It’s Never Too Early

Getting prepared for college is a natural progression when you are in high school, but what about middle school?  I get the question all the time, “When is a good time to start preparing for college?”  My answer is always, “Right now.”

As a school principal, my kindergarten teachers were already starting the kids on career exploration.  Every year when the fire engine came and the crew would talk to the children about the role of the fireman and allow them to explore the truck, they planted the seeds of career awareness.  When Victoria’s dad would come and present a cooking demonstration to the 4th grade class as a chef from the Culinary Institute, he planted the seeds of career awareness.  And when Junior Achievement came and presented to the sixth grade students about banking, finance and investments, they planted the seeds of career awareness.

The timeline of preparing for college actually begins long before most people are ever aware of the impact.  It is only when the senior year is staring them square in the face and the realization of making a decision is looming that they bring it forward in their conscious thought processes.  But by then, many opportunities have already slipped by them.  Grades may not be high enough, perhaps the rigor of the courses wasn’t as strong as it could have been, or the involvement in community service was minimal in comparison to the other students submitting the same applications. Middle school does count!  For some students, their grades at the end of 8th grade establish their eligibility to play 1st semester in high school.  The level of courses you take in 8th grade will create a pattern for your next four years.  Are they challenging enough for you to match the goals you have when you think about universities and career paths?

The earlier you bring the awareness into conscious thought, the better.  It is not that you have to wake up each day as a middle school student and say, “What am I doing for college today?”   Rather, family dinner conversations can take on some career oriented topics.  The employment rate that got posted today, a class at school that is a favorite and why, a family trip that is coming up and all of the occupations that you will encounter on that excursion are excellent family dinner topics.  The more exposure to career options and exploration a child can have in formative years, the more prepared they will be to make decisions about their own career path.  The more discussions you have as a family about the importance of setting goals and challenging one’s self, the better.

It’s never too early to start planting the seeds and cultivating a remarkable harvest, that career path that provides a lifetime of joy, satisfaction and reward.

Exploring Career Tracks

So frequently when I do presentations for schools or organizations, I get asked, “When should we start thinking about careers?”  My answer is always, “The sooner the better.”  You see, it’s not that you have to decide what you want to do “when you grow up” but rather you need to explore the possibilities and experience the things you want to learn more about or discover things you really hope you never have to do again in your life!  How can you use your natural abilities, passions, interests and skills now to set yourself up for success?

One of my messages is get out there and get those internship/externship experiences.  Click here to check out just one example of some terrific high school students getting great experiences through a wonderful program.  These guys are going to be prepared for college admissions, to declare a major and to make dreams happen!  There is an old saying, ” There are three kinds of people, those who watch what happens, those who make things happen, and those who wonder what happened.”  Which one are you?

If you are a high school student, what have you done to explore your possibilities?  Need help?      Contact me.

Professional Development and College Students

I had lunch recently with a dear friend to catch up on life, kids and work.  As we finished and opened our fortune cookies, she read hers, smiled and handed it to me saying I could use it.   The fortune read, “Doing what you like is freedom.  Liking what you do is happiness.”  She so hit the target for this week’s message to college students and the message I try to convey to everyone I work with from middle school to retirement.  Life is way too short to not enjoy what you do as your life’s work.

Just as I said last week that professional development applies to high school students, it also applies to college students.  We as adults have just been trained to believe it only applies after you get into a profession.  However, all of the arrows for job acquisition today point to preparation and positioning.  That includes anything you can do to professionally prepare or develop yourself.  You cannot afford to wait and let someone else do it or provide it for you.  What have you done to take responsibility for your own development aside from getting admitted to college and declaring a major area of study?

What does your Internship opportunity look like?  Is it part of your degree program?   Are you required to adhere to the planned Internship or can you create your own and get it approved through your advising committee?  Remember, you don’t have to wait for the Internship as provided through a program.   You can take action!

