What you can learn working at McDonald’s

I wrote a post last week about the value of getting a job while you're in high school.  There's a reason why colleges love kids who've washed cars or bussed tables or made pizza to earn an honest dollar; you learn a lot when you find and keep a job.  Here's an example. 

Today, Scott Heiferman is the founder of meetup.com.  But he started and sold his first internet company right in the middle of the dotcom boom in the late 90s.  And when the frenzy of the internet started to get to him, he went and took a job at McDonald's in New York City and wrote about the experience. 

Here's what his job at Mickey D's taught him about management:  

Quotation 
 

nobody thanked me.  i worked hard.  i got paid peanuts.  i even ate mcdonald's food during my break (deducted from my pay).  it was intense:  the cash register was complex, people want their food NOW, the lines get deep, the mcflurry must be made just right.  i was trying hard and i was doing an ok job.  now, i've been the leader/manager for most of my life.  i've had plenty of crap jobs, but i've been the boss for the past few years.  i faithfully read my fast company magazine and my harvard business review.  i've been taught countless times the value of a leader/manager showing appreciation for people's effort.  however, my instinct has often been that showing appreciation really isn't too necessary for good people.  they just take pride in a job well done — and, anyway, they can read my mind and see the appreciation.  well, from day 1 at mcdonald's, i was yearning for someone there to say "thanks".  even a "you're doing ok" would suffice.  but, no.  neither management experience — nor reading about management — teaches this lesson as well as being an under-appreciated employee.

A job doesn't have to sound great on your resume to teach you something. 

You can find Scott's entire post  about the experience here.

What’s your role?

What's role on the baseball team, on the student government, or in the school play? 

You might say you're the pitcher, the treasurer, or Danny Zucko (if you're performing Grease).  Those titles are important, but they're not your roles.   Titles are easy to describe.  Your role is a little more complex.  Your role is different than a position, an office, or a part.

For example, in addition to being a pitcher, you might also be the one who gave all the guys nicknames.  Or you might be the one who kept people laughing on the bus even when you were in the middle of a 5 game losing streak.  Or you might be the one who called the catcher the day after his error cost the team the championship, just to see how he was doing.

In addition to being the treasurer, you might also be the one who mediated the dispute between two other officers, or who studied parliamentary procedure and encouraged everyone to use it at your meetings, or who knew how to stand up and give an impassioned speech when you could tell the group needed to be inspired.

In addition to being the lead in the school play, you might also be the one who made sure the understudies got invited out for the post rehearsal pizza, or who made it your mission to promote and sell out opening night, or you could be the one on whom the teacher relied to run rehearsals on days when she had to teach an after school program.

When we brainstorm college essays with our Collegewise students, one of the things we listen for is evidence of them playing their roles.  The roles are often more interesting than the job titles. 

So think about the roles you play, how you play them, and how they help you make an even bigger impact.  And don't be afraid to share them when you discuss your activities with colleges.

Recommended reading for leaders

If you're a student body president, team captain, section editor for the school newspaper, or in any other role where your job is to supervise or lead people, here are three great books to learn the skills you need to be great at it.

OneThing The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham

Leadership and management are not the same thing.  They require very different kinds of skills, and Buckingham explains how to do both.  He's also got a surprisingly simple secret for personal success that involves quitting.  It's a good read. 




Good2Great
Good
to Great
by Jim Collins

Collins is a professor at Stanford Business School who based this book on his exhaustive study of great companies and the leaders behind them.  Some of the findings are surprising, like the fact that charisma can be as much a liability as an asset for a leader, and that spending time and energy trying to motivate people is a waste of effort–if you have the right people, they will be motivated as long as you don't de-motivate them.

FirstBreak First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman 

The authors worked for The Gallup Organization and did a comprehensive study to find out what great managers do differently.  If you're in any kind of supervisory role, this book will give you great ideas about how to manage the group and get the best out of each person.  Every single adult I know has a story about working for a terrible manager, but you can start learning to be a great one while you're still in high school

Are bright, well-rounded kids boring?

We're training a new counselor in our Irvine, CA office.  Today we discussed highly selective college admissions–what it really takes to get into the most selective colleges. 

The problem with college admissions today is that all the highest achievers–from around the world–apply to the same 40 colleges.  So schools like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Georgetown, Yale, Northwestern and the rest of the 40 most famous colleges have far, far more qualified applicants than they can ever possibly admit.  Some of them only admit 1 out of every 10 kids.  So most of the applicants, by comparison, don't stand out.  They feel inadequate because they haven't published a book or written a concerto or invented a way to travel back in time.        

