, simply “fake it until you make it”.
  7. Keep eye contact until a mutual letting go.
  8. Always be sincere in showing your interest in the other person.

If you think your handshake does not matter, try bringing up the topic people in business. You might be surprised to discover how important or opinionated business leaders are about eye-contact and handshakes.

So how important is your handshake? A firm handshake coupled with solid eye-contact will have people warming up to you faster, while improving your professional career as it solidifies partnerships. According to David Hoare, an accounting systems and business consultant, “The number one tool for marketing is the handshake and a smile.  It costs zero to extend the hand and use a few facial muscles.  But the value it generates is priceless.  Pretty much all business relationships begin this way.  The handshake and smile is the most effective marketing tool available at all levels of business.”

MediaPlanet posted an article on the handshake where they stated, “A recent survey of more than 2,000 businessmen and women revealed that 47 percent of professionals believe they have lost a contract, client or job opportunity because they didn’t have enough face-to-face meetings.” This isn’t just true for the external hiring process, you’ll find this true when internal job opportunities become available too.

Forty-seven percent of professionals believe they have lost a contract, a client or job opportunity because they didn’t have enough face-to-face meetings.

When it comes to starting your career, being face-to-face lays the foundation for career growth. It’s where casual meeting, greeting and handing out business cards translate to hiring, building collaborative and supportive relationships and acquiring life-long mentors.

The digital world will continue to transform the ways we can stay connected, but those connections need more than a Wi-Fi signal and a webcam to come to life. If you are interviewing, and the company is trying to save costs by using webcam technology, volunteer to meet at their place of business if it is an extremely important opportunity. If the opportunity arises, simply say, “I was planning to be in [their city] that week anyway, I could easily extend my stay to meet in person if that works on your end.” The risk is that some jobs require the person to change their plans without much notice. The person may agree to meet in person and later find out they have to change their plans to accommodate the SVP or CEO’s schedule. The best way to view that risk is that the person you are planning to meet with will likely delegate the meeting to others so it isn’t likely to be a complete failure.

So shake those hands and be the master of meet and greet skills. Only your financial and career future are riding on it.

Carl Nielson is founder of Success Discoveries and creator of Career Coaching for Students™, a program for high schools, colleges, families and students. Carl is also managing principal of The Nielson Group, a national talent management consulting firm. View his LinkedIn profile here.

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.

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

Are “soft skills” really that important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to tackle development of soft skills

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

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

Dr. Phil’s Sweet 16 Tips for Success – for High School and College Students

Dr. Phil Sweet 16 Life Rules on The DoctorsDr. Phil McGraw shares part of his formula for success with “The Sweet 16,” featured in his new book, Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World. He makes the point in the promo piece on The Doctors television show that success requires living authentically through these 16 rules. I’ve created a matrix of these Sweet 16 with critical soft skills for success that we introduce and coach on in the Career Coaching for Students program. These are skills that are aligned with and critical to teens and college students creating a successful launch from child to adult and being over-the-top happy in career and life. The two lists are independent of each other.

Dr. Phil McGrawFor college students, the heat is high enough to hold their attention on this subject – if it is offered as part of a college freshman seminar or provided proactively by the family as part of a personal career coaching program. For high school students, the ability to internalize these 16 life rules in order to leverage the opportunity to explore and plan for a career that is ideal for them is a tough challenge. However, some students are doing this and reaping the rewards in a big way. Dr. Phil’s Sweet 16 and the Life Skills for Students offered in the Career Coaching for Students program are both critically relevant for those wanting to experience success in life and work.

“I have studied success all of my life and I found that success leaves clues,” Dr. Phil says. “There is a formula for success and I’ve boiled it down to what I call The Sweet 16.”

The first column displays Dr. Phil’s Sweet 16 Rules. We’ve listed 16 “Life Skills for Students” that are key to success. Each of Dr. Phil’s rules align nicely to our Life Skills for Students content.