Take action by investigating businesses or firms in your area that could offer opportunities for you to learn more about an industry of interest to you.  Contact the Human Resources department and inquire about job shadowing.  Get your foot in the door!  If you like the experience, establish a relationship with your contact and work toward developing an internship experience that is unpaid if a part time position is not available.  The point is to gain experience and learn the kinds of work and environments that you find satisfying, stimulating and enjoyable.  Life is way too short not to be happy doing what you enjoy!

Internships also have the capacity to create interest in you by the company and especially if you developed the experience!   You will appear eager, engaged and willing to put in the effort to learn and further your own development as well as that of the company.  The greatest percentage of students hired as they graduated from colleges recently were hired through Internship experiences.  Knowing that, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive and start investing in your own Professional Development?

Investing Time is Elementary

If you’ve been in an elementary classroom in the last twenty years because you are that young, you have children or are an educator, you might have heard a teacher say, ”Ask three before me.”  They are encouraging the students to ask their peers their questions before asking the teacher.  It serves multiple purposes.  Research has proven that peer instruction is highly effective.  It also provides the teacher more time for uninterrupted small group instruction.  Now you are probably asking yourself, why are we talking about elementary classroom instruction?  Because the concept of “Asking Three” is a great way to learn more about a career path.

We hear a lot about the financial investment of college or technical programs, but we don’t hear a lot about the investment of time.  Internships provide time and experience in learning about a profession, but you can improve on that process by asking questions up front and long before an internship might be available.

Try this as a rule of thumb….Ask Three.  Identify three individuals who are currently working in a field that you have interest.  Contact them and ask if you can have a 15 minute interview with them as part of your career exploration.   People in general like to talk about their work, so start with these questions and see where they lead:

  • Why did you choose this profession?
  • What do you like best about your work?
  • What do you like least?
  • What would you change?
  • What is it about you that makes you good at your work?

Investing some time up front helps to narrow the path and increase your own satisfaction in the process.   It’s elementary, but it works!  Need more help in identifying the path?  Call me or write to

Get Started on Your Summer Plan

When I talk with people about their plans for their future, I get the range of reactions from “deer in the headlights” to totally engaged and “I know where I want to go.”  But it is no surprise.  We are all wired with different “Time Frame Orientations,” as identified through the Highlands Ability Battery. Some people are naturally better at completion of tasks within a 6 month time frame while others are naturally better with longer time frames of a year to five years.  Either way, for college and high school students who are thinking about summer employment or participation with organizations, the clock is ticking and it is time for a plan.  You know I am all about “The Plan.”

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will focus on high school and college students and the considerations, time frames and helpful hints for summer employment/opportunities.  With a job market as tight as currently exists, you need to have a plan and be ahead of the competition.  Today, we start mapping the plan.

Whether your summer begins May 1st, June 1st or June 20th given extended calendars for weather make-up days, the landslide of summer workers/participants will hit in full force.  You need to be prepared to submit applications and do interviews before everyone else.  So work backwards.  Identify your target date for starting work and work backward with your plan.  You will need time for interviews, phone calls, application completion, Internet or local searches and networking.  That means you start now!

There are some terrific web tools for identifying summer employers as well as tips for effective interviews.  Here are just a few:                Great for searching College Internship Opportunities                     Opportunities for students 16-21 years          Interactive map of opportunities across the country                       Getting and making the most of your job

The important thing about starting now is you begin looking at the opportunities.  And opportunities do not apply only to work.  Opportunities may refer to athletic team participation,  experiences or internships.  What would you like to do?  Are there jobs/opportunities you are particularly interested in doing and things you just would not consider?  What transportation barriers exist or what options are available if a good opportunity presents itself?  How many hours a day will you be available to work/play/volunteer?  Is summer class part of the equation when figuring schedules for work?  Different employers will embrace your availability as a summer worker and as a student working to get ahead.  Others may find value in your performance and embrace the opportunity that you may be available for the next few seasons.  The here and now impacts tomorrow!

By starting your search now, you have some time to explore options and activate a network.  Yes, activate your network!  Just like business people network to expand and strengthen their own client base, students can network to find great summer opportunities through parents, relatives and family friends.  Now is the time to get started!   Define the plan!