JA In The News | Junior Achievement of Southern Massachusetts

Soft Skills 101: Communication

Have you ever stopped to think what messages you’re communicating as you sit in front of your computer or while you’re stuck in traffic? While you may not be conscious of your nonverbal signals, others around you are decoding your messages.

Today, hiring managers and recruiters have placed communication skills at the top of their desired employee skills. By rank, these are the top 10 communication skills they are looking for:

1.     (Active) Listening

-       Communication is not possible without one of the parties digesting and processing what is being said or shown. As a member of the audience, it’s crucial that you pay close attention to what the other person is saying, asking questions when you feel confused, and even paraphrasing back to the speaker to provide more clarification.

2.     Nonverbal Communication

-       This would have to be one of the stealthiest communication styles. Most of the time we cross our arms, slouch in our chair, or even continue with a text or email without considering what we are communicating. Instead, work on your eye contact with who is speaking, show you are able to have an open dialogue by keeping your arms placed in your lap.

3.     Clarity and Concision

-       We all know someone who loves to talk. In turn, it makes those around him or her feel as if their time is not respected as well as makes it difficult for anyone else to engage in the conversation. Make sure you’re keeping the road a two-way street by keeping what you have to say short, sweet and simple.

4.     Friendliness

-       The way we welcome someone with a smile or with an upbeat and sincere tone in voice increases the likelihood that an individual will want to speak to you again. Should your interaction not be face to face or over the phone, you can make yourself seem friendlier and welcoming by adding a genuine side-note to an email such as saying, “I hope you had a great weekend!”

5.     Confidence

-       Displaying confidence is more than just walking with perfect posture and standing tall when speaking to others. Confidence can be shown through a serious (but approachable) tone of voice or by merely ensuring what you are saying comes across as a statement, not a question.

6.     Empathy

-       Empathy does not come easy during a heated discussion; yet, it is essential to remember effective communication incorporates respect and openness. The next time you disagree with someone, acknowledge where they are coming from and express your point of view in a calm, clear manner.

7.     Open-Mindedness

-       The beauty of communication is the ability to share ideas, opinions, feelings and more! The only way to absorb these elements is by being willing to comprehend and consider what another person is telling you.

8.     Respect

-       This concept can be harder than it looks. Different cultures and environments make it challenging to be respectful in communication. For example, in grade-school, you can recall having to raise your hand to answer or ask a question. As you made your way into the workplace, you found that you no longer need to raise your hand to speak. The environment in which you were in determined how you were to communicate.

9.     Feedback

-       In the workplace, it is crucial that all associates can take criticism AND positive feedback from their managers. Instead of viewing negative feedback as an unacceptance of you or your work, look at it as a way for you to get better.

10.  Picking the Right Medium

-       Finally, choosing the right channel to discuss topics is crucial. You wouldn’t text your boss to discuss a promotion, would you? It’s important to know what methods of communication are appropriate for the subject at hand.


Think you are a communication Rockstar? Try one of the following tests to find out!


Want to see how JA is helping to promote soft skills, like communication? Check out JA Career Success.

An Inside Look at JA Program Development

From financial literacy and work readiness to entrepreneurship, Junior Achievement (JA) provides countless programs to equip today’s youth with skills that will assist in their successes tomorrow.

To get a better idea of how we are creating our programming, we pulled in our Senior Vice President of Education & Learning Technologies, Mary Catherine (MC) Desrosiers for an interview. In her role, MC has oversight of the education group, managing the blended transformation and directing ideation, design, implementation, and evaluation of new program and learning technology.

Q: What is your job role?

Senior Vice President, Education and Learning Technologies

Q: How long have you been with JA?

4 years

Q: How long does it take to create and launch a program/learning experience?

A program doesn’t have a set amount of time to create and launch.  What’s most important are the stages that we go through in order to conceive of and create a new program.  From the time we start researching until the time we launch a pilot, it’s typically a year.

Q: What stages are needed / used from start to implementation?

