Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Improve Self-Esteem Skills & Self-Management: Job Skills Part 5

Learning how to identify and improve your beliefs, handle setbacks, and show responsibility are Foundation Skills for the 21st Century.  In Part 5 of this 6 part Improving Job Skills series, we look at personal qualities, like self-esteem, self-management and responsibility.  We'll recommend ways to strengthen yours. First, visit the Career Key website article on Foundation Skills for a quick overview and free download of the 17 Foundation Skills.

Foundation skills related to Personal Qualities:


  • Understand how beliefs affect how a person feels and acts;
  • "Listen" to and identify irrational or harmful beliefs you may have;
  • Understand how to change these negative beliefs when they occur.


  • Assess your knowledge and skills accurately;
  • Set specific, realistic goals;
  • Monitor progress toward your goal.
Practice self-management skills by using the ACIP decision making process at the Career Key website to choose or change careers - or use it for any important life decision you are facing.


  • Work hard to reach goals, even if task is unpleasant;
  • Do quality work;
  • Display high standard of attendance, honesty, energy, and optimism.
This may seem obvious, but we all have encountered people in school or at work who show a lack of responsibility.  Think critically about your own work or efforts - do you care about what you do? How you treat others? Are there personal standards you could improve?  Everybody wants others to think they are responsible, but the real person who's important in this is you.

Recommended Activities
Because there is so much to say about self-esteem skills, I'm primarily focusing these recommended activities on that job skill in this blog post.

Self-Esteem Skills
Low self-esteem can have several negative impacts - you are less likely to choose an occupation that fits your abilities and your work-performance will suffer.  Low self-esteem also affects your relationships with others and your health.

Your beliefs control how you feel.  As William Shakespeare said, "There is nothing either good or bad by thinking makes it so."  This simple but powerful idea explains why your self-esteem is positive or negative. So understanding your beliefs and being able to change them is critical to improving your self-esteem skills, enabling you to handle the inevitable setbacks and difficulties of working.

  • Think of a time when you have had a setback or disappointment at work or in school. Apply this A-B-C approach to it:
    • A: What was the Activating event? What started the experience?
    • B: What Beliefs did you have about it?
    • C: What were the Consequences of your belief about what happened? How did you feel about it?
    • Example: Sam, a second-year social studies teacher, is trying a new way to teach students about the U.S. Constitution. When he tries it out, the students find it confusing and frustrating.  Instead of thinking, "Why can't I do things right? Why didn't I see this wasn't going to work? What a waste of time!," Sam thinks, "I'm disappointed, but I will learn from this and try something different next time."
      • A: Sam tried a new learning activity that confused and frustrated his students.
      • B: He believed, "It will go better next time. It's not the end of the world."
      • C: He felt disappointed but was willing to try something different another time.
  • Think of a setback or disappointment that you feel you did not handle well (It may be the same one you chose above).  Learn and practice these skills:
    • Understand how your beliefs affected how you felt and acted. 
    • Listen to what you said about yourself to identify irrational or harmful beliefs you may have.
    • Understand how to avoid these negative beliefs and substitute positive ones.
    • Keep a "Thought Log" by writing 3 columns on a piece of paper: A: Activating Event, B: Beliefs, C: Consequences: Feelings and Behavior. The next time you have an emotional event or encounter a disappointment, evaluate what happened using this Thought Log.
Learn to look for and avoid these common irrational and harmful beliefs that cause low self-esteem:
  1. I am a bad, unloveable person if someone rejects me.
  2. I am a bad or worthless person when I act weakly or stupidly.
  3. I must be approved or accepted by people I find important!
  4. I can't stand really bad things or very difficult people.
  5. I must do well in everything I do or it is terrible.
(from A. Ellis, 1992, in L.K. Jones, Encyclopedia of Career Change and Work Issues, pp. 242-246, The Oryx Press.)

You may also find this article on "catastrophizing" helpful.

Bottom Line: Having positive, realistic beliefs about life is the key to success. By believing in yourself and your ability to improve, learning from your mistakes and "bouncing back" from disappointment you show self-esteem skills. You will be successful.

