You're Skilling It

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

My tween goes back to public school this week. We’re undergoing the usual back-to-school excitement and jitters, including receiving my son’s class schedule. He wonders if his teachers will be friendly, if he’ll be able to make it from one class to another in the allotted five minutes, and if he has close friends in any of his classes. I wonder if his teachers will care about his education, if he’s adequately learning the material, and if his classes will prepare him for a career.

Don’t get me wrong; his school system is very competitive and sought-after in our part of the state. Our schools emphasize career prep in fields that my middle school back in the day wouldn’t have dreamed of, like computer programming, design and modeling, and other pre-engineering disciplines. There is a tremendous push towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers.

But what if he wants to be a lawyer? A banker? A teacher? Or even, heaven forbid, a writer like his Mom? Is he getting a well-rounded education that teaches him to think, research, analyze; appreciate the arts; or take care of a plant, pet, or child? Obviously, 13 years of school won’t be enough time to teach him everything he needs to know. Mom and Dad take responsibility to teach him many of these things outside school, and we assume that he will go on to college or vocational training to learn more about his chosen career or trade after high school. He has his whole life ahead of him, and the prospects are both exciting and daunting. As most loving parents do, we want the best for him, and we want him to select a career he enjoys.

And what about us adults? Our parents also encouraged us to work towards a promising career when we were in school. They helped us with homework, paid for piano lessons, and schlepped us to sports or band practice so that we would be well-rounded people, too. They encouraged us to get a part-time job to learn responsibility and start managing our meager paychecks. These things taught us a lot and enabled us to get our first jobs and transition into longer-term careers as we grew older.

But let me tell you, friend, the job market is MUCH different than when my generation (Gen X) reached adulthood. Employer attitudes, job requirements, and even the job application process are vastly different than 25 years ago. To make it through the employer ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems), job candidates need to show skills that match with the job posting to get an interview. They need to establish an unreasonable amount of experience (5-10 years of experience for some entry-level jobs!) They also often have to meet the minimum requirement of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, even if it is a job that can be performed just as admirably by a high school graduate.

But I’m not here to bemoan the state of employment right now. It’s unfair, it is sometimes discriminatory, and we can do little about it. But what I can do is give you a recruiter’s perspective and some advice on how you (and your school-age kids) can give yourself the best possible chance to beat the odds and win the job you want.

For adults looking for the next step in your career:

  1. Stop and think. Do you want your next career step to be in the same industry or role, or do you want to do something different? Do you want to climb the management ladder, delve into a discipline more deeply, or expand your role from a specialist role into a generalist role?
  2. Don’t stop learning. Once you’ve figured out the answer to #1, seek out certifications and training that educate you in the areas you need to beef up your resume and prove that you have mastered those branches of knowledge. Expand your horizons by taking LinkedIn Skills Assessments, attending webinars and conferences that offer CEU (Continuing Education Unit) credits, or going back to school for an additional certificate or degree.
  3. Help your resume to help you. The job application process usually involves a digital resume upload or electronic ATS application. Your resume needs to reflect all of the training, certifications, and education that show you have mastered all the skills required for the job posting and more than meet the job’s minimum qualifications. If you meet the qualifications, you are much more likely to receive a phone screen or interview, and that’s when you can connect with the employer and let them know how you can bring value to their organization.
  4. Network. Joining industry or discipline organizations bolsters your resume and helps you find otherwise hidden job postings in your field. Networking with other professionals can also help you access mentoring and other valuable resources.


But let’s not forget about those kids who have yet to get their first job. What can they do to be employment-ready?

  1. Explore your options. It helps to have a conversation with a career guidance counselor or take an online career profile inventory test to find out what careers are available given your particular interests or skills.
  2. Take school seriously. I know, when you’re a youth, you probably have more important priorities than school. Friends, dating, and hobbies all seem to demand your attention more urgently than a career that seems far off. But I urge you to spend a little time and effort on maintaining a good GPA, finding out what pre-career activities are available to you (i.e., classes, camps, clubs, and internship opportunities), and positioning yourself to qualify for the best college or vocational prep option for your potential future career.
  3. Take a job to get a job. The earlier you can start accruing experience for your resume, the better. If an employer has a choice between two recent college grads with the same degree and similar GPAs, and one has had a part-time job since high school, but the other has no such experience, who do you think they will pick for the job? Sometimes, having early job experiences can also help you determine what job tasks you enjoy and don’t and can better steer you in the right direction career-wise before committing to a degree program or vocational certificate.
  4. Be a joiner. You can develop career prep and leadership skills by participating in clubs, teams, and community organizations, especially if elected as an officer. Those activities look great on college and job applications, and the experiences can help you network with adults who can mentor and recommend you for jobs later on. High GPAs and standardized test scores are essential in an application. However, your application or resume can still look flat to college and career recruiters if you never participated in extracurricular activities.
  5. Certifications aren’t just for adults. There are many vocational and technical certifications that you can receive as a middle or high school student. These adult certifications look fabulous on a resume, but most don’t have minimum age requirements, or they allow youth age 13-14 and up to receive a certificate. You can attend training classes around school hours or during the summer and take the certification test when convenient. Network+, A+, Security+, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Welder, Junior EMT, Red Cross CPR, and more are available to students under age 18. Many other certifications are available for ages 18 and up, so college-age students can acquire these certifications while in school for a degree program or instead of a degree program.
  6. Find a mentor. If you *think* you know what career you want but would like to find out more about it before you commit to a degree or certificate program, find a mentor in that field to show you the ropes and talk to you about the realities (both good and bad) of a career in that field. They can also help you network or write a recommendation to give you a leg up when applying for your first job.


Jobs nowadays are increasingly specialized, and to qualify for the job you want, it takes intention to prepare and apply. Skills are important for youth to collect, and adding or changing skills is vital for adult job-seekers. You’re never too young or old to learn a new skill; it’s time to learn something new!