In the September 18, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a new grad’s dad expresses concerns that employers aren’t rewarding highly credentialed new graduates fast enough.


My son, who earned an advanced STEM degree, was hired by a firm which was highly impressed by his education, and emphasized how important it was to have someone with his qualifications joining their team.

But several months into the job, he realizes that the work he has been given could easily be done by someone with only a bachelor’s degree. He is upset that he is not being challenged, but my concerns are more prosaic and practical. If he doesn’t have the opportunity to use his ability to “hit home runs” for his employer, there’s really no reason for them to reward him handsomely, and he isn’t developing the skill set that could cause another employer to pirate him away, and reward him handsomely.

So, my question is, did the employer deliberately lie to my son to get someone with his qualifications to join them, or did they lie to themselves, like the owner of a diner I know who sought out a Paris-trained chef, when all he needed was a guy who didn’t burn the eggplant?

Nick’s Reply

You’re blessed to have a son with an accomplished academic background. But I’m afraid you’re suffering from the same malady a lot of Millennials seem to have. They expect to hit the ground on their first job “being challenged,” “tackling great opportunities,” “hitting home runs,” “getting rewarded handsomely,” and quickly “developing new skill sets that will just as quickly get them recruited away” from their first employer… and “getting rewarded even more handsomely.”

Right out of the gate.

Are schools suggesting to students that wild success will be their experience once they get a job? Or are schools failing to give their students a realistic idea about the roadblocks they’ll encounter? Maybe they’re not teaching them how to recognize roadblocks or how to deal with reality.

Expectations about new jobs

It’s altogether too easy to offer sanctimonious advice to young people about the realities of a first job. In fact, I discourage that because it’s the naivete of every new generation that frees it to create something new under the sun. I love watching young people pull off great feats because they don’t know what is supposed to be impossible — so they risk everything to attempt anything. I experienced that when I started my career in the nascent Silicon Valley. I expected great success while I stumbled over obstacles I didn’t expect to encounter.

But I think attitudes about success are another matter from expectations about jobs. When I get a chance to speak to groups of students and new graduates about jobs and careers, I try to give them an honest picture of the roadblocks they will encounter. It may seem harsh, but I think it’s the truth.

The underlying questions here are whether the realities of work are roadblocks — and what new grads can learn about how to deal with them. I’m offering no answers. Just some pointers that I hope inspire a fresh new generation of workers to develop healthy attitudes about success so they can pull off the impossible.

20 pointers for new graduates

Whatever you’ve been told by the school you attended, this is likely what new graduates will find at their first jobs. Be prepared.

  1. Your academic credentials get you hired, because you have little or no experience that an employer can judge you on.
  2. Once you’re hired, your credentials don’t matter.
  3. Once you’re hired, what matters is your ability and willingness to learn the job and business you’re in. Especially if it’s your first job, that takes all your time, devotion and hard work.
  4. When you graduated from college or grad school, you were at the top of your academic game. You were a star with great prospects.
  5. Once you start work, you’re on the ground floor, on the bottom rung, low person on the totem pole, the plebe, the newbie, the unskilled and clueless neophyte that needs to prove themselves all over again.
  6. A job is not school.
  7. School is where you pay to learn what you want. A job is where you get paid to do whatever your employer needs you to do.
  8. In school, the work you do accrues 100% to your knowledge. At a job, the work you do accrues 100% to your employer’s profits. Hopefully, some of that accrues to your acumen. Most of it won’t – because that’s not why you were hired.
  9. Employers don’t pay you to be challenged. They pay you mainly to do boring work.
  10. The job you’re doing could probably be done by someone smart with less education. But they hired you because they expect you’ll go farther than someone with less education – if you’re willing to work as hard at your new job as you did in college.
  11. Employers don’t hire you out of school because they want home runs. They hire you because they want someone to carry water, clean the bases and tidy the dugout. They don’t tell you that in school, because if they did you might not pay to get an education.
  12. Your employer has people that hit home runs – but damned if they’re going to hand you a bat right out of school because they hope you’ll hit .500.
  13. Your employer won’t put you in the game before you prove you can field 10,000 balls flawlessly. Pro athletes spend most of their time practicing.
  14. The challenge when you start the job is to do what you’re told by the people who are paying you. They will expect you to do that job a long time because they really don’t want to start all over again with someone else.
  15. You will be paid what they promised you – and it’ll likely be far from handsome.
  16. Your reward is not your salary. Your reward is being permitted to come back each day to keep doing your small part – not to swing for the bleachers.
  17. Practice will take years, a step at a time – and you don’t get special rewards for making it to the next step. See (10).
  18. You won’t be worth recruiting away for a long time. Trust me. We headhunters don’t get paid big fees to recruit newbies. There are millions of you. Hiring any one of you is free.
  19. You’ve heard the rule about how it takes 10,000 hours devoted to doing one thing before you become an expert. Do the math. Even if you get to spend half your work day practicing that one thing, it will take years to become the expert that another employer will recruit. (More likely, you’ll spend 90% of your time on busy work.)
  20. The good news is, if you focus on doing your job so your employer profits handsomely from it, your skills will grow and you will be successful.

Roadblocks or realities?