Dr. Phil’s Sweet 16 Rules for Success

Life Skills for Students™
1 Have a defined “image” and never go out of character.
You must know both yourself and how to present yourself.
Interpersonal Skills
Effectively communicating, building rapport and relating well to all kinds of people requires knowing yourself.
2  Create a perception of uniqueness.
Choose to define your image so that you distinguish yourself from anyone else in the world.
Creativity and Innovation
Adopting traditional or devising new approaches, concepts, methods, modes, designs, processes, technologies and/or systems helps to distinguish you.
3 Play “big,” not just long.
Playing big is different than playing long because even reliable and competent people that play long seldom win big, if at all.
Proactive Thinking
The capacity to think ahead in order to realistically evaluate the consequences of current actions, processes and decisions shows you are thinking big.
4 Learn to claim and accept praise, and acknowledge it in a gracious way, but do accept it.
The goal is to get noticed and acknowledged for who you are and what you do.
Decision Making
Utilizing effective processes to make decisions will be one of the biggest generators of praise.
5  Become “essential.”
If you want to succeed in any situation, it is important to be needed and good to be relied upon.
The compelling desire to get into the flow of work in order to accomplish the vision and complete the goal makes you essential.
6 Know your real currency.
Don’t waste time working for what you don’t want.
Self Management
The ability to prioritize and complete tasks in order to deliver desired outcomes within allotted time frames is valued like gold by your employer/boss but will also help you create self-worth. Also see Goal Orientation below.
7 Always, always have a plan.
If you want to achieve a sustained measure of success in any area of your life, you need a specific plan that begins with identifying what you want.
Planning and Organizing
Utilizing logical, systematic and orderly work procedures to meet objectives.
8 Keep things “close to the vest.”
To be interesting you have to maintain a certain degree of mystery, because it gives you a degree of mastery.
Project and Goal Focus
The capacity to concentrate one’s full attention on the project or goal at hand, regardless of distractions or difficulties gives enables your mind to discipline itself.
9 Always be in investigatory mode.
You have to constantly be gathering relevant information that may empower you to do and achieve what you desire.
Continuous Learning
Check this module out by clicking on the link. Taking initiative in learning and implementing new concepts, technologies and/or methods. Let others be part of the source of your learning.
10 Must “stretch” and behave your way to success, even if it feels like “fake it until you make it.”
Have confidence and be bold enough to stretch yourself, scramble to close the gap if one exists, and grow into new opportunities.
The ability to readily modify, respond to and integrate change with minimal personal resistance.
11 Always keep your options open.
It is important to always leave yourself a face-saving way out.
Goal Orientation
Energetically focus your efforts on meeting your personal goals. Create a personal mission statement. Having a longer-term vision for yourself makes seeing the value of different options easier.
12 Always master the system and figure a way to make it work for you.
You can gain distinct advantage if you know the game better than anybody else.
Problem Solving
The ability to identify key components of the problem, possible solutions and the action plan to obtain the desired result.
13 Create a passionate nucleus of supporters.
Surround yourself with people who share your passion and vision, and support your pursuit of your goals.
The capacity to steadily pursue any project or goal that a person is committed to in spite of difficulty, opposition or discouragement. Distance yourself emotionally from those that are naysayers to your goals.
14 Deal only with the truth.
You must resolve to never fail to acknowledge if you have a problem or are in some kind of toxic situation that is draining your life energy.
Personal Accountability
The capacity to take responsibility for one’s own actions, conduct, obligations and decisions without excuses. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails at some point. Some believe failing is the best way to learn – as long as you try again. Don’t fear owning your mistakes with others.
15 Recognize and use the ego and greed of others to create a path to success.
If you want acceptance and to be heard and well-regarded, you can create receptivity by being sensitive to your listener’s ego.
Futuristic Thinking
Imagining, envisioning, projecting and/or predicting what has not been realized yet. Others’ egos are not relevant to your long-term goals but may be valuable for your current situation.
16 Pick your battles and never let your opponent have control.
Never put yourself in an untenable position by picking a battle that you don’t need to fight and don’t know with great certainty that you can win.
Persuading Others
The capacity to influentially present one’s positions, opinions, feelings or views to others in such a way that they will listen and adopt the same view. Knowing others better than they know themselves puts you in control.

