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10 posts from November 2011

November 30, 2011

Overcoming managers' objections to flexibility

After having my first two children 15 months apart, I thought I was going lose my mind. Wiping noses, changing diapers and meeting deadlines was almost impossible in the pre-laptop days. I asked my boss for a reduced work schedule (four days a week). It wasn't granted often in the newsroom but I managed to convince her to give it a try. See my video above.

 Today, in my Miami Herald column, I highlight some strategies for overcoming managers' objections to flexible work arrangements. I hope some of you who are pondering making a request will find the tips helpful.

The Miami Herald
One of the questions I most often hear from readers seeking work/life balance is “How do I get my manager to give me flexibility?”

Sometimes it comes from a mother who is struggling to take care of an infant and keep her job. Other times, the question comes from a male boomer who can’t stand the commute and wants to work from home a few mornings. Surprisingly, it even may come from someone whose company has a policy that embraces flexible work arrangements.

Typically, it’s a middle manager who stands in the way.

“Manager resistance can be one of the biggest barriers to workplace flexibility,” said Kyra Cavanaugh, president of Lifemeetswork, a flexible workplace consultancy firm.

Just last week, a young associate at a Miami law firm told me she asked her boss if she could work from home occasionally when she doesn’t have to appear in court. “He didn’t even take a breath before he blurted out no,” she complained.

Taking a manager from no to yes can be done, gradually or quickly, with the right approach. And when on board, managers who supervise staff members who work flexibly find their teams usually perform better, too. “Rather than it being a herculean task that requires extra hours to manage, it’s really about being a good manager,” Cavanaugh says.

The definition of working flexibly has expanded in recent years, encompassing everything from shifting start and finish times to working four-day work weeks to working some or all of the time from home, or a variety of other arrangements.

The most common manager objections to flexible working revolves around trust and control: How do I know you’re working if I can’t see you? What if I need you and you aren’t available?

Cavanaugh says the employee has to go in with a plan that includes more communication. “Have a conversation about expectations, deadlines, milestones, work hours, how often you will evaluate the arrangement.”

Another big manager concern is productivity: If I give you flexibility, what’s the impact on productivity and client service?

Beyond face time, how does your manager measure productivity? If he doesn’t, devise short and long term metrics to make your case.

After becoming a mother of two, Risa Steinman wanted to work a part-time schedule as a sales representative at a call center for DentalPlans.com in Plantation. Her manager, Margaret Keen, vice president of sales, was reluctant. It had never been done. “We have sales goals to make and I was not sure she would be able to meet them,” Keen said.

Steinman enthusiastically argued that she was sure she could meet the goals, even on a reduced schedule. Keen agreed to give the arrangement a try. They set a quota based on the number of hours Steinman would work. Within the first 30 days, she exceeded it and has continued to prove herself for the last two years. “I come in focused and I often sell as much as full-time sales people,” Steinman said.

Seeing the arrangement can work, Keen has allowed nine others part-time schedules that accommodate employees’ work/life needs. Still, as a manager, Keen says the business needs to remain her priority. “We’re a call center so I have to plan ahead and staff accordingly.”

Cavanaugh says managers often can be won over if they are made to see the advantages of flex, particularly if it’s higher productivity. “Every manager wants a high-performing employee. It makes them look good.”

Pointing out advantages to business operations can sway the boss, too. “Flex could lead to cross training, better use of technology, extended hours for client service. It helps to break down the benefits to the entire team so you’re not just asking for flex but spearheading a team initiative.”

In a small business with resource limitations, there is an even bigger opportunity to show how flexibility can help. For example, shifting a person’s schedule to come in later and stay later could result in extended office hours to better serve customers.

In most workplaces, flexibility exists as an informal accommodation. Managers will give it to top performers. But some bosses object to all requests by saying, “If I do it for you, I will have to do it for others.”

Wellstar, an Atlanta health provider with 12,000 employees, has a flexibility policy recognized as one of the best by Working Mother magazine. But even the best workplaces have pockets of resistance. Wellstar urges managers to evaluate each request fairly, based on the business rather than the individual reason.

