Teens and young adults are bombarded with messages about “YOUR FUTURE!” While parents, teachers and family friends ask about future plans with the best of intentions, these questions can cause undue stress and negative experiences with trusted adults. The questions often begin innocently enough. In middle school we ask kids about their abilities in sports, extra-curricular activities and academics. By high school, most students receive frequent and pointed questions about their hopes for higher education. Once in college and beyond, job path and graduate school inquiries are ubiquitous. How many times have you asked a teen or young adult a question while internally benchmarking their answer against your internal status calculator?
Despite our pointed inquiries, how much guidance do today’s young adults actually receive as they plan their path from middle school to high school to college to a career? Tremendous thought is usually put into college placement, but most students have little to no concrete process for analyzing their options as they move towards their first job. Having placed over 200 senior executives in the financial services, healthcare and non-profit industries, I have analyzed the traits and skills that lead top performers to find meaningful ongoing work in today’s labor force. It’s not what you might think!
- A student’s extraordinary academic success is no guarantee! Look around you. Google your favorite news reporter, ask your successful neighbor how they performed in school. Chances are good they didn’t go to a fancy college or win a national merit scholarship.
- Student leadership experience is overrated! Face it – students lead other students mostly in volunteer roles with few systems of checks and balances. In most student organizations, leading consists of high performers doing the work themselves or with a very small cadre of highly competent peers. Students rarely impact the great majority of their fellow participants. Instead, they learn to work around them. This is actually detrimental training for the way managerial leadership should work in the workplace.
- High paying internships and a lucrative first job out of college are not necessarily the key to success! Not necessarily…All kinds of jobs can help a student be successful as they progress in life. A prestigious job at the beginning of one’s career can lead a young adult to skip over basic training in skills such as customer service or working in a large department with many procedures and requirements. General burnout can occur from overwork in an overly competitive environment and students quit or become depressed. Most important, the selection of the wrong profession based on prestige not aptitude can lead to lifelong career dissatisfaction and stress with terrible impact on health and one’s personal life.
If these widely held beliefs actually aren’t true, then what is?
- Hard work and organization, not academic brilliance, carries the day when you enter the workforce. While a student may get into a selective college based on their creativity or their ability to memorize, analyze, calculate and write, most entry level jobs only require the basic business level in these skills. What they do need is entry level employees who are humble go-getters who are willing to follow directions, attempt to accomplish a task without too many requests for help, and take feedback on their performance without getting upset or angry. The organized B student often is a far better candidate for these types of roles.
- Learn Followership first, then Leadership. Students who have learned to follow a leader are often far better leaders themselves when they get to the managerial level. Ask your student whom they’d like to have work with them in a group setting. Chances are that is the person who will success the most in a job setting. Playing well in groups by knowing your role, executing it flawlessly and supporting other team members and your manager is a critical skill. Tell your student to strive to be that person whom everyone wants in their organization or on their team.
- Take an entry level job where you will be managed well and learn basic skills. High pay, a glamorous travel schedule and a first job in a high visibility industry all earn bragging rights for college seniors, but many times these young adults are overworked and burnout. They also are often overpaid and learn bad spending habits that then keep them tied to a career path that make them unhappy. These high flyers can often compensate by becoming arrogant or irresponsible in their personal lives. In a true entry level role, with oversight from a competent manager, young adults are far more likely to learn the basic organizational skills that will support their career for decades to come. AND they will have a bit of personal leeway to do the growing up that is required in one’s early twenties, before they determine a career path that impacts them for the rest of their lives.