Speak to the Gap

Congratulations! Your cover letter and resume were effective. They did their job. The cover letter got them to look at your resume. Your resume got them to pick up the phone, confirm your interest and qualifications, and you got the interview – the Number Two Holy Grail of the job search process.

And then, there you were, seated (virtually) across from the interviewers and you blew it. Sure, you did your homework. You knew the job description inside out and backwards. You memorized their website. You knew the professional, and some personal, details about the interviewers. You even knew about the person you would be replacing. You had a list of really good questions to ask, not the normal nonsense. And you knew exactly what you needed to tell them to convince them that you were the candidate for the job. And then you blew it.

You forgot one little thing. Well, not so little a thing. You forgot the most important thing of all. You forgot to listen.

Most – no, that may not be fair. Allow me to start again.

Far too many employers talk to much. They are so desperate, literally and figuratively, to fill that empty chair, that they talk too much. They are so frustrated that they have to get the proverbial off their chests. So they talk too much. They tell the candidate, the interviewee, you, what they want to hear. What they need to hear. What they are longing to hear. What they want you (Stop eating!) to regurgitate back to them. And then…you blew it.

What did you do wrong? You were so focused on sharing with them everything that you had learned about them as individuals, and about the company, to prove to them what a great researcher you are and how well you prepare for meetings, that you did not bother to listen. You were waiting for your chance to tell them what you wanted them to hear that you totally missed out on what they wanted to hear.

It happens more often than you think.

I had a career counseling client who came to me, totally frustrated. He was in real estate business development. Sales. And he was good. He was averaging an interview every couple of days. But no offers.

His first mistake was that he was applying for the wrong type of jobs. He was the king of residential sales, but he was only applying for commercial real estate sales positions. Why? Because he wanted new experiences. He wanted new challenges. All very noble, but not what the interviewers, the employers, wanted. They wanted commercial and he only had a little commercial experience.

After they lectured him for five or 10 minutes on their commercial real estate problems, they simply asked, “How can you help us?” And what did he do?

At that point he took a deep breath, smiled, and lectured them for five or 10 minutes on his residential sales experience. They were not interested. Interview over.

What should he have done?

He should have spoken about the commercial real estate experience he had. Even though it was slight, he had some. And here’s another mistake he made: He forgot that they knew that. After all, he had not lied on his resume. They knew he was heavy on residential and light on commercial sales. Yet, there he was, virtually sitting across from them on the Zoom call.

He should have talked commercial and then added, “This is analogous, of course, to my residential sales experience. We had the same problems that you described. This is how I overcame them.”

By presenting, if you will, the painting of his residential sales career in a commercial sales frame, they would have listened. And, after a few mock sessions with me, that’s what he did, with positive results.

Put differently, he spoke to the gap, in fact the gaps (plural): The gap between what the interviewers needed and what he had to offer, and the gap between what he had to offer (great residential sales experience) and what they wanted to hear (commercial).

Just as in the London Tube the signs read, “Mind the Gap,” in an interview you should “Speak to the Gap,” the difference between the interviewers’ needs and what they have, and what you have to offer. Otherwise, you’ll fall in the crack! Granted, it’s a less deadly gap, but still, you don’t want to trap yourself.


Conducting an Agile Job Search

First, I must give credit where credit is due: I am stealing from Mark Shead’s excellent (Well, let’s be honest. I’m not an IT guy so I really don’t know if it’s “excellent,” but it was great for my purposes!) video, What is Agile?.

Agile, if I understand it correctly, is a framework for software development. Anyone who would be interested in hiring me to develop software for them, to oversee the development of software for them, or to test software that has been developed for them, should seek psychiatric attention. I make that clear from the beginning so that you will understand that what I write about Agile is as basic, fundamental and simple as possible.

When I was first introduced to Agile, I thought the person was talking about flexibility. Given that one component of the approach is the willingness to change, I may not have been entirely wrong. After all, they must have called it “Agile” and not “Inflexible” for a reason.

