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Career Coach, Bethany Wallace

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Helping, not hovering: Career assistance advice for parents of Gen Z students & recent grads

mom and sonDo you cringe when hearing the term “helicopter parents?” Nobody wants to be that parent—hovering over her child, offering unsolicited advice, attempting to thwart minor failures or skinned knees, and purchasing countless expensive gadgets and devices (because saying no is really hard!). But let’s face it. We’re all guilty of this occasionally–hovering, enabling, and causing  problematic behavior so prevalent in Generation Z students and recent grads.

Many experts in academics, career services, career coaching, and talent acquisition agree that by the time many Gen Z students graduate from college, they are simply not equipped with a strong set of soft skills. They’re often not confident about entering the workforce of today and contributing strongly to employers. Or worse, they’re overly confident.

Rather than spend time pointing the finger at our co-parents, blaming our school systems or higher education programs, or shaking our heads while gazing hopelessly at our own children and shrugging our shoulders, it makes more sense to ask ourselves that age-old question: “What’s my part in this problem? And how can I help ensure that my child is well-prepared for the world of work so that she finds a great job (and retains it) after graduating?”

cindy folmerCindy Folmer, Senior Human Resources Manager at L’Oréal USA, manages, coaches, and trains interns and entry-level employees daily. L’Oréal USA hires over 100 interns each summer. The company offers many of them the opportunity to join the Management Development Program. The program cultivates managers in distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, corporate headquarters, and other locations.

Folmer understands firsthand the challenges facing employers today in working with Gen Z college students and recent grads. “Proper manners, etiquette, ability to engage, and patience are all areas I see as challenges facing recent grads in the workplace. There are attitudes and behaviors, at times, that indicate those just entering the workforce believe they don’t have to put in the effort their parents did to move ahead as quickly. The challenge for employers is to engage this group so they are willing to learn and stay where they are in order to bring value to an organization. We’re committed to meeting this challenge at L’Oréal.” Folmer asserts.

What can parents do to prevent their children from developing attitudes like this to begin with? How can parents help their children develop strong soft skills?

  • Help children develop soft skills by encouraging the soft skill itself rather than by scolding the child for exhibiting its negative opposite. For example, if your child constantly procrastinates and never turns in homework on time, praise him when he turns it in on time. Visit with his teachers to open lines of communication; if you know when he’s submitting work on time, you can more easily encourage him. When he saunters downstairs one minute before it’s time to leave, express gratitude that he’s dressed and ready to go rather than making a snide comment about the way he fixed his hair (or didn’t brush his teeth).
  • Consider a technology-free zone in your home, a tech-free vacation, or a tech-free hour as a family. Model this behavior as a parent. If your child sees you with your nose in your phone, she’s not going to be inclined to put hers away. When you eat dinner—whether at a restaurant or at home—why not toss all your cell phones in a basket and engage in face-to-face conversation? This is a great way to encourage communication skills.
  • Teach children the art of waiting. Although we definitely need to stay ahead in the area of technology, we’ve made it easy for our children to get what they want when they want it. For instance, if they want to watch a specific television show they missed, we can jump onto In Demand,” suggests Folmer.
  • Encourage your children to find suitable career mentors and to explore their career goals early in life. This doesn’t require an extensive, formal assessment. Even elementary students can create vision boards and enjoy job shadowing and site visits. Most professionals absolutely love sharing about what they do, and chances are, your own friends and family members work in various career fields. Supervise this process to ensure your child’s safety, but don’t dictate which career fields your child chooses to explore, or you’ll take the fun out of it.
  • “Encourage them to absorb the pleasure of finishing something instead of jumping to the next activity. Give them something to do that will take time, such as learning a new sport, one they don’t really want to do. On the job, there will be tasks we don’t want to do; we have to do them, though. Then take a look back and talk through lessons learned, challenges overcome, and the excitement of success of each of these,” Folmer notes.

There are countless ways to help children learn soft skills and become confident in themselves. This confidence helps students, upon graduation, become candidates who are sought after by employers.

What if your child is struggling in his job search? How can you help? And should you help?

6950093_orig“College is a time for exploration, to learn, and to show that an individual can do things on their own,” said Matt Krumrie, a professional resume writer and career adviser who works with entry-level job seekers seeking that first job out of college. “Recent college grads should ask their parents for advice – but that’s it. They shouldn’t ask them to come to interviews – that really has happened – or expect them to lead their job search, or mention what they tell them in an interview.”