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

The Worst and Best Paying College Majors – Are we asking the right question?

Are you driven by high earning potential? I mean real money. Payscale.com recently published their 2011/2012 salary survey by college major. I guess when you have data you can do anything with it.

For some college majors, for some people, the Payscale.com survey data is meaningful. For it to be useful, it has to be a specialized major that connects (strong correlation) to a specific type of work. For example, it is likely that those who complete an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education are teaching elementary education. In that scenario, the Payscale survey is meaningful and helpful. If you are fully self-aware, understand what a career in elementary education entails (what soft skills, continuing education, etc. are required)  and see yourself as a good fit to the job/career, then you can expect to earn right around the median (geographic differences will explain most of the higher or lower pay range). Money won’t be a personal motivator for that career. However, helping others is a personal motivator for the Elementary Education Teacher career path. What that means is that the job of Elementary Education Teacher rewards “work” that helps others.

If you look at the survey list of college majors, there is one fundamental flaw. The data does not take into account what the person is doing job- and career-wise. Isn’t that the better (more valid) question? How you get there is insightful but not predictive of your potential income as much as “what” you do in your career.

I had a boss back in the ’80s by the name of Don J. Redlinger. He was actually my bosses’ boss. Don was business unit VP, Human Resources. His income, including stock options, put him on a trajectory to being a millionaire. He later was promoted to SVP, Human Resources for the entire multi-national Allied Signal corporation. He was in his 30’s at the time. What degree did Don have? A B.A. in History. Looking at the listing of college majors based on mid-career median income, Don should have been at about $69,000. If he had received a degree in Human Resources, his salary might have been around $62,600. Both are wrong. His degree was a strategic choice along with the college he went to. “What” he was doing was most important and relevant to his income. The industry he was in, and the career path he pursued are much greater predictors of income. How he got to the VP position early in his career has a lot to do with the “total package” which includes your “talent” as well as what you did back in high school, college, internships and early jobs out of college.  My learning – a B.A. degree in History can be extremely valuable across a broad range of careers. Your talent and your strategy determine how well you leverage the degree.

Let’s look at another example – a long-time colleague and client of mine, Freddye Silverman. Freddye has a B.A. degree in  Spanish and M.Ed in Spanish and Education. So what is she doing today, 20+ years since her completion of her education? She is Vice President, Eastern Region at Jeitosa Group International. She is a respected and recognized leader in the HR technology solutions field who has more than 25 years experience as a practitioner and consultant in HR IT.  Freddye also has a teaching background in foreign languages which “enhances her global view”. Prior to Jeitosa she was VP, HR Technology Solutions for Cendant Corporation.

Because she has been a long-time client of The Nielson Group (corporate consulting where we use assessments to coach professionals and executives and assist with evaluating candidates during the hiring process using assessments), Freddye has been assessed using the same assessments used in the Career Coaching for Students program. When she reads her assessment results, she quickly says, “this is who I’ve been all my life“.

We know a great deal more than we did 20+ years ago about measuring personal talent and job matching. In Freddye’s case, what we now know, if used back then, might have suggested she look at a double major, Spanish (foreign language is a passion of hers) and Business Management, specializing in IT project management. Instead of starting her career in teaching (she is “behaviorally” a good fit for teaching/training as well) she might have gone directly into a corporate environment where her income in those early years might have been higher and she would have experienced much greater passion for what she was doing.

Hierarchy of Personal Motivators

Freddye's Personal Motivators

Behavior Insights Wheel

Freddye's Behavioral Style

For Freddye to have remained in teaching (lower pay, help others), her Social motivator (see chart above) would have needed to be much higher and her Utilitarian much lower. While Freddye may not have recognized the forces at work, she has the kind of behavioral style that “easily recognizes and accepts the need for change”. She isn’t one to stay in a situation that doesn’t excite her. She made a career shift early on. Over 50% of the population (including student populations) do not have a behavioral style that can shift as easily and dramatically as Freddye’s.