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Getting Started with Job Skills: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic
Part 2: Improving (Not So) Basic Skills
Part 3: Thinking Skills
Part 4: People Skills

Next week - the final wrap up with "Identifying Your Motivated Skills: Skills You Enjoy Using the Most."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People Skills: Improving Job Skills Series Part 4

People skills are required in all 21st Century jobs - a big part of the Foundation Job Skills. Whether you work from home, in an office, or out in the field, you come into contact with all kinds of people: customers, co-workers, and supervisors.  Many people you work with look different from you, have different life experiences, and different education levels. You'll need to work with them to help your team, your employer, and your customers be successful. Free agents, people who have marketable skills, master and excel at people skills.

This blog post will help you get started with improving these skills. If you haven't already, start with Part 1 in this improving job skills series: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic and Get Started.  Below, I'll describe the different people skills and then suggest activities to improve each.

There are 5 types of people skills:

  • Social skills, 
  • Negotiation skills, 
  • Leadership skills, 
  • Teamwork skills, and 
  • Skills handling cultural diversity.
To see descriptions of these skills, visit the People Skills section of the Foundation Skills article on the Career Key website, or download the Foundation Job Skills handout

Below are activities to improve your people skills that you can tailor to your career interests.  

Social Skills

  • Teaching requires well-developed social skills. Teachers must challenge students to think critically and express themselves.  At the same time, they must be sensitive to students' needs and encourage them.  Find a topic interesting to you and an opportunity to teach others.  Friends, family, community organizations, business networking groups all offer these opportunities.
  • Choose a volunteer activity that requires you to work with a child or adult who needs help. This will require you to show understanding, friendliness and respect for the feelings of others. You'll also need to take interest in what people say and do and why they think and act as they do.  It may be visiting a church member in the hospital, a Boys and Girls club mentorship opportunity, or an outreach activity with a local service organization like the YMCALions or Rotary International.

Negotiation Skills

  • Get real practice negotiating and resolving conflicts by volunteering for a local conflict resolution, peer mediation (some schools offer it), or mediation program. Often, mediation is used to help people resolve minor legal disputes so if you are near a courthouse, contact them to see if they have any mediation programs who need volunteers.  Most of the time, you do not need to be a lawyer to serve as a mediator for these programs but you will be given training, sometimes free or at low-cost.
  • Think of a conflict at home, in school, or at work that you feel you did not handle well. Mentally re-create the incident, writing down what happened and think of reasons why it was not resolved satisfactorily.  What goals did you share with the other people involved. If you had the same conflict today, how would you handle it differently to feel better about the outcome?

Leadership Skills

  • Take part in an activity that interests you that requires you to look beyond the work you do yourself, where you consider how well everyone and everything is working. For example, volunteer with an organization that needs help expanding and improving its services with current resources. Neighborhood cleanup, community event organizers, and environmental organizations are good examples.  They always need people to help and ideas for reaching out to the community.  They offer ways for you to justify ideas, persuade others to adopt them, and to implement them - leadership!

Teamwork Skills
For activities to improve teamwork skills, read my previous post "6 Critical Teamwork Job Skills and How to Develop Them."

Cultural Diversity Skills

  • With a partner, play a word association game with the terms below.  Choose one term from the list below.  For one minute, you and your partner(s) write down all the terms from this list that you associate with the term you chose and anything and everything that comes to your mind when you think of that term.
Asian American      male                unemployed person
African American   female             employed person
Hispanic                 rich person       nonprofessional 
Caucasian               poor person     professional
Native American    middle-class     elderly person
disabled person      homosexual      fire fighter
lawyer                    doctor               nurse
teacher                    engineer          college graduate

In doing this activity, you identified your stereotypes, the beliefs you have about classes or groups of people.  These beliefs can be positive or negative. Everyone has them. Unfortunately they often mislead us and can be harmful.  For example, not that long ago, people believe that occupations like airplane pilot, scientist, and police officer could only be done by men. Today, we know these were untrue but these stereotypes kept women out of these jobs for a long time. Are there any careers you are not considering because of stereotypes? People still view nursing and some other health care occupations with lingering stereotypes.