“We tell the managers that if their staff is able to maintain its level of productivity and there would be no negative impact on results, it’s at least worth considering different ways to work,” said Karen Mathews, director of work/life services at Wellstar. Some managers still say no, she concedes, but others are starting to feel peer pressure.

To make managers more comfortable about maintaining control, Mathews says the company has gone to online scheduling — a manager can see who is scheduled at what time and where. An employee can go online and choose her schedule weeks in advance.

Another manager objection to flexible work arises from concerns about practicalities: How will we collaborate? What if we don’t have the technology to enable someone to work from home?

This is where you need to get creative, Cavanaugh says. Scrutinize what your company already uses and free programs that are available to allow virtual collaboration — instant messaging, Google file-sharing, a virtual whiteboard or Skype.

Lastly, job security continues to factor into manager reluctance. Most will say, if not think: What if I stick my neck out to support this? Who has my back?

Experts say to analyze the risk to your manager and figure out how to lower it. This could mean suggesting the arrangement as a short-term pilot program to prove its benefits. Show the boss you’ve got his back.



November 29, 2011

Why Time Goes Faster as You Get Older

Clock1I can't believe we are about to enter the last month of 2011...where did the year go?

As I strive each day for work life balance, each year seems to go by faster and faster. When November hit, I found myself saying, "Didn't I just eat turkey a few months ago?!?"  As Ronald E. Riggio,  points out in his Psychology Today blog: You remember in vivid detail your childhood Christmases, but now they rush by year after year without making much of an impression. What's going on?

His explanation: the early years are full of first-time events - your first date, the birth of your first child, that first big vacation. First occasions are novel events and we tend to make more detailed and lasting memories of those first times. When we repeat the event, year after year, it is less likely to make a unique or lasting impression.

Riggio points out that this doesn't just happen with life events, it also happens with short-term events.For instance, the first couple of days of your 2-week vacation seem long and leisurely, and the time goes slowly. You're thankful that you have two long weeks of this. But, the next thing you know, it's almost over and you are heading home!

So as we head into a new year, here are a few ways to slow down the pace of life (at least psychologically):

1. As much as possible, take advantage of new and unique experiences. When we go to the same places and do the same things, we don't make distinct memories and time seems to fly by. This year, I'm going to do some of those things on my bucket list. Will you?

2. Focus on positive (rather than negative) past memories. Trying to live more in the present, and hold a positive perception of the future - envisioning a future full of hope and optimism.  (So you didn't get to some of those things on your goal list in 2011. Don't dwell on it. What cool, fun goals can you put on your list in 2012?)

3.  Consider keeping a journal. Even though you're about to celebrate New Year's again, there probably events in 2011 worth remembering. Along with personal experiences, you might want to include observations. I think one reason time speeds up is our memory isn't as good as we get older and days blur.

Do you feel like 2011 flew by fast? Did you get caught up in the day to day of juggling work and your personal life and forget to make new memories and enjoy the moment? Will you do anything differently next year?


November 23, 2011

Sleep texting?

SleeptextingThe other evening, my son was watching television, dosing off and I saw his fingers start clacking away on his Android cell phone. He was sleep texting. I tried to stop him but it was too late -- teens are so fast when they text that it takes only a split second to send a full paragraph and hit send. 

Apparently what his did isn't unusual.

Fox news reports that the stress of daily life has sparked a new phenomenon -- sleep texting.

People send incoherent text messages while asleep to their friends and family, and are completely unaware they are doing it.

There are no studies into sleep texting, but a similar phenomenon, sleep emailing, was studied in 2008.

Researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio reported the case of a woman, 44, who would compose emails while sound asleep. She had no recollection of sending the emails when awake.

 "Emails can be sent to work colleagues and have much more serious consequences, whereas text messages are more likely to be accidentally sent to a friend or family member, so people aren't as likely to complain of a problem,"  said sleep specialist Dr. David Cunnington, of the Melbourne Sleep Disorder Centre.

Cunnington described sleep texting as the result of people having too much to do during waking life.

