The Millennial Generation is flooding the workforce with an abundance of ambition but a lack of knowledge about how to succeed. While many companies have comprehensive orientation programs for new employees, few give young professionals the individual help and support they need in today’s complex corporate environment.
In The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World, manager and entrepreneur Aaron McDaniel explains why school fails to prepare people for their careers. He teaches readers the personal characteristics that matter on the job, and warns them away from common pitfalls. Most importantly, he shows young professionals how to take ownership of their career paths, by proactively seeking skills and opportunities that will serve them well throughout their working lives
THE WORKING WORLD: DON’T BE THE DOPEOne of the first lessons young professionals must learn is that no course they took in college prepared them for a career.
They entered the workplace not knowing how to interact with executives, build a reputation, and earn a promotion.
Many of their expectations are false; for example, high ratings do not guarantee raises, and top performers do not always get their way.
They need to confront certain brutal truths about the working world, including:
*Promotions do not come around often. Regardless of one’s abilities and performance, it takes years to move up at a large corporation.
*Jumping around from company to company does not look good. While diverse experiences early in one’s career may be helpful, too many moves too soon may suggest a lack of resiliency and follow-through.
*Young professionals often will not have control of their own careers. The way to move up in a big company is to take new positions when offered — lest they be offered to someone else.
*It’s not personal; it’s just business. While people are important to their employers, the bottom line trumps personal relationships.
*A reputation alone will not carry a career. People want to know what an employee has most recently accomplished.
*Bosses are primarily concerned with their own careers. While some are excellent teachers and mentors, they will always put their own interests ahead of their subordinates’.
To succeed, young professionals must become STARs: Savvy, Tenacious, Adaptive, and Resourceful. This means recognizing that they do not know it all, and being willing to set goals, utilize mentors, and take calculated risks. STARS are also lifelong learners who continuously seek learning opportunities.
Those who are unlikely to succeed are DOPES: they “Diss Opportunity,” “Potential,” and “Earnings.” They waste time and fail to learn from their mistakes. They are unfocused, inconsistent, and apathetic; when promotions are available, they miss out.
Fortunately, there is much young professionals can do to build the characteristics of a STAR and avoid the weaknesses of a DOPE.
DULLING THE SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT AND DEVELOPING PATIENCE
Many Millennials were raised in an environment where rewards were automatically conferred on every child who participated in sports, clubs, or other activities. As a result, they developed a sense of being owed praise and special treatment, and brought that sense of entitlement into the workplace.
This attitude — believing that one deserves something just for showing up — is a destructive, career-limiting pitfall. McDaniel advises replacing it with the realization that life is not always fair; no matter how well one performs, raises and promotions may not materialize. Everyone needs to work hard and check their ego at the door.
Another common problem among young professionals is that they are used to instant gratification. Sometimes, impatience on the job is helpful; for example, it can produce creative thinking, tenacity, and motivation to tackle challenging goals. But it can also lead to poor results, bad habits, and frustration, especially when coupled with a sense of entitlement.
STARs learn the importance of patiently building a foundation of experience in business. While moments of urgency may call for fast decisions, most of the time it will be better to wait and think in terms of long-term results instead of immediate gains.
BEING FLEXIBLE AND A FAST LEARNER
Change is a constant in today’s business world. A flexible working style enables young professionals to use change to their advantage.
Being flexible does not require discarding one’s core beliefs or the skills learned from experience. Flexibility means understanding the need to adapt to changing circumstances and to consider different problem-solving approaches to accomplish new goals. Most importantly, flexible people give up trying to control either the present or the future; instead, they open their eyes to possibilities and ideas that would otherwise never have occurred to them.
STARs adapt quickly to change, learning from each new experience. Regardless of what methods worked for them in the past, they are willing to alter their career path to obtain future success. Conversely, DOPEs fear change and will not let go of old ways of thinking. They miss out on new opportunities because they are too rigid or too lazy to pursue them.
Learning fast is a key ability at the outset of a career. A young professional is like a sponge, able to soak up lots of new information. STARs are unafraid to admit they do not know everything. By asking many questions, they not only educate themselves but also show managers that they are engaged and insightful. DOPEs miss out on learning opportunities because they wait to be told what to do and are easily frustrated by unfamiliar concepts.