I don’t think the employer lied to your son or to itself. Rather, someone — His school? The world? — lied to your son when it suggested work is about being challenged, hitting home runs, getting rewarded and getting recruited for a million-dollar salary. That’s not what work is about.

Those things are what expertise and success are about, but first come the realities and the roadblocks. The things your son wants for himself he’ll earn through persistence, patience, dedication, apprenticeship and hard work. Likely one step at a time.

Don’t be confused about the owner of that diner. He will hire a Paris-trained chef when he can – because most kids fresh out of school will burn the eggplant, and that will quickly put a diner owner out of business.

Please tell your son to give his career a chance. There are roadblocks and there are realities. He cannot deal with them by pretending they don’t exist.

Am I being too harsh on ambitious new grads? Probably. I don’t mean to sound discouraging. But I’m afraid misconceptions abound about big bucks and quick success. What would you change in my 20 pointers? What would you add? More important, what are the best ways to overcome or avoid some of these roadblocks?

If you’re a seasoned professional, this is your chance to advise and mentor new graduates like this reader’s son. Please remember: You’ve been through it. Getting a career started is painful. Maybe we can impart some lessons while lessening the pain.

If you’re a new grad, what do you want to know about your first job?

: :

  1. I think it’s sad that millennials (and perhaps also their parents) have unrealistic expectations of their first job.

    Reminds me of this:

    • Do you think the OP and the girl in the video are representative of Millennials?

  2. #21. If you REALLY believe that the previous 20 pointers don’t apply to you, and you REALLY feel that you can do better, and “hit the home runs” from the start, then don’t accept that job offer at all. Instead, start your own company!
    See first-hand what your customers think of your education, and your innate talents.

    If you really do have these highly valuable skills, then you stand to do better with your own business than any employer is likely to pay you for your skills. And if you don’t have them, well, that’s a continuation of your education.

    Whether you have these amazing skills or not, you will quickly learn a lot of the same lessons that you will learn when you are getting paid as an employee…only the lessons you learn when running your own show come with a greater cost, and you OWN every.single.mistake. (You will probably learn lessons more quickly than you will when you have a patient boss who is trying to train you.)

    Thinking about it, A year of running your own business actually might make most people much better employees…

    Offered with respect.

    • @Eric: That makes a good reference point for the dad and the new grad. If you’re good enough at the work to be recruited for more money, can you run your own biz?

  3. The first thing that popped into my is “why is the parent writing this?”

    Your son is (probably) about 24 years old. That’s mid-twenties and 6 years into (legal) adulthood. He should be capable of expressing his own ambitions, expectations, and discontent with his job. You could have suggested writing into ATH and he could have taken it from there.

    Please don’t take offense. This level of hands-on parenting well into adulthood is not intended to be judgemental. It’s an observation that fascinates me. What would your parents have done? Advised you to do your job and do it well, regardless of what it is? Or would they have written in complaing that his son didn’t get what he wants? Yes, I do consider it complaining when you lead with “his employer deceived him.”

    The good news is I think your son will do just fine. Eventually he’ll find his groove if he allows someone mentor him. But there will be moments of frustration and bouts of questioning his choices. The question is will YOU be able to handle seeing him occasionally unhappy?

    Google “Simon Sinek millennials.” Your son is not alone in feeling this way.

    Good luck

    • @Denise: The wonder of experience is that it teaches everyone :-), whether they like it, expect it, or not.

      • Nick, I’ve been following you since I was in college about 25 years ago. I think your column was actually printed in the EE Times back then. Haha. Your guidance to this new grad is as relevant to anybody who has any job, regardless of industry, expertise and experience.

        Like everyone, experience has taught me some things the hard way- I didn’t like it, but I remembered it. I’m sure this new grad will look back on his early days and see how far he’s come. (the Dad, too).

        Thanks for all of the years of great insight. I’ve sent many colleagues your way.

        Here’s the video I mentioned.

        • @Denise: Wow! The EET days! You do go way back with Ask The Headhunter! Thanks so much for telling me that. Electronic Engineering Times was the first publication to pay me for a regular column (which expanded to multiple features over the years – you might recall the “Mentors” program we started, in which seasoned EEs advised EE students). They helped me get my start in content licensing. Editor Tim Moran invented EET’s online edition around the time he brought ATH on. It all started when Bob Bellinger wrote a nice review of my self-published book, “The New Interview Instruction Book.” It was great because my headhunting expertise was in electronics engineering in Silicon Valley. You take me back! Feels good! (Tim and I have worked together several times since then, when he moved to Adobe’s and later to Palo Alto Networks.)

          Thanks for sending your colleagues my way. The video you linked to is now an old classic! And thanks for being such a long-time reader!

  4. One of the unfortunate things about the current job market is that the difficulty Bachelor degree graduates are having in finding jobs is causing many to continue their education, immediately going on for Master’s degrees without the intermediate step of getting some practical job experience in order to better understand how their current and future education can be most useful to a prospective employer. That intermediate practical experience would clue them in to all 20 points Nick lists in his response to the father.

    Universities intent on attracting premium tuition paying graduate students aren’t likely to present a realistic picture of the jobs market, even if the advisers for the students actually understand the realities of the corporate job environment.