“Employers want to hire people who can think on their own, make decisions, and show they can get a job done without relying on someone else to always guide them,” Krumrie goes on to say. “When parents hover, or overstep boundaries in the job search, employers notice, and that hurts the job seeker. They wonder how much this will continue if hired, and in reality, it impacts hiring decisions. Once students graduates, it’s time to spread their wings, and show they are their own person ready to make an impact – without relying on mom and dad to lead them.”

Folmer agrees. “It’s very important at the stage of applications for parents to give their kids the opportunity to go it alone. I’ve seen too many kids come into the workplace with no idea how to complete an application. They also struggle with completing paperwork or making decisions. Be supportive, talk things out, and give them the tools necessary to go to the next level of their life.”

Each parent needs to decide the appropriate level of involvement with her own child. Whether you pay for career coaching for your child, send a career-related article to her, or offer no career advice and simply love her, the fact you took time to read this article means you’re a loving parent trying to do your best to help her—and she will be just fine in the end, no matter which path she chooses.

Create a custom career coaching or resume writing gift certificate for someone you love or reach out to me to talk about scheduling a free consultation.

Finding freedom: Forging a new career path

Recently, a colleague introduced me to a group of college students during a presentation about networking skills as “Career Coach, Bethany Wallace, who is going to share with you tips about networking and her story about how she has reinvented herself in her career.”

Wow, I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve done, isn’t it? Sometimes we need to see ourselves through others’ eyes in order to appreciate our hard work, creativity, risk-taking, and perseverance. My mentors and colleagues always help me recognize and appreciate my career achievements.

happiness-1866081_1280One of the most intimidating career decisions I’ve ever made was the decision to leave a fabulous job as Content Manager of College Recruiter in 2016 shortly after starting my own career coaching business. I certainly found lots of career freedom as a result, but the pathway to this career freedom was like a roller coaster—full of ups and downs, and I felt sick half the time while on the ride.

While attempting to decide whether to leave my full-time position, I knew I needed to pour more of myself into my career coaching business to make it grow and give it a chance to succeed. I also wanted more scheduling flexibility. Staying home with my daughter, who was three years-old at the time, mattered to me, as did returning to the college classroom part-time. But the notion of leaving a well-renowned company in the job board industry, which afforded me the opportunity to earn a solid income and provide benefits for my family… ugh. I felt torn about this for months.

I finally bit the bullet and eased my way out of my position, transitioning from full-time to part-time over the course of a few months. While making the decision was difficult, it gave me total career freedom and autonomy. I now manage my own business, create content solely to promote my own business, market and sell my own services, and work directly with my clients. This arrangement might not be a great fit for everyone (or we’d have a nation full of entrepreneurs), but it’s the right fit for me.

Here are a few tips I’d offer anyone seeking more autonomy and freedom in their career.

  1. Live below your means.

Leave yourself open to changing careers—or even changing jobs or relocating—by simply living below your means. If you rope yourself into purchasing a new car every time you earn a small promotion at work, you’re tying a noose around your neck financially. You don’t leave yourself the option to pursue completely changing careers if your values and goals change. If you buy the nicest house you can afford in the best neighborhood of your city, your family and friends will be very impressed. But your options will be limited if you find that over a period of two years, you become increasingly less interested in your career field.

Not always–but often–when you change career fields, you take a step backward in terms of income because you have less experience in that particular field. Setting aside some of your income each month prior to switching careers is a good idea. In addition to saving money, it’s also a good idea to become comfortable with living way below your means. You will feel much less freaked out when you’re earning little to nothing for a while if you’re temporarily unemployed, underemployed, or acquiring clients when you start a new business.

  1. Eliminate as many risks as possible.

To follow up on #1, we’re in a true gig economy. Check out FlexJobs, for example. There are a myriad of great gig positions and part-time jobs available, many of them affording you the option to work remotely. Before you jump ship and start looking for a position in a brand new career field—going for months without income—why not land a great gig or part-time job to help supplement your period without full-time income?