Rachael Toor wrote Admissions Confidential about her time working as an undergraduate admissions officer at Duke.  Here's an excerpt from page 2:

"Most of the students I meet on my travels are BWRKs.  That's admissionese for 'bright well-rounded kids.'  You know, the ones who do everything right.  They take honors classes, study hard enough to be in the top 10% of their class, get solid 1350's on their SAT's (blogger's note:  That's like 2030 on the new scale), play sports, participate in student government, do community service (sometimes even when it's not required).  They're earnest, they're hardworking, they're determined.  They do everything right, and most of them don't have a chance of getting in.  We deny them.  In droves.  Another BWRK. Zip.  How boring."

That's a bleak outlook.  Unfortunately, the fact that these schools are so ridiculously hard to get into only feeds peoples' belief that famous schools offer better educations.  

It doesn't have to be that way.

If you're a BWRK, you are almost certainly not boring.  You're smart, you work hard, you commit yourself to activities, and you probably don't spend nearly enough time goofing off and just having fun.  In fact, you'd probably be even more interesting if you followed your real interests instead of just trying to please famous colleges.  But still, hundreds and hundreds of colleges are going to trip over themselves to accept you.  You just have to pick the right schools.

High school students (and their parents) have a choice.  You don't have to buy into the college admissions insanity.  You can reject the idea of desperately trying to stand out to Yale, and you can embrace the idea of working hard, being yourself, and finding the droves of colleges who absolutely love BWRKs. 

Get a job

Colleges love an applicant who's had a job.  And it doesn't have to be a fancy-sounding internship at your mom or dad's company.  Colleges–and future employers–are even more impressed by real, honest teenage jobs, like flipping burgers or coaching basketball or selling clothes at the mall.    

Colleges know that it takes initiative and responsibility to find and keep a job.  Look up the biography of a successful adult you know, and you're likely to find jobs in their past before and during their college years.

Today, Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, but when he was a kid, he sold trash bags door to door to make money to buy a pair of expensive high top shoes he wanted.

When he was in high school, Zappos
CEO Tony
Hsieh
ran the lights at a community theater, then became a game tester for Lucasfilm, then worked as a computer programmer.

When she was seventeen, Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. 

During high school, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor worked at a bargain retail store in
the Bronx and at the local hospital.

Sherwood Rowland won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995 for his work identifying the causes of ozone depletion.  He spent portions of his high school summers running the local volunteer weather station, a job he cited as "my
first exposure to systematic experimentation and data
collection."

So if you're looking to learn, make some money, and impress colleges, get a job.  And someday when you're a big success, you'll have a great story about your first job back in high school. 

 

One thing that great leaders do

Jim Collins, a professor at Stanford Business School, wrote a great book that studies history's most effective CEOs.  And one of the traits he found that they all had in common was a desire to see the company become even more successful after they left.  They did everything they could do to ensure the future success of their companies, including selecting and training their successors.  They didn't let their egos get in the way.  They never wanted people to talk about how great the company used to be.  They wanted things to be even better for the company's next generation.     

I think there's a lot of potential here for high school students here.  So much of what you do in high school is temporary.  You're the captain of the basketball team for one year.  You're the president of the French club, or the lead in the school play, or the school board rep, or a section editor of the paper for just one year.  Yes, you need to do a great job, and you want people to appreciate the impact that you make.  But you can make an even great impact if you set up your successor to take over and have even great success when you're gone.

The school year is ending (or has already ended) for many of you.  Are your successors ready to take over what you left behind?  What could you do to help them be even more successful?  You have two options–you assume that it's not your problem any more, or you can play an important part in helping your team, club, organization or other group be successful even after you're gone. 

A fundaising secret for high schoolers

If you're trying to raise funds for your team, club, school newspaper or grad night committee, here's a tip that will help you tug at the generosity of others–don't let your parents do the fundraising for you. 

We're always willing to do our part to support high school activities.  And it makes sense for us to give back to the communities who bring their business to us. 

But when a parent calls me and asks if I'd be willing to support her son's soccer team by running an ad in their team directory, the first thing I wonder is, "Why isn't your son making this call?"

I know that parents are just being supportive and they should be applauded for that.  But when parents take this job away from kids, they take away a lot of the learning–and earning–kids should be doing themselves. 

Students need to learn how to approach people they don't know, how to make a phone call, and how to write a properly punctuated and grammatically correct email.  They need to learn how to shake a hand, how to follow up, how to send a thank-you note, and how to gracefully take, "No" for an answer.  When kids do their own fundraising, they learn these lessons.

