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How Millennials Can Succeed: An Interview with Dan Schawbel

How Millennials Can Succeed: An Interview with Dan Schawbel

By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Monster Resource Center

Much has been written about Gen Y workers. Also known as Millennials, they’ve sometime been labeled the “Me Generation.” Their work habits, expectations and job skills have alternately been critiqued and extolled in books, articles and infographics. There’s even continued debate over what constitutes Gen Y birth dates.

Dan Schawbel hopes to clear the air about Gen Y's work ethic and contributions. A Gen Y career and workplace expert, he’s written extensively about and on behalf of his own generation and exemplifies Gen Y’s entrepreneurial attitude by leading his own research and consulting firm.

In this Monster interview, Schawbel discusses his latest book and the dynamic between Gen Y workers and employers.

Monster: What convinced you to write your new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success?

Schawbel: A lot of young professionals have come to me and told me that they are stressed out and feel stuck in their careers. They don't know what it takes to be successful now and need a guidebook on how to move up in their careers.

When I was in corporate America, I was clueless on what it took to succeed so I had to figure it out on my own. This book gives professionals the feedback they never get from their managers, the skills that they need and some proven ways to stand out at work.

My first book, Me 2.0, helped Millennials get jobs through social media and this one answers the question "how do I get ahead at work?"

Monster: In the book’s foreword, author Marcus Buckingham says Gen Ys often focus on their weaknesses, rather than their strengths. Does that trait impact their workplace performance?

Schawbel: It does and Marcus and I both agree that they need to pay attention to their strengths and capitalize on them if they want to get ahead. They want constant feedback and attention, but it needs to be focused more on how they can make their strengths even better instead of only on their weaknesses.

Monster: You emphasize the importance of soft skills — writing and presentation skills, body language — and eye contact in the book. Some recruiters have found that Millennial candidates often lack those job skills. (see How to Help Millennials Fill the Soft Skills Gap)  What explains this gap, when many Millennials are well-educated?

Schawbel: 40% of students believe technology has hurt their soft skills. They are constantly looking down at their cell phones and iPads and not at people and it's hurting them in the workplace.

In the American Express study, we found that soft skills are the most important to managers. The top three are the ability to prioritize work, having a positive attitude and teamwork skills.

Monster:  A recent Monster survey compared Millennial attitudes about having a career with those of Baby Boomers. What do you make of the results?  

Schawbel: I think that Gen Y's are thinking about career management the right way. A job is part of a career and a stepping stone into a new opportunity.

Monster: You recommend that employees assess whether to stay in a job after a year in the position. That seems like a relatively short amount of time to settle in to a new job and new company, even by today’s standards.

Schawbel: Today's standards are very different than years ago. People have an average of 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 34. Millennials leave their first job after two years. Change is constant and if you don't fit in that corporate culture and aren't set up for success, you can't settle.

Monster: Would Millennials do well to “stick it out” and give the job more time?

Schawbel: It depends on the situation. If they don't get along with their manager and co-workers and if there are no opportunities for advancement, there's no point in staying over two years. If there are opportunities and they like the people they work with, then they should stick it out and see how much they can advance.

Monster: You offer a “word of warning” to job seekers to not have lunch with a company competitor during business hours, lest your boss catch you. It reminded me of the Thirty Rock Hard Ball episode when Liz Lemon catches Josh (a Millennial) having lunch with a Daily Show producer. Does this type of thing happen in real life?

Schawbel: Yes, it happens all the time with top talent and people who are very well networked.

Monster: You say that some employers who find out that an employee is looking for a new job will retaliate by laying him or her off. Has that practice increased with social media usage?

Schawbel: Yes, it has increased because more people are searching for jobs online, especially on social networks. It's easy to get caught if you aren't careful and managers are not willing to take the risk to have you remain in your position if they know you want to leave.

Monster: How should an employer respond if they learn that their employee is actively seeking other employment opportunities?

Schawbel: They should sit them down and see what their intention is. Do they not feel challenged? Do they feel like they aren't getting paid enough? Once they figure out the intent, then they should either try and cater to them by giving them more opportunities or, if the employee isn't that productive, they should try and find someone else.

 Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success by Dan Schawbel

Dan 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.