 "People are doing so much during a normal day that it can mean that they feel like they're 'on call' even at night," he said. "Because it's so easy to receive emails constantly, and get notifications from smartphones, it becomes more difficult for us to separate our waking and sleeping lives."

 Read more

Readers, do you think you are capable of sleep texting? Do you sleep with your smartphone nearby?

November 21, 2011

Will Black Friday affect your work life balance?

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the afterparty -- you know that part of the day when your belly is full and you slump into the couch and chill. So, I totally understand why employees of retailers like Target and Best Buy are revolting over this mania to open stores and start the Black Friday hoopla on Thursday. Target had close to 100,000 people sign a petition against its early opening.

ShoppingmaniaHere's what some customers have said to the Baltimore Sun

Bryce Allison: “It's a national holiday not a national shopping day... maybe try giving thanks for your employees that bring you so much money.”

Scotty Brookie: “Encouraging people to shop in the middle of the night is bizarre. And forcing employees to be there to help them, when they could be home with  their families, is insensitive and cruel.”

Sonia Rodriquez: “Hard-working store associates deserve their family time on Thanksgiving. I will definitely be taking my business elsewhere than Target over this policy.”

Of course, now I'm torn. I like bargains. No, I love bargains! But I want to show solidarity. I want to let these workers know that understand that family time is important and that they should be able to enjoy their holiday. I realize that some workers  -- those who work in hospitals or public safety roles -- must work all day on Thursday. But this is different. This is corporate greed. Do Americans really need cheap TVs at midnight? Can't they wait until 6 a.m. on Friday to buy them?

For an employee stuck working in an office on Black Friday -- which was me for many years -- the Thursday night openings give them a chance to hit be a part of the mania. Still, do they really need it? They now have the option of shopping from their computers or smart phones. No more feeling like you're missing out and wishing you worked for a kinder employer who let you run through the malls stuffing your bag with sweaters at rock bottom prices. You can do that while earning income on Friday.

And make note of this: According to Consumer Reports, last year more than a quarter of the most popular electronics were marked down in the two weeks after Black Friday.

"If you miss Black Friday weekend -- fear not, there are going to be more deals all the way through, week after week," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group.

I've decided I will boycott Black Friday sales at retailers who don't respect their employees family time. I'm going to wait until Friday to do my shopping. I'm sure Target will feel the impact of my decision. Right?

Readers, what do you think about disgruntled employees, shopping from your office cubicle and Black Friday sales? Will you boycott Thanksgiving night sales? Will you shop online from work or take a vacation day on Friday to shop? Would you rather forget about this shopping mania and spend Black Friday doing something more relaxing?

November 15, 2011

Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out At Work By 30

BurnoutI just hung up with my 26-year-old friend, Lisa, and let out a big sigh. She's sounds headed for burnout. She can't foresee having kids anytime soon because her boss is so demanding. She feels like she's in constant overdrive and she's barely spending any time with her husband. I could hear the frustration and unhappiness over the fact that her life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

Larissa Faw at Forbes.com has intrigued me with her take on why the Millennial generation of women who seem to “have it all” are burning out at work before they reach 30. She writes: one reason that women are burning out early in their careers is that they have simply reached their breaking point after spending their childhoods developing well-rounded resumes. They work like crazy in school and enter the workforce exhausted. Faw points out: No other generation was reared to excel at the same level as Millennials.

Faw also notes another reason for their frustration: Many also didn’t think of their lives beyond landing the initial first job. “They need to learn life is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Kelly Cutrone, president of People’s Revolution PR and author of Go Outside If You Need To Cry.

 Even those who did plot out their lives past the initial first career have unrealistic expectations about full-time employment -- underestimating the actual day-to-day drudgery.

Then they encounter what my friend is experiencing. They struggle over their next move. "Simply quitting or changing careers isn’t an option because the education for their professional jobs has burdened them with substantial student debt. Also, while earlier generations may have opted out of the workforce through marriage or motherhood, these paths aren’t viable for these self-sufficient women, who either are still single or unwilling to be fully supported by men," Faw points out.

