Career Advice: Experience Matters.

thinkerWhen I was a young AE in the ad business at BBDO, I had plenty of opinions about management about what “they” didn’t know or understand. While I had a stronger management head than many of my counterparts at a young age (which is why I later became “they”) I also realize, with the wisdom of hindsight, that many of my opinions in those days were superficial and immature. Or as the late Bob Ellis said to me once while chewing me out, “Strum, you don’t know what you don’t know”. Bob was very smart and wise, and he was indeed correct, though I remember not liking being on the receiving end of his strongly worded advice.

So for all the Millennials who feel that “they” don’t get it, I suggest you pause and realize that “they” indeed have more experience than you, and while you may possess mad technical skills, and you may laugh at the lack of technical speed and dexterity many others have, you need to also recognize that many senior leaders have wisdom in understanding human dynamics and business. They are acquired skills gained through experience.

So here are the things that I believe Millennials should pay greater attention to:

1. Workplace rules matter
“Anything goes” does not always work. Working from home is fine if it’s OK with your company, not OK if it’s not. I also applaud companies which offer unlimited PTO, but don’t think for a second that it’s OK to spend weeks on PTO lest you will soon transition to UPTO on the sidewalk. In general, you need to obey the rules of your company, whatever they are, whether you like them or not.

2. Respect for others
It’s not OK (or smart) to overtly criticize management in an open employee meeting. “They” may allow you to do so, but you need to be smarter than that, particularly if your point of view is sophomoric. Respect for your co-workers is also key.

3. Performance matters…. a lot

In today’s workplace things change at the speed of light and companies need to add (or decrease) staff quickly. Don’t assume your position will last just because it fills a box in yesterday’s org chart. Always evolve and always add value.

4. Oral and written communication
Don’t rely solely on email. Directly speak to others as often as you can in resolving work issues. And write well when you write. Spelling and grammar do matter.

5. Integrity matters
Always did and always will. This isn’t an age issue. Your words and deeds need to be in sync. You can’t fib and expect others to just think it’s OK.

Millennials are not lazy, narcissistic and self-entitled (Ok, some are) and all Gen Xers and Boomers are not techno-morons and rigid (some are). Millennials will rule the world some day, but not yet. And where they do, there are often bumps–See a recent NY Times article, What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace.

So my advice to anxious Millennials is this: Patience young grasshoppers, you have great technical skills and a bright future, but yet much to learn. No better way to learn than adversity and experience. As Bob Ellis said, “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

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