Stereotypes and assumptions about racial groups are also harmful. Be aware of your own stereotypes about people and how they can mislead you.  You can avoid letting your stereotypes harm others or your relationships with them.

  • Read a magazine or online media source for another culture or ethnic group. Write about what you felt about what you read or saw.  You can also try this with political media - if you watch MSNBC or read the Huffington Post, try reading Fox News or reading a more conservative news source. (and vice versa!) 
  • Start a conversation with someone different than you, like someone from the list in the first activity. You can do this on the bus, at a social gathering, or at work. Later write down what interesting things you discovered about this person and whether what you discovered agreed or disagreed with what you thought about the person before your conversation.

See how the careers that interest you require people skills by conducting informational interviews; ask people what skills are most important in their work. That will help you build skills around a specific career path. These articles will also help you gather career information:
Learn About Occupations
Learn More about the Jobs that Interest Me
Identify Your Skills

Activities in our most popular e-book, "What Job is Best for Me?" also helps you focus your career development efforts with skills.

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Getting Started with Job Skills: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic
Part 2: Improving (Not So) Basic Skills
Part 3: Thinking Skills: Improving Job Skills

Next week: Part 5: Improving Personal Qualities - Yes, it is possible...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Improving Job Skills Part 3: Thinking Skills

Example: Solving a workplace safety problem...
Thinking Job Skills include creative thinking, problem-solving skills, decision making skills, and visualization. In this part 3 of 6 blog series, we'll explore ways to improve these skills, the second group of Foundation Job Skills found at the Career Key website.

Avoid any occupation or job that simply requires following instructions and little training; employees in those kinds of jobs can be easily replaced.  To see examples of these types of jobs, see O*NET's Job Zone 1 (little to no preparation needed) and some listed in Job Zone 2 (some preparation needed).

When you use thinking skills, you are more valuable as an employee. When you recognize and define problems, invent solutions, and think of better ways to do something, you are marketable.  You'll be a more powerful "free agent"; learn more about how to adopt a "Free Agent Outlook on Work."

Thinking Skills are the second group of Foundation Skills, skills all jobs require in the 21st Century. They are:

Creative Thinking

  • Use imagination freely;
  • Combining information in new ways;
  • Make connections between ideas that seem unrelated.


  • Recognize problem and identify why it is a problem;
  • Create and implement a solution;
  • See how well the solution works and revise if needed.

Decision Making Skills

  • Identify goals;
  • Generate alternatives and gather information about them;
  • Choose the best alternative;
  • Plan how to carry out your choice.
    See this skill applied to how to make a career decision.


  • See a building or object by looking at a blueprint, drawing or sketch;
  • Imagine how a system works by looking at a schematic drawing.
Activities to Strengthen Thinking Skills

These will help you get started; if you are working on choosing a career or changing careers, think about how these skills are used in the career options that interest you.

Creative Thinking

  • Keep a weekly journal of creative ideas. Record each week any problems you notice in an environment like school,  church, an organization you volunteer for, or at work. Are there any processes that don't work very well? Create a solution to the problem.  At the end of a couple of months, go back and read your journal, identifying problems you would like to work on.  Create solutions and present them to a class or to people you work with.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your solutions?
  • Create a new business idea based on your interests and knowledge. How would you market it? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your business idea? (product, service, etc.)  Present your ideas to friends or a class for their feedback. Create a marketing hook, ad or catch phrase for your idea.  Maybe being self-employed is for you?


  • Identify a problem using the activity in bullet #1 above under Creating Thinking. Research the problem, gathering as much information as you can. Do you know what the problem really is? List everything you know about it - maybe you know more than you think. Contact people who know something about the problem.  Gather and organize all your information before taking action.
  • Choose a complex problem and make a problem-solving action plan. Breaking down a complex problem into smaller chunks can help solve it.  Write down all the steps needed to solve a problem can make a larger problem more manageable.  