TEAMWORK, RESILIENCY, AND FOLLOW-THROUGH
In the corporate world, performance is about teamwork. Bosses want their employees to make them look good; colleagues want their peers to help remove obstacles that stand in the way of shared goals. Focusing on team success instead of individual achievement develops leadership skills. It is also a good way to learn the most effective uses of one’s talents.
STARs use the following approaches to put team before self:
*Recognize the contributions of others. When STARs give praise and credit to coworkers, they create a reservoir of support for their own contributions.
*Admit mistakes and ask for advice from the team about how to do better. People are naturally inclined to cover up their mistakes. But a person who owns up to doing something wrong is more likely to get help in correcting their errors.
*Align personal goals with those of the team. It is fine to have individual goals, but these will be most career-enhancing when they help advance organizational goals.
In addition to a sense of entitlement, many Millennials were raised to believe it is okay to give up. This lack of resilience and follow-through can cause them to fold in the face of obstacles. McDaniel stresses the need for young professionals to understand that failures are inevitable.
At the same time, no one can afford to feel that failing is acceptable. “Can’t” should be eliminated from a young professional’s vocabulary; and “trying” should not be a good-enough substitute for succeeding. STARs are able to learn from adversity, to push beyond their limits, and to persevere despite setbacks. They know that how one reacts to failure is more important than the failure itself.
PERSPECTIVE AND PRIDE
Lessons can be learned from any experience, positive or negative. By adopting this perspective, young professionals can draw something beneficial from every situation. They can also pay attention to the experiences of others, which will help them avoid common pitfalls. STARs “fail forward fast” which means they understand that there is no bad result, only a sharpening of one’s skills by working through a difficult challenge.
Regardless of whether their jobs (or bosses) live up to their expectations, young professionals need to take pride in their work. People notice when employees give a hundred percent to their current responsibilities — and when they do not. While DOPEs get discouraged when their work does not seem significant, STARs see every task as a building block that will be valuable to their careers in the future.
Self-aware individuals understand themselves. They can see their own gaps, and know what characteristics they can leverage to be successful. Self-awareness is critical to young professionals, who need it in order to perceive their options and recognize the areas in which they need to develop and improve. To increase self-awareness, a young professional can take four steps:
1. Analysis. Write down five positive and five negative personal characteristics. Then ask trustworthy mentors, friends, or peers to look at the list and provide feedback.
2. Testing. Take the list of positives and negatives and look for situations that validate the accuracy of those traits. Even when in the midst of daily routines, strive to sharpen awareness of what is happening and why.
3. Stretching. Push beyond comfort zones proactively and deliberately to mitigate or eliminate skill gaps.
4. Remembering. Self-awareness involves a continuous process of self-monitoring. To avoid forgetting mistakes or developing blind spots, keep a record of both successes and failures. Use it to identify opportunities for further growth, correct career-damaging flaws, and resist self-deception.
CUSTOMER SERVICE AND “ACTING AS IF”
A person’s customer is someone who:
*Influences how the individual achieves results.
*Rates the individual’s performance.
*Provides something the individual needs to do their work.
*Pays the individual for their work.
The employer is a young professional’s most important customer, providing 100 percent of current revenue — meaning a paycheck — and ongoing potential for more money, influence, and career opportunities. McDaniel characterizes the new employee as a “company” of one, who needs to excel at customer service in order to advance in the workplace.
STARS take six steps to provide outstanding customer service:
1. Figure out what is important to the customer. Success results not from convincing customers to buy what one sells, but from understanding and delivering what they want. It is critical to align one’s personal goals with those of the company.
2. Set the proper expectations with the customer. Do not over-commit. Take enough time and request the support that’s necessary to do a great job.
3. Anticipate customers’ needs. STARS go beyond meeting customers’ immediate needs by applying lessons they have learned in other situations. This knowledge enables them to satisfy new needs without being asked.
4. Deliver on promises. Serving a customer is about follow-through. The way to create customer satisfaction is to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.”