    My real question is what is the father’s background and job experience that he was not already aware of the 20 realities (or 21 with the addition by Eric Cole)? If the father came to his current job through the typical corporate jobs progression, then none of this should be new information.

    In addition to the 20 points Nick makes, my belief is that a book titled “The Ropes To Skip and The Ropes To Know” should be mandatory reading material for every college graduate entering the corporate job market. It also wouldn’t hurt to go online and enter the search term “crap jobs” into the search engine of choice. There has been quite a lot written in the last 5+ years as to the prevalence of crap jobs that exist in the corporate world that end up having to be done by people who are overqualified by education and experience, but it is still work that has to be accomplished.

    The real challenge in becoming educated about the realities of the corporate job market is to keep from becoming cynical and disillusioned. If you can’t resist that, it is a sure path to under performance, which in turn insures losing the job for which you feel you are overqualified.

    • “Universities intent on attracting premium tuition paying graduate students aren’t likely to present a realistic picture of the jobs market.”

      Heh-heh. How many pricey products look great in the ads but aren’t likely to deliver the promised results?

    • @Richard: What I marvel at is the contradictory messaging from many schools, especially in the MBA world. When they get ranked in the magazines, they tout the jobs and salaries of their grads.

      But when their students and grads complain about inadequate “career services” the rejoinder is that “We don’t deliver jobs. We deliver education.”

      More astonishing is that their “customers” seem not to notice the disconnect. What’s a few hundred grand in “education,” anyway?

  5. My advice for new hires?
    a) Demonstrate initiative.
    b) Find a senior co-worker or co-workers, and ask good questions. “How can I help?” is always good.
    c) Your education got you in the door. Your attitude will get you forward.

    • @Jim: Bam, bam, bam. That’s most of the story!

  6. “Are schools suggesting to students that wild success will be their experience once they get a job? Or are schools failing to give their students a realistic idea about the roadblocks they’ll encounter? Maybe they’re not teaching them how to recognize roadblocks or how to deal with reality.”

    Yes. That was my experience while working on my BS in Accounting. Now that I am a mildly successful adult almost 10 years later looking back, it reminds me of the Underpants Gnomes (from South Park?) Step 1. Go to college Step 2. … Step 3. PROFIT!

    • You were hired for attitude/approach to work and learning potential, not for what you know. Figure out how your employer wants you to approach your work, and what your employer wants you to learn – and do it.

  7. My daughter didn’t follow in my footsteps, but landed near the same spot. A JD degree (law) twisted and turned into a Project Manager, then a Department Head. She soon found out what I had learned after rising through the ranks to a Warehouse Manager–everyone is five years old.

    Frank Zappa had tried to warn us, noting that the more time he spent in the real world, the more that world continued to resemble high school, but then, Mr. Zappa was way more optimistic than my daughter and I.

    Three years into my career, I was blessed with an assistant manager I came to affectionately call my “XO” (Executive Officer, the guy/gal who really runs the ship). Ten years my junior, he was way more people-versed than I, an extreme introvert. He was my reality checker, and I would occasionally be able to articulate his simultaneous observations of people and processes.

    As the years went on, and as a variety of ages passed through our operation, we realized that we were dealing with five-year-olds of all ages, 18 to 65.

    My daughter, dealing with higher-educated and skilled workers, found no correlation between education and maturity.

    There are only two things I would recommend to young people today, or any day:
    1. The only way to develop the gravitas that is truly needed to succeed is to endure the unendurable. When I was going through my darkest hour, I made the determination that I would not quit unless I had secured a new position elsewhere, was fired, or carried out on a stretcher.
    2. Anger solves nothing, and has brought unbelievably wonderful long-term careers to a screeching halt. Keep your cool no matter what, especially with people responsible for signing, or influential in the signing of your paycheck.

    When the Borg decided that they didn’t want to assimilate me, I kept smiling and trying and showing up, even though I knew that it really was a no-win situation. I was the only one on my conquered starship that got a severance package, and a very nice one at that.

    • “everyone is five years old”

      If ever there were a single answer to everything relating work and business, that may be it! (Politics, too, eh?)

  8. These are great tips for experienced and new grads a like.

    A healthy dose of humility in the senior rank goes a long way, especially in team based work.

    One of the hardest thigs to do as a leader is remember how to follow.

    Thanks for the reminder Nick.

  9. That is some good advice for anyone looking for a job. I would only add:

    1# Find the color of your parachute. In my experience, people are either good with operations (details) or good with the big picture and dealing with people. Yes, some people are good at both and I would say these individuals are very rare.

    2# Pair up with others who are good at what you are not so good at. I find people who work in teams and even offer to be hired together as a package deal, move ahead well beyond either group who goes at it alone. Think about it, the company is already ensuring they have a group of employees who have shown they can work together as a team.

    3# I just want to point out that I learned this following trick from one of the youngest people to ever be promoted to manager at PWC. Create a spreadsheet/database of all your contacts and coworkers. Learn what they are good at and what is important to them. Don’t ever mention you have spreadsheet/database of people :)

    4# Be respectful to everyone but know who your friends are. Not everyone has your best interest at heart and some people enjoy screwing other people over.

    5# Learn everything you can, especially if the classes are offered for free. Things change rapidly and you need to keep up with the latest developments in your field.