Decision Making Skills

  • Narrow down your career choices using the four steps in Career Key's High-Quality Decision Making article.
  • Identify several decisions you made this week.  For example, what you ate, where you went for entertainment, whether you purchased something, or who you invited to a social event. Record what you thought about these decisions: what were the consequences? Did you make the best choice? Could using a decision-making process help you make a better decision the next time?  Is there a major life event choice you face right now where that process could help? (changing jobs, choosing a college, having a baby, etc.)


  • Draw a road map from your house to your school or workplace without looking at a map.  Add street names and important landmarks.
  • Put together a model, item, or toy using instructions (you may do this already!) Legos, model kits, and DIY craft kits are a few ideas.
  • Design the floor of a dream house or apartment, creating a blueprint using grid paper. Each quarter or eighth inch block can be 1 foot. Visualize walking through the house. What are your plans' advantages and disadvantages? Are the bedrooms properly placed away from noise? How is the traffic flow?

Make sure to learn how the careers that interest you require these skills by conducting informational interviews. That will help you focus your energies on building skills around the problems and ideas related to that career. These articles will also help you gather career information:
Learn About Occupations
Learn More about the Jobs that Interest Me
Identify Your Skills

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Getting Started with Job Skills: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic
Part 2: Improving (Not So) Basic Skills
Next week: Part 3: Improving Your People Skills

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Improve Job Skills - Part 2: (Not So) Basic Skills

In part 2 of 6, we’ll talk about ways to strengthen basic job skills – in ways that are relevant to students and adults changing careers.  Before you brush aside “basic skills” as too “basic” for you, take a closer look at them. For example, writing skills means more than just the ability to handwrite a sentence. It includes using the computer to communicate ideas and information.

Download the list of skills and their description in the Foundation Job Skills handout at The Career Key website if you haven’t already.  Our affordable printable e-books “Parent’s Role…” and “Advice and Actions for Smart Career Decisions” contain this handout – your eBookstore purchase help support our public service mission.

In the workplace, people use these skills differently than in school – in ways you may not have thought about. There is more to learn than you might think. If you’re just joining this series, I recommend starting with our optimistic Part 1.

Basic Skills are the first group of Foundation Skills, skills all jobs require in the 21st century. They are (click here for the more complete Foundation Skill descriptions):

  • Read for detail quickly and accurately;
  • Find meaning of unknown or technical words and phrases; and
  • Use the Internet and computers to find information.

  • Communicate thoughts, ideas, information, and messages in writing – on paper and using a computer;
  • Record information completely and accurately;
  • Check, edit and revise documents for correct information, grammar, etc.
  • Using a computer to communicate information.

  • Use numbers, fractions, and percentages to solve practical problems;
  • Read tables, diagrams and graphs;
  • Use computers to communicate data and ideas.

  • Organize your thoughts and explain how things work, procedures to follow;
  • Speak clearly and use the appropriate tone and level of complexity for your audience;
  • Ask questions when needed and answer questions from the audience. 

  • Listen carefully to what someone says and how they say it, to understand the content and the feelings the speaker expresses.
  • Respond to what a person says in a way that shows you understand them.

Real-Life Example using all the Basic Skills– Police Officer. 
When called to a domestic violence incident, the officer listens carefully while interviewing witnesses and mediating disputes.  The officer explains to the parties what happens next in the process, especially if someone is arrested or a child is put into protective custody.  The officer records and submits witness statements by laptop computer using the Internet.  The officer can be questioned in court by lawyers and judges about the accuracy of that information.

Math skills come into play especially if the police department uses data-driven policing (see a video here). An officer is asked to gather data (location, type of incident, etc.) that is then used to make a graph or visual used to find relationships between types of crimes and location. An officer could be asked to interpret that data. Officers also use math skills in accident reconstruction; they measure the accident scene and show visually how the accident likely occurred.

Activities to Strengthen Basic Skills
These activities are a starting place for you - come up with your own that are the most relevant to a career option that interests you.

