I went back to college this weekend. It was horrifying to discover that these girls were born the year I pledged. My sorority invited alumnae back to campus to say farewell to the house that has been ours since my senior year. It was a time to reflect on some of the most impactful years of my life, but also to remember the fear, uncertainty, and sadness that accompanied leaving college, where your best friends were often just a door away. I had no grand plan, like some of my friends, and no full-time salaried job as an aspiring radio personality. I was under the impression that if I could not make it in radio, I would be living in a ditch begging for change to buy a meal.
That never happened, though hard times did follow. When asked, “What’s life like after graduation?” I had to remember that some of the best things in my life happened after college – my band, my husband, my company, my kids, and teaching, in that order. As my friends now turn 40, (I’m the youngest, so I get to watch them all get there first) I see that for some of them, it means it is all downhill from here. That was an exact quote from a 40th birthday party I went to last night. (Happy 40th, Neal!) Looking back at the last decade, at what I have learned, how I have grown, what I’ve been able to accomplish and contribute, I am excited for the next decade. I’m looking forward to it, and I think there are amazing things yet to come.
BUT, there are some things that I would have wanted my younger self to know, which I felt compelled to pass on to the graduating seniors in my sorority, and my students, as well as ALL soon-to-be graduates. I feel these things would have potentially catapulted me so much further so much faster if I had known and applied them.
Before I get into the hard truths, I most want ALL people, but particularly young people, to know that there IS a formula for success, and no matter what family structure, social or economic status, education, circumstance, or hardships you are from, they DO NOT limit your future at all. At any time you can improve your life. The tools, technology, and teaching exist – all you have to do is harness them.
Okay, now on with what you may not want to hear, but need to know if you want to make your 30s onward the best years of your life.
- Unless you land at Google, Apple, Disney, a Big 4 consulting firm, or a company with a similar colossal reputation, it will not be as easy as it is right now to land a job.
The co-op program where I teach is world-renowned. The biggest, most admired companies want these graduates badly. They come out of school not as entry-level workers who were getting coffee and observing leadership, but as junior business stars who have already solved real business problems. By the time they take my mandatory career management class, many of them already have jobs lined up from campus recruitment efforts and co-ops that led to offers. While you may be recruited aggressively if you work for a company with clout for hiring and developing the best talent, the legwork to find your next gig, even internally, if you don’t is on you. AND, furthermore, even if you are aggressively recruited, you are not necessarily managing your career optimally by being reactive to recruiters’ sales pitches. This is why the class that I teach is not “Get a Job 101,” but Career Management and Professional Development. See your career growth as a trajectory and learn how to course correct early. Learn and master the life skills of personal branding, networking, and career management.
- The bottom is often the best place to start if you want to be a great leader.
Many of my clients are influential leaders today because they were once in the trenches. Isn’t that the point of Undercover Boss? Making well-informed business decisions can be easier when you have first-hand knowledge of business from the front-line to the executive office. Those that have been successful in implementing massive change say that they were able to rally the troops because they were once the troops. Empathy, as we have stated before, is quickly gaining popularity as one of the most effective leadership tools.
Also, even for those students who were solving real business problems in their co-ops or internships, it might be worth considering starting even lower if the target role or company is worth it. I can speak from experience here.
While I was on air, reporting news, DJing, producing live talk shows, and operating the board for remote broadcasts at a small community radio station, my fellow Communications majors were putting up flyers at concerts, dressing up in costumes, and handing out chotchkes for the major media radio stations. I figured I had the advantage, but I was wrong. I moved to the Jersey Shore and did get to work producing talk shows for an AM station, while digging into commercial production and more part-time work. I temped to pay the bills. Meanwhile, my fellow classmates went on to full-time jobs eventually at the major media stations. Granted, some of their jobs involved much less glamorous, even undignified tasks, like getting shot from a cannon. Guess what – they are STILL THERE, loving their jobs and making what is probably good money. Casey is the Executive Producer of a VERY popular morning show that is streamed worldwide. Matt is a Regional Director for Advertising for the conglomerate and Joann is Traffic Manager for a radio station in the same company.
When it came down to it, I had recognized after a year in radio that I was not really willing to continue working awful hours, get paid peanuts, do the boring parts of the work OR keep moving from market to market in order to achieve my ultimate position, but that was what I had learned was necessary from the people who were more senior than I at the station where I worked. At the larger station I would have had a completely different experience, and even though I might not have started out on the air, perhaps I would have found a different niche in radio and stayed there until today, too. Not that I have regrets – I think things worked out just as they were supposed to. However, I’ll always wonder.
- In time, you will earn the right to demand certain accommodations IF you are a top performer. But for now, you have to play their game.
Older generations will tell you that they had no illusions – work hard, get a job, work your butt off, save your money, and you’ll be fine. That is not what the younger generations have seen, though, so it is not what they will believe. With diminishing financial security for employees came resentment to employers for taking more than they give. This is what has led to a perceived sense of entitlement.
Even though there are talent gaps, and certain skill sets are very high in demand, most are not. Yes, talent is hard to find, but that does not mean companies are willing to bend over backwards to hire you. Ultimately, there has to be mutual respect and value in the deal. Many things ARE negotiable, but that depends highly on the company, their policies, their culture and what you have PROVEN you can do to make it worth giving you more than they have given to employees before you.
If you are really that good, get in and prove your worth. You may earn the right to ask for more flexibility, more money, extra vacations, or perks. In the meantime, understand that though your package should remain confidential, IF anyone were to learn of you getting preferential treatment, you would not like the climate that breeds.
As graduation month ramps up, I hope this food for thought is helpful, even if it may not be encouraging. In a way, your adult life does not really begin until after college. Adulting is not always fun, but being armed with wisdom and systems for success will make it much more enjoyable.
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