5. Help customers achieve their goals. Those who focus on the goals and success of their customers are the most likely to achieve their own career aspirations.
6. Monitor customers’ satisfaction. The best way to track how satisfied customers are is to ask them. For example, ask if they are willing to recommend the company to others. If they are not, figure out what the problem is — and fix it.
One technique to help fulfill the six steps is to develop a customer service plan which identifies who the customers are, their goals, and the support they need. A communication strategy based on this plan can then be used to share customer service initiatives and underscore one’s hard work.
It is also important for young employees to look and behave like seasoned professionals — in other words, to act “as if” they have confidence and control, even if they do not. Dress and demeanor matter on the job, sending a message to coworkers about commitment and mental preparedness. STARs study what makes others successful in the positions they hold, proactively asking for guidance. They call on their self-awareness skills to create a “self inventory” of relevant strengths and weaknesses. Using an approach called “mirror and match,” they mimic or copy the movements, body language, tonality, and even wardrobe style of successful people. Finally, when they do not know something or make a mistake, STARs adapt quickly; they do damage control with the help of a trusted mentor or colleague.
DECISION-MAKING SKILLS AND CREATIVITY
The workplace presents a seemingly infinite number of possible career paths and job choices. To choose successfully among them, it is helpful to seek simplicity and to prioritize. Life gets increasingly more complicated as people get older, so learning to eliminate unnecessary and limiting parts of life is a key decision-making skill. Also, writing down priorities — like career vs. family — eases the task of managing tradeoffs.
There are five additional ways for young professionals to make better career-changing decisions:
1. Learn when to make a decision. Sometimes, postponing a choice is better than making it immediately. This allows time to consider the impact on other aspects of one’s life.
2. Break a decision into pieces. Instead of viewing a choice as either-or, it may be possible to get creative and envision other options.
3. Weigh the risk involved. Bold choices carry less risk earlier than later in a career. A young person’s overly timid decisions can result in long term career limitations.
4. Learn how to trust gut intuition. While intuition will not always be right — especially for a novice — it will improve with experience.
5. Act and adapt. Young professionals should act in accordance with their decisions while retaining flexibility in case things change.
Creativity on the job facilitates innovation and adaptability, especially in the face of unexpected obstacles. But knowing how to implement an idea is as important as the idea itself; this means that creative thinking must always be accompanied by strategic thinking.
Young professionals can boost their creative skills by seeking new experiences and challenges, finding alternative ways to go about daily tasks, and leveraging the right resources to bring their ideas to fruition.
WORKING SMART AND LEARNING TO SELL
Every young professional should work hard, but “working smart” is even more important. This means being efficient, simplifying projects so as to focus on their essential elements, utilizing resources thoughtfully, and making sure that every task has a purpose. Conversely, smart work does not mean always working overtime, never taking a break, putting in effort only to be recognized, or doing things just to stay busy.
Technology like mobile apps, cloud services, and online information-tracking tools can help people work smarter by enhancing connectivity and efficiency. But there is still no substitute for human input. Instead of trying to do everything themselves, STARs will ask for advice and support from others.
Regardless of job title, all young professionals in today’s workplace are in sales. In other words, everyone must ask clearly for what they want, whether it is a raise or support for a new idea. Learning to ask the right way is key to success. Demanding, begging, or offering empty compliments will not work; the best approach is to adopt the other person’s perspective and make clear what’s in it for them. Additionally, STARs are prepared to offer alternatives if their initial request falls short.
TAKING ACTION AND MULTITASKING
It is easy for young professionals to get comfortable with job routines and tasks that are not overly challenging. But those who want to advance should seek out situations that will build their skills and confidence by forcing them to handle more than they thought possible. Taking action to overcome inertia may range from joining a professional organization to volunteering for a tough project; whatever it is, the key is to use the experience to stretch beyond one’s limits and prepare for the next career opportunity.
The ability to multitask has become central to corporate life, which moves at ever-increasing speed and involves a constant overflow of information. It requires creating a system to help manage time and stay on track in the face of constant distractions.