Faw includes some findings: Millennials are less likely than Gen Xers, Boomers, and Seniors to say they are doing a good job managing their stress. Some 53 percent of entry-level jobs are held by women, but that drops to 37 percent for mid-management roles and 26 percent for vice presidents and senior managers. And,  men are more likely than women to do things that help their personal well being at work such as going to lunch or taking breaks, thus negating burnout

As a first step, these women are requesting more flexible schedules or seeking different work responsibilities. Some employers are compliant. I just attended the Work-Life Focus: 2020 and Beyond Conference by SHRM and FWI, where we heard lots of speakers talk about big changes in workplaces where Millennials dominate.

The flip side of this trend toward burnout is that Millennial women are highly educated  and they've been trained to lead from a young age. They may have debt but they are more nimble than other generations and determined. They know how to negotiate to get their needs met. I think they're the ones who are going to convince businesses to operate differently -- maybe even get them to rethink how and where work gets done.

Readers, what do you think? Do you think Millennial women are burning out faster than previous generations? Do you think Millennial women have the ability and desire to change workplace attitudes and reverse the trend toward fewer women in the higher ranks?  

November 09, 2011

Balancing extreme careers and home life

A few days ago, I set out to talk to Mireya Mayor who wrote a book called Pink Books and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. I thought the book was about career transition and that the topic would make an interesting column. But when I first began talking to her, I found out Mireya had only been a cheerleader during college. Her entire professional life was as an scientist/explorer. I was a little disappointed that she didn't fit into the story I had planned to write. But the more I talked to Mireya, the more interesting she became. I realized a better story was how she balances her career as an explorer, a job that takes her into the jungle for months at a time, with motherhood. She has four young girls, all under the age of six (including twins who are four months old)

I dug a little and found other people who struggle with work life balance, juggling extreme jobs with a personal life. When my column appeared today, I received an email from Lilian, a mom who thinks it's horrible that people leave their kids to travel for work. Lilian wrote me: "I could not help the sorrow I felt for the little girls whose mother chooses to go to the other side of the globe to study wild animals, rather than spend time at home doing what a mother does."

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion on parenthood, work life balance, and choices. Here's the article and I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether you feel you could or would want to balance an extreme job with parenthood:


The Miami Herald

Balancing extreme careers and home life

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   Mireya Mayor of Miami studies wild animals, like these leopards in Namibia in 2003, in their own habitat as a National Geographic explorer. The job may take her away from home for weeks at a time.
Photo provided by Mireya Mayor
Mireya Mayor of Miami studies wild animals, like these leopards in Namibia in 2003, in their own habitat as a National Geographic explorer. The job may take her away from home for weeks at a time.
Barely recovering from giving birth to twin girls, explorer Mireya Mayor already is planning her next adventure into the jungle. She may go to Africa to observe wild chimpanzees or to Madagascar to try to discover a new species of lemurs.

Clearly, studying animals on the verge of extinction as a National Geographic explorer has become more challenging since becoming a mother. With four girls under the age of six, Mayor feels a bit differently about making expeditions for two or three months in remote habitats — with little or no communications ability. But she has no plans to give it up.

“When I had children, I thought I had to make a decision to stay home or be an explorer,” Mayor says. “I realized that being an explorer is not what I do, it’s who I am.”

Ever wonder what’s on the other side of the cubicle? While many of us toil away at our computers, some American workers have jobs that involve travel, adventure and even danger. These jobs, intoxicating for the people who hold them, are becoming more prevalent with globalization and preservation. Yet, even the hardiest of adventurers find it challenging to balance their professions and home lives.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, has studied extreme jobs — those that require people to work 70-hour weeks and those that require long periods of travel. “These extreme jobs are tougher on women because they are less likely to have a stay-at-home spouse,” Hewlett says. “Men tend to have more of a support system at home.”

When she’s home in Miami, Mayor films wildlife specials out of local studios or writes article for National Geographic Kids. She combines that with brushing her toddler’s hair into ponytails or changing the babies’ diapers at 3 a.m. When she’s in the jungle, it’s all about work. “I’ve been charged by gorillas, touched poisonous snakes, slept across from lions,” she says.