    • Anna, that’s great stuff! Never heard any of those before. I especially like #3 — what a great way to try and understand the people in our lives on the most basic level.

      #2 reminds me of certain managers I knew in Silicon Valley who wouldn’t hesitate to hire people for their teams and pay them more than the manager made. They were proud of having experts working for them who made more than they as managers did. (The rationale that comes to mind is when you hire a doctor or lawyer who makes much more than you do.) A world where a manager always earns more than any team member is a failing planet.

  10. Nick, this one’s your next e-book (and I recommend your e-books to a lot of people). It’s a compassionate but steel-eyed dose of actual reality. This post will surely receive the highest honor available on the Internet– getting redistributed as a graduation speech given by Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

    I also concur with Denise who wrote earlier today asking why the dad was writing instead of the kid.

    • @Rob: From your mouth to Bill’s and Warren’s ears… :-)

      An old friend who’s been urging me to do a book for new grads immediately e-mailed me when he opened today’s newsletter. (How much more prodding do I need?)


  11. #22: Network as much as you can (in house). Begin with your team. If you are consistently staying ahead of your work, take on some of the load (make sure your Team Lead or Manager is aware). Keep an eye out for work that you find interesting, see if you can help. It might be hauling water, but it moves you closer.

    Remember that Managers can find “It-is-not-my-job people” anywhere. They want (need?) “‘It-is-not-my-job’ is not my job people”

  12. Nick, even though it may be a waste of time (but not much time “click&Drop”) You might want to post 20 points on Linkedin. (If they will let you). This is contrary of what I see pushed there And it is what all of us experience personally.

    • Thanks, Eddie. Have to think about that. It’s the old “free content in exchange for exposure” problem. I hate giving LinkedIn free content to drive traffic to them. But I suppose the idea is to give them free content to — perhaps — drive traffic over here! I always post a teaser about my weekly columns on LinkedIn, FB, Twitter, Google Plus — but maybe you’ve got a good idea there. LinkedIn has more eyeballs than I do, eh? :-)

      UPDATE: Eddie: I took your advice and posted just the 20, along with a link to this article. Thanks for the idea!

  13. Nick,

    I like your 20 Points and think they are valuable. I could only add variations on the theme, so won’t elaborate. I’m in my 40th year of my career, so I definitely qualify as a graybeard who has seen a whole lot.

    It’s a bit difficult to place your sixty-something self into those twenty-something shoes you wore on that first job. But I’d just say try to figure out what’s really going on in your organization as quickly as possible. Be realistic, and be true to yourself. You don’t have to be a star on the team, just be willing to do your share (and more, if you’re able). Work hard and be honest. Be someone who can be counted on. Own up to your mistakes right away and never, ever throw anyone under the bus. In fact, taking the blame when it wasn’t you will get you lots of points with your co-workers. But don’t try that on your first job when you don’t know the consequences.

    I guess I had a few pointers after all.

    When asked for advice by couples who are about to have their first child I say, “Parenting is not without rewards. But about 95% of it is just plain hard work.” (All the parents out there are nodding their heads in agreement right now.) I’d give the same advice about a new career.

    • Larry, I like your points so much I want to highlight them:

      * Work hard and be honest.
      * Be someone who can be counted on.
      * Own up to your mistakes right away.
      * Never, ever throw anyone under the bus.

      Great wisdom, short and sweet!

      This one’s REALLY worth thinking about:

      * In fact, taking the blame when it wasn’t you will get you lots of points with your co-workers. But don’t try that on your first job when you don’t know the consequences.

  14. Those 20 points – plus the additions here – are all great.
    This guy has only been on the job a few weeks? I doubt he really understands the company and the business at this point. This is the time to do the grunt work and to learn.
    After he learns he can figure out how to surprise his bosses by doing the job a bit faster and better than they expect – singles, not homers. He shouldn’t fall into the trap of telling everyone how they should do everything differently since he is so well educated. Maybe sometimes companies don’t change out of inertia, but 95% of the time the reason a new procedure is not used is that it doesn’t work, for reasons the new guy doesn’t yet have the experience to understand.
    This advice still holds when an experienced person gets a new job – but the experienced person doesn’t have to be told.

  15. Some great suggestions here for workers of any age. I’ve been in my field over 30 years but joined a new organization last year, and learned all of these all over again. What I’d say to this young graduate is that Nick doesn’t pull his punches, which may sound harsh, but he’s the guy you’ll want to be following and eventually impress in 10 years. I agree with most of the suggestions here related to remaining a learner, working hard, and working as hard to build your people skills as hard as you worked to build your advanced knowledge in school (school sucks at teaching people skills). As for practice and the baseball metaphors, read some Buddhist thought on the nature of practice, and the importance of showing up, being present. Here and now is the only place you can make a difference for yourself, your career, the world.
    Having said that, if the current employer presented a job description that is radically different from what the work involves, or you develop *evidence-based* ethical questions of your employer, then work on developing contacts and relationships outside the company (while NEVER badmouthing current employer). Get to know the field, learn from others, and follow Nick’s advice for finding a new job only after you have at least completed one year, if not two, at current job.
    Lastly, to the dad: if you look at the stats in baseball, home run hitters don’t win most ball games. It’s the players who can consistenly hit singles off all kinds of pitches and advance the runner around the bases.
    Final word to first time job holder: well done. Too many your age are still unemployed. Be thankful, live below your means, and find the fun in it!