Discovery, Design, Production, Launch, Implementation, and Evaluation.

Q: How are JA programs/learning experiences developed?

MC: We start by identifying real, high-priority opportunities.  Then we lay the foundation for success for a specific opportunity through user and market research that identifies unmet needs and clarifies our goals, scope, and audience needs.  We undergo a process of discovery at a strategic and program level, meaning that we are constantly evaluating our market and our users and deciding what we need to teach and to whom.  That research informs our decisions about which programs to develop, why we should develop them, and whose needs we can meet.  For each program we develop, we undergo a specific discovery process and use design thinking to develop our prototypes.

During our design phase, we focus on creating a program vision, understanding specific users’ needs, and describing a new experience that is engaging and promises to demonstrate the desired learning outcomes. Design has two parts: Concept Design and Prototyping; and Program and Content Design.

During concept design and prototyping, we make ideas tangible and test them with the audiences and other stakeholders.  The result of user testing may be that one concept is a clear winner, that elements of both are successful, or that another idea emerges—or that we need to rethink.  During program design, we work through the user journey and define the requirements for each user group.  We work through our technical architecture and specifications, figure out the “look and feel” of the program, design an assessment and evaluation strategy.  After all that is finished, we can start writing and developing and creating the learning materials for our students, volunteers, and educators.                                                                                                            

Q: What factors or elements are considered?

There are a lot of factors considered in each phase of our process.  I’ll name a few.  As we do our strategic discovery, we investigate general and education market trends, the latest learning research, the competition, state standards, and trends in learning experiences in technology.  We consider our diverse audiences and their needs, the trends or development in a specific area of content, and the various learning environments in which our content may be delivered. 

Q: How do you go about testing?

We start with the end in mind, so we are always working toward a goal or plan that can be tested.  Production is an iterative process:  testing and revising are ongoing, with each round of testing informing the next steps in development.  We use both lean product development and rapid innovation testing. By the time we get to alpha testing, we have the first version of the entire program, the technology architecture is finalized, and the programmers have integrated the technology that will enhance program delivery.

We pilot all of our programs.  Field testing and providing support to the JA Areas during implementation are critical to the success of JA programs.  During the implementation phase, the team, led by JA USA Field Program Services, tests all components of the program with selected JA Area pilot sites (beta test), creates all training materials, and prepares implementation guidelines for the JA Areas.

A formative evaluation is designed and used to improve the program, especially when it is still being developed.   During Design, Production, and Implementation, we collect and analyze qualitative data to understand how well a program is working and ways we might improve it.

During beta testing, the JA evaluation group conducts a formal formative evaluation that explores how well the program elements work and align with intended learning objectives. 

 A “launch impact evaluation” describes the assessment we conduct on a newly-developed blended program during the pilot phase/alpha testing.  For kit-based programs, we continue to refer to Phase 1 as a formative evaluation. 

When all the components are complete and tested, we fully launch a program to the JA Areas.  The JA Areas recruit and train volunteers and work with schools to deliver the program. 

But our testing doesn’t stop once the program is in the field.  Once we formally launch a program to the JA network, we begin a summative evaluation designed to present conclusions about the merit or worth of an intervention and recommendations about whether it should be retained, altered, or eliminated.  

A “comprehensive impact evaluation” describes the summative evaluation of a blended program that is conducted after the learning environment has stabilized.  It measures student learning gains, changes in perceptions and attitudes, and other meaningful dimensions of interest.

Q: Who do you consult with when developing a program?

We consult with subject matter experts in content areas as well as people who have expertise in working with learners of different ages.  We consult with teachers, industry leaders, and our JA Area partners, particularly our pilot sites, but we seek to get information from our R&D’s too.  And last, but certainly not least, we consult with students.  We speak to kids to get their feedback and involve them in our design thinking process.

Q: What changes in the education / lesson planning industry have you (or your team) had to navigate?