After her first two daughters were born, Mayor was invited by TV producer Mark Burnett to join his TV cast for Expedition Africa. She went. While Mayor is away, her husband, Roland Wolff, and mother pitch in with child care. “My family finds a way to make it work,” she says. Wolff takes over packing lunches and shuttling kids to school, while working full time from home for Leica, a German camera company. “He does travel with his job, too, but we try to make it that one of us is home with the kids,” Mayor says.

The daughter of a conservative Cuban mother, Mayor realized in college she wasn’t going the safe route. As a University of Miami student, she cheered professionally for the Miami Dolphins. But upon graduating, her interest was in anthropology and science. She has documented her career highlights and efforts at balance in her new book featured at the Miami Book Fair, Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. She writes this about her explorations, which have included crashing on a flight to the Congo: “The toughest part isn’t the mosquitoes or snakes or living in wet clothes or even the starving. The toughest part is being away from my family, and not knowing if I will ever see them again.”

Click here to




November 08, 2011

Allison Nazarian addresses the myth of work life balance

Readers, today I'd like to you to meet Allison Nazarian, a working mom with strong opinions and great insight. Allison has just authored a book called Love Your Mess. She is an author, speaker and journalist who works with businesses and individuals ready to put their stories into words. She also is the the facilitator of Your Story Unlimited workshops, a football fanatic and a someday-bookstore owner. I love the viewpoint she shares n her post.




The Myth About The Myth Of Balance


When we talk about balance, we think of a tightrope or a beam or some sort of straight, narrow and rigid path from which we will fall if we deviate. We talk about hard-to-attain ideals like a “balancing act” or the elusive “myth of balance.” We’re told that the goal includes things like “juggling” and super-human levels of flexibility. 


When balance is presented to us in this way, most of us begin to believe that it is hard (too hard). Or out of reach (too far out of reach). Or only available to a select few (not us). And like any other ideal we are constantly exposed to, this is one that can be incredibly hard to live up to. Unless you are an official competitor in an Olympic gymnastic event (and even then!), the expectation to maintain perfect balance is just not a fair or realistic one. 


So instead of living life according to unrealistic terms, consider these tips for a more realistic approach to “good-enough balance:”


  1. Cut yourself some slack. In case you have forgotten, you are human. You may, on your best days, demonstrate some superpowers, but, ultimately, you are human. Some days are more productive than others. Sometimes you will be more “on” or “in the groove” than others. Learn to respect your natural flow and your way of doing things. Working with it, rather than against it, will go a very long way in terms of moving forward.

  2. Focus on what works. I went for years cramming three days’ worth of “to dos” onto my list and then wondered at the end of every single day why I wasn’t getting “enough” done, or why I couldn’t do it all. A huge shift for me came earlier this year when I started to get real with that list. The more I am aware of my self-expectations and of how they need to be kept in check, the better I am actually able to manage my day and complete what needed to be done. Conversely, the more I try to get to a near-impossible level of doing, doing, doing, the more I work against myself and actually make less forward progress.

  3. Don’t believe the hype. You know that neighbor or co-worker or friend who acts as if everything is perfect and she has it all covered? Well, she has bad days too. The more time and energy you put into coveting her self-professed ability to do it all, the less time and energy you have to put into your own self. Look inward and stop comparing yourself to people whose inner lives and priorities are not yours.  

  4. Remember down time. As warriors on the Road To Perfect Balance, many of us view down time as a sign of weakness or laziness. And, well, that is where we often go wrong. Very wrong! Slowing down should not be viewed as a “treat,” but more as a must. Building in this time is a crucial part of being able to do all of the other things we want to do in our work and home lives. Not only is it a must, but no one else will do this part for us. We must be the ones to make time-outs  a non-negotiable part of our regular schedule.   


 Readers, how good are you at cutting yourself slack? It's not the easiest thing to do, is it?



November 07, 2011

When mom travels...

Work travel
I am leaving tomorrow for a work conference in D.C. and already I'm exhausted. Going away for a few days when you have children with activies, lunches that need packing and carpools that need reorganizing is like a staging a minor military operation .

