Monday, August 18, 2014

Life Lessons You Didn't Learn In College--But Will Need at Work

Life Lessons You Didn't Learn In College--But Will Need at Work
By Vicky Oliver

Millennials, or people born between 1983 and 1999, are a talented generation of workers, bringing with them new skills to the workplace. And while this generation has been studied a lot, not all studies concur on their conclusions. Are our youngest employees more socially conscious than previous generations? More into life balance? Sometimes it seems there are almost as many theories as studies.

But a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that more than half of Millennials surveyed were not content with just working. They wanted to be provided real opportunities for career advancement. A new Deloitte study found something similar; 75% of its millennial respondents sought hands-on leadership development from their employers.

Perhaps we can all agree that the newest group of workers seek more power, responsibility, and influence at work faster than their older counterparts did. In this 24/7 Internet-connected world, it makes sense that this generation would expect speedier recognition. But do they have the right skills and attitudes to do it? Here are seven essential lessons for career progression that most Millennials didn't learn in college.

1. Don't feel entitled.  There are now three generations of workers at the workplace. And sporting the entitlement chip can be very off-putting to older workers. The truth is, no one is entitled to any special perks or plum assignments until after he's proven himself. So come in early, leave late, and respect those deadlines. (Unlike in college, deadlines at work often can't be pushed back.)

2. Pay those dues. Today research can be pulled up in a nanosecond, and we're all six degrees of separation from Warren Buffett. But one thing hasn't changed: in order to scramble to the top rung of the corporate ladder, you still have to excel at the bottom. So don't shirk the boring assignments, and do volunteer for additional work if possible. Show supervisors and coworkers alike that you're diligent, self-motivated, and reliable.

3. Find a mentor. How, you wonder? Everyone decries the disappearance of mentors. Seek mentors from the outside if you can't find them on the inside. Look for mentors among your peers at other companies--particularly those who are 5-10 years ahead of you in terms of experience, and hold the kind of position that you yourself would like to occupy in a few years. (Be sure to return the favor once you advance. It's only fair.)

4. Work hard. Make your first job your number one priority--above your love life, exercise routine, and hanging out with your friends. When you're at the office, resolve to be mentally present by turning off your mobile device, too. Thomas Jefferson famously claimed, "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

5. Master the rules, then challenge. Learn the way things are done, and excel at that system and process, before trying to change anything. Too often, especially when we're first starting out, we believe we know a better way. Trust that the system in place is probably there for a reason. If it isn't efficient or up-to-date, learn everything about it so you can build a cogent and convincing argument for doing it differently.

6. Hone your people skills. As the old adage says, "It's not the grades you make, it's the hands you shake." Realize that every business is a people business. Yes, it's essential to be good at the details of your job. But it's even more important to polish those soft skills, including helping others, listening, asking smart questions, not interrupting, being attentive, and getting along.

7. Lead your own way. Don't look for your boss to carve out your career path. You may get lucky and have a boss who will take a special interest in helping you get ahead. Then again, you may have to make horizontal career moves a few times before you move up or find the right career trajectory. With today's "flat" hierarchical structures becoming the norm--i.e., having few if any managers between employees and the top leaders--you may be expected to define your own leadership role.

* * * * *
Vicky Oliver ( is a Manhattan-based job interview and image consultant and the author of five bestselling books on personal branding, etiquette, and career development, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, and Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers, and Other Office Idiots. She is a popular speaker, has made more than 500 radio appearances, and is interviewed and quoted often in the major business media. 

No comments: