CEO and Founder of QA Madness, overseeing tech startups and seasoned players` business processes and software quality assurance globally.
I guess every person reaches the point in their lives when they can and want to share their knowledge. Recently, I was invited to talk with high school students about business as a part of my son’s school initiative. It made me realize two things. First, preparing for a lesson is not an easy task. Second, many teenagers are very reasonable when you talk to them about business.
Initially, I decided to share my career achievements and describe how I reached important milestones but then changed my mind. Will the rules I applied 10 years ago be as helpful for present-day teenagers in 10 more years? Very unlikely. That led me to an idea: Instead of talking about finance directly, ask the teenagers how they imagine their future. Eventually, it will lead to the discussion of business matters.
I left the meeting with several more insights that are helpful for business leaders when engaging with young people at job fairs, volunteering at a school, mentoring students and presenting to classes.
1. Encourage them to fantasize about the future.
Instead of making young minds memorize the rules that might become inefficient in a couple of years, encourage them to imagine the situations that might happen in 15 years when they are starting their own businesses. Offer these questions:
• Who do you want to become? Why?
• What do you need to do to accomplish this goal?
• Who will be your competitors in the market of the future?
• What professions may no longer exist?
• Why would someone want to invest in your idea?
• Why would someone want to hire you?
These are some of the questions you can use during your conversation. What do they have to do with business? It makes sense to explain how the job market works when a young person is deciding where they want to study or work. We eventually agreed to discuss the vast robotization in many fields and “the rise of the useless class.” For some adults, it might seem like a distant and unlikely perspective, but is it? Whether you like where we are going or not in the future, help students become prepared.
2. Let them follow their passions.
Whatever someone is interested in, there is a way to use it for career development in the future. And I suggest that you don’t push a young person to follow a path you’ve chosen for them. It sounds like a cliché from an average teenage drama, but we all know how those movies always end.
After the meeting at school, a boy approached asking me to recommend some readings on management. It turned out that he had already read more than a dozen books and written his own, simply because he finds it interesting to learn about process management.
3. Explain that being successful doesn’t mean owning a business.
While some people admire office culture and leadership, others despise it. Your task is to explain that a world in which everyone is a business owner won’t work. And honestly, not everyone needs to become a business owner. But every company buys a person’s expertise, pays for their value and leaves room for independent decision-making.
4. Teach them to analyze.
Encourage young minds to reflect on the trends and messages conveyed by influencers. Ask them these questions:
• What messages do you receive?
• Where are the trends leading you?
• Do you want to end up in that place?
• Is there something you would like to change?
5. Remind them to be present and socialize.
A 16-year-old girl approached me with a business question after the meeting. I learned that she wanted to become a scientist and work in biotech. She studied at three schools to prepare for a university abroad. Being so persistent and confident in what she wanted to do at such a young age was impressive.
Nevertheless, remind youth not to miss little things: making friends, going out to movies and school dances, etc. The girl I talked to believed she couldn’t afford to be distracted by other activities. However, education is only one piece to building a career. Socialization skills matter just as much, and we learn the basics during our younger years.
Before we started the meeting, I suggested three noisy boys leave if they prefer to be somewhere else, without any undertone or consequences. Later that evening, I realized one more thing. Back in the day, I would be a teenager an adult guest speaker would have disciplined for being noisy. What if those boys are going to do something extraordinary but are unaware of the rules I was trying to teach?
When you talk to and mentor young students about business, focus on their desires and opportunities, not rules or finance. Don’t make them start worrying about money already. Show them that you care about their future, that you are interested in what they are going to become and what world they are going to build. In the end, the future belongs to them.