I taught one online course for a community college during the first several months of my business being open. This was a lifesaver. Adjunct faculty members don’t earn much (newsflash for those of you who thought we were highly paid professionals!), but the extra income did supplement our overall family income, and it helped ease my financial fears while I worked diligently to market my services and attract clients.

  1. Stick to your guns in terms of pursuing your dreams and passions.

When you make a major career change—whether it’s switching career fields entirely or starting your own business—you’ll find that you’re surrounded by a mixed bag of naysayers and cheerleaders. Focus on the cheerleaders and ignore the naysayers.

Obviously you need to make calculated, wise, strategic decisions about your career. That’s where working with a career coach comes in. You should also consult your career mentor when facing major career decisions, and you should take other steps to assess your level of contentment, create a budget, etc.

But once you’ve taken the plunge—thoughtfully and carefully—don’t look back. You don’t want to lose momentum by focusing on negative tidbits others feed you about how you are killing your career, or how hard it’s going to be for you, or how unsure your friends and family are about your potential to succeed.

Separate yourself from negative people. Focus on pursuing your original career goals. Map out your career plan in manageable bites so you will not become overwhelmed, and then start pecking away at that plan slowly but surely.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing the exact things you envisioned yourself doing when you began dreaming about your new career. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be doing those things sooner rather than later.

Career freedom is right around the corner—but you have to pursue it.

For help making a career change, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation.

 

Making the most of working with your career mentor

I’ve never regretted one minute spent listening to my career mentors. I learn so much when we meet, chatting over pancakes at Bob’s Diner or pizza in downtown Little Rock. Sure, I do some of the talking–opening up about where I’m at in my career, asking questions, and even sharing about troubling situations in the workplace in hopes my mentors will offer potential solutions. They always do because they’re brilliant women. I picked great career mentors. One owns her own business, consulting small business owners who want to market themselves and attract better clients. The other manages recruiting for a telecommunications corporation. My mentors have been where I am in many ways. They know what I’m going through, and even if they haven’t found themselves puzzled by an identical client or partner, they have likely been in similar situations.

That’s the beauty of working with a career mentor. A career mentor is a mentor you ask to guide you through your career journey–not just from point A to point B during one stretch of your career or while you strive through the most difficult mess of it. Your mentor learns all about you, and your career mentor can give you very pointed, detailed advice. Since your mentor doesn’t work with you in your workplace–unlike a workplace mentor–she doesn’t care about office politics. She only cares about seeing you succeed in the long run. She sees the big picture.

If you already have a career mentor, you’ll want to watch this video with three tips/reminders about making the most of working with your career mentor. You’ll find ways to apply this advice to the relationship you already have with your mentor. If you don’t have a career mentor, think about a few people you admire while watching the video and reading the article. Maybe by the end, you’ll have narrowed down your list.


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  1. Remember, your career mentor isn’t a fairy godmother (or godfather).

    Your career mentor won’t float out of the sky, pixie dust sprinkled in her hair, announcing her desire to guide you through your career (but wouldn’t that be great?!). You’re going to have to break down and ask someone to mentor you. Sometimes mentoring relationships evolve naturally. This happens in the workplace and in higher education; you might fall into a relationship with your career mentor if she’s your professor or boss. But most likely, you’ll find someone you admire who works in your dream job or similar career field. You will observe this person to ensure she exhibits character traits you admire. Then you will ask her to serve as your career mentor. Asking can be difficult, but acting against your fear of rejection is important. You potentially have so much to gain from a great career mentor.

    Also, we can often believe our career mentors are fairy godmothers in the sense that we place them on pedestals. We think they’re professionally perfect. But they’re definitely not, and learning from your career mentor’s failures and defects can be just as helpful as learning from your career mentor’s successes and assets.

  2. If it’s not working, make a change.

    It would be great if everyone’s career mentoring relationship lasted for a lifetime. Some do, and some don’t. If you work with a career mentor for five years, and you find yourself growing apart, accept that it may be time to seek a new career mentor. Some relationships–even professional relationships–are only meant to last for a season. We all grow, change, and develop, and as that happens, we often grow apart. Trying to force a fit doesn’t feel natural and can make a mentoring relationship very awkward. If you’re asking questions and not receiving answers which feel aligned with your values, ethics, or goals, it might be time to seek a new career mentor.
  3. Don’t expect your mentor to serve as your career coach.