There are similarities between Agile software development and a job search:

  • There are some things you have to do quickly. In our case, the cover letter and resume. Get them out of the way. They are tools, albeit important tools, but only tools. The real work should be in networking, securing informational meetings, and honing interviewing skills.
  • You have to revisit what you have done to make sure it is working properly. If you are not getting networking and informational meetings, and if they are not productive, something has to change. If you are not getting interviews, redo your cover letter and/or resume. If you are not getting job offers, your interview skills need work.
  • And you have to keep focused on the end result. In our case, getting the interview and, ultimately, the job offer. That’s the test, the only test, of success. Yes, securing networking and informational meetings are important, but they are small successes on the road to the main success.

Consider this article the presentation of another way to look at conducting a job search, this time with somewhat of a scientific basis, but really a moralistic one.

Agile tells software developers to focus on, or stay true to, a set of values and principles, if you will, beliefs, they have decided upon at the outset of their work that they must follow. It also means that they have to be flexible, and change their plan if circumstances change. In a sentence, it’s not about what they are doing, but why they are doing it. (Perhaps some nice IT guys and gals would be so kind as to explain, in the Comments section, what values, principles and beliefs are when it comes to software development. A few examples would help. Thank you and have a nice day.)

No, I do not mean why you are applying for a job. It could be for any number of reasons. I mean why you are applying for a particular job. And that brings us back to values, principles and beliefs. They should inform your decision not just about where you want to work but, more importantly, for whom you want to work.

At the beginning of your job search you should decide on the type of boss you want to have. Most people search for the company. I have come to believe that that may be a mistake. After all, the Number One reason people quit their job is because of their boss, not their company. Look for the right boss, the person for whom you would want to work. The person from whom you believe you can learn. The person who you believe shares your values, principles and beliefs. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’ll be working for a company where you would want to work.

So how do you find your next boss? Look around on LinkedIn, reading articles and posts written on topics of importance to you. See whose writing resonates with you. For that matter, see whose “likes” resonate with you and their comments on articles and updates. Read articles from professional journals and on websites. But don’t just concentrate on the authors. Pay close attention to whom they quote; those may be the people for whom you really want to work.

After all, if you are interested in software development, would you rather work for me or Mark Shead?

Two Keys to Getting the Job Offer

Let’s look at the job search in a totally different way. Instead of being nice, and convincing the prospective employer that you are the person with whom they would most like to spend eight hours a day, convince them that you are someone with whom they cannot afford not to spend eight hours a day (despite the double negative).

Now, just because there may be some fool out there in Readerland who does not understand sarcasm, exaggeration, or being figurative, I neither endorse blackmailing prospective employers, threatening them, nor being anything other than nice. Now that we have gotten the foolishness out of the way, let’s get back to our subject.

Every day I receive a resume that begins, front and center, with a paragraph fool (Sorry. Freudian slip) full of adjectives and self-praise. The individual is a “consummate professional.” They are “well-respected.” And, of course, they are “accomplished.” But nowhere in the paragraph do they actually enumerate any of their accomplishments. A candidate can claim to have worked on a multi-million dollar project, but it could have been a complete and total disaster – because of them! So it is a misleading statement. Being misleading on your resume, will paint you in a corner, when you are interviewing, from which you will never to able to escape. Don’t mislead! Don’t misrepresent! Don’t Mississippi! (I needed three “mis”es for the alliteration but could not think of a third one. Sorry.)

Problem is, and please remember this, there is not an employer in the world who cares what you think of yourself; they only care about what you can do for them. Take a few minutes and reread the part in italics a few times until it sinks in. Excuse me while I go get something to drink.

That was refreshing!

So now that we have eliminated the paragraph that your mother wrote for you, or you a paid a “professional” resume writer to write for you (and, yes, I have received resumes with exactly the same adjectives and in the exact same format, from different candidates, all of whom paid a fortune for that nonsense!), let’s get to the fun part: threatening and blackmailing.

