Millennials Give Career Advice

Millennials offer advice to the college grad on how to succeed in that first job

Millennials advise college graduates on how to succeed in first job

young business professionals in office at conference table
Just to cover all my bases, I asked the younger generation at my firm for their advice.

Last week I wrote a column containing advice for the college graduate getting his or her first job.   Just to cover all my bases I asked the younger generation at my firm for their advice. Surprisingly—but maybe not— it differed in tone and in substance from my advice.

And as is usually the case, the more viewpoints you get the better your takeaway. This is what they had to say:

Ask questions

It can be intimidating to join the workforce, especially if you have never worked for a company or business organization. Do not let this keep you from asking questions. And if you don’t understand, ask again.

As Kristine Yi states, “Nobody expects you to know everything—we were all newcomers at one time.” James Irvine adds that not only should you ask questions about your job, the industry and company but also do not be afraid to ask for feedback and expectations.

Find a mentor

Bill Adusei and Ben Carroll both advise graduates to seek out a mentor. “Your managers and company want you to succeed and someone who has been in your shoes can help you understand the culture and management styles.”

If your company does not have a mentor program, seek out someone who is well-respected and who is easily accessible, and ask for advice.

Don’t forget to maintain long-term relationships

There may be one person or several people who helped you get that first job. It could be a professor, a friend of a parent, a boss during college or fellow student. In any event, stay in touch with them. If they helped you once, they can help you again. You never can tell when you will need another letter of recommendation or referral.

Yi noted that some of the most successful executives are those who stay connected with the people who helped them along the way. All of my young colleagues offered the advice never to burn bridges if you make a job change.

Mistakes are OK

No one is perfect, and most of our young employees report that they were terrified of failing or of making mistakes. With your first job there can be a huge learning curve, and you can be surrounded by very talented co-workers.  

Brittany Rath commented, “For those of us who are perfectionists, it took me a while to realize that everyone makes mistakes and to realize that mistakes can provide a huge learning opportunity.”

With the perspective of hindsight, most employees realize that a career provides an opportunity to solve problems. Sometimes you will not get it right, but over the long haul learning from mistakes and how you handle the mistakes are what is critical.

Don’t take things personally

Some managers have a direct style of communicating and it can seem like personal criticism. Remember that your manager wants to do the best job he or she can and it is not a criticism of you as a person but of your idea or work product. Use criticism as a way to improve your skills.

And if the feedback comes across harsh, consider that your manager may have just had a tough day, sick child or other things that may have impacted his or her delivery. Again, don’t take things personally.

Keep your own counsel

Many companies are political and your colleagues may offer opinions about co-workers, senior management and the company. Carmel Tajonera believes that it is important to make your own assessments and not to believe everything you hear. Someone whom others may not appreciate can be a wonderful mentor for you.

Be flexible

Many college graduates will find that their responsibilities may change with new ones being added, and time demands that ebb and flow. Be willing to do work that you didn’t sign up for in the interest of your long term career goal. Brittany Rath says she is conscious that there are personal time sacrifices that you need to make for long-term career success.

Work-life balance

Reflecting on today’s health-conscious generation, treat your body well: eat nutritiously, exercise and get enough rest. One colleague laughingly says she wishes she knew that she didn’t have to eat doughnuts and cookies every time they appeared in the break room. Carmel Tajonera states, “A healthy person is a happy person. How can you give your best if you, yourself, are not physically and emotionally at your best?”

And one final thing

Javier O’Neil advises, “Buy yourself a damn good suit or sports jacket and get it tailored. It will pay for itself.”


Jane Howze, the co-founder and managing director of The Alexander Group, is a regular CultureMap contributor.