It's much harder for a business owner to say, "No thanks" to a polite teenager who's just trying to raise some money for the soccer team or the pep squad or the school newspaper than it is to say, "No thanks" to a parent.  I'm not worried about hurting a parents' feelings.  But I want to reward that kid for making the effort.

Don't tell me that you're too busy.  I know you're busy.  But you have to be willing to earn support if you want people to support you.

It's OK for parents to advise.  But the more kids do for themselves, the more successful they'll be.   

Fifty summer activities for high school students

What should you do this summer?

First, you should sleep in.  Not every day, but certainly more than you do during the school year.  You should have fun and hang out with your friends and do things that have absolutely nothing to do with college applications.  Colleges don't expect you to spend every waking second learning and volunteering and improving yourself.  It's still OK to be a normal teenager. 

But colleges are also looking for motivated kids who do other things in addition to logging some well-deserved rest and fun this summer.  You don't have to spend money on an expensive program; you just need to spend your time doing something interesting that excites you (while you deservedly relax and recharge your batteries a bit). 

So here's a re-post from May 2009 of fifty summer activities you can do for free or almost free.  All of these are positive, productive and interesting to potential colleges.  Pick the one(s) you feel you could really get excited about.  Or use them as inspiration to come up with your own ideas.  Then get going and have fun.

    50 Ways to Spend Your Summer

    1. Take an interesting class at your local community college.
    2. Get a part-time job at the mall. 
    3. See how many books you can read this summer.  
    4. Work in your family's business.  Consider doing so for free.
    5. Think of ten people–teachers, coaches, family members, relatives–who deserve your thanks.  Write them a hand-written letter of at least one page expressing your appreciation and detailing how they've impacted you.  Tell them what you're going to do to make them proud and spend the summer doing it.
    6. Take saxophone lessons.  
    7. Coach little league.  Or basketball.  Or soccer.
    8. Work at a summer camp.  
    9. Volunteer at the local mobile health clinic, or the animal shelter, or the public library.  
    10. Tutor kids.  
    11. Start a business with your friends.   
    12. Set a goal that you are 99% certain you won't be able to achieve this summer.  Then go all out and try to achieve it as though your life depended on it.  You'll either get there or get much, much closer than you were at the beginning of the summer. 
    13. Learn how to write computer programs.  
    14. Read to the blind.  
    15. Teach something.  
    16. Learn to paint.  
    17. Pick something that really interests you and see how far you can go with it.  
    18. Take classes to become an emergency medical technician.  
    19. Learn sign language.   
    20. Pick a cause in your community that you care about.  Find groups who care about it, too.  Organize people. 
    21. Offer to intern for free someplace where the work seems interesting, like the city councilman's office, or an advertising agency, or the local newspaper.  
    22. Play guitar at coffee shops and see how much money you can make this summer. 
    23. Learn CPR. 
    24. Cook dinner for your family once a week.  Each time, learn a new dish that you prepare.  Write your recipes down and make your own family cookbook. 
    25. Volunteer to lead tours of local state parks.   
    26. Buy a college guidebook and learn as much as you can about 20 colleges you know nothing about today.  
    27. Raise money for someone or something that needs it. 
    28. Learn something that is pure fun, like bongos or hip hop dance or how to make your own purses (check out your local community colleges' "community education" programs). 
    29. Pick something you love and figure out how to use it to make contributions to others, like playing piano in a jazz band, teaching residents at a retirement home how to use a computer, or helping run the lights for a play at the community theater.  
    30. Work full time and give all the money to a charity of your choice at the end of the summer.  
    31. Pick a subject that fascinates you and challenge yourself to learn as much as possible about it. 
    32. Learn karate. 
    33. Teach karate. 
    34. Join a book club. 
    35. Organize a book club. 
    36. Go to your school principal and ask what you could do, for free, to improve the school.  You could paint a classroom, clean lockers, or refurbish the lunch benches.  Better yet, enlist five friends to do it with you.  Don't just tell colleges you want to make an impact.  Make one.  
    37. Set a goal to learn as many new things as possible this summer–facts, skills, concepts, etc.  Write a blog detailing what you've learned so you can share it with cyberspace. 
    38. Build an iphone app. 
    39. Master one subject or skill you currently don't know anything about. 
    40. Hold informal soccer conditioning workouts, or barbecues for the new student council members so you can get to know each other better, or meetings at Starbucks with your co-editors to brainstorm story ideas for the paper this fall.  Show colleges you can organize people and lead them.    
    41. Have a neighborhood bake sale for the French Club in which all sales are conducted in French.  
    42. Get a group of kids from the drama club together and enroll in an improv class. 
    43. Pick a classic author and read all of his or her works. Find out what all the fuss is about Twain or Hemingway or Plath or Dickinson. 
    44. Take the hardest college class you can find and enroll in it "not-for-credit" so you can challenge yourself with impunity. 
    45. Visit as many colleges as you can in a 30 mile radius of your house.  Take your friends with you.  Write your own reviews of each school and share them with people. 
    46. Learn to cut and style hair.  You'll be a savior during prom season. 
    47. Vow not to watch any TV this summer.  Not one single second.  Pick something cool and fun and productive to do instead.    
    48. Find a class offered at a local college that looks fascinating.  Email the professor and ask if you can sit in on a session or two just to experience what the class is like.  
    49. Train to run a 10k, or a half-marathon, or a marathon, or to do a triathlon.  And get your friends to join and train with you.  Consider raising money with your efforts and donating to a worthy cause. 
    50. Pick the five most enticing things on this list and do them.  At the end of the summer, email me at kevinm (at) collegewise.com and tell me about your experiences.  I'd love to hear from you, and if you give me permission, I'll share your story here on our blog.