If you begin your resume with a bullet point list of your quantifiable, objective accomplishments, the employer (or their representative) will say, “I have to meet this person.” Remember, the purpose of a resume is to get an interview, not to get the job. So you need to be nice in the interview, not in the resume. In the resume, you have to brag and get to the point. You don’t have time to charm. The resume reader is tired. They will make mistakes. They will miss things. (Yes, me too!) So don’t make them work. As journalists say, “Don’t bury the lead.” Get to the point!

Front and center announce, without shame, what you have done for others. By so doing, you lower the employer’s level of concern. You appear to be someone who can do the job because you have shown that you have done it for others. And therein lies the subliminal blackmail and threat.

When the employer is finished reading your resume you want them to think, “If they don’t work for me, they’ll work for my competitor, and, unless they turn out to be a jerk, I don’t want that. So let’s bring them in QUICKLY!”

And there’s the blackmail. There’s the threat. If I don’t work for you, I’ll work for your competitor. Or, if you prefer,if I don’t work for you, I’ll work against you! Or, if you don’t hire me, your competitor will!

The only way to achieve that result is by focusing on objective, quantifiable accomplishments, not adjectives and self-praise.

Oh, and remember, be nice in the interview. No one hires someone with whom they would not want to spend eight hours a day.



Thursday, January 28, 2021 – Noon (EST)

Far too many managers either do not conduct regular employee performance evaluations or conduct them poorly. Either way, they risk putting themselves and their employers in danger of litigation. This, in turn, can lead to employment-related insurance claims if the employee feels their evaluation was excessively negative, unfairly low, or otherwise inaccurate, resulting in an evaluation which does not reflect the employee’s actual level of performance. Legal and insurance issues aside, poor evaluation processes can result in employee turnover, and lost opportunities for employee and corporate growth.

During this one-hour webinar, participants will learn tips to minimize the risk of being sued by disgruntled employees; the advantages of having employment practices liability insurance; and how to make the employee evaluation process beneficial for all concerned.

For information on the panelists and to register visit:


In a Job Interview EI Trumps IQ

It’s maturity over intelligence. Or, maybe, it’s maturity over knowledge.

Candidate A appears for a job interview for a programmer, an IT software developer. She’s given a puzzle to solve. (Puzzle may be the wrong word, but let’s not quibble.) The interviewers asks her to write on the board (In these politically correct times, I don’t know if I can say whiteboard or blackboard, so I’ll just leave it at “board!”) three three-letter words. Then they ask her to write a program that will automatically rearrange the words in every possible configuration. In other words, A, B, C; B, C, A; C, B, A; etc.

The woman then proceeds to write a program that does not rearrange the words into every possible configuration, but the letters in each word.

They politely thank her and point out her error. She apologizes. She explains that she is nervous. One of her weaknesses is public speaking. An interview is public speaking and she is rather uncomfortable. She says that in order to overcome this deficiency, she has joined Toastmasters. She then offers to write the proper formula.

They tell her it is not necessary and ask her to wait in the Reception area. (For the record, the program she wrote was correct, simple, clean and neat, so they knew she could do the job. She had the hard skills.)

The second candidate enters. After the normal pleasantries, the interviewers give him the same challenge. He makes the same mistake as the previous candidate. Just as before, they point out the error. But his reaction is different. He says:

Of course, you are correct. I did make a mistake. But let’s think about it for a minute. Did I really make a mistake? In a matter of only a few seconds, less than a minute, I wrote for you a clean, neat, simple beautiful program that achieved what you wanted in principle, only it was more complicated. It’s more complicated to rearrange the letters in three words than three words. All I have to do is to make a change here, here and here, and you have the correct answer to your assignment. Since I can accomplish the more complicated, you know I can accomplish the simple one.

They thank him and tell him that they will be in touch.

Now why did the guy get the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” response, while the gal got called back into the room and offered the job?

She had what he lacked: Emotional Intelligence. It is sometimes referred to as the Emotional Quotient. It’s also known as soft skills. I simply call it “maturity.” The guy is always right, even when he is wrong. The gal knew she was wrong, was self-aware (an important component of EI) about her personal weakness, admitted it and explained what she was doing to improve. The guy did not have a clue.