    Unless your mentor works in career services, career counseling, or career coaching, your mentor will probably not feel comfortable providing you with detailed assistance with your resume, cover letter, interview preparation, branding, networking, job search assistance, or other areas of career coaching. While your mentor can certainly share her unique experiences in these areas, your mentor won’t pretend to be an expert in an area outside her realm of expertise. And she shouldn’t! If someone comes to me for personal counseling, I don’t pretend for one minute I’m licensed as a professional counselor. I immediately refer that potential client to a qualified professional.

    Seek your mentor’s advice and ask her to share her experience, but don’t drain her either. Remember that your mentor probably juggles work, family, and personal interests, including mentoring you (and possibly other mentees). Respect her boundaries.

    If you need help determining how to find a great career mentor, how to ask someone to mentor you, or how to seek career coaching help from a professional rather than from your mentor, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation. 

How do you make decisions about your career?

When contemplating changing jobs, applying for promotions within your company, quitting a job to spend time with your family, or other major career changes, how in the world do you make those big decisions? And how do you make major career decisions without undergoing stress and anxiety?

Here are seven steps I go through when making career decisions (or other big life decisions, for that matter). Decision-making is a soft skill you need while navigating your career journey. It’s also a “must have” soft skill employers look for in candidates during the hiring process. You’ll notice that many common interview questions are worded to ascertain your ability to make good decisions. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision.”

My personal decision-making process may not work for you; that’s okay. I’m sharing it with you because it might encourage you to find a process that does work for you. Take what you like and leave the rest. The important thing is to develop your own personalized decision-making process. If you need some help developing a decision-making strategy, let me know.


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  1. Pray. Make conscious contact with your Higher Power if that’s part of your lifestyle. This works well for me because spirituality is a major part of who I am. If you don’t feel a connection with a Higher Power, spend some time mindfully meditating or quietly contemplating the options you’re considering.
  2. Consult mentors. Don’t try to fix the stuff in your head with the stuff in your head. That typically doesn’t produce great results. I made many poor career decisions—large and small—by relying too much on my own thoughts and feelings.Talk to people who have lots of experience and expertise. Seek a real career mentor if you don’t already have one. It takes guts to reach out and ask for help, but eventually you’ll surround yourself with experts who are kind and supportive. And you’ll give back to others, too. That’s what networking is all about!
  3. Make a pros and cons list. Get it on paper and out of your head. What if you’re weighing two really good options? Then weigh the pros and pros instead. I once had to consider whether to remain a full-time faculty member or to leave my faculty position to accept a position as content manager of a company I had admired for over a decade. I loved teaching—but I loved that company I’d admired and the people who managed it, too. It was a tough call!
  4. Do research thoroughly, whether it’s researching a company, a position, the financial impact of your decision, or the impact of your decision on your family. Simply perusing a company website isn’t going to cut it. You should reach out and talk to people who work at the company you’re considering aligning yourself with. Crunch numbers. This is due diligence, and if you don’t do thorough research, you may regret it.

  5. Release outcomes. Whether you simply mentally let go of outcomes or spiritually let go of outcomes, understanding you’re not in control of whether you land jobs—even if you do ALL the right things—is important. One of the prayers that helps me when making decisions is, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”

    This helps me stop worrying throughout the decision-making process. I can do all the right things, but there are many X factors involved in the hiring process. I often have no way to know what recruiters are really looking for, whether or not I’m the best fit for the position or company at the time, and whether the company already has an internal candidate in mind for the position.

    I’d like to believe my destiny rests in my hands, but that’s not realistic. Sometimes other people have a big hand in outcomes which affect me. I have learned to do my best—that’s all I can do. If I’m not happy with the outcome, I move on and knock on other doors of opportunity. Eventually, I’ll find a great fit.

  6. Wait before responding to invitations or job offers. When making decisions, responding rather than reacting is key for me. Impulsive decision-making is almost always a poor idea. Don’t burn bridges with recruiters or hiring managers if you don’t get hired. Recently, a client of mine was not offered a position he’d applied for. Less than 24 hours later, the recruiter called back and offered him the position because the “first choice” candidate rejected the offer. Had my client reacted negatively to being rejected, there’s no way he would have been called back and offered the position. He had to swallow his pride knowing he was the second pick, but who really cares? He got what he wanted in the end, and he was mature enough to handle himself with dignity.

