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?
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.
- Your academic credentials get you hired, because you have little or no experience that an employer can judge you on.
- Once you’re hired, your credentials don’t matter.
- 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.
- When you graduated from college or grad school, you were at the top of your academic game. You were a star with great prospects.
- 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.
- A job is not school.
- 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.
- 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.
- Employers don’t pay you to be challenged. They pay you mainly to do boring work.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You will be paid what they promised you – and it’ll likely be far from handsome.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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?