  • Go to the library and pick a magazine you might not normally read but has an article that interests you. For example, you might not read the Economist or Vanity Fair but you see an article about a type of business or politics that interests you. Read the article carefully, finding words that you don’t know or are uncertain what they mean.  Try to figure out the word's meaning from the surrounding sentences or context. If you need to check your answer, look it up in a dictionary.  You’ll find that most of the time you can figure out a word’s meaning by “reading for meaning.”
  • Use an Internet browser to search for a business near you, like a type of restaurant. What search terms work the best in finding a restaurant?  Is there a difference between browsers? (Try Chrome, Safari or Bing) Do quotation marks around words make a difference?
  • Practice reading ideas and picturing them in your mind.  The next time you read a story, try drawing pictures of the people and the settings. Try looking up individual houses or condos for sale in your neighborhood on a real estate website. After reading the description, picture the house in your mind without looking through any online photos of it. Go look at the house and see how it differs from what you pictured.  What information was left out of the ad and why?
  •  Also try the graph creation exercise listed below for improving math skills. 

  • Create your own front page news article based on an event (real or fiction). Use your favorite newspaper as an example. Write a catchy headline and include photos with captions relevant to the article.
  • Go to the Grammar Girl website and read the “Top 5 Tips” box. Have you ever used the wrong word by mistake?  What rules do you have trouble remembering?  Pick one problem you keep having and practice creating sentences that use the words correctly. 

  • Learn how to create a graph. Ideally use a software program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs that you would normally be using at work.  Pick a fun subject you’d like to learn more about. For example, what animal moves the fastest? (the cheetah, at 70 mph) Find the speeds of six other animals and create a graph with the data.
  • Explore a topic of financial literacy (See www.financiallitnow.org for topics, resources)  Learn how to answer questions, like, if I make a $300 purchase with a credit card with 18% APR interest, how long will it take me to pay of the loan just making a minimum balance payment of $20? (18 months at a total cost of $340)  Can you find a calculator on the Internet that will help you answer that question? 

  • Practice speaking in front of mirror, where you will see what others see. Notice your facial expressions, posture, eye contact, and gestures. Any interview should be practiced in front of a mirror until your answers become natural and easy.
  • Record yourself talking with a friend or giving a presentation. Most cell phones and computers have a way to do this.  When you playback the recording, listen for “you know”, “like” or other mannerisms that are not as professional as you would like. Do you moderate your voice? In making improvements, focus on one thing at time. Practicing in front of a mirror or rehearsing a speech or answer several times will help.

  • Find a partner to help you.  Use active listening skills as your partner describes an emotional situation. Try summarizing and restating to your partner what they said and how they felt, without being judgmental.
  • Watch a newscast or television show with your partner.  Afterwards, summarize the plot, describing the major characters and what they did. Ask your partner to critique your summary.

I hope this gives you ideas for creating your own activities to practice these skills, connecting them to the careers that interest you.  Imagine how these skills might be used in a job that interests you. Conduct an informational interviewwith someone in that career and ask him or her how they use those skills in their work.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How to Improve Job Skills - Part 1 of 6: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic and Get Started

How strong is your foundation?

This 6-post blog series will help you improve and strengthen Foundation Job Skills.  Whether you are just starting to explore your first career or an adult changing careers, all jobs require the 17 Foundation Skills (free download for non-commercial use*).  In the series, one blog post will cover each of the four groups of Foundation Skills, recommending free or low-cost activities to strengthen them:

Look at each Foundation Skill – do you think they are accurate? How would you rate yourself for that skill? (Compare yourself to others of the same age)  How does someone use that skill in a career you’re considering?

Start thinking about Foundation Skills, how you can improve yours and show an employer you have them. By the end of this blog series, you’ll also be able to identify your motivated skills, those you enjoy using most, and how to choose a career that makes the most of them.

Even if you have little job experience or have been under-employed, you’ll be surprised how adding to and improving your skills result in a big payoff.

3 Reasons to be Optimistic

1. People want to help you. Family, teachers, counselors, community volunteers, religious leaders, and workers want to help. You just need to ask.  Ask them about their jobs, the skills they use, and people they know.  If you don’t ask, no one can help you.

2. Learning requires action – and the good news is taking action is under your control. If you don’t do anything, you won’t improve and nothing will change.