The education marketplace is continually changing.  Incorporating technologies into blended programming while still meeting the needs of classrooms without technology has been important. Incorporating evolving technologies like Augmented Reality or keeping pace with educational trends such as project-based learning, the flipped classroom, brain-based learning research, and cognitive science keep us busy. 

Q: What changes do you anticipate for the future?

I anticipate a focus on self-efficacy and competency-based learning.

Q: How has the integration of innovative technology like VR changed how students learn with JA programs?

We continue to consider ways in which we can provide simulated experiences, like JA Finance Park Virtual or the small augmented reality experiences in JA Our City.   Since we’re preparing students for “the real world,” the virtual world holds some exciting possibilities for us.


The Importance of Career Development

Reports have stated that youth aged 16-24 are experiencing unemployment rates that are at least twice the national average. Historically, the month of July has always shown a peak of unemployment. The decline of working-teens is not only for summer months but have been found to be present during the school season. During April, reports showed one-third of teens were employed, compared to just over half of teens being employed nearly 40 years ago.

So, how is this impacting your teen?

Setting Up a “Successful Future” Foundation

Teens that start working earlier not only have more to show on a resume, college essays, and in the bank, they are also setting themselves up for the future.

An ongoing study of youth aged 15 to 25 found:

-       Working year-round at 15 increased the chances of being employed at 17 to 21.

-       Those who worked year-round at 15 had higher incomes at ages 17 to 25 and from 21 to 23 had a higher quality job match.

Money Management Matters

The value of money comes with the earning of it, which is why it is essential that teens experience working for a paycheck. By understanding the work behind a dollar, teens begin to feel a sense of independence and ownership in their financial futures.

Developing Soft Skills

Employment is an excellent way for teens to learn leadership skills, communication skills, time management, and personal responsibility, as well as work ethic. Through work experience, teens learn to navigate a work setting. Outlined in Glassdoor’s skills to increase the chances of being hired, being able to collaborate in a team setting ranks in the top 10!

Provide Work Direction

Getting hands-on with an industry that one finds interesting is the start of picking the right career path. By teens starting their career-seeking adventure early they have a better chance at finding their right fit!

To help your teen start their professional exploration, check out JA Build your Future

Cracking the 5 Toughest Interview Questions

Congratulations! All of your hard work has paid off! You’ve spent hours perfecting your resume, having friends review it, generating a strong cover letter and determining the right outfit to impress your interviewer.  Now, finally, you’re walking into your potential new workplace. All you have to do is knock the interview out of the park. Are you ready?

To better prepare yourself for the dream-job interview, we have put together some of the toughest interview questions and how to conquer them!

The “Warm-Up” Question: “So, tell me about yourself.”

Essentially, your interviewer is looking at how well you can communicate. Are you going to talk about your hobbies and adventures or are you going to keep it professional?

How to Respond:

-        Keep your answer short, professional, AND straightforward.  

-       Consider integrating your present professional experiences as a starting point. Next, reflect on your past professional experiences to provide a foundation for your skill set. Finally, talk about your professional aspirations and how you feel the company relates to your future goals.


The “Digging Deeper” Question: “Why did you leave your last job?”

Your answer to this question will communicate multiple things to your interviewer: Are you going to talk bad about the company? Did you leave for a good reason? Are you trustworthy and dependable? Did you leave on good terms?

How to Respond:

-       You can address this question in multiple ways, but you do NOT want to speak poorly about your past company. Keep the interview in a positive direction.

-       Did you feel under-appreciated or not paid well? Leaving a position is a common reason to seek out a new job. Consider going down the “I’m seeking a greater opportunity to grow as a professional” road.

**Anticipate a follow up regarding what opportunities you are seeking. 

-       Were you fired? State that you and your employer “parted ways” and mention a skill that you learned or further developed from this experience.

-       Laid off? For this reason, it is okay to say that it was budget or economy related. It’s common for companies to make cuts. It’s not personal; it’s just business.


The “Confidence-is-Key” Question: “Why should I hire you?”