    Waiting before responding to job offers also gives me time to consult experts and mentors and do more research. Sometimes I need to negotiate salary and benefits because I’m not being offered what I’m worth, and if I react impulsively out of excitement, I may not see the offer realistically.

  7. Take action. If I don’t eventually take an action, and do the next right thing for me—whatever I can determine that may be at the time—I will get stuck or paralyzed in fretting about trying to make perfect decisions. I have to understand that I’m imperfect and will make mistakes throughout my career. And boy, have I made some big ones! However, I’ve learned from every mistake I’ve made. All my mistakes have helped me coach other people in similar situations. As long as I continue to learn, I don’t carry regrets, so there’s really no losing in the learning process.

If you find yourself stuck in making decisions and need guidance along your career journey, reach out for help.

Why you need to prepare an elevator pitch

It’s virtually impossible to separate networking and branding. We work our whole lives to build a reputation (our brand), and we spend our whole lives building and maintaining relationships with others (our network). We do these things simultaneously. We can’t build a reputation without an audience—our network—and we can’t build relationships without proving to those people who we are—our brand.

Somewhere along the way, as we connect with new people who will come to know who we are, we’ll need to introduce ourselves. Most of us, if we’re unprepared, will stumble over our words when introducing ourselves and fail to mention more than our names and where we live. If we’re lucky, we might remember to mention our career field, course of study, or current job role. If we meet someone we consider impressive or important, we’ll probably feel even more nervous than usual.

I once met Alanis Morissette while traveling with other college students in China. What are the odds? I felt incredibly lucky. Since the internet wasn’t a big deal then, and social media didn’t exist, none of the Chinese citizens in the area recognized her. I introduced myself, stumbling over my words. She was gracious and asked me several questions about our cultural exchange team and experiences traveling. Looking back on that encounter years later, I realize I simply didn’t have the communication skills to pull myself together to deliver anything remotely like an elevator pitch. I’m sure if I’d attended a workshop about personal branding, branding statements, or elevator pitches I might have felt slightly less tongue-tied and more confident.

Nothing really would have ever come of meeting a celebrity, I’m sure, but it was fun and exciting. But there are often serious outcomes when we meet new employers, recruiters, colleagues, supervisors, friends of friends, and others who can connect us to great job leads and want to hire qualified employees. This is why we all need a smooth elevator pitch ready and waiting to roll off our tongues. An elevator pitch is simply a brief persuasive speech (20-30 seconds long—it takes this long to ride an elevator from the top to bottom floor without lots of stops) to introduce ourselves. In the context of your job search, your elevator pitch will “pitch” you to potential employers, colleagues, and others who may consider connecting you to great job leads. Your elevator pitch should provide basic introductory information. It should briefly explain to your new contact who you are, where you’re been, and where you’re going. But it should also explain why.

I recently led a one-hour workshop about the first steps of branding, including elevator pitches, for seniors at Southside High School in Batesville, Arkansas. I was grateful for the opportunity to visit with students and learn about their “Future Stories.” A charter school, Southside High School teachers and administration work closely with students to provide various vocational, career coaching, and higher education opportunities to students to make their future stories a reality.

During the workshop, I helped students understand how to craft an elevator pitch.

  • Keep your target audience in mind (for job seekers, it’s employers and new connections who may help them find jobs).
  • Stick to 30 seconds in length. This may require lots of practice. I have taught hundreds of college students in Oral Communications, and trust me–it just takes time to practice and perfect something which seems as simple as a 30-second spiel. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a long time to shorten your elevator pitch.
  • Avoid overused words, clichés, and jargon. Use terms you’re totally familiar with to ensure smooth delivery. Include keywords important to your industry, but don’t use so many keywords that an average person has difficulty weeding through unfamiliar terminology.
  • Remember the “why.” It’s great to state that you just graduated with a bachelor’s degree and are seeking employment in Rhode Island. But why? Many students mention that they’re pursuing a degree in a certain field. Why? What do you plan to do with that degree later in life? The WHY grabs your listener’s interest.

Two graduating seniors from Southside High School agreed to record their elevator pitches and share them with my readers/viewers. Thank you, Brooke and Natalie, and congratulations on graduating. I look forward to keeping in touch with you as you continue to pursue your goals.