He will not be, and probably never will be, a team player. He is not self-aware. He probably went home certain that a job offer would be awaiting him in his Inbox. One of the worse colleagues I ever had was a fellow who thought he was always right. He would never admit to making a mistake. I don’t remember his name, but years ago I looked him up on LinkedIn. I was not surprised to see that he was employed at all of his various jobs for only a matter of months. I was also not surprised to see that he listed all those jobs on a public website. And I will guarantee that in a job interview it was always someone else’s fault that he did not last long. After all, when a perfect person is fired it cannot possibly be their fault! (What I don’t understand is why anyone hired the guy after the first few disasters!)

Now our gal friend, she’s a team player. She is someone who is willing to learn. She’ll admit to her errors and stay late to correct them. Metaphorically speaking, she’s the person you want beside you in the foxhole.

Even if the guy was more technically skilled than the gal, you should always go with the candidate with the high EI. It will make your life a lot easier and your work a lot better.

Applying for Jobs for Which You are Unqualified

I recently read Jill Lepore’s book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future. It provided much food for thought (and a few ideas for articles!).

Years ago I attended a seminar. I don’t remember the subject but I remember how the presenter began. He asked everyone who was in “Sales” to raise their hand. Then he asked everyone to lower their hands and for those who had not raised their hand to stand up.

Personally, I do not appreciate speakers who embarrass their audience. In any event, he said to the people who were standing, “You don’t understand your companies. You don’t understand your role. You don’t understand business. Everyone is in Sales.”

Of course, he was right; everyone is in Sales. He was just wrong in the way he went about making his point. You might not actually sell the product or service offered by your company, but you do impact Customer Service. And if you do not do your job well, the customer, or client, will seek another provider. That is why we are all in Sales.

Which brings me to Lepore’s book. In it she notes that between 1950 and 1955, due to the manufacturing sector, the advertising industry grew from $6 billion to $9 billion. She quoted one manufacturer as saying, “We don’t sell lipstick. We buy customers.”

The same is true for job seekers. They don’t just have to have the attitude and perspective that they are selling themselves, as I have written multiple times previously, but also that they are buying employers, which I am now writing about for the first time.

Many career counseling clients come to me, frustrated, because they are not getting the interviews they want, meaning interviews for their dream jobs. When we review the job descriptions for those dream jobs for which they applied, it becomes clear that they are unqualified for the positions. They may want the jobs, they may honestly believe they can excel at the jobs, but the employers do not want them! If you will, they have not “bought” the employer, they have only sent them Spam, slid a flyer under their door, or mailed them an advertisement postcard!

How do companies buy us? How do they buy you? Why do you purchase their products or services and not those of their competitors’?

Employers, in our present example, do not want you. They don’t consider you qualified. You are not the soap that, as far as they are concerned, is going to clean their hands. So they go with the brand they trust. And why do they trust it? Because on some level – an impactful commercial or ad, a referral from a trusted source – they have established a personal relationship with the brand, product or company. They think they know them. They are comfortable buying them. And, ironically, because you are comfortable buying what they are selling, they have bought you!

When you apply for a job for which you are unqualified, the employer does not know you, trust you or like you. In fact, they are probably asking themselves, “Can’t this idiot read English? The job description clearly states that candidates must have X, and they don’t. And what’s this rubbish in their cover letter about ‘transferrable skills?’ I don’t want “transferrable” skills, I want actual skills!”

And, it’s true. You don’t have what they want. But you have the potential. Problem is, they don’t know that. You are trying to sell yourself when you should be trying to buy them, the employer.

There are three ways. The first is to do what we are doing right now. (I’m writing; you’re reading.) Write on LinkedIn. Don’t be political; be professional. Let potential employers learn about how you think and how well you know your business/industry/profession. Let them see how good you right and prufreed. (Beware: While politics will always be catastrophic, humor can sometimes be dangerous! Test question: Name the 3 errors. The first to respond in the Comment section below wins absolutely nothing! Void where prohibited.) Share your articles in the relevant groups. But not just on LinkedIn, also on Facebook. And share a link to the articles on all your social media platforms. (That is what I do and how I have now built a social media following of 45,000 people!) That way, you will not be “the best kept secret in town.” Employers will know about you and they will run after you, which is much better than the alternative, you running after them!