    • “read some Buddhist thought on the nature of practice, and the importance of showing up, being present. Here and now is the only place you can make a difference for yourself, your career, the world.”

      Have you been following me around recently, Researcher? :-) Last weekend I was in San Francisco, where I visited my favorite bookstore, Green Apple Books, in the Richmond district on Clement Street. The “recommended by employees” shelf always has several books I’ve never heard of that I wind up reading.

      So I’m reading “The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh.” (Have you been following me around?? Try Mai’s Vietnamese a block east of Green Apple on Clement. “Since 1979.”) I’m loving the book.

      • Chuckling… no, not stalking you but great minds and all that? Glad you found Thay’s work. If you live in the SF area, connect with Spirit Rock Retreat Center and their wonderful thinkers. Next assignment: Chop Wood, Carry Water by Rick Fields and Peggy Taylor.
        I’ve got Green Apple and Mais Vietnamese in my book for my next trip to SF. Thanks!

  16. I think all of Nick’s points are good. I don’t think this is just a millennial thing, though. Many college students have heard the refrain “go to college, get a great job” for years, and as a cusp boomer/genXer, plenty of my classmates had the same mentality. Those who had well-connected parents and friends tended to be able to skip the part about starting at the bottom due to those connections. Those of us without those kinds of connections had to start in the mailroom, not in the corner office. And that’s perfectly fine. The thing is, college students are still getting this, as if a college degree automatically means a fantastic job right out of college. Too many don’t get the message about paying your dues (i.e., working your up) and see the time they spent in college as paying their dues, which is far from the truth about how work operates for most of us.
    At the job I had two jobs ago, I remember that some of this attitude comes from parents. I received a call from a very irate parent of a student who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the other programs at the school at which I worked. He was very upset that his darling daughter could only get a job working in the cafeteria at a nursing home, instead of being the director of an agency or being the head nutritionist at a major hospital. She wasn’t even one of my students, but did I ever get the brunt of his anger. He told me that because he paid tuition, his daughter was entitled to a high paying, higher-status job. He didn’t want to hear that she had to start somewhere, and that that somewhere is often at the bottom. When he asked how other students got great jobs, I told them that I couldn’t speak for the Nutrition dept., but that my students and alumni were mid-career professionals when the entered the program I ran, that two-thirds of them already had terminal degrees and for the most part were in their mid-30’s and older. His daughter was 21 and just starting out. My students didn’t start at the top either but slowly worked their ways up. He didn’t want to hear that. Like Denise (writing above), I, too, wondered why the parent was calling (or writing) to complain instead of the young person. My experience with this irate daddy was more than 10 years ago, and I see that some parents have not changed. I never heard a faculty member in my school promise students the world; several of the faculty did try to rein in the dean, who was gung-ho about starting a formal Bachelor’s program, despite our pleas (and those of agency directors and alumni) that a Bachelor’s degree in that field would never be enough (the qualifying degree for nearly all jobs and an increasing number of internships was the MPH), and that it would be misleading students and their parents if they thought a Bachelor’s degree in public health would be sufficient to get them a job, much less a decent paying job with opportunities for advancement. Some degrees do lead to great jobs (think engineering), but even engineers have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is often an entry-level job.
    I used to tell the younger students that their first job will be the first of many jobs, and to look at it as an extension of learning. They will be learning their entire lives, but in different ways from when they were in school. I used to suggest that they look at the profiles of people who were doing the kinds of jobs they wanted, and look at their ages, experience, and education.

    Part of this is managing expectations–of both students and parents. Maybe some schools overpromise, but I also know that many students never visit the career center until their second semester of senior year, and that many don’t take advantage of the resources faculty have to offer. Look up your professors, read about their education and career trajectories, and ask them about themselves, about how they came to be teaching, would they go back to the private sector (what did they like and dislike about it), how did they get where they are. They might be surprised that many didn’t follow a straight line, that some changed careers, went to school as older students, as returning veterans, or after a firing, layoff, or job outsourcing.

  17. Nick;s twenty points of wisdom for new arrivals definitely cut to the chase. Here is another piece of advice, offered by my father, as I was entering mid-career:

    From time to time ask your employer, and yourself, the following question: “How can I do my job better?”

    The answers may not always be what you care to hear, but the posing the question is probably the easiest way to learn whether you and your sponsors are on the same page.

    • @Mark: 10 points to your dad for that one! I’d be happy if managers themselves regularly brought that up with employees! But it certainly tells a manager a lot about an employee when the employee brings this up.

  18. I agree with MaryBeth…this isn’t just a millennial thing. I was a Manager in the techie world starting in the 70’s. It wasn’t uncommon for those with advanced degrees especially Phds to have high expectations, particularly if graduating from elite colleges.

    Your investment in advanced degrees would get you a higher starting salary. But the optimum word as STARTING. You bought a ticket to play. Once on board, you had to prove your worth…And the best initial proof was attitude. As Nick noted…we already had our gurus, our egos and they we’re not about to hand choice project work over to newbies.

