It’s graduation season, and the next round of entry-level employees are hearing advice from commencement speakers nationwide. They’re being told to find their passion, follow their dreams, and abandon their fear of failure.
I set out to write a column about practical career advice for recent college graduates, asking my social network “What advice would you give to college graduates about to enter the workforce? Anything you wish someone had told you? Anything you would go back and tell your 22-year-old self?”
The guidance came pouring in, and what surprised me was how many of the responses echoed what I had heard at my own college graduation nearly 10 years ago, at my high school graduation four years before that, and even (courtesy of a bright pink, hand-written journal from eighth grade), my junior high commencement speech. A little Google searching of commencement addresses from the past 50 years confirmed my suspicion: We’re essentially doling out the same advice now as we were then.
This isn’t to say that it’s bad advice. Changing the world for the better, accepting that failure is a natural part of success, and committing oneself to being an engaged, active citizen are admirable goals. But the advice that reappears each spring reveals more about those delivering it than it does about those receiving it.
So, I suppose it’s not shocking that a lot of the advice I heard for this year’s graduating class is based on our anxieties about Millennials: Abandon your sense of entitlement, ditch the ego, don’t be expected to be rewarded for doing your job, be patient, show respect to those with more experience than you, learn by listening not by trying to rock the boat, and so on.
A few years ago, when I was fresh out of graduate school and had recently completed a two-year stint of teaching college freshmen, I would have spouted off the same advice, emphasis on the “don’t expect things to be handed to you.” But now that I’m a mom with a son who will one day graduate college (sob) and a professional who has worked alongside and managed a number of young people, I have a more forgiving outlook.
Every generation sees the next as irresponsible, entitled, and immature. We’re convinced that “kids today” will destroy the inheritance we’ve worked so hard to build. Apocalyptic terms (ie, “Millennials”) are tossed about. And yet every day smart, talented people, who were once whiny, self-centered recent grads, accomplish amazing things that improve the lives of everyone around them.
So, instead of giving advice to the people who will be entering the workforce this summer, I want to offer some advice to the people hiring them.
Be Patient With Them
They have spent the past four years readying themselves for an unknown task, being told that studying and showing up to class is preparing them to make the big bucks. They’ve recently been capped and gowned, celebrated, told that the whole world is expecting them to do great things, and then sent home to a twin bed in their childhood bedroom. We can’t expect them to instantly adjust to an unknown workplace culture, so give them a little time, and provide plenty of guidance. (Don’t have time? Find someone who can. Create a Millennial support group. Get creative.)
Give Them the Opportunity to Succeed
I’m constantly reading about how Millennials have grown up in the “everyone gets a trophy” culture. And maybe this is true (though I don’t have any trophies for effort stored away in my closet, for the record). But instead of lamenting about how young people want to be praised, give them the opportunity to earn it. Challenge them with difficult projects. Put them on a team (in a supporting role, for starters) that’s tackling a high-profile problem. Their graduation speaker just told them that they can do anything—why not at least let them try?
Remember How You Felt and What Your Superiors Thought of You
Maybe you urged co-workers to use less paper (the nerve!). Perhaps you pushed upper-management for denim Fridays (how dare you!). You could have been part of the first generation of people who declined to marry their college sweetheart during junior year of college (what were you thinking?). Did your boundary-pushing lead to catastrophic disaster? Probably not. Have an open mind and consider the possibility that their new methods could lead to positive change. Behaviors that fly in the face of the status quo might be tomorrow’s standard procedures.
One of the reasons we’re so hard on young people is because we don’t want them to repeat our mistakes. But they will, and they’ll be smarter for it. So don’t waste precious energy worrying about how you’ll “deal with” hiring and working alongside Millennials. Every generation before you has been able to handle a multi-generational workplace, and so will you.
Rikki Rogers is a writer and marketer working outside of our nation’s capitol. When she’s not stuck in traffic, she enjoys writing poetry and running after her son. Since earning her BA from University of Virginia and her MFA from University of Utah, she's served in marketing and communication positions at a number of tech companies in the DC area. You can read more about her obsession with language and culture at www.rikkiwrites.com.More from this Author