Second, network. Attend networking meetings. Meet new people. Have “one-on-one”s with them so you can get to know each other. In other words, build a relationship with them. Maybe they will hire you, or, maybe, and this is the third way to buy an employer, they will recommend you to an employer who is looking to fill a position. Put differently, they will become your ad agency.

Through writings, meetings, and recommendations, employers will not care that you have not done everything that they require per the job description, they will care about your potential. And that is the key word for being considered for a job for which you are technically unqualified. By being able to have your potential considered, you change the conversation from what you have done (the safe conversation) to what you can do (the unsafe conversation because it takes the employer outside their comfort zone and necessitates their having to defend to staff why they are even talking to you). Then you will buy the employer, just as the ad agency has bought you for the soap manufacturer.

Procrastination in a Job Interview

A number of years ago a man came to me for interview guidance. We knew his cover letter and resume were fine because he was averaging two interviews a week. But hard as he tried, he could not close the deal. He received no job offers.

My rules are simple: If you are not getting interviews the problem is either with your cover letter, resume or both. And you will never know which. No one is going to call and tell you why they are not calling you! If however, you are getting interviews, but no offers, then the problem is clearly with your interviewing skills. (For those of you who prefer, The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves…)

Some people will rightly point out that people are rejected not because they do not interview well but for any of a dozen perfectly legitimate reasons. But two interviews a week and no offers? Sorry, it’s your interviewing.

Another gentleman had come to me after getting his first interview. He had been laid off after 20 years with the same company. He was perplexed. After all, he had not been interviewed for two decades! But his daughter had. A year earlier she had graduated. In preparation for her job search, she had purchased a number of books. He took them and made a list of all the questions that the “experts” said he could be asked. When he came to my office he had a list of 75 questions, or maybe it was 100! In any event, he had written down answers to each and every one. But at the actual interview, not a single one of the “experts’ ” questions was asked.

The truth of the matter is, the only questions a candidate knows for certain they are going to be asked are those directly related to the job description. Yes, there will be surprise questions. But by their very nature, you can’t know in advance what they will be – that’s why they are surprise questions.

Nevertheless, there are some standard questions that can be anticipated. When the first person I referenced came to me, we sat for two hours doing mock interviews based on the job descriptions he had brought with him. They were all for jobs for which he had interviewed.

He confirmed that the questions I was asking were, in fact, the questions he had been asked. I could find nothing wrong with his answers. The man was professional, articulate, knowledgeable and engaging. It made no sense to me why he was not getting any offers.

So, frustrated, I said, “Let’s go through the standards!”

The first question I asked was, “What is your greatest weakness?” He smiled and said he was always asked that one.

His answer: “I procrastinate.”

I asked him if he said anything else. He said, “Nope, just that I procrastinate.”

“And why,” I asked, “do you think someone would make you a job offer if you announce that you are a procrastinator, period, end of sentence, end of interview?”

I then asked him what he did about his procrastination. He said, “It’s silly.” I told him I did not care. He explained that he likes Snickers bars and whenever he finishes a project early he buys one.

I explained two things to him: First, you never end an answer on a negative note. You can’t get much more negative than admitting you are a procrastinator. Second, it is not what you say that counts, it’s what the interviewers hear. In this case, it was what they did not hear. They did not hear that he had a solution to the problem. And, no, it was not silly. It was effective. It worked. Not silly; good!

Next interview, when he was asked about weaknesses, he again said he was a procrastinator but, he added, that in order to overcome his procrastination he buys himself a Snickers bar whenever he finishes a project early. And, given that he was not overweight, he added, as we had discussed, that he now finishes all of his projects either early or on time, on or under budget, and exercises to “pay” for the Snickers bars.

