Everyone is writing about Millennials in the workplace. From salty Tweets pitting young workers against Baby Boomers, to serious think pieces about how work environments are changing, there’s no shortage of material when it comes to this subject.
But I don’t see a lot of advice to young workers from young workers. Below are tips I wish I had embraced before I started earning a paycheck. These sage nuggets of wisdom can help Millennials as they launch their careers.
Act like an employee, not an intern
My first job in the communication field was as a part-time radio traffic reporter for a cluster of stations in Florida. I was ecstatic to get my foot in the door of the competitive broadcast journalism world before I even graduated college, but I was intimidated. It was a fast-paced work environment where thousands of listeners could hear even the slightest on-air mistake. I was so scared of making an error or stepping on someone’s toes that I didn’t take as much initiative as I should have.
That all changed when I temporarily left the radio station to intern at a news station in Washington, D.C. The folks in D.C. didn’t treat me poorly and I learned a lot about the television news industry, but there was definitely a hard line separating interns and employees. We were not given a lot of responsibility and someone always checked our work. This isn’t a bad thing, as we were still learning and one slight mistake could have tarnished the station’s reputation.
That internship changed my perspective on my job at the radio station when I returned to Florida. I realized it was a JOB. I wasn’t an intern, I was an employee. I was given certain tasks and responsibilities because my bosses believed I could handle it. I started taking more initiative, speaking up and stopped letting the pursuit of perfection paralyze me. There would always be another traffic report in 15 minutes.
Millennial workers need to understand that, yes there are people in your industry who know more than you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer your insight, ideas or try to anticipate problems. There is a reason your bosses hired you in the first place, don’t let them forget that.
Stitch a mentor quilt
We think of young employees getting career guidance from a seasoned manager who has been in the industry since typewriters weren’t just a hipster relic. Just like you shouldn’t put all your metaphorical eggs into one basket, don’t rely on just one person to help shape your career.
I can think of 10 people off the top of my head who have served as a mentor in some capacity. These folks range from college professors who gave me tips on getting my first job to a handful of bosses and leaders at my places of employment and internships.
Recognize that everyone has their strengths and expertise, then harvest the best advice from those people based on where they thrive. Stitch together the best qualities of each person you look up to and you’ll have a vast and colorful array of resources. Don’t forget to thank the people who have offered guidance.
There’s nothing worse than a snobby 20-something who has a “that’s not my job” mentality. Okay, you’re not an intern so your day-to-day tasks might not include fetching coffee anymore, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be helpful. A high-performing team consists of members who go out of their way to make other team members’ lives easier.
This isn’t some kumbaya “we’re all a family” piece of advice either. It’s self-serving, as well. When you help your coworkers, you’re setting yourself up to learn new skills or build a rapport with new people.
For example, when I was a radio news anchor, I would sometimes lend my voice to radio commercials for the other stations in the building. I didn’t have to do it, but the person in charge of producing these spots was always short on voices. It helped him out and it also gave me a wider variety of sample work to showcase. A couple of years later, I used those commercial spots to land a voice acting gig in Colombia.
Everyone appreciates someone who is willing to offer a helping hand and being helpful is an opportunity to grow professionally.
This might sound strange coming right after the “Be helpful” section, but I’m not referring to saying no to favors or extra work. I’m talking about big picture opportunities that impact your career path. In college, we were so desperate to get experience, we agreed to almost any opportunity that popped up in our desired field.
While that strategy might be good for padding a resume, there comes a time when you’re going to have to politely decline a job offer, a freelance gig or heading up that committee. People will try to pressure you to do what they want, but you are the person most familiar with your best interests.
At the beginning of this year, I left my old marketing job when I got an offer from my current marketing job. In an effort to keep me, old job offered me more money, a path to leadership and probably would have agreed to only yellow M&M’S at my desk everyday if I had requested it. Their ferocity in trying to keep me was flattering and, true to my nature, I hated disappointing the people who believed in me. But I knew it was time to go and I knew money wouldn’t make up for the passion I had for the new tasks and assignments.
Determine your passions, your strengths and your careers goals and say no to opportunities that seem to derail them. With that being said, check out this great quote from Lisa Hammond: “Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a better one.” Don’t be afraid to get a little lost either. You might be surprised how happy you can be on a different path.
For the love of Oprah, learn a second language. Native English-speakers have it easy because everyone and their mom is trying to learn our language, but there’s a whole world of opportunities and benefits to learning another language.