Advice to Millennials: How to Build a Successful Career

    by Dan Lyons

    Date

    September 6, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    millennial-promotionDan Schawbel is a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the founder of Millennial Branding and the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press). He is also the #1 bestselling author of Me 2.0 and was recognized on both the Inc. Magazine and Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 lists.

    Dan Schawbel's Advice to Millennials

    What prompted you to write Promote Yourself?

    Right after my first book came out, I realized two things. First, my first book was meant for job seekers, many of whom were looking for their first job upon graduating college. Second, I started doing research on the Millennial generation and saw that they would become the majority of the workplace by 2025. The big opportunity I saw was to write a book that answered the questions, “How do I get ahead at work?” and “What will the workforce look like in 10 years when Millennials are in charge?” I’m a Millennial, and when I was working for EMC, I had no idea how to get ahead. There was no resource so I had to figure it out and create one -- this book. 


    What’s your best advice to someone just starting out on a career?

    First, you really need to get as many experiences as possible as early as you can. For me, this was developing my own websites in middle school and having eight internships between high school and college, not including a side business. The more you do, the more you figure out what you like and don’t like -- and once you have a grasp on that you can double down on what you really want. I see too many people waiting until senior year of college to figure out what they want to do with their lives and these are the same people who jump from company to company, without really finding their place in the world.

    Second, build your online presence, maintain it and grow it. When I was 23 (six years ago), I started my first blog and now I’m thankful because your online presence is so critical to career success these days. What you post online, and who sees it, can make or break your career. The problem most people have is that they want instant gratification and give up when they don’t see results overnight. Those who put out content each day (HubSpot would tell you this), will be able to gain more opportunities and position themselves for success.

    Third, always have a side project going. We live in the age of what I call “career diversification.” We can’t rely on anyone or anything so we have to be in charge of our career and take charge of our own lives. Even if you get a job, you could be eliminated in a moment’s notice. Your company could get acquired or merged and there’s nothing you can do about it, except to always prepare for the worst and focus on your dreams. If you have your own company, or are doing freelance projects outside of work, you are protecting yourself from a layoff and you’re positioning yourself for future opportunities at the same time. If a freelancer loses a client, they can still exist financially because they have others. If you only have your full-time job and you get laid off, you’re moving back with your parents.

    Should young people start their own company or go to work for someone else?

    Most people will naturally work for someone else because working for yourself is extremely hard and stressful. I did a study with oDesk this year and we found that 90% of Millennials believe that entrepreneurship is a mindset instead of the role of a business owner. In another study, I found that almost one third of employers are looking for entrepreneurship skills when recruiting for entry level jobs. The reality is that everyone can, and should, have the entrepreneur mindset because it’s risky to not take risks in your career. If you just did what you did yesterday, you can’t get ahead.

    Another trend I’m paying close attention to is the rise of the independent workers. By 2020, there will be more independent workers than full-time employees. Becoming an entrepreneur is easier today than it’s ever been and it can help you diversify your career and gain the freedom to work whenever you want from wherever you want. If you come up with a great idea, find a business partner and go for it. You can’t fail, because you will learn something in the process. Too many people are afraid of failure and too many people think that a full-time gig is secure when it’s not.

    You worked at EMC, a big company, but then struck out on your own. How long were you at EMC and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur instead?

    I was at EMC for over three years in three different roles. I started out in product marketing then jumped to emarketing after a group merger and then I created the first social media role there. I enjoyed my experiences there and learned a lot about how a big company operates but I was so passionate about what I was doing on nights and weekends that I had to leave. I was also getting so many speaking and consulting requests that I could no longer be a functional employee so I left and ended up taking EMC as a client. I decided to become an entrepreneur because it was the only path I could take that allowed me to do everything I wanted to do without any red tape.

    Does your book have relevance for older workers who are farther along in their careers?

    The book is written for Millennials but with advice that applies to older workers too. The special thing about this book is that it also helps managers understand how Millennials operate so they can better engage with them. It also helps executives and HR leaders see how they are changing the workplace and what’s to come.

    From an employer’s perspective, what do companies need to learn about Millennials?

    They need to stop listening to what the media says about Millennials. In a new study I did in partnership with American Express for this book, we found that Millennial employees have a positive view of their managers, while managers have a negative view of Gen Y. Employees feel that their managers have experience (59%), wisdom (41%) and are willing to mentor them (33%). On the other hand, managers feel that Gen-Y employees have unrealistic salary/compensation expectations (51%), a poor work ethic (47%), and are easily distracted (46%). None of this is true, and it’s all a lack of understanding.

    Millennials are collaborative. They prioritize meaningful work and flexibility over higher salaries and they want companies to give back to the community, not just make a profit. They want constant feedback and don’t want to wait until the annual performance review to get helpful advice from managers. They are prolific social media users so companies shouldn’t ban it at work.

    Devil’s advocate question: As an older worker, part of me thinks it would be awful to live in a world where all the young kids took your advice and are constantly promoting themselves. Aren’t they going to annoy people?

    The book isn’t about “self-promotion” at all even though the title is “promote yourself.” The idea behind promote yourself is to push yourself forward instead of remaining stagnant. It’s about personal accountability and empowerment. I even talk about why you shouldn’t brag and why you should share credit for successes with your team in the book. You simply can’t rely on your company to support you so you need to make things happen.

    What do you think, readers? What does the future hold for Millennials, professionally? What do Millennials need to know to get ahead in their careers?

    Image credit: Hazzat

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