3. Each activity you do, each week, you will improve.  You will feel more confident and have something to show for your work.

In case you need more motivation to improve your skills, take a look at median pay for these occupations with different skill levels:

(High School Diploma or Less)

Amusement & Recreation Attendant $18,650
Cashier $18,820
Food Service Workers $19,270
Driver/Sales Worker $22,770

Medium Skilled 
(on the job training, vocational school or associate’s degree)
Acute Care Nurses  $65,950
Barbers $24,190
Chefs, Head Cooks $42,350
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers  $65,210
Plumbers  $47,750

I could list pay for highly skilled jobs but you get the picture.  It doesn’t take a huge jump in education and skills to make a big difference in wages.

Up Next Week... Part 2: (Not So) Basic Skills.  Practical ways to improve your Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Speaking and Listening Skills.
Part 3: Improving Your Thinking Skills
Part 4: Improving Your People Skills

*If you would like to purchase a license to use the Foundation Job Skills commercially (or financially support our public service work), visit our eBookstore to purchase these handouts and e-books you can print:

Monday, June 25, 2012

College and Career Success: Is Your State a Leader or Laggard?

Promising careers require some post-high school training and education; students and parents need to be educated consumers. While there is a lot of criticism about graduation rates and unsavory recruitment practices at for-profit colleges, there is plenty of criticism to go around for public colleges' performance.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) just released its "Leaders and Laggards" State-by-State Report Card on Public Postsecondary Education.  Be sure to click on your state's individual report card and overall recommendations.

You can see a summary of findings on the Career Tech Blog - these are the three that stuck out the most to me:

"Four-Year Completion Rates
In most states, only half of students at four-year public colleges complete a degree, in 17 states, less than half of all first-time bachelors-seeking students complete a degree within six years";

"Two-Year Completion Rates
...more than half of states have a two-year completion rate at or below 25 percent"..: and

"Linking Postsecondary Data to Labor Market
Only 22 states have systems in place to track the success of graduates once they enter the labor force and to make those data public..."

While others focus on big-picture, long-term, bureaucratic change (good luck!), I'm more focused on how we can help individual students, parents, and counselors improve their chances of success now. The best practical takeaway from this report is for students and parents to learn their state's strengths and weaknesses in providing education. If nothing else, you'll know what to look for and avoid, and what to expect as far as your state's performance. And when you go through the process of choosing a school or program, you'll know to ask for more information about graduation rates and support for students looking for a job post-graduation.

I don't know that I've given up on government for problem-solving (or trust the for-profit sector to do it either) - but it's clear to me that if you are or have a child in secondary school or college right now, it's up to you to help yourself choose a career or college major you won't regret. Gathering the best quality information you can is part of making good decisions.

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Mom's Careers: A Celebration

Jeanine Wehr Jones, ESL Teacher
I'd like to take a moment to celebrate my mom's career paths: mother, elementary school teacher, librarian, ESL teacher, and Career Key supporter (helping my father, Dr. Lawrence K. Jones).  Thanks to her, I had a great childhood and an excellent role model. Being a mom, making a living, and keeping a household running smoothly is challenging. To read the whole story of Mom's career choices, please see my original Mother's Day post in 2010.

But I left out a critical part of the story - her part-time Berlitz International position teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) while raising my brother and me.  During that time, she had students from Japan, Egypt, Taiwan, El Salvador, Pakistan, and other countries.  She loves other cultures, different types of people, and learning their stories.

I remember as a kid having potlucks at our house with her students, sharing wonderful ethnic foods with friendly and warm company.  I know Mom enjoyed sharing her knowledge of Turkish cooking too.

Jeanine and her ESL students

Mom's vivacious personality wins over even the most shy of people; her humor is infectious.  So in the classroom she was able to liven things up while helping people feel comfortable learning a language in a different cultural world.

So I wish Mom a Happy Mother's Day and say thank you for working so hard to help other people while making our family and Career Key successful.

My Mom, Dad, and I, with our Vietnamese and Saudi Arabian
Career Key partners, at the International Counseling Congress in Istanbul, 2008