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Young Professionals: It’s Not an Oxymoron, Right?

Note from the Editor:  This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle’s Business Weekly and is re-posted with their permission.  It was contributed by Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof(R).

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young_professionalsYoung professionals. Is this a contradiction of terms, or what is called an oxymoron? 

After more than 25 years, I still love teaching college students. This generation has an energy, curiosity, openness and work ethic that is inspiring and contagious. I am optimistic about the future because these students will be leading us there. They don’t care what color you are, who you want to marry or to whom you pray, or if you pray at all. They care about making a difference and finding their passion. Students believe in fairness and equity, want to give back and have a desire to be successful.

I have lots of respect for my students and their generation. I feel comfortable sharing ideas about where they might look to grow and improve in their professionalism. Before I do, there are two presumptions I make. First, millennials (today’s students in their 20s and 30s) believe they are entitled, but it’s not the same entitlement that my contemporaries might recognize. Instead of the “you-owe-me” attitude, they harbor what I call the “aren’t-you-going-to-do-that-for-me?” entitlement. As in: “Aren’t you going to prepare all of the notes that we will need for the test?” and “Aren’t you going to overlook my absences from class because I have lots of other responsibilities?” The entitlement is not a belligerent demand, but a polite expectation. Even so, some days it amazes me what some students expect.

The second presumption? My generation created the phenomenon, in case you’re looking for a target to blame. The well-intended soccer moms and dads “shuttling” their children to and fro everywhere and the progressive parents who filled their child’s day with activities so they would be stimulated. (Full disclosure: I am not a parent, so you may dismiss my second point if you want.)

In any case, the way I see it, the millennials’ entitlement has wrought some challenges. Specifically, I think respect, gratitude and communications take the hardest hit, if you buy at least my first presumption. Respect can mean a lot of things, but deference for position or authority seems hard to find. Not necessarily a bad thing, as people should earn respect by giving respect. But, respect — admiring a co-worker or boss for what they do well — is something everyone can give.

The two that concern me most are gratitude and communication. To me, true gratitude is more than saying “please” and “thanks.” It is actually being thankful; this means you genuinely appreciate the help, the advice, the lunch, or whatever “gift” someone has shared with you, because you aren’t entitled to it or anything else. The real test seems to be in the way one is grateful for the things they have a right to, such as a paycheck, for example. True gratitude is a state of being that reveals character and is difficult to simulate.

Communication has become way too casual. You know what I mean, dude? It has been degraded to “instant communication” in three-letter acronyms. What’s worse? If aliens observed our workplaces, they might believe that we loathe face-to-face communication and that the most important communications only occur on a device.

What the Workplace Experts Suggest

The problem is that these challenges, if not overcome or addressed, undoubtedly follow college grads into the workplace as young professionals (YP). And, in most cases, the reception or tolerance won’t be very collegiate. Here’s what some experts suggest.

A 2013 Huffington Post blog lists 25 things that you need to know by age 25. Some of my favorites on the list: the smartest young professionals actively seek constructive criticism, know when not to multitask, accept that there is no overnight success (but early risers get their “break”), understand less is more in spoken and written word, write a thank-you note and that the only failure in your 20s is inaction.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and author of the book, “The Start-Up of You,” offers five habits that YPs need to develop:

  1. Develop curiosity (what liberal education and lifelong learning is all about) and T-shaped mastery (the ability to apply broad knowledge across many areas but have deep expertise in one or two).
  2. Seek mentorships, definitely!
  3. Network, which is more than connecting on LinkedIn.
  4. Be visible and seen for your merits and value. I interpret this as having substance of character.
  5. Establish thought leadership. In other words, gain a reputation for your intellectual capital as well as your skills.

The Prof’s Advice

Considering their thoughts, I would summarize and add the following advice:

  1. Embrace working hard. College is the beginning of your hard work, not the end; don’t expect a fast-track, express lane to your success; at the same time, find enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction in the hard work you do, or find another line of work.
  1. Respect everyone, not just your “elders.” Respect that is professional means listening, acknowledging, thanking, communicating and treating everyone the way you would your closest family member or friend.
  1. Be authentically grateful. Appreciate what you are given by expressing your gratitude and by behaving in a way that acknowledges the kindness, even if you do deserve it.
  1. Seek daily opportunities to learn. Liberally educated college graduates get this best:  continuous learning keeps excitement, wonder and sensationalism (literally, the activation of your senses) at the forefront of your professional life. Continuous learning leads to continuous growth, which leads to continuous chances to advance in your company or career.
  1. Get a mentor. No one expects you to learn everything you need to know in college, so talk with your boss or human resources department for help with identifying a mentor. That mentor is someone in or outside your company who understands and wants to support your career and life goals with candid, constructive feedback and counsel. The “ole-boys’-network” is still active and, as a result, women are often overlooked for mentoring, which is one of the reasons they should assertively seek one.
  1. After-work gatherings are still work. If you act like you’re at a frat party when you join the work crew after work, you are setting yourself up for a potentially embarrassing and career-killing situation. Be friendly and sociable, drink minimal amounts of alcohol (limit to yourself to one drink, if any at all) and act like it is an extension of your work day, because it is.
  1. Communicate in a friendly, formal way. Avoid shortcuts, slang and familial language in emails, presentations, reports and conversations. Be present to those in the same physical space, not as an aside to your next IM or text, but as the main attraction.
  1. Money is important, but it’s really about passion. Many people make a lot of money from jobs they hate. Find the passion first and the money will follow. So I’m clear, both making a lot of money and passion in your work is very attainable. We just seem to give up on the passion and settle for the money.

This may be a lot to digest. But don’t stress, because you have what you need, including our support. In Reading, as well as the surrounding communities of the Lehigh Valley, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, there are networking associations for young professionals whose collective mission is to attract, engage and retain you. We need your energy, vitality and leadership. We believe “young professional” is not an oxymoron, but a tautology. You say you don’t know what that means? Just look it up!

About Dr. Santo D. Marabella

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor of management at Moravian College and president of Marabella Entertainment & Education Enterprises LLC. His book, “The Practical Prof: Simple Lessons for Anyone Who Works!” is a collection of his Business Weekly columns. Contact him at [email protected].

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