Brooke Talley’s elevator pitch:


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Natalie Humphrey’s elevator pitch:


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Need help creating and delivering your own elevator pitch? Contact me for help.

Preparing for life after teaching

About 1/3 of my clients work in the field of education (K-12 or higher education); it’s a natural fit since I have 10 years of experience in higher education and have also worked with K-12 students.  Some of my clients want to transition out of teaching; others are determined to stick with education.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Teaching is a career field most people feel passionate about–at least initially. Many educators feel exhausted after several years of managing a classroom full of students, though, and some opt to pursue a whole new career path. Some teachers retire early to pursue new careers. Other teachers transition out of teaching after only a few years of teaching; they discover that teaching wasn’t quite what they’d hoped it’d be.

 

If you’re a teacher, and you’re unsure whether you want to continue teaching, you should begin training and preparing yourself for what lies ahead… even if you’re not certain what lies ahead. Whether you renew your teaching contract this year or not, taking these three action steps will strengthen your resume, boost your confidence, and provide you with networking leverage if you search for jobs in the future.

  1. Develop one technical/hard skill in an area of interest unrelated to education.

Even if you’re sure you want to continue teaching right now, developing a technical skill unrelated to teaching will benefit you. Putting your mind to work on a topic unrelated to your students can actually help you relieve mental stress and anxiety. Taking an online course in photo editing or SEO can stretch your mind; you’ll become a well-rounded teacher, and who knows? Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to incorporate what you learn into the classroom.

If you have an inkling you may want to search for jobs outside of teaching, brainstorm about which career fields interest you. Are you considering looking for jobs in curriculum design, training, or sales? Enroll in a local public speaking course or reach out to a career coach for communication skills development assistance. Many community colleges and libraries also offer free workshops. You don’t have to invest much of your income to learn a new skill.

  1. Identify three soft skills you’d like to improve and focus on improving one at a time.

Which soft skills matter most to you personally? Which soft skills matter most within your chosen career field (education or your future field)? A little research, coupled with self-assessment to determine which soft skills you currently possess and which soft skills you currently lack, should help you determine which soft skills to focus on developing.

Create an action plan to develop one soft skill at a time. Don’t even think about working on more than one thing at a time—you’ll feel overwhelmed, and you’ll give up.

If you prefer working alone and roll your eyes when your principal mentions breaking into groups during in-service training, working on teamwork and collaboration skills might be a good idea. Collaboration is hot in the workplace now; you’ll need to convince employers—with actions, not words—that you are very comfortable working well with others. Develop your teamwork skills now, and when you begin interviewing for jobs in a few years, you won’t be grasping at straws when asked for an example of a time when you collaborated with your coworkers to solve a problem.

  1. Spend 30 minutes networking twice weekly with people outside of teaching.

In education, we often work in silos. We work in separate classrooms, teaching our own students, and sometimes—without meaning to—we don’t share information or stories or successes with one another.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Break out of your silo, whether you’re going to transition out of teaching or not, and spend 30 minutes twice weekly networking with people outside of teaching. If you already have professional contacts online or offline, reach out to them. Schedule visits after work. Meet for coffee or iced tea and chat about summer vacation plans.

 

Do you know someone who works in a career field which has always interested you, but you don’t know every detail? Break down and call that person and ask for an informational interview. Most people love to talk about themselves and their careers. If meeting face-to-face intimidates you, start by networking online. Develop your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Both offer plenty of opportunities to connect with real people via professional groups and chats.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do is teach for 5, 10, or 30 years without considering that someday you might want to transition out of teaching. We’re only human; even if we expect to work in the classroom our whole lives, sometimes a career is only for a season. And that’s okay.

Be smart and teach yourself to prepare for life beyond the classroom. Someday you’ll thank yourself.

If you need assistance finding a new teaching job or transitioning out of teaching, I’m happy to help.

How to improve your soft skills

Whether you just graduated from college—congratulations!—or have accumulated years of work experience, you are just like the rest of us—you can always improve your soft skills. While soft skills are certainly a combination of talent and ability, you can always improve upon the ability portion of the soft skills you possess—that’s the good news.