Expect to be asked this question in your interview. Your interviewer is testing out the waters of your confidence. Before the conversation even begins, you should have researched the company enough to know their core values and their mission statement.

How to Respond:

-        Answer the questions with your professional skills AND soft skills and how they relate to the company’s core values.  Remember—your interviewer is asking you to sell yourself with this question.

-       If the interviewer has disclosed information about the culture of the office and you feel you would thrive in the described workplace, be sure to mention it!


The “Awkward Money Talk” Question: “What are your salary expectations?”

This question can cause you to lose a job even if you have nailed all of the other interview questions. Interviewers ask this question for one reason, to determine if the company can afford you. Be sure to do research on the salary of someone in the position you are applying for in your area!

How to Respond:

-       Be sure to tie in that it is negotiable.

-       Have a range of salaries from your research and mention them. Consider what you will be bringing to the company and the position itself. Higher management positions are going to pay more than a lower end position. Also be sure to consider if you have the experience necessary to justify requesting a salary on the higher end of the range you outline. 


The “Core Interview” Question: “Why do you want to work for our company?”

Essentially, your interviewer wants to know what your career goals are, how the company (and position) fit into your plan, and if you would thrive in the company culture. Be sure to research the company, press involving the company, and philanthropic efforts.

How to Respond:

-       When addressing this question, consider: Why are you interested in the company? Why are you interested in the job?

-       Be sure to integrate what you like about the company with your values and or skillset.

-       It’s okay to dive in deeper into this question as it is multi-layered.


Wish you would have learned interview skills earlier in life? JA is helping today’s students get prepared for their futures through  JA Career Success! This program equips students with the tools and skills necessary to earn and keep a job in high-growth career industries!

Soft Skills 101: Leadership

The successful and innovative Steve Jobs once said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

But in a world where a ruler, and not a yardstick, is all that youth are exposed to, how is one to develop the skills necessary to expect excellence? Through leadership.

According to BusinessDictionary, leadership involves establishing a clear vision, sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly, providing the information, knowledge, and methods to realize the said vision and to coordinate (and balance) the interests of all members and stakeholders. Essentially, communicate effectively what you aim to achieve and provide motivation to keep the vision and goal you seek in plain sight.

In a 2015 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employees, participating employers were asked to name the attributes they value most in candidates. To no surprise, leadership was the primary skill identified by 77.8 percent of the participants when it came to the ability to work in a team. 

Why are leadership skills important in business?

In today’s business realm, it’s crucial that businesses hire employees who can not only manage themselves but who can also assist with the direction of other workers. By doing so, employees are more likely to build quality relationships throughout the organization and essentially take on a role of a mentor.

Leadership Development in Business

Due to the few opportunities of leadership development prior to entering the workplace, companies are integrating what’s called the Kotter International model of 70:20:10 which identifies 70 percent on-the-job learning, 20 percent social learning through coaching or mentoring and 10 percent formal skill development programs. Businesses are now taking it upon themselves to provide training to employees, teaching basic soft skills to enable them to be better components of a company.

How to Include Leadership Skills in a Resume

Soft skills such as leadership are not always a given when it comes to potential new hires. While one candidate may have far more experience or “hard skills,” such as accounting or data analysis, he or she may not have the necessary “soft skills” to manage others or to be successful in the company culture. When incorporating a skill such as leadership on a resume, it is crucial that you not only include it within the skills portion of the resume but also explore how it was developed within the professional endeavors listed. The National Association of Colleges and Employers survey discovered that only 67.5 percent of employers look for “technical skills” (or hard skills) when hiring, compared to the previously mentioned (77.8%) soft skill of leadership. When describing your previous work experience you will want to incorporate your soft skill with the technical skill (or hard skill) practices and then the outcome.

Through this formula, you are demonstrating that the outcome would not have been possible without the assistance of the two skillsets. This also shows that you are able to practice such skills in a professional setting.

When in doubt of your own leadership abilities, ask yourself “Am I a yardstick or a ruler or quality?”

To get started on creating your resume, check out JA My Resume

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