7 Job Skills You Can Prepare Your Kids For Now

Last month I wrote a post on 5 reasons why kids should work (via an ongoing partnership with Fidelity/MEFA). The post kicked off such an interesting conversation on social media (including someone who accused me of being an advocate for sweatshops! #missingthepoint), as well as an Edit Your Life podcast episode that will release tomorrow morning.

I always learn something when I record a podcast episode with Asha Dornfest, and one fascinating point she brought up during our conversation is that working brings about a totally new parenting challenge: that of teaching kids what it means to be a professional, which involves different skills than being a good student or friend.

This conversation thread totally got my wheels turning, specifically around two questions: 1) What are the skills kids need to be successful in the workplace? 2) What can we do to help kids develop those skills now in everyday life? Here’s what I came up with. If you have additional thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

1. Be on time -- actually, be a few minutes early

Punctuality is a must when you have a job. I have always taken issue with people who say, “Oh, I’m always late!” because it feels manipulative and disrespectful. I mean seriously, if you know you are chronically late, why not set your alarm accordingly so you can be on time?

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: School/camp/extracurricular/appointment timeliness. Take measures to make departure smoother, e.g., lay out clothes the night before, don’t allow phone time until kids are ready for the day, have kids make their lunch the night before, and make kids aware of time by giving them time warnings (e.g., “10 minutes until we are walking out the door!”).

2. If you’re bored, find a way to get unbored

I temped my way through college and worked some unbelievably boring jobs. Instead of just sitting there staring blankly into space (as some of my co-workers did), I looked for things to do. I suggested things I could do. I asked for things to do. Honestly, this was more survival on my part, but it made me appear very motivated and my employers loved me for it. And I think all of these experiences have contributed to me becoming a creative problem solver in my current work.

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: These days parents fear boredom; they think it’s a reflection of them not offering enough options. This is not the case; your job is not to be 24/7 entertainment! Let your kids get bored. If they come complaining to you about being bored simply tell them they need to go figure it out. This is how they will develop their creativity and problem solving skills.

3. Stay focused on the job

One thing I told Laurel when I briefed her before a recent job was, “Don’t check your phone!” This should be a given, but in the current checking-your-phone-all-the-time climate it actually is not. I told her, “If you’re having a moment where you want to check your phone and it is not an emergency situation, it’s probably because you are bored. Figure out something to do!” (See point #2 above.)

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: Initiate screen-free times in your home so phone-free times don’t seem so dire. One of my favorite things to do for myself is leave my phone upstairs in my office when I have finished work for the day. This helps me avoid the phone-reaching reflex in the evenings and stay focused on family.

4. Take criticism for what it is

When I was in college I worked in the circulation department of the library and in retrospect it’s kind of funny; it was totally socially acceptable to study while you waited for someone to come check out a book, but one of the reference librarians gave my supervisor a hard time because I was knitting. My supervisor was so kind when she brought it up and though I was embarrassed and felt bad about making her look bad, I took responsibility for the criticism and became a lot more proactive about being on the job.

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: There’s a lot of special snowflake-ing out there, which leaves kids less equipped to deal with criticism. Start talking about criticism (constructive or otherwise) now -- for example, how it’s not the end all be all, and that you glean what you can from it and move forward.

5. Exceed expectations

Well, wow, doesn’t this sound very Tiger Mom of me (which is sort of funny, because I am a totally terrible Tiger Mom)! My point is this: if your kid gets versed in #2 and #3 above, they will likely exceed expectations. When I was a temp I was repeatedly fawned over for basic competence. (Note: I worked with a temp who regularly printed letters from the director of the institute UPSIDE DOWN ON LETTERHEAD.) It was easy to shine. But I have also had other experiences where I just really loved my supervisors and wanted to do well by them so I tried to go above and beyond the call of duty. When you do that, it shows.

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: Teach your kids to value and take pride in quality work. The rest will follow.

6. If your gut says no, listen to it

So I worked at this temp job where one of the temps thought it would be really funny to stage a coup of sorts. I don’t even remember what it was all about but I know it seemed wrong to me. This guy was not exactly a master criminal and left voice mails on all of our office lines to tell us what the coup plan was. My gut told me this was totally not a good idea, so even though it was really awkward socially, I opted out. The other temps who opted in all got fired.

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: OK, so this is basically a peer pressure example. Talk to your kids about how important it is to not always follow the flock and to follow instincts. This will be an ongoing conversation that will serve your kids so well!

7. Advocate for yourself

Being the parent of a kid who doesn’t like to rock the boat and can have a hard time articulating what she wants, one of the things I have been working on so much with Laurel is advocating for herself and using her voice. This is especially important when kids are on a job because they don’t have the proximate support of your parents on hand, and may feel intimidated by the boss-employee relationship.

WHAT YOU CAN WORK ON NOW: This is an ongoing conversation to have with kids. Share examples from when you were a kid to help illustrate your point. Use the small moments of everyday life to encourage them to make decisions.

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Fidelity/MEFA. All opinions about kids and work, and the fact that they should totally dump some of their earnings into their 529 are, of course, my own. To learn more about the 529 college savings account, hop over to the MEFA website.