    And back then, and in startups today, you didn’t have time for the “that ain’t my job” mindset. A grad or any new hire for that matter had to learn their one & only job description…Everyone’s job is to make the organization/successful. If your boss is a neat freak that could mean sweeping the floor.

    His dad only thinks he’s upset, because all that really counted was dependable results…fast, on what you’re asked to do. High marks for initiative.. And there could be an unpleasant surprise…his son may find that non-degreed people hit home runs, and as such run project and could be his son boss.

    I think the best demonstration of worth and potential are people who do jobs/tasks/projects they hate, very very well. Shit jobs. And there’s a lot of that lurking in the most glamorous projects. And doing them well, earns you atta-boys from which you build your street cred. And in so doing you learn how the game is played, invaluable experience. Do that, and you’ll get a project ticket to play.

    A piece of advice I give to grads, is to park their ego and expectations. You have to find home plate before you can hit a homer. A good way to enter into a new job after graduating is to think of it this way. You paid a college to learn and for your degree. when you take on a new job…you are now BEING PAID TO LEARN. It’s up to you to get the most from it.

    While a new hire could take a view they were misled by xxxx, I don’t think the majority of hiring managers lied to them. I know I didn’t. What we told people is you have the opportunity to move to the plate, to position your career growth. Depending on your attitude, and smarts.

    The good news is when you start with a company growing rapidly, you can move quickly…

  19. Oh, and you’re also being paid to build your network.

  20. Great article and comments, as always.

    Most reputable companies won’t give the “hardest” work to the newbie, especially those just out of college. Even if you had years of experience, this may well be the case too. There’s always going to be grunt work, and many people have to put in their time to learn the ropes.

    Also, keep in mind, most people are average and most jobs are average by definition.

    I guess my summary of all of this is, on what basis does the new grad in this story deserve a “better” position? Is it simply because he has an “advanced” degree? A lot of people have advanced degrees. A lot of other people in his field likely have decades of direct experience, which counts for something as well. Did the new grad do some sort of innovative/new research while in grad school? No one is going to give him a good job for simply showing up. There needs to be some level of trust.

    • @David: Ah, there’s the rub! “No one is going to give him a good job for simply showing up. There has to be some level of trust.” Your comment made me think about the daughter of a former colleague, who received a trophy or medal for coming in LAST at a swim meet. My former colleague, who was in her 60’s, couldn’t understand why awards were given to everyone, not just to the top three finishers. Why are they rewarding the losers?, she wondered, because that was not how her generation (or mine, for that matter), were raised. What that kind of thing (giving people medals just for showing up, not for accomplishing what they were supposed to do) has done is create exactly the kind of environment where people do expect to get a medal (or a great job) simply for showing up.

      The workplace, for most of us, doesn’t operate this way. Graduate school (LW stated that his son has an advanced STEM degree) usually doesn’t operate this way either, but I had heard stories about incoming graduate students sitting in their professors’ offices crying and freaking out because it was the first time they didn’t get an A+ on an assignment or it was the first time they actually received constructive (often harsh) criticism, and they couldn’t handle it. The same thing happens once they transition to the workplace–they’re used to getting major points, medals, and all kinds of praise simply for showing up, and now they actually have to produce something, which may not be good right away, and they’re not used to being told that they’re really not special, or that they have to do it again. It may take a while to undo 22 or more years of this kind of conditioning, but being allowed to fail (and not getting a medal for finishing last just so there are no hurt feelings or damaged egos) would be an excellent start. It starts at home with the parents, and should continue into the schools (parents, please back your kids’ teachers instead of being a lawn mower or Black Hawk helicopter parent).

  21. Kind of late, but I wanted to thank you for that brilliant column. And, as usual, your smart and generous readers offered comments that only added value.

    My favorite take on this is something I call the Basic Deal. It originated with an old Columbia Business professor named Ferdinand Fournies, who used to say, “When you get hired, your employer is not purchasing your body, brain, soul, or values. They are simply renting your behavior.”

    The Basic Deal from the employer’s side means means only the following:

    * They’ll tell you what they want you to do.
    * They might give you some tools to help you do those things. (But maybe not.)
    * They might remove some obstacles to doing those things. (But maybe not.)
    * They will pay you with a check that doesn’t bounce.

    That’s it.

    The Basic Deal from the employee’s side means only the following:

    * You will deliver 40 (or more) hours of the behaviors your employer is willing to pay you for.

    That’s it.

    Everything else is on you. Learning, growing, stretching yourself — on you. Doing more than expected, better than expected — on you. Finding ways to fulfill your half of the Basic Deal while adding to the company’s bottom line, and making sure they know about it — on you.

    In truth, I’ve had to remind myself of this simple truth many times over the years.

  22. WOW! U mean I can’t be the President straight out of the gate? (Tongue in cheek) Who’s telling these lies to their kids? I remember hearing this BS 30 years ago and it continues. A great disservice to their offspring.

    • @Marilyn: Yes, this isn’t limited to millennials. I’m glad that you remember hearing this 30 years ago because it means that my recollection of similar BS isn’t a figment of my imagination. It is a great disservice to kids (and by kids I mean adults in their 20’s and 30’s).

