Summer is underway, and another group of “Trophy Kids” (Gen Y) is preparing to leave their jobs at your local coffee shops and retail stores to join the ranks of the professional workforce. They have big plans and high hopes, but as many twenty-somethings can attest, a diploma doesn’t guarantee success. A few of us have learned the hard way that there are some things that college simply can't prepare us for.
On behalf of those Millennials who earned their stripes in darker days of the recession, I've put together a list of what Gen Y really needs to know about taking the first steps down the career path.
Six Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t lose your cool with recruiters. Gen Y is very vocal when we’re not getting as much communication and “touch” from prospective employers as we want. And it's often to our detriment. We fail to realize that recruiters have a lot on their plates and generally can’t satisfy our expectation of rapid, personalized attention during the recruitment process. There’s a fine line between follow-up and harassment. A good rule of thumb is to follow up three times, every seven to ten days, and then stop. Always via email--never ever via phone (recruiters hate getting unexpected calls from applicants).
- Do engage prospective employers. If you haven't already found a full-time job, you should be doing more than simply applying to jobs posted on Craigslist. Twitter and Linkedin offer unique platforms for building a relationship with a prospective employer. Search for industry forums or targeted Twitter chats, talk with people, and ask questions. Jump in anywhere, even if their company isn’t hiring.
- Don’t be a baby at work. Is your first job less than glamorous? Were you hoping to run the place from day one? Fact: Many recent grads are lucky to land even an entry-level position. After being told by parents and teachers how awesome we are for the last twenty-whatever years, though, it's easy to resent menial work. And if we’re bored, Gen Yers tend to jump ship quickly in search of something better. My advice? Don’t be a baby. I know it's frustrating, but don’t give up on a position just because you don’t love everything about it! Instead, look for ways to do more. Talk to your supervisor about any opportunity to take on new projects, and offer to help your colleagues. You should never simply go in, do your job, and go home.
- Do be agile. So maybe it’s not your life dream to be an office assistant. But you’re just setting out on your career path. If you can keep things in perspective, it’ll add up to something. If you can do your job well, show some humility (it’s hard for us, I know) and demonstrate just how agile you can be, you’ll find it easier to build valuable relationships with your coworkers and impress your supervisors. And you’ll likely find your career trajectory much more to your liking.
Learn what it means to be professional.
Gen Yers want to be themselves at work. We celebrate our individuality, and are a little more resistant to adjust to fit our surroundings than our parents or grandparents. But Millennials need to be aware of how that can impact their work experience. This is especially true in how you interact with your supervisor. If your company has traditional values where business casual is defined as slacks and a button-down, you’re not doing yourself any favors by going against the grain. You’ll land yourself a pink slip in no time.
Do find a mentor.
If you think mentorships are old-school and not worth your time, think again. Having a mentor (or several) is a great way to gain the much-needed perspective of someone who’s been there, done that, and has something to show for it. A mentor can provide guardrails for your career path, and let you know when to hit the gas or slam on the brakes.
A lot of leaders aren't asked to be mentors anymore, and unfortunately many companies no longer have formal mentoring programs. Does this mean you're out of luck? No! It’s up to you to find them. But don’t limit your search for a mentor to your company or industry. A mentor should be someone whose decisions and business ethic you respect.
A Career of Stepping Stones
While you might think that what’s happening right now is the most important thing ever, the truth is you’ve only taken a small step forward in your career when you start your first job. And in a lot of ways, your first job is a learning experiment of sorts. Challenge yourself, and learn as much as you can from the people with whom you’re working. With a combination of perspective, humility, and agility, you’ll be on your way to the next stepping stone (and then another, and another, etc.).