That was the last time he called me. He got the offer and accepted it. He credited my advice. Now I am not opposed to accepting a compliment or credit but, as I told him, there can be a hundred reasons why a person does not get the offer, and a similar number as to why they do get the offer. But if you leave your interviewers believing that you know you have a problem but don’t do anything about it, that will be the reason why you do not get the offer.

Now go have a Snickers bar!

Teach Your Children to be Good Employees

The inspiration for this article was my reading a few articles about all the problems parents are having with homeschooling. I have no children, but I can sympathize, and maybe, if you permit me, empathize.

Based on my experience helping friends’ young children, and having to work with so-called adults who never grew up, I look at COVID as an opportunity for children to learn the skills necessary for employment success. Five examples should suffice.

Separation of Home and Work

My biggest complaint when I worked for other people was that colleagues would bring their personal lives (read: problems/complaints) into the workplace. I absolutely hated it. Twice, for different employers, it got so bad that I asked permission to put a stop to it, if they, the bosses, couldn’t or wouldn’t. Both bosses told me it was impossible but I had their permission.

Since I know that many of you won’t like this, I will begin with the end. In both cases productivity rose. The atmosphere in the office also improved. It turns out (no surprise and pardon the sarcasm) that while some people like to complain about their spouses, children, and/or parents, few people like to hear about it. So when everyone stopped, everyone benefited. The environment was no longer one of complaint.

In the first case a young woman came to the office and announced that she was engaged. She produced the engagement ring. I looked at the boss. He nodded and in the next 15 minutes I had heard in tears. I was brutal. I peppered her with questions, none of which she could answer. She went to the Ladies Room, washed her face, and left for the day. I was universally (except for the boss) condemned. I made it clear that if you bring your personal life into the workplace, it is a fair topic of discussion. If you don’t want to defend your behavior, don’t talk about it! The next morning the woman returned. She no longer had a ring. She was no longer engaged. And to everyone’s shock, including my own, she not only thanked me but gave me a hug and kiss. (And, no, I did not complain to HR about inappropriate touching!)

The second time, again, with a different employer, was a woman who was constantly complaining about a vacation her husband was planning. I suggested she talk to him about it. She refused. After weeks of having to listen to her whine, the phone rang. We did not have Caller ID. I picked up the phone. It was her husband. We had an open-space office. Everyone heard me. I introduced myself and told him what his wife had been saying. I suggested that he either cancel the vacation or, if he really want to go, he should not bring her because she would probably spoil it for him. He then asked to speak to her. I put him on hold. My colleagues, including his wife, we staring at me in disbelief. She picked up the phone and spoke to him for no more than a few seconds. With the exception of the boss, no one spoke to me for the remainder of the day. The next day the woman came in to the office and was immediately asked what happened. She announced that she would not be accompanying her husband on the trip, the he had made it quite clear that he never wanted to find out that she was discussing their personal life at work, and she should thank me for what I had done. She did. And everyone else also learned the lesson.

Which brings me to homeschooling and the first lesson that children need to learn. Work is work. Home is home. And never the twain shall meet. But how to separate them when they are literally the same place?

Doors. Parents and children should be working in separate rooms. If each child has a bedroom, problem solved. If children share a bedroom, that’s not great, but they will at least learn how to share an office before they actually have to when they are employed. And if they don’t get along, the parents can show them how good bosses deal with inter-employee disputes.

The parents also need to have offices. It can be a bedroom or any room but the kitchen. Why? Because that is a common space and even if you are diligently working you still have the right to get something to drink.

Everyone works on a schedule. You are all “in the office” from nine to five. Children see and hear parents working diligently. No television. No radio. Everyone takes a lunch break together. And if someone is having a problem, just as you would do in the office, you raise it. Let the children feel that they are part of their parents’ work, just as, later in the day, the parents will be part of their children’s work. Which brings me to my next topic.


Now that the work ethic has been established, something practical has to be accomplished. Children may complain at lunchtime that their work is too hard and they need help (our next topic). Totally legitimate. Nothing wrong with that. But mommy and daddy have their own work to do. So they will have to wait until 5:00 when mommy and daddy “get home.”