In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, training expert Bruce Tulgan defines soft skills as “a wide range of non-technical skills ranging from ‘self-awareness’ to ‘people-skills’ to ‘problem-solving’ to ‘teamwork” (8). Tulgan, author and founder/CEO of RainMakerThinking Inc., reminds us that “soft skills are all about the regulation of the self. They must be fully embraced in order to be learned” (Tulgan 29). Tulgan’s book provides a road map for employers and organizations interested in training and developing employees’ soft skills.


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  • Identify which soft skills matter most to you.

Don’t take a shotgun approach to improving soft skills. You can perform a Google search and find countless lists of which soft skills matter most, but what you need to determine is which soft skills matter most to you. How do you determine that?

When you work with a career coach, you’ll be asked multiple questions to help you determine your priorities. Some of these questions might include:

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years in terms of your career?” Understanding your career goals/journey can help you determine which skills you need to add or improve upon.
  • “What feedback have you received during performance reviews and job interviews (or during follow-up conversations with recruiters/hiring managers)?” If you pay attention to feedback about your performance instead of blowing it off, you may pick up clues about which soft skills you lack or need to tweak.
  • “Which soft skills does your company value and emphasize?” If three particular soft skills matter most to your current employer, take note. To succeed at work, earn a salary increase or promotion, or simply feel content with your daily job performance, align your values and mission with your employer’s.
  • Determine where you stand before you begin training/developing your soft skills.

After determining which 3-5 soft skills matter most to you, evaluate yourself in terms of performance/ability of each soft skill. If communication skills matter to you, where do you measure up on a scale of 1-5, 1 being poor performance and 5 being excellent, consistent performance? Are you able to communicate verbally, non-verbally, and in writing clearly, consistently, concisely, comfortably, effectively, and appropriately in almost every situation? If not, this is a soft skill you might want to develop.

How should you evaluate your ability to perform each soft skill? You can do this in a variety of ways. Work with a career coach to use various assessment tools (some tools you must pay to use, and others are free). Search online for free assessment tools; proceed with caution when using free assessment tools because some are more valid than others. As Tulgan mentions in Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, you can informally assess your own soft skills by measuring your soft skills against others’ soft skills. I explain this strategy at length in the video. In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, Tulgan notes the importance of having an “external objective standard against which to measure one’s reflection” (70).

Take stock of where you stand in each of these soft skill areas one way or another—using one assessment tool or another—but be sure you use some external objective standard. Simply put, we can’t fix the stuff in our heads with the stuff in our heads. That doesn’t work well in life, and it won’t work well when assessing and improving soft skills either.

  • Develop an action plan.

Once you determine where you measure up in each of the 3-5 soft skills you’ve selected to work on, develop an action plan. First, check with your employer/organization to determine if they will provide/fund soft skills training or professional development for employees. Many companies and organizations understand the value of soft skills in the workplace and will help employees in this area.

If your company will not fund soft skills development, you may have to pursue soft skills training/development on your own. Reach out to a career coach for assistance. If you can’t afford to pay for soft skills training, check out the array of blog posts and videos available online. You may not make as much progress on your own as you would with the assistance of a coach, but any attempt at development is better than none. And finally, don’t forget to seek the help of a career mentor if you don’t have one already.

  • Assess your soft skills after you’ve completed the training process to determine if more/different training is needed.

After you’ve put your plan into action and worked to improve your soft skills for a period of time, assess your soft skills again, using the same or similar tool(s) you used at the beginning. Where do you stand now?

Assessing yourself after training is important. You need to determine if training worked. If it didn’t, why would you pay for more training? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. If something isn’t working for you, try something new or different. If you assess your soft skills and find that you’ve grown in 2 of the 3 areas, that’s wonderful! Keep up the hard work. “When you combine the necessary hard skills with the right soft skills, the added value is so much more than the sum of its parts” (Tulgan 58).

If you need help identifying, assessing, or improving your soft skills, reach out to me for a free consultation.

Part 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve been interviewed more than once, chances are, you’ve been asked this common interview question every single time: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Trust me; you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will keep asking this common interview question during interviews.

Why? It works. It allows employers to see whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained how to provide great examples of your strengths. Now let’s talk about how to provide examples of your weaknesses. This is often the part job seekers feel more nervous and uncomfortable about during mock interviews and interview prep sessions. A little preparation goes a long way; this article should help you work out the kinks and avoid stumbling over your words and thoughts during your next job interview.