Many adults are in roles they chose while in college – by default. For those where the choice was a good one (the job’s talent demands fit the person’s talent make-up) it worked out well. For those that weren’t so lucky (around 50%), the chance of watching ten or more years tick off while they feel less than fulfilled and mediocre is high. Choosing a major based on “earning potential of that major” isn’t a good strategy.

We can’t predict the future. But we can do a much better job of helping students look at careers/jobs that match their talent design (behaviors, motivators, sometimes referred to as personality). If a student has a clearer idea of what makes them excited to get up in the morning and how the work they do feels natural to them, they will be much more likely to be successful. Money is one type of reward. There are other types of rewards that are equally powerful and important for success. Look at the job or career-match to your talents rather than the income potential of a major as a first step. Then look at the possible educational strategies that will support your career aspirations. If your career choice is aligned with your talent, any major that allows you to enter that career will work.

Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

By the way, there is no “best major” for a Sales career (see article about groundbreaking research on top performing sales professionals) yet, sales is one of the highest median income career paths. The type of sales and choice of industry are much greater predictors of potential earnings.

Best and Worst Undergrad College Degrees by Major - Are we asking the right question?

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

Waiting for Superman is Worth the Ticket Price

Waiting for SupermanIf you haven’t seen the trailer or heard any talk show host discuss the new movie Waiting for Superman, I urge you to pause and take notice. It is my hope you go see the movie.

In a newspaper article about employers and educators studying ways to prepare students for work, employer’s were more concerned about students graduating with “soft skills” than having high grades in math and science.

As a nation, we know we need to do things differently to compete globally. Employers are saying many high school graduates, and even college graduates, aren’t coming out as ready as they need to be.

In the work world, where employers are trying to hire the “best and the brightest” (wrong measures are being used to decide that), there are efforts to develop people to be leaders. There are also programs to build effective team and collaboration skills. But when it comes to on-the-job performance, at the personal level, each of us is pretty much on our own.

The fact that each of us is on our own to succeed does not explain success. If it did, we could place anyone in any job, teach skills such as self motivation, self starting and self management and everyone would be successful. Right?

In the work world, some companies use advanced talent assessments to match people to jobs. Those companies have found that when the right person is in the right job the level of performance is so different it becomes a competitive advantage (see The Nielson Group]. The level of success is so significant that clients of The Nielson Group do not want their competitors to know about the assessment tools and strategies.

So where are we going with all of this?

Those employers aren’t hiring the “best and brightest”. They are hiring the “best fit”. So what’s so magical about being a good fit to a job? If you were to take two incoming Freshman high school students with equal grade averages, one was given a career exploration coaching program in 9th grade and the other was not given any valid, useful career guidance, which do you think would graduate higher in their class four years later? If you guessed the student that received the career exploration coaching program you’d be correct.

In the work world, those that are matched to the job are matched based on personal motivators, behavioral fit and skills. They experience self-motivation in the work, have a clear future view of themselves and are able to meet the behavioral demands of the job without undue stress.

In the example of two Freshman students, if a student has been given the opportunity to explore careers that fit their “soft talents”, has developed a high level of self-awareness and has a strong positive future view with a realistic plan for how to create that future, it is likely they will be self-motivated and determined to achieve academically.

Would graduation rates go up signficantly if every high school had a career coaching program? I’m waiting on that data. Right now, it is hard to get. Most high schools will tell you they have a career exploration program. Ask students what they think of their high school career exploration program and they’ll probably say “what program?”.

Career Coaching for Students™ is a program that costs between $350 (home study self-directed program) and $850 (workshops) around the country through certified professional career coaches. If schools were to invest, or partner with local employers for grant money to bring Career Coaching for Students™ into the school, all high school students would have access to a quality, in-depth career coaching program. And the cost? There are so many ways that becomes insignificant. What is needed isn’t money.

What we need are visionaries and influencers. By bringing Career Coaching for Students into the classroom we are helping a student create a vision of their future that they want. Paint a picture of what a student wants and watch out. They’ll do amazing things to get it. When it comes to waiting for superman, I think the student is the only one that can fill the role of Superman.