In the meantime, here is the opportunity to teach them how to multitask. Now I know what you are going to say: “Bruce, you should know better. Human beings cannot multitask. It is impossible. We cannot do two things at once unless they are very simple. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we cannot make a business presentation and recited the alphabet backwards, in our minds, at the same time.” And you are, of course, correct. But “multitask” really mean “prioritize” and that is something children need to learn so that they are prepared to successfully complete multiple assignments when they enter the higher grades and, of course, the workforce.

Many decades ago, I don’t remember how or why, friends asked me to take care of their six-year-old daughter for a couple of days. We were friends. I had known her since she was an infant. It was not a problem. She stayed at my place (I don’t remember why). I would pick her up at school, and we would go to my apartment. The instructions from her parents were that, when we got home, she could have a snack, do her homework, eat dinner, finish her homework and only then could she watch television or we could play a game.

The first day she was a bit upset. She had what she considered to be an unfair amount of homework. We discussed it during our snack. I suggested that she first do the easy assignments and then, after dinner, we would work on the more difficult task (there was only one). I explained to her the logic: If you finish a lot of easy things, it will build up your confidence. Then, after dinner, with a full stomach, we could, together, tackle the harder work.

She agreed. Once she finished the easy tasks, we made dinner. While preparing whatever we were going to have to eat, we discussed the remaining assignment.

When we sat down to eat, we discussed what we would do after we finished her work. We did not discuss the assignment. Dinner is for digestion not dissertations. That gave her something to which to look forward. We ate. We did the dishes. We looked at the project. And then she learned the next lesson:

Asking for Help

I read the assignment and did not understand a thing. Neither did she. The problem made no sense to me. Here I am, an already published graduate student and I can’t figure out a first-grader’s homework. So I explained to her that asking for help was not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. I also explained that it was important to know good people who knew things that you didn’t. In other words, I taught her about team building and networking.

I remember that the assignment had something to do with geology. I had a friend who was majoring in rocks! (He hated it when I said that…) So I called him up. When he stopped laughing, I read him the assignment. He said, “You are reading it wrong. That makes no sense.” So I put my guest on the phone and she read it to him. Fifteen minutes later he was knocking on my door.

He sat down, read it, and announced that there was a typographical error. He corrected it and then she was able to complete the assignment. We thanked him. (He got a hug from her and a cookie from me.)

The next day I got a hug and a kiss when I picked her up at school. She was the only student in her class who had completed the assignment. She explained to her teacher what had happened. The teacher was impressed at the life lessons she had been taught.

Finding Something to Do

Of course, not all assignments are difficult. Sometimes we complete our To-Do list early. Then what? Many employers who hire me to find staff for them say that they do not want someone who sits around playing games on their phones when they have finished their work. They want people who take the initiative and find something to do .

In some ways, this may be the most important lesson children can learn. They have finished their school work. It’s not 5:00 yet. So what should they do? Two things: Either read the next chapter of their text book to prepare for the next day or, if that’s not possible, ask their parents what they can do to help. Set the table for dinner? Do some dusting? Wash the car? Clean the gutters? (OK, maybe not that one.) Or, ask their siblings or parents if they can help them complete their work.


And if they do that, they should get a figurative pat on the back. But constant praise may be a problem. In today’s workplace, where you can’t even pay someone an innocent compliment (“That’s a nice dress you are wearing,” is a definite no-no in these idiotic times of political correctness), they have to know that people just don’t say “Thank you” any more. Who knows? Someone may go running to HR to complain that a colleague said “Well done” to them. There is a process for everything. There shouldn’t be, but in many places (bad places) there is. And since it is the good boss that recognizes his or her (I can just see the Political Correctness Police coming after me!) employees. teach your children by example. Take this advice with a grain of salt. In fact, ignore it. Offer constant praise. It’s the right thing to do. After all, you are not their colleagues, working with moronic HR policies, you are their parents working at home with entirely different (no doubt, according to your children, moronic) policies! Praise them so they understand the importance of recognition and being acknowledged. One day, their employees may thank you!