Jul 13, 2011

Success Tips for Millenial Engineers

With each June, I send my Millenial (or Gen Y) students out into the “world of work.” The recession has been a tough wake-up call for them as entry level jobs are not as plentiful as earlier in the millennium. My discussions with professionals indicate they still have a lot to learn regarding “work ethic, self-motivation, personal accountability, punctuality, time management and professionalism.”.
As they take off on their new adventures, I remind them of five key perspectives that will help them become the successful professionals they want to be:


  • When starting a job, show you can stick with it: You need your company (and job) more than they need you. Jumping from job to job because it seemed “under-challenging” in the first 3 months just starts looking like you can’t hack it when the honeymoon period is over. Expect to stay for 1-3 years at the job, so use your time in the interview wisely to see if this is someplace you can learn the basics of the industry.

  • When accepting your job, prove you can play with the big kids: Realize that the first tasks you are assigned are really tests to see what you can do. How can they trust you with the harder, riskier tasks until you can show you can handle the easier ones? Each task you are complete builds your experience and helps you develop judgment about what is critical or risky – when you can go it on your own or when it’s time to ask for advice. Excuses like “I didn’t do well because the tasks were too easy” don’t work anymore. Remember, if you can’t do a simple task, your boss won’t be convinced that you can play with the big kids.

  • When working the job, try not to be a punk: Though you are coming in with a shiny new education with new technologies at your fingertips, you need to prove that you can perform under real life situations. The issue is not about what you know (they wouldn’t have hired you if you were a blooming idiot), so don’t be a punk who disregards people with 20 years of experience when they point out other factors to consider. Remember that time is money. If you take too much time to do tasks, the company will lose money on you, and that means they will lose you next. The rule I was told at my first job is that I’m smart enough to figure out most things in about half an hour. If it’s going to take longer, then I must be missing something so I spend the rest of the hour trying to fill the gaps as quickly. The most efficient way is to find the expert, whether it’s a boss, a vendor, or tech support. This is far better than spinning wheels by myself and getting nowhere fast. Your goal in any assignment is to show that you can learn quickly, work accurately, and produce a high level of quality.

  • When doing your job, whenever possible, call or ask in person rather than email: So many Millenials send emails instead of picking up the phone. For such a social generation, it baffles me. Emails are not always the best communication method at work because older, more experienced (and busy) experts are often not used to checking email regularly. Additionally, letting a person hear your voice can be more persuasive than sending an email. I have gotten people to do favors in a short period of time when I asked them in person. Don’t forget that people read emails subject to the mood they are in. While you may think you picked your words carefully to be light and humorous, the reader may interpret it differently if he or she is in a bad mood, feels stressed, or is actually angry with you. Following up direct personal communication with a brief email to summarize the discussion is totally appropriate, but always remember that the personal connections get you a jump start on the road to being seen as a professional who is articulate and thinks well on the spot.

  • When learning on the job, embrace the opportunities to learn from experts: The more you learn, the more you realize you have to learn. Instead of seeing this as an affront to your abilities, embrace being in a company of experts as an opportunity. While older generations are impressed with Millenial abilities with phone apps, search engines, and social networking, Gen-X engineers aren’t going to be impressed easily with your skills with gadgets: These are the people who in the 80’s built their own computers, fiddled with their car or motorcycle engines, and made robots do amazing things with just 8 KB of RAM and assembly code. Engineering “in the old days” taught them a lot about what the technology can do, without the trappings of high speed processors and the Internet. They have a lot to share, so make the most of the relationship by showing that you want to move from being a “master user” to a “master builder.”

  • Before ever looking for a job, remember these professional habits start in school: Coming to class on time, being prepared, and delivering high quality work start the habits and reputation you want when you work. Treat school work as you would a job so your professors can speak not only about your intelligence, but also about your reliability and ability to learn from experts, meet deadlines, and handle challenges. Employers don’t need you to be a 4.0 student, but they do need to know that “professional” is part of you, not just something you will turn on “when it’s time to be serious” so treat school as your training grounds for the real world.

Good luck out there! I’m rooting for you.
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