      The other issue, which I didn’t mention in my previous post, is that at many colleges and universities, there has been a shift in how students are viewed and treated. The days of hearing “Look at the person to your left, look at the person to your right; one of you won’t be here at the end of the semester” are long gone. At too many institutions, students are no longer students but customers (and the customer is always right) and the institution isn’t concerned with standards for admission but with selling credits. Add in the big changes wrought by NCLB and RTTT, and there are more students who arrive at college underprepared for college level work but who still feel they deserve A+es in all their courses even when they don’t attend class, don’t do the work, don’t take the tests, and don’t seek help when they don’t understand the material. “But my parents paid tuition”, they wail indignantly, “therefore I deserve an A+”. This goes back to getting a medal for showing up. Unfortunately, there is increasing pressure on faculty to cut their customers slack, to dumb down the courses, to change their grades, because when students are customers, the customer is always right and it is up to the business to make sure the customer is happy. I listened to two authors discussing their book “The Coddling of the American Mind” on tv, and it sounds like their gets into some of the entitlement mentality raised by the LW in this week’s Q&A.

      I always reminded students (I still think of them as students, not customers, much to the dismay of my colleagues at work, who do everything possible to make things as easy as possible because students are not students but customers) that when it comes to education, they have some skin in the game and some responsibility. Paying tuition does not equal top grades or even a degree because they still have to do the work and earn it! Getting a degree isn’t like buying a bicycle at Wal-Mart. Paying tuition is the price of access to experts in their fields, to the library, to the opportunity to learn. That is what is missing today, and I think what the LW and his son are not understanding about the workplace either. He should look at this job as an opportunity to learn, and to be able to put into use the theories he learned in college and graduate school. If he’s lucky, he’ll be learning his entire life.

      • @Marybeth: Bingo! This is not a new phenomenon… :-)

        Millennials were invented 150 or 2,000 years ago!

  23. This is an age old problem. “I graduated top of my class from ABC… I should have title yadda yadda yadda… I should be paid XYZ… I know more about running the business that my boss. At nauseum”

  24. This will be slightly off topic, but I wish there was a clearer path to a happy medium, based only on my anecdotal experience. I am not talking about a true first job out of college or graduate studies, but rather attempting to change careers and “start over.” I did one career well for 10 years – was a protestant pastor, which requires leadership skills, communication skills, money skills, people skills, and oftentimes in the sort of small congregations I pastored, it involves doing thankless gruntwork that nobody knows about – literally, unclogging toilets, etc. I didn’t mind doing it all, but I happened to really like the money management aspect, so after 10 years I left that vocation and went and got an MBA (already having earned an advanced degree in theology required by my denomination). Now I find myself struggling to get traction for anything other than jobs requiring a high school diploma or GED, and that pay less than what I was making in my first year as a pastor in 2002 (my denomination has a minimum salary, which if I went back to doing would surely eclipse my current salary by 40% if including benefits, and I wouldn’t be likely to go back into ministry at the minimum salary level given my experience). I didn’t get the MBA to go work in high finance for six figures right out the gate – or ever, necessarily, but I didn’t expect to be pulling in less than $30k with my degree, and working at a job in the cubicle jungle that is an absolute world away from most of the interesting things I got to learn about in my MBA program (which I found to be a thrilling education). I hope I don’t come across sounding spoiled, but I find it a tough pill to swallow that I gained knowledge and feel like I genuinely improved myself, but at the same time feel like I have lost so much ground professionally – years of lost productivity (and income). I did not realize that starting over, in my case as its has turned out, would drop me off at the absolute bottom of a different industry, as opposed to say being at least one rung up from the very bottom. Maybe I can work my up, per Nick’s 20 points, and I try to keep a good attitude, but it is definitely difficult to stand out when your job more or less turns your time into a commodity, and regardless of your knowledge, skills, smarts, ambition or other qualities, you are basically doing the same thing as everyone else and even if you do it well, you are ultimately fairly easy to replace. For the moment, I doing what I can learn a whole new industry and give it time, but it has been an unpleasant eye-opening experience.

    • Have you researched the archives of this site? I’m about to log off or I could be more precise but about a month ago give or take a week, a detailed discussion was published on changing careers. I thought it a good article(s)

      I was a recruiter and ran across people doing so or wanting to, and have retooled myself more than once. Changing careers offers it’s own challenges, is heavy lifting but not impossible. I’ve met many people who’ve done so.

      See if you can find the discussion


    • This is where networking comes in. Nick has written much more (and much better) than me.

      Just a thought, is there a niche for churches to outsource their finances…especially financial management and advice that goes beyond bookkeeping? It seems like you would be in an especially good place to advise on these matters.

      • There is a whole consulting industry for church finances when it comes to raising money for new buildings, but less so for day to day finances. Not aware of outsourcing for financial tracking for churches . . . maybe the possibility of a niche opportunity there, but based on my experience, overcoming the trust issue of letting a 3rd party handle the finances might be tough. Thanks for the

  25. This advice still rings true, except for having a parent complain. I was rif-ed 10 years ago, and had to start over in my 50’s during the recession. I was recognized in my field, and had co-written the global standards used by my manufacturing industry. When I got my next job, I knew a lot, but didn’t know a lot about the internal workings of the new organization. The experience got my foot in the door, but I behaved as if I had stepped onto a new planet where I knew nothing about their processes. I took on a lot of grunt work that needed to be done, but no one else wanted to do.