I run the small country called Home, millions of us do it in our spare time, and no one who doesn’t run that small country really knows what it feels like to worry about whether a kid will get his homework agenda signed in your absence or if the pre-made dinner will get cooked.

Maybe some of you are fortunate to have a full time assistant to handle your arrangements. When my husband travels, his secretary handles his flight arrangements and home life continues to run smoothely. In some ways, that really infuriates me. But as the main caregiver in my household, I'm busily preparing written instructions for each day I'm gone and expecting my husband and kids to step up and carry them out. (Have you ever done this?)

I would guess that moms who are road warriors and have this whole travel thing figured out. There's actually a admirable blogs out with instructions on how to be a mom and a roadwarriorette. It has lots of tips to help moms so they don't worry the whole time they are gone (is that possible?)

Tonight, I hand my husband The List; tasks to attend to in my absence.“Jake’s guitar lesson, Friday, 4pm, $30″ and the like.  

For a few days, I will stretch across the king size hotel bed and sleep diagonally. I will talk business all day and drink cocktails with other attendees in the evenings instead of nagging one kid to do homework or chauffeuring another to basketball practice. I may be exhausted when I arrive, but while I'm there, I plan to enjoy it!


November 04, 2011

Networking: what you're doing wrong



Last night, I went to a Women Executive Leadership (WEL) power networking program. To be honest, I usually feel like I'm too busy to go to evening networking events -- in my juggle for work life balance, that's something that usually falls by the wayside.

But this program turned out to be well worth my time. Colin D'Arcy, president of Imagementor had some great tips for networking efficiently and using the right etiquette. D'Arcy consults business and individuals on conveying the right image. I found mistakes I had been making and a few things I could improve upon. Let me know if any of these tips help you and if you have any you would like to share. 

Random tips for power networking and using good etiquette....

*Your name tag should be worn on your upper right shoulder.

*Always keep your right hand free for introductions and handshaking. That means hold your beverage and/or   plate in your left hand.

*Remove beverage stirrers at the bar.

*Introduce yourself to someone right away, smaller groups are easier to break into.

*Ask yourself, who you would take out to dinner and why....then be like that person when you go to a networking event.

*Avoid talking about money or being laid off.

*Avoid putting these things on your plate -- shrimp with tails, olives with pits, flaky pastries.

* If they’re wearing a nametag, say “Hi … . What do you do?” Ask interesting questions such as "What's the biggest challenge you encountered today?

*Pay attention to other people's questions to pick up on information.

*The best question is : Who is your ideal customer and how can I help you?

*When someone is frequently looking over your shoulder or using the word "anyway" it is time to exit gracefully.

*If you are talking to someone, make eye contact.

*Don't overlook conversation with the spouse of a top executive. They often become a great contact.

*After you meet someone, have a follow up plan. You might even ask, "How and when would you like me to follow up?"

You can count networking a success when you've connected people, helped your contacts, or sent your contacts business, D'Arcy says.

Readers, do you make time to network or are you too busy? Have you ever made a GREAT contact at a networking event?





November 02, 2011

Are Parents too involved in the college search?

As a parent of two high schoolers, I'm terrified of the college application process that lies ahead of me. Just helping my kids choose courses and build their resumes has been overwhelming. In my day, very few schools offered AP classes and most of us who applied to a public university in our state were accepted.

Not anymore.

In my Miami Herald column this week, I wrote about this stressful new phase of parenthood and how some companies are responding. If you run a small business, you may want to note that the Princeton Review will come onsite and put on a program on college preparation for free for a group of employees. It also is holding a workshop for parents and students in Miami on Nov 16 at B&N on Kendall Drive at 7 pm.  

If you're the parent of a high schooler, please share your thoughts on the column.


The Miami Herald

Parents, teens navigate college crunchtime

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   Rachel, 17, a senior at Miami Beach Senior High School who is also in the  international baccalaureate program, has been busy applying for colleges. This is a balancing act for parents as well as their teens to get all the lengthy applications and essays done and managing the chaos and emotions of this hectic time of the year.
Rachel, 17, a senior at Miami Beach Senior High School has been busy applying for colleges.
You have heard of parents overwhelmed by the toddler years, juggling work and kids whose runny noses get them sent home from day care. But now, there’s another phase of parenthood just as stressful on parents who are already balancing multiple demands — helping a teen get into college.

