Welcome to what you can think of as “Freshman year of real life”. Whether you’ve been fortunate enough to land a job related to what you were studying or if you’ve among the many wandering and wondering what to do next, I’m here to help you. For the moment we’re going to ignore all of the factors in the US economy working against you – that’s a topic for another day. Right now we’re just going to look at a few recent news items focusing specifically on recent grads. Most of this post is going to sound pretty cynical, but I promise that it will have some useful information to help you out in the real world at the end. The first piece of worrisome news comes from Martha C. White over at Time magazine:
“Most Gen Ys grew up accustomed to using social media and texting for communicating and collaborating and haven’t had to use email or spreadsheets extensively,” explains Chris Pope, senior director of strategy at technology services company ServiceNow.
And unfortunately for them, programs like Outlook and Excel are the technologies most companies in America still rely on to get stuff done. Being able to summon a car, book a table or send a birthday gift with the tap of a finger is great, but this kind of streamlined experience isn’t the norm in most workplaces, and young workers just can’t deal.
That’s a tough start. Of course, not all of you are going into office work and may not need to use e-mail or spreadsheets. Even if you’re not working in an office Bridgit Schulte paints a dismal picture for your generation (at least from a hiring perspective) over at the Washington Post (emphasis mine):
“Wanting flexibility or work-life balance is the number one thing we hear all the time from candidates. It’s the number one reason why people are looking for a new job, by far,” said Heidi Parsont, who runs TorchLight, a recruiting firm in Alexandria. “We’re definitely seeing more candidates asking for it. But companies still see it as making an exception. It’s still not the norm.”
Ryan Shaw, 23, is a case in point. He doesn’t have children, yet he rates work-life balance as not only important but also “necessary for success.”
Shaw does social media marketing for a start-up in Los Angeles called Forcefield. He liked his job. But he didn’t like living in L.A., where his expensive rent kept him from being able to pay down his astronomical student loans. He had other job offers that would have given him more money but demanded more work hours.
He had a different idea. He told his boss that he would stay at the company, but only if he could do his job from his laptop, wherever and whenever he wanted. His boss agreed.
So Shaw is moving back home to Florida.
“The narrative that’s always drawn is you have to choose financial success or personal success [and] having a life. And to me, that’s a false choice,” Shaw said. “I think you can have both. I’m sort of playing the long game. I want to take care of my health and have deep relationships with people I care most about. And not just people who happen to be in the same building with me everyday.”
This is all well and good if you’re able to obtain the skills to do your job remotely. Most jobs don’t have that luxury. As for work life balance, you’re fresh out of school – you most likely don’t have a home or family yet. I get that you can’t be King of the World if you’re a Slave to the Grind and want to be able to enjoy your 20s – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
If your goal is to simply show up and put in 40 hours each week that’s fine. Every company needs worker bees, but make sure that you have real expectations of what to get back from your job. If a goal is to get promoted or get more than a small raise each year the only way to do it is hard work. We’ll come back to the points I emphasized in a bit. Hopefully in your years at school you haven’t done anything that is going to scream “DO NOT HIRE” when your name gets googled by recruiters (it will), such as falsely accusing one of your fellow students of a serious crime:
A Columbia University student who carried a mattress around campus to publicly accuse a fellow student of rape graduated alongside her alleged attacker on Tuesday- and took her controversial prop to the ceremony.
Students applauded in support of Emma Sulkowicz as she carried the 50-pound bed on stage while accepting her diploma.
The German student who Sulkowicz accuses of being a ‘serial rapist’ who sexually assaulted her and two other women was also at the ceremony.
Paul Nungesser has not been charged with a crime after the district attorney’s office found there was a ‘lack of reasonable suspicion’ and he is now suing the university.
Yes, Mattress Girl will probably be fine, given that the publicity around her case has made her valuable connections in the Permanent Victimhood industry. You shouldn’t expect the same results. Anyone who looks like they may be a walking harassment/discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen will probably not be seen as the best candidate for any job.
She’s already been speaking with sexual assault awareness groups, even appearing in the film “The Hunting Ground.” Her degree is probably superfluous at this point.
Perhaps she’ll continue working with victim’s advocacy groups or become a professor at a university. Maybe she’ll make a living through art. Maybe she’ll even be able to live off of selling the mattress project.
It hardly matters — she’ll always be a hero to those who think we should believe every accusation of rape, even when the evidence suggests otherwise.
“Mattress Girl” will land on her feet after this is all over. The same may or may not be true for the man she accused, however. His name has been dragged through the mud even after he was found “not responsible” by the university and not being charged by police.
Let’s say you’ve successfully navigated these potential land mines. You’re competent with Outlook and Excel, you’re ready to show a strong work ethic that will make you attractive to an employer, and you’ve even managed to not do anything stupid that a quick web search would reveal. By now you may be wondering if anything here was going to relate to the obvious clickbait title of this post. If you have, great! It’s good to know that reading comprehension is still being taught, and you have a nose for sniffing out potential BS. To my point, you can throw away all of the last few years of hard work in just 20 minutes, as this Oberlin grad did:
The hiring director had relayed to her that they would have hired me based on my personality and technical abilities, but would not be doing so because of the way I looked. I was informed that my appearance “looked more like I was about to go clubbing than to an interview,” and that the run in my tights, coupled with my mild lateness — which I had informed them of earlier, due to my afternoon class — suggested to them that I was “unprofessional and not put together.”