The overall goal of multitasking should be to free up time for the most impactful activities. It can be tempting just to cross off items on a to-do list, but the way to advance is to focus on whatever has the greatest career-boosting potential.
COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY AND CREATING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
There is nothing more important on the job than effective communication. People judge their coworkers on both what they say and how they say it; if a message is misunderstood, its content barely matters. STARS take seven steps to build their communication skills:
1. Listen: Listening to what others say reveals what is important to them.
2. Evidence: Providing evidence to back up a position or an idea is key to winning support.
3. Goals: People will listen more carefully to a message that is delivered in the context of their own goals. In other words, they want to know what’s in it for them.
4. “We”: Using the word “we” is a powerful way to connect with coworkers, especially other Millennials.
5. Ownership: STARs do not assume that others understand them; they take ownership of their communication by checking to confirm comprehension.
6. Reverse technology: Because emails and texts can be misinterpreted, it is sometimes preferable to communicate by phone or in a face-to-face meeting.
7. Know the audience: A message should be relevant to its audience. For example, corporate executives would expect to hear a very different kind of message than schoolchildren.
A positive attitude at work has two effects. First, it supports a can-do mindset and an expectation of good things to come. Second, when bad things happen, it enables a person to focus on what lesson can be learned or what good can come out of the bad. Moreover, negativity is not motivational. Being positive brings out the best in individuals and in those around them.
NETWORKING AND PROFESSIONALISM
Relationships with other people make or break careers. The purpose of networking is to build those relationships. In particular, it is important to find ways of helping people. While networkers do not always get something in return, they open the door to future support and favors from those they have been able to help.
Networking can be internal (within one’s company) as well as external (within the industry or wider business community). Both types help to broaden one’s horizons and offer insights that are not available on the Internet.
Other keys to networking success include:
*Strive to create both personal and professional relationships. Discovering shared hobbies and interest can strengthen workplace connections.
*Networking should be about the other person. Everyone loves to talk about themselves.
*Make others feel important. The most successful networkers give people their full focus and make them feel like they are the only ones in the room.
*Always follow up. A strong networker will always find reasons to stay in touch with networking contacts.
*Connect people to others. Bringing people together is an effective way to help multiple individuals at once.
*Do not judge a book by its cover. People should always be treated as individuals, not as bundles of accomplishments. It is wise to show all current contacts the same respect and interest, as one never knows who may become a valuable friend in the future.
How young employees act, both on and off the job, reflects directly on their employers. Behavior, demeanor, and dress will all be scrutinized for professionalism; Internet postings, too, are fair game. In fact, it is realistic to assume that in today’s working world, someone is always watching and to make choices accordingly.
HAVING INTEGRITY AND BEING COACHABLE
Integrity is critical to gaining others’ trust in the workplace. A single lapse can undermine years of hard work and derail a promising career.
To build integrity, young professionals should:
*Admit when they do not know something, then learn what they need to know.
*Follow through on commitments.
*Take ownership of their work.
*Stand up for what they believe in, even when it’s unpopular.
*Take responsibility for failure.
Seeking and taking the advice of coaches is a great way to identify best practices and extract learning from experience. A good coach can be almost anyone — a mentor, boss, peer, or subordinate. STARs actively listen to their coaches’ constructive feedback, thank them for their insights, and take action based on their suggestions. Conversely, DOPEs allow their egos to get in the way of making improvements.
GIVING BACK AND GETTING RESULTS
Using one’s talents and resources to give back is about more than feeling good. It can also expand professional networks and create a more compelling personal brand. A particularly potent form of giving back is teaching or mentoring others, which offers the added benefit of deepening one’s understanding of the subject to be taught.
Overall, however, career success depends on accomplishments — in other words, on delivering results. Among the best tactics to drive results are:
*Setting personal goals aligned with those of the organization.
*Knowing the metrics that will be used to evaluate performance.
*Improving on controllable dimensions and working within uncontrollable constraints .
*Aligning one’s time with the desired results.
Finally, results arise from consistency. STARs can always be depended on to do the job, face the challenge, and put their egos aside in the interests of the company. All young professionals can follow that path to bonuses, raises, and promotions.