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Old School Professional Advice for Millennials

Professional Advice for Millennials

When Mark Zuckerberg was 22 and declared, “young people are just smarter,” I was not offended.  As a right-smack-in-the-middle GenXer, I knew that he’d come around.  I was confident that he’d eventually see some inherent value in us more mature folks who may be: (a) slightly distracted by our pesky families; (b) irresistibly cynical from past mistakes; and/or (c) a step behind the practical applications of the latest social trends.

Now that Zuck is a wiser 30-something and has relied so much on 45-year-old Sheryl Sandberg’s yin to his yang, I think he’ll agree that there’s still a few good nuggets that millennials can pick up from their elders.

I have hired and fired, advised and criticized, dozen of GenYers throughout my career. Many of them are much smarter than me, including my wife, a young attorney who patiently tolerates my frequent old school rants.  But even the next billionaire genius can benefit from momentarily taking a break from their ADHD to heed the following seven old school professional tips:

  1. Use proper grammar and punctuation. I know it sounds crazy, but you can practice it in your social media posts since that’s where all the world’s grammatical bad habits began. Would it be so bad to put commas between your emojis?
  2. You can function perfectly well without energy drinks, lattes or organic liquid concoctions. Don’t blame what you have or have not ingested for being so unproductive.  You binge watched Game of Thrones last night, that’s why you’re tired.
  3. In interviews or meetings, don’t try to build credibility with your academic pedigree. We can read your LinkedIn if we care about your schooling.  And just because we went to the same school does not mean we are automatically bros.
  4. Show up to phone or in-person meetings on-time and well-prepared and be responsive to everyone, no matter his or her position.  Reply to email, messages or texts promptly even if it’s just to say, “I don’t know the answer but will have one by EOW.”
  5. Never turn down a networking opportunity. Skip your pilates or spin class and have dinner with your client or colleague, even if it’s after hours. In fact, there is no such thing as after hours when it comes to building professional relationships.
  6. Don’t expect your first few gigs to be your dream jobs. Embrace being a grunt for a while doing something that you don’t love.  Be really good at it and then leave on your own terms with the valuable wisdom of knowing what you don’t want to do for the rest of your life.
  7. Paying your dues and putting in the hours is not passé.  Yes, work-life balance is very important, but you also have to earn that privilege if you want to build the business or have the career that you believe you are destined to have.

It may surprise you millennials to hear that not everyone gets a trophy in the workplace. Just showing up to work does not make you special. But if you stay humble and hungry, your generation will certainly continue to change the world.  The ones in my life have profoundly changed mine.



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