The comments offer some tough love – there are only a few and they’re worth your time to read. The bottom line is that if an employer is looking at two equally qualified candidates and one takes the interview seriously and one does not, which one do you think gets the job? The days of getting gold stars for just showing up are over. If you have a class that conflicts with your interview schedule then blow off the class or reschedule. In a few weeks when that class ends they’re not going to be paying your bills. And you wouldn’t show up for a first date in jeans, a t-shirt from a hot dog stand and your hair a mess if you wanted to make a good first impression, would you? Sister Babe can attest to that last one…
Back on topic, as promised I said I would have some constructive feedback for all of you when I was done. To go back to each item mentioned here:
Outlook is very easy to learn. Just be sure to double check every e-mail that you send for any spelling or grammatical mistakes. And if you have any files attached before you hit “Send” open and check them one last time. Trust me on this one. Excel may be the most useful application for anyone doing office work, and there are only a handful of features that can give you a leg up on people with years of more experience than you in your field.1 If you need a good book as reference I’d recommend almost anything written by Bill Jelen – find one appropriate to your skill level.
Back to the work/life balance, that is absolutely fine and your right to choose. But unless you are extremely smart or well connected, you’re not going to see much more than a 4% raise each year. And in the economy 4% may not even be realistic anymore. Keep in mind that ten, twenty, and thirty years from now you’re probably going to want something more than living with your parents or renting an apartment or group house with some roommates. Buying a house or car, going on nice vacations, or getting married and raising a family cost money. Or you could simply want to pay off those “astronomical student loans” I mentioned earlier. These things cost money, and if you want to get promotions and the higher pay that goes with them you’re going to have to put in the time to develop your skills. And trust me on this, like almost anything else in life it’s easier if you dedicate more time when you’re young. And if you don’t, in 20 or 30 years don’t be resentful and envious of your peers who did put in the time and effort.
On this same note, you probably want to “take care of your health and have deep, personal relationships” like our earlier subject. You can put in hours and still be able to do so. My first job out of school was working for a boiler room operation (selling small cap, high risk/potential high reward stocks).2 I was putting in 80 hour weeks, and while it burned me out after three months, it taught me something valuable – the less time you have the more likely you are to spend it well and not waste it. So take the time you’re spending playing Candy Crush or Game of War or messing around on Snapchat or Instagram and apply it toward learning your craft. Don’t expect overnight results, but over time it will pay off.
In regard to the Mattress Queen, chances are you haven’t done anything that extreme during your time at school. But if you have a unique name (as I do), if you have done anything to warrant infamy potential employers will see it. If you have a mark on your record don’t bring it up in the interview, but be prepared to address it if it does. Father Bob alerted me some years back about a very distant relative made the news as a sex offender. Googling my own name takes about five or six pages to find it, but it is there. And no, nobody has ever questioned me about it, but all that I’m saying is to do your homework so that if there is anything out there you’re prepared to respond. And maybe take down from your Instagram page that picture of you doing a keg stand at your last Homecoming tailgate.
Regarding the job interview, I’m not going to try to rehash interview tips you’ve no doubt already heard or read already. But I will give you a perspective on it you probably haven’t heard – the interview is the most important meeting you will attend in your company, and for the person on the other side of the table it is nearly as important. Think about it – if you come on board and end up quitting after two months or even worse, end up as someone they have to fire how do you think your interviewer looks to his or her boss? The last thing you want to do is give them any kind of reason to not hire you. I can tell you from experience I’ve given the nod to some very good people and I’ve hired some clowns. One thing I do remember though – in every case where there was some doubt or question mark about someone I hired because I felt they deserved a chance I wound up regretting it every time, without exception. Don’t give them a reason.
One other note on the importance of the job interview – I wasn’t kidding about your interviewer needing to take the process seriously. Beware of any person on the other side of the table who shows up late without apologizing or is obviously just looking at your resume for the first time as you’re sitting in the room together. That’s a sure sign that he or she doesn’t know how to manage their schedule and they probably won’t respect you or your time once you start. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker since unexpected things come up in the workplace, but be on your guard if it does happen.
The last bit I’ll close with goes from when I was pursuing my MBA. At the start of the first class for each course, every professor would inevitably make us go through the “Tell us who you are, what you do, and why you’re pursuing your MBA” schtick. After a while I got tired of the question and started answering honestly by saying,
“To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I plan to do with my MBA. I just don’t want to get passed over for a promotion or not hired for a job somewhere down the road because some jerk has those letters after their name and I don’t. I want to be That Jerk”
Now go forth and be That Jerk.
Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog
1 Learn how to write basic IF/THEN statements, conditional formatting, named ranges, VLOOKUP, SUMIF, pivot tables, filters and how to format a chart. There’s more, but mastering these will give you the most bang for your buck. Don’t worry about VBA or macros yet. They’re useful, but your time will be better spent mastering the other features I mentioned.
2 “Boiler Room” was on of those dramas about an industry that truly wasted its potential. Some parts were laughably inaccurate, some came off as plausible unless you knew what the inside was really like, and a few parts had me saying, “Damn that was me.” While I was never Ben Affleck’s character, the speech he gives absolutely nails it.