If the video isn’t working properly, click here.

Before I share three primary tips with you for responding to this question, let me share one additional freebie. Do not, for the love of recruiters everywhere, attempt to spin a strength as a weakness. Don’t say something like, “Well, I’m such a perfectionist that it really ends up making it tough for me to stop working sometimes, and that can keep me from moving on to the next project.” No. That is a very 2007 way to respond to this question. I say this because a) I responded to this question in this exact manner in 2007, and b) I advised college students when I worked in career services at that time to respond in that manner. It was okay then. We know better now. So don’t do it.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow when preparing to respond to interviewers about your weaknesses.

  1. Share fewer weaknesses than strengths.

Unless the interviewer specifically asks you to list a certain number of strengths and weaknesses, list fewer weaknesses than strengths. A 3:2 ratio is fine. Don’t be self-deprecating by going on and on about areas of weakness, defects of character, or faults you’ve discovered about yourself. It’s not a sign of great self-awareness. It’s a flaming red flag to employers reading, “Do NOT hire this person.”

  1. Focus on weaknesses you can work on.

List hard skills/technical skills which can be trained or taught. Do not mention soft skills.

Soft skills are, by definition, a combination of talent and ability. If you share that you’re lacking a soft skill, employers start wondering how much you can possibly grow in the talent portion of that soft skill. Even though you can certainly take courses in communication skills, leadership, and problem-solving, employers understand that there will always be that zone of “talent” with every soft skill, and that some candidates will shine and bring more to the table in those areas than others. If public speaking simply isn’t your thing, do not—ever—point that out to an employer during a job interview.

Instead, before your interview think about three hard skills/technical skills in your career field you could share as weaknesses or areas of potential growth/improvement opportunities. Software programs, courses you’d like to take to improve your knowledge in a certain area, and joining professional organizations in order to connect with mentors are all areas of improvement for many of us. We could all do more to become better connected, more knowledgeable, etc.

When you share weaknesses like these, you’re expressing a desire to grow, and you’re admitting that you are not the end-all, be-all SME (subject matter expert). That’s refreshing to employers because no one wants to hire an egomaniac.

  1. Explain your plan for improvement.

Express your desire to take action to improve yourself and to grow. What’s your plan to improve in this areas of weakness? Share it as you wrap up your response to this common interview question.

“I am not the best at editing photos and just haven’t had much experience in previous positions with this task. Even though it’s not a primary task in this position, I’d like to take a course online in PhotoShop to improve my photo editing skills. Then I feel I’d be better suited to help edit photos when needed and be a better contributor to the design team.”

Providing interviewers with your plan for improvement eases their minds. It lets them know that if they hire you, you’ll be a proactive, self-motivated employee. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

Need more help with interview preparation? Reach out to me to schedule a mock interview/interview prep session.

Which employers turn you on?

What does it take for an employer to turn you during your job search? How much time would you spend completing an application for an employer you were already interested in? And how much time would you invest completing an application for an employer you knew very little about? We’re dying to know your job search preferences and what matters most to you in terms of employer branding, benefits, and more.

application-1883453_1280What if you are not searching for a job, and you’re happily employed; should employers still try to recruit you? My colleagues and I want to know what matters most to you. Take this brief survey to help us understand what would make or break the deal for you. After closing the survey at the end of April 2017, we will analyze results. We look forward to writing an e-book and publishing/sharing results.

If you’re contemplating spending your 5-10 minute coffee break perusing Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn instead of taking this survey, let me offer you two incentives. One lucky survey respondent–maybe you–will earn a free resume consultation/revision by yours truly. I’ll help you convert your existing resume into one you’re really proud of and one employers will notice. And 50 respondents will earn a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Click here to complete the survey now!  Thanks for sharing your insights and improving the workplace of today.

 

Who developed this survey?

The WorkPlace Group and Career Coach-Bethany Wallace developed the survey in collaboration with Lyon College and Rutgers University.

Collaborators:

Dr. Steven Lindner, Executive Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Dr. Domniki Demetriadou, Director and Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Bethany Wallace, Adjunct English Faculty, Lyon College, and Owner of Career Coach-Bethany Wallace

Sid Seligman, JD, Human Research Management Faculty, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

Len Garrison, Manager, Career Services, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

 

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