Hello. I am your child’s future employer. No doubt you’ve thought about me, though we haven’t met. You’re teaching your child at home because you want the best future possible for him (or her). One of the things you’re concerned about is your child’s preparation for a career. That’s wise. Everybody has to make a living doing something, and it’s not a good idea to wait until they’re grown up and on their own before some preparation is made for that. So I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to tell you in advance what I’m looking for in a young person I’m considering hiring.
Because of your own schooling, you may be more concerned about grades and tests than you should be. They make a big deal out of such things in school, but frankly I couldn’t care less. Sure, I want your kid to be literate when he comes to see me about a job. I need basic reading, communication and math skills. But I don’t give a rip what your kid’s SAT score was. That doesn’t translate into a good employee.
If you stop to think about it, you don’t care all that much, either. As a consumer, have you ever asked the plumber, your doctor or the Chief of the fire department what sort of test scores he had in school? No. You’re not concerned about what he did twenty years ago as a student; you want to know what he can do now. As a professional. For you.
That’s where I’m coming from. I’ve had bright kids and dumb kids work for me and I’ve seen good and bad in both. I don’t see any way that real intelligence can be measured on tests, but even if it can, that’s not what makes an employee a winner in my eyes. I’ve had too many intelligent jerks on the payroll.
I’ll tell you what I’m looking for. And if you’re smart and if you want the best for your kid, you’ll pay attention. I’ve been in business for a long time. I’ve hired a lot of people and I’ve had to fire quite a few. It’s not fun being a boss at a time like that, but it comes with the territory. I can’t afford to employ your kid because he needs a job or he’s a nice person or because you’re a personal friend of mine. But I’ll tell you what will make me eager to be your kid’s employer and I can say it in one word. That word is character.
Yes, I said character. With a capital C. I’m not looking for young people how know everything; I’m looking for young people who are good people. I can teach them the job skills they need, but only you can teach them good character.
To start with, I need the character quality of honesty. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find people I can trust to come to work, do their jobs and not walk out with a bunch of my property. Besides stealing from me, which is terrible, it’s even worse when employees steal from my customers. The people who do business here trust me, and I take that seriously. I won’t keep an employee who delivers a product or service that is less than the customer intended to pay for. If I send an employee to your home to make a delivery or perform some work, I don’t want to have to worry about him lifting some of your jewelry or silver. If I can’t trust an employee’s basic honesty, I can never have a moment’s peace or rest.
I need diligent people. People who don’t have to be horsewhipped to keep them working at a responsible pace. I’m not a slave driver, but I want a real hour’s work for an agreed-upon hour’s pay. That doesn’t sound like I’m asking for much, does it? Yet you’d be amazed at how few people have any sense of obligation about it. That is, you’d be amazed if you’ve never been an employer.
I need humble people. People who don’t know everything and don’t mind being told there’s a better way to do it and are willing to do things the way I prefer, just because I prefer it. After all, I’m writing the check. I want what I want for that money, just as much as you want the exact product or service you expect when you’re writing the check as a customer.
I need loyal people. I don’t ask anybody to work for me forever; I understand that people sometimes need to better themselves vocationally or just want to move on to something different. And I understand that loyalty is a two-way street. I try to take care of my people. All I ask is that they give me a decent amount of consideration and act as if I have needs, too. Because I do.
I need people who are respectful. If your kids backtalk you all the time, if they’re mouthy and rude, please don’t send them to me. I know they’re driving you crazy, and they’ll do the same to me. Worse, they’ll be a thorn in the flesh to their supervisor and co-workers. Your kid does not have enough talent to make up for the problems he’ll cause here if he doesn’t respect authority and—well, just basic human dignity. If he doesn’t respect people I don’t need him.
I need people who are thorough. A lick and a promise just aren’t good enough for my customers. Surely you’ve had the experience of paying good money for a car with hidden defects, an overdone steak, kitchen knives that won’t stay sharp or a cup of lukewarm coffee. Don’t send me your kid with a resume in his hand if he won’t follow through on projects and get it done all the way.
A little patience would be helpful, too. Your kid will have to work with bosses, fellow employees and customers. If he can’t control his temper and put forth the effort to hide his natural irritations a bit, he’ll constantly be waging word-wars with the other workers and probably some of the people who give us their money in exchange for our services. After all, they’re people too. They occasionally have a bad hair day and may need a little forbearance. If an employee has the maturity to control his temper, we can satisfactorily do business with most people. If not, a moody customer may become an ex-customer. I can’t afford that.
Have you ever thought about contentment as a job qualification? By that I don’t mean a guy who never wants to rise above his present position in the company. I like ambition and I respect it. I reward it in my company; the person who is always trying to be better gets raises and promotions here. The contentment I’m talking about is the willingness to tolerate the little discomforts of the present situation and accept them as a normal part of life. One of the most annoying things for an employer is workers who constantly gripe. Nothing is ever good enough for them. If something about the work or the company policies or the boss is less than ideal, these folks make sure to spread the discontent. Suffering in silence is not an option, nor is going through the chain of command and trying to work out a reasonable solution. No, these types have to gripe and fuss and make it a lousy day at work for everybody around them. It never seems to occur to them that I really try to make this a good place to work.
Or that there are limitations on me as well, and I can’t control every little detail of the situation. For Pete’s sake, we’re not being paid to have a party, we’re being paid to do what the customer wants us to do. We can try to have everything just like we want it after work, but even then it’s pretty hard to pull off.
Finally, I’d appreciate it if you’d teach your kid some prudence. I mean good, old-fashioned common sense. Some of the people who have worked here didn’t seem to know enough to come in out of the rain. The sort of people you have to leave a trail of bread crumbs for if you want them to get to the right place at the right time. Call it prudence, call it good sense, call it wisdom if you want to. It’s an aspect of character that reduces waste in time, energy and expense. It’s critical to productivity, efficiency and even safety. You wouldn’t believe some of the stupid things I’ve seen people do, causing endless problems for others and even putting fellow employees in danger. Just because of a lack of judgment. Prudence.
I’m not saying your kid has to be a cherub to work here. I’m not perfect and neither is anybody else in the company. All I’m asking is that applicants show up with a good attitude and act like they have a decent degree of consideration for the needs of others. If they have that attitude they will meet the needs of the job and climb up the career ladder at a good pace.
So if I may offer a little advice from the other side of the employment relationship, teach your kids first and foremost to be people of character. They’ll make the workplace a better place for themselves and everybody else. If they work for me, I’ll see to it that they make more money, get more appreciation, and rise faster in position than any straight-A whiz kid who ever walked through my door thinking he was doing me a favor by applying for a job here. A young person of character can do well in my business or in any business where he chooses to work.
Come to think of it though, that may not last long. Young people like that usually end up being their own boss.