As high school graduating classes get larger and college admission becomes hyper-competitive, parents are bending their work schedules and spending hours guiding their kids through the overwhelming process.

“There’s no easy way out,” says Leslie Coller, mother of Rachel, a senior at Miami Beach High School. “It’s an all-consuming process, whatever level you are going for.”

Coller, who works as a clothing line representative, says she had to get tough with her daughter, insisting she write the required essays and fill out applications during the summer months, when both of them had more time to devote to it. Her daughter applied to 12 colleges — a process that took dozens of hours. With that out of the way, they now begin the scholarship application process.

“It’s very intensive,” Coller said. “There are laid back parents who have kids that are driven to do well. But even with a kid who is motivated, the process is overwhelming. If you can help make it easier, you are giving your kid a gift,” she says.

As a parent of two high school students — a freshman and a sophomore — I’m already feeling the stress of landing my kids a spot in the colleges of their choice, scrutinizing their course selections, their summer programs and their extracurricular activities. We’ve already taken them on some college visits, but the choices, price tags and requirements make my head spin. There are more than 4,400 degree-granting institutions in the United States and the number of students applying to them directly out of high school has jumped 70 percent in the last decade, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The reality has become that today the start of college preparation begins as high school freshmen, choosing classes and building a resume that will impress admissions officers. Lisa Solovay, an advisor for continuing education at Western High School in Davie who provides college guidance, believes competition for college admission increased when high schools began offering more advanced placement classes, dual enrollment and international baccalaureate programs.

“Students need to take advantage of what’s offered because the competition is fierce,” she said. “You see students who are published authors or have performed at Carnegie Hall. They are doing so much more, and with the Internet there are all kinds of opportunities.”

For students, getting adult help with the written application has become more critical, she says, because for some colleges it’s the only place they have to differentiate themselves. While school counselors like Solovay guide them, Solovay feels students whose parents get involved have an even better chance. “That may be an unfair advantage, but that’s the way it is,” she said.

Today’s pricey tuition bills give parents a bigger stake than ever in the process. There’s certainly a larger role for them in keeping track of financial aid deadlines for submitting applications and preparing tax returns early, typically in January.

One mother of a high schooler, a human resources manager, actually quit her job as her daughter neared college to devote full-time to the search. Others rush home from work to supervise. With application deadlines looming at Florida’s public universities, Laurie Levine, vice president for business and finance at Lynn University in Boca Raton, would walk right in the door and review her son’s essays and applications before he hit “submit.” But she says the guidance started years before. “We would talk at the dinner table and lay out a game plan.”

Rather than take on this time-consuming role, some parents choose to hire private college counselors to ease the stress. They typically charge from $5,000 and up for services that include interview tips, school recommendations and application reviews.

Fittingly, with the stress on parents, a growing number of employers are making college advising services an employee benefit. College Coach, a national company under the umbrella of Bright Horizons, advised more than 40,000 families last year on the application process. “Parents have made the argument that this is an issue that causes stress and when that happens they are not as productive because they are not able to bring their whole self to work,” says Dave Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons. Two years ago, Ceridian, a provider of health and productivity solutions, also began offering college admissions counseling services to employees of its large employer clients.

Among the companies that have added the benefit through College Coach are American Express, Citigroup, IBM and PepsiCo. When Doria M. Camaraza’s son was applying to colleges last year, she got the kind of help that most parents would shell out big dollars to receive — guidance from a former assistant admissions officer at Georgetown University.

American Express, where Camaraza works as senior vice president and general manager for Fort Lauderdale, began offering the benefit in July 2008 and offers workshops, online help and private counseling. While working late, Camaraza often would participate in conference calls from her office in the evening with her son and the advisor who provided feedback on his essays. “We went through about 10 revisions,” she said. “My son was accepted at amazing schools due in large part to her help.”

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