      Would you quit an activity for $1,000?

      A lot of students think that once they start an activity, they should never quit because it would look bad to colleges. But colleges don’t want you to just plod through something for the sake of sticking it out. Successful people not only know how to commit to things, but also how to quit.

      You change a lot while you’re in high school. A club or activity you joined as a freshman might lose some of its oomph by the time you’re a junior. Good quitters can sense when an activity, a job, a project or a relationship isn’t going anyplace good or is just making them unhappy. So they quit and move on, and they don’t beat themselves up about it.

      One of my former Collegewise students was a standout football player, but he quit right before the start of his junior year. Football was making him miserable. He realized he just wasn’t the type of guy who would ever enjoy, as he put it, “doing something where he was regularly congratulated for trying to take someone’s head off.”

      My student wanted to do other things that he thought would make him happier. So he quit, joined a steel drum band at his high school and started volunteering at his church. He went on to attend and graduate from Notre Dame.

      When you give time and effort to an activity, it should give something back to you. If you hate every second of marching band practice and are pretty sure that lugging your tuba around every day after school has caused permanent damage to your spine—stop. Don’t march in the band anymore. Find something else that you enjoy with lighter equipment.

      When quitting pays big
      Knowing that quitting is an option can also strengthen your commitment to things you really care about. The online retailer Zappos bribes new employees to quit. “The Offer,” as it’s known at Zappos, is the brainchild of CEO Tony Hsieh. Every new call center employee at Zappos goes through a four-week training program during which time they earn their full salary. At the end of the program, Zappos offers $4,000 to any new hire who wants to quit. Only about 2 to 3 percent of the people take the money and run.

      By giving new employees an easy way to quit, Zappos fills its ranks with people who really want to be there.

      Are you doing an activity that your heart’s just not in anymore? If the answer is, “Yes,” why are you still doing it? Why not find something you love enough that you’d never take the bribe to quit?

      Keep in mind, not all quitting is good. If you love being on the volleyball team, but quit just because you didn’t get picked as the starting setter, maybe you should stay and work to earn your spot back?

      You get to choose which activities you do outside of class. If you make the wrong choice, or if what used to make you happy just isn’t working for you anymore, don’t be afraid to be a good quitter and make a different choice.

      Excerpted from my book: If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted

      You’ll win if you love it

      I just finished reading a great book about the best distance runners on the planet–the Tarahumara Indians in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico.  The Tarahumara routinely run 100-200 miles in rugged terrain wearing homemade sandals.  And the best part is how much they love doing it. They smile and enjoy themselves while they're running.  Even when they were brought to the US and began competing in (and winning) 100-mile ultra marathons, they're just laughing and having fun while they do it.  The author says that while we run to win races or to punish ourselves for eating a big slice of cheesecake last night, the Tarahumara run for one reason–because they love to do it.  And nobody can do it better. 

      Now, you know there's a college admissions lesson coming here…

      The most successful college applicants I've ever met didn't take hard classes because they wanted to get into famous colleges; they took hard classes because they wanted to be challenged and learn something.  They didn't do community service because they wanted to put it on a college application; they did it because they really wanted to help someone.  Their excitement about college has nothing to do with getting into an Ivy League school.  They might be happy to go to one but that's not why they do what they do.  They're happier, more interesting, more confident and just plain cooler than kids who make all their decisions based on what they think Stanford will appreciate.

      Like the Tarahumara, they do it because they love it.  It's not about winning a competition for them.  And yet they beat out the other applicants who spend four years of high school trying to make themselves competitive without enjoying most of the experience.

      It's your choice.  Which kid do you want to be?