    • A great deal of work (especially larger companies) is trust relationships, understanding how and why things work, the culture, and the politics*

      Most of the “technical” aspects of work I have observed in my years could be taught with a few weeks (maybe months) of OJT, maybe a boot camp. Beyond that is Experience. And the only way to get that…

      *”politics” as in “how people interact and get along with each other, good and bad

  26. I don’t think your reply, in this case, is good.

    I have a PhD from a good university, two M.As, have been rewarded a long list of scholarships and international stays.

    After graduating I accepted a job in a consultancy. I didn’t expect to feel channelled and learn every day. But my role on the first project was… formatting presentations. Changing fonts, font sizes, correcting colours.

    I accepted it back then, told myself it would only last a few weeks and hey, if I format decks I can also read them, right?

    After 4 months I was still formatting decks. 2 years later I wasn’t, but did things which could be done by someone with a high-school degree too (I’m not in the US).

    Then after spending there enough time not to be treated as a job-hopper, I accepted a position as a Strategic Project Manager. I was promised strategic projects. What I’m doing is working as a customer support. I studied for 10+ years to work as a customer support.

    I find it horribly depressing that companies lie to candidates and that they misrepresent jobs to this extent.

    • @Emily

      “I find it horribly depressing that companies lie to candidates and that they misrepresent jobs to this extent.”

      Bait and switch certainly happens. But, we don’t know enough about this specific situation to make that determination – In general companies won’t give the most complex work to the newbie, especially if they are a new grad. The advanced degree may or may not play into this.

    • @Emily: Are companies lying to candidates and misrepresenting jobs? Some of the time they are. But it’s important to understand that no written job description actually describes the work a new hire will be doing. It never does. The job description is HR-ese, always. Yah, that’s not good, but it’s reality. What this means is, before you accept the job, dig hard for the facts about the job from the person who will manage you. Caveat emptor is the rule.

      Regardless, a first job out of school is almost always the equivalent of swabbing decks in whatever company you’ve joined. You prove yourself and move up. Even if, as in your case, you actually have to change employers to do the work you have become qualified to do, consider that part of your compensation for that first job is new credentials and experience that make you more attractive to other employers.

      The problem here, clearly, is that even after making a change, you’re still not doing work you feel qualified to do. I’d ask myself two questions (and please believe me – I’m not attacking the victim):

      1) Are you really as qualified as you think you are? Talk with others in your field candidly. Ask for their unvarnished assessment of your capabilities. Credentials don’t always translate into actual skills.

      2) Are you vetting new jobs properly, or are you letting yourself be abused? (Again, I’m not accusing the victim. It’s important to consider this question candidly.) Make sure you are getting the kinds of firm commitments (in writing) that you need before you accept a new job.

      Those questions must be addressed. If the honest answer to both is YES, then you truly are being victimized and abused by dishonest employers and you need to vet them more thoroughly before you accept another job. It’s quite clear that many employers are opportunists and dishonest. But it’s up to you to recognize such behavior.

      This article may be helpful:

  27. Along the lines of doing good when you can, I shared your LI post with my contact base.

    Thank you for your service, Nick.

  28. Back in the day, many people were hired simply to fill a spot in the TO in order to meet the terms of the contract.

    The contract called for 3 PhDs? You can for sure bet there were 3 PhDs on the contract. Now on any given day they could have been playing pinochle with the guy with the Bachelors on their team 8 hours a day, but they were for sure hired and on the job.

  29. Nick,

    I don’t know if you’ll read this since it’s a reply to a two year old article, but I am in the same situation in 2020 as I was when I was a new grad with a master’s degree in 2014, and that is simply trying to get job interviews to get the opportunity to start my career. I thought I was doing the right thing. I picked a degree that led to specific jobs. I enrolled at a school that had a wide alumni network, and I started connecting with that network while I was still a student. Nevertheless I found myself still having to apply for published job opportunities, and even when I was referred by the school to an alum who was looking to hire, I couldn’t even get an interview. It’s been six years, I haven’t been able to establish myself in a career or even as a full fledged adult, because I can’t even get in front of someone to show what I can do.

    • @Robert: I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult time. It does sound like you’ve been doing some of the right things. I don’t know what industry/biz you’re in, but that may have something to do with it, or there may be something specific in your approach. It’s also possible that in your field it’s just very hard to break in.

      Have you read this?

      These 2 articles might help you tune up your networking:



      • Thanks for your reply. To me, a lot of the job search advice out there sounds like it would work great for people who already have a career in progress, including your tips for getting around HR and straight to the hiring manager. If you’re mid career, you should know who the hiring managers are in your industry, but when you’re just starting out, you don’t even know who all is out there as far as employers, let alone who works at all these places. So I will check out the articles you shared about getting started in the first place.

        • @Robert: I start with the assumption that you know no one in the industry. It’s important to learn how to hang out with people who do the work you want to do. It’s like dating. Go hang out where the object of your desire hangs out. That’s how you meet. (I’m not advocating stalking!) I wish you the best.