An Open Letter To The Class Of 2017
Dear Class of 2017,
Now that you’ve bedazzled your graduations caps and tossed them in the air, it’s time to move into new apartments (or back to mom and dad’s house) and get ready to launch your careers.
But there’s something different about your class compared to the classes of Millennials that came before you over the past 15 to 20 years. This year, the bulk of graduates were born in or after the mid-1990s, which means you aren’t Millennials at all! This is the year Gen Z’s like yourself will finally break into the workforce.
Now, as a result of an upbringing filled with helicopter parents and participation trophies, your generation faces a tougher adjustment to the post-college experience than previous generations, so to help, I’m going to walk you through four harsh realities you’ll need to accept before entering the real world…
- The Workplace is Not a Safe Space
Throughout your careers, you will encounter groups and individuals with different values, beliefs, manners and lifestyles than your own. You may work with folks old enough to be your parents, who see the world through a different (i.e. dated) lens, or with people of varying economic, cultural, political or geographic backgrounds than you’re accustomed to.
In this new setting, remember that your managers and colleagues won’t always agree with you, and at times they’ll be blunt during those disagreements. If you show thin skin, you’ll get eaten alive. Instead, be tough yet tolerant. Don’t let anyone step on your values, but also understand that the people you work with aren’t obligated to pander to your world views or emotional quirks.
- Your Boss is Not Your Parent
Unlike mom and dad, your boss doesn’t have to love you. Heck, they don’t even have to like you. With that said, it’s a wise idea to establish a positive relationship with your boss, supervisor or whomever you report to. The best way to do this isn’t by buying them coffee every morning; it’s by producing results.
If you report to middle management, then performing at a level that makes them look good to their boss can be the best way to get on their good side. On the other hand, careless mistakes and missed deadlines will poison your rapport.
If you report directly to ownership, remember that your performance is linked to their livelihood. They might despise you, but if you’re keeping their wallets fat, they’re going to reward you to keep you around. On the other hand, they could love you as a person, but the moment you start costing them money, they’re going to turn up the heat. Keep in mind, it’s rarely personal; it’s business.
- Criticism is Not a Personal Attack
Criticism can be harsh, uncomfortable and even disheartening. But as an entry-level employee, you’re going to get a lot of it. And believe it or not, the way you respond to criticism will play a major role in your professional development, or lack thereof.
I worked with a girl a few years ago who couldn’t grasp the necessity of critical feedback from time to time. Whenever she received feedback containing anything other than praise, she always snapped back with a comment like, “I didn’t know…” or worse, “You didn’t tell me…” This person did not see the value of constructive criticism – she would interpret it a baseless personal attack each time. As a result, her development plateaued after just a few months on the job. But in her mind, her many shortcomings were always someone else’s fault.
Your boss, supervisor or whoever you report to will provide constructive criticism to help you develop and succeed. You’re going to mistakes throughout your career, but owning responsibility and accepting feedback is the only way to grow past them and develop as a professional.
- Don’t Expect Praise for Doing Your Job
As a member of Gen Z, understand that few profitable businesses give out participation trophies. Employees should not expect to be praised for just doing their job. Generally, your reward for doing your job is keeping your job. Most organizations reserve praise and additional perks for those who regularly go beyond – far beyond – their job duties.
Most employers are also unimpressed by attention-seeking behaviors. While it might have worked on your English professor, your new boss will likely be turned off by attempts to solicit praise and attention. And even if your new boss falls for it, your new colleagues will see right through it.
Remember to keep in mind that you get paid for results, not effort. My advice is to add real value to the organization beyond your normal duties. When you routinely increase your company’s bottom line, leadership will take notice.
I’m already impressed by your generation, and I’m excited to watch you shake up workplaces across the country with your fresh enthusiasm, skills and perspectives. I encourage you to be bold and reflect back on these tips as you launch your careers. I know some of these tips make the professional world seem tough or even scary, but understand your new organizations want you to succeed just as much as you want yourself to. Caps off and congratulations to the class of 2017. Go get ‘em!
All the best,
Brian Hart is an award-winning financial communications consultant and founder of Flackable, a national public relations and digital marketing agency headquartered in Philadelphia. Follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianHartPR.