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Today Is Not Yesterday And Tomorrow Will Be Even More Different

This morning the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 80,000 jobs were created in June (source). Specifically, private payrolls increased by 84,000 jobs while the government lost 4,000. The (national) unemployment rate hold steady at 8.2%. The pundits in the media say that the jobs numbers are what can make or break the re-election of President Obama, but that’s beside the point today.

The other day Sean McGinnis shared a post on Facebook by Sierra, currently a grad student, titled “Open Letter from a Millennial: Quit Telling Us We’re Not Special” (source). I suggest reading her entire post, however one paragraph in particular stands out to me for our conversation here:

Here’s the rub: this speech is misplaced. It doesn’t belong in an address to the generation graduating into an economy that wipes its rear end with their high school diplomas. It doesn’t belong in an address to the generation who began running the rat race at age 4. It doesn’t apply to the generation that knows hard work guarantees nothing, that can’t hope to own a home before we have our own children, that pours coffee for other people’s parents for free in the name of gaining “work experience” through “internship.”

Yesterday as my family and I were returning home we were talking about our life and financial situations, and looking at how far we’ve come over the past 10+ years we’ve been married. One thing I remember saying to my wife is that today, a college degree guarantees nothing, however you have to have one, at a minimum.

Education – Even More Important

When I graduated from high school in 1996 a high school diploma was the minimum education you needed to get an okay job. At the time you could survive, but you’d be making minimum wage for a few years. You had to have a college degree. If you did manage to get a job though, you could feel pretty secure.

When the dotcom bubble began to grow things really got out of hand. It seems to me that it was during this period, and then aftermath of the crash, the the employer/employee relationship went south in a major way. The contract that had once been in place, a contract that said if you stay and work hard you’ll have a job, left. People hopped job to job every year or two. It was also at this time that employers got rid of pensions, putting the burden of future financial planning and stability solely on the employee.

And speaking of retirement, those in the workforce today are paying for those currently on social security. I’ve known since I graduated high school that I wouldn’t be able to rely on that later on…

Fast forward to when I finally graduated with my B.A., 2008 (I took the long road, and if you wanted a good job you had to have a masters degree if not a PhD. Though I wasn’t looking for employment I decided to do an MBA, which I obtained less than 2 years later.

It was also in 2008 that the economy took a nose dive. We’re still trying to crawl our way out of that one…

A belief my wife used to hold, and is commonly held in Asia (at least about Americans) is that if you get a college degree you’re practically guaranteed a job, and life will be good.

That belief no longer holds as it simply isn’t true.

What was true yesterday is not true today. What’s true today will not be true tomorrow.

Preparing For The Future

As a business owner who had employees in the past and is looking forward to again later, what advice can I give those graduating college today? I can speak only for myself.

Those traits I look for the most in those I hire are:

  1. Responsibility: being on time every time; not shirking your responsibility; taking responsibility for your actions
  2. Intrinsic motivation: not requiring external factors to motivate you (money, stuff)
  3. Integrity: best defined by Wikipedia; you know it when you see it
  4. Driven: a constant desire to keep moving forward
  5. Desire for greatness: go big or go home
  6. Life-long learner: education never ends; if you don’t read books don’t look to work with me
  7. Imaginative: which I hope school hasn’t completely squeezed out of our youth
  8. Innovative: doing it differently
  9. Positive outlook on life: I spent too many years feeling sorry for myself, and I refuse to be around anyone who does

That’s a high bar to jump over.

Education is a must. It shows that you’ve learned a certain amount of information, and stuck with something for a time. However I don’t expect anyone coming out of college to be prepared for the job market, and what a job actually requires. That’s especially true in tech, and marketing. However, the point of college isn’t simply to memorize facts – it’s to help you learn to think better.

Narrow-mindedness will definitely lead one to ruin. If you cannot learn to adjust your thinking based on new information you cannot adapt. Adaptation is how you survive in business and in life.

Graduating? Here’s My Advice

The advice I would give to those entering the job market are:

  1. Expand your mind. Read on a variety of topics. If you’re entering one industry, read about another. Don’t narrow your focus. That advice, which many give, is total crap.
  2. Learn to adapt. Write down your goals, but know the map to achieving them will change along the way. Keep your expectations at a minimum.
  3. Team up with other people. We are, by nature, social beings. We were created to rely on each other. To fight that is to fight our very human be-ing. Always seek those you can trust, and remember they will be few in number, and that’s okay.
  4. Watch where you’re going. The vast majority of an iceberg is underwater, unseen and deadly to the most modern of ships. Keep your radar tuned for those icebergs, and prepare for when you hit one.
  5. Never stop learning. Knowledge is good. I don’t mean reading 500 word blog posts though. I’m talking books. Buy a Kindle and read like a maniac.
  6. Stay positive. Shit happens. It’s inevitable. And when it does, the only thing that will get you through is the knowledge that it will be better. It may take some time, but it will get better.

What Advice Do You Offer?

An an entrepreneur I know you have a wealth of experience and excellent advice to give. What two or three things have you found have helped you be successful?

Please share them in the comments below.

Comments

  1. marriagecoach1 says:

    I agree with everything that you said except buying a Kindle.  Amazon has Kindle for PCs that is free to download, save your money

    •  @marriagecoach1 personal preference for sure. I like to take my books with me, and having a searchable library at my fingertips has come in handy many times.

  2. Thank you so much, Robert, for this lovely insightful post. The minute I had read it I forwarded it to my daughter. She graduated in business administration last year and has not succeeded in finding a job in her field (yet). Her CV is complete and her application letters are enthusiastic and engaging, clearly stating that she would love to put her newly acquired skills into practice . Either she does not get a reply at all or a standard letter “we only employ people with experience”. What a letdown for our children. And what will our future look like when we kick it with our feet? Or worse.
     
    She has not given up, she makes a living by working on an hourly basis for two bars, mostly night work which of course has an impact on her daily routine. 
     
    Strange thought: we grew up believing we had to work hard to make it and jobs were offered to us on a silver platter, our children grow up believing the world is offered to them on a silver platter only to find out how hard it is to find a job.

    •  @Late_Bloomers I wish your daughter the best of luck finding a position. Has she considered internships? I ask because I don’t know the current state of internships or availability.
       
      Very interesting insight from your last paragraph. Everyday I consider what skills I need to help my daughter gain or impart to her so that she will be prepared for an uncertain future. Adaptability is high on that list.

  3. AntonyMarcano says:

    Agreed, education is a must. Much of the self-motivated informal education we do throughout our careers will actually be useful in our day-to-day careers. It seems that formal, certificated education is a currency used to open doors. As with any currency it experiences inflation, or “academic inflation” as Sir Ken Robinson, a thought leader in the field of education, refers to it [1].
    As you point out, a degree used to guarantee a job, then you needed a degree and a masters… and so on.
     
    My issue with this is that the relevance of formal, certificated education, as perceived by employers seems to exceed its actual usefulness in our careers, beyond helping to get it started. The education system is falling further and further behind reality. Sir Ken explains how it was built on the principles and the needs of the industrial revolution and hasn’t changed very much since [2].
     
    Since the industrial revolution there’s been at least one paradigm shift to the knowledge economy and some would say we’re in the next shift to the “serendipity economy”.
     
    If you find “the element” – the thing that you can do where “natural aptitude meets personal passion” [1] then work or formal education in that field will never feel like a chore… it will simply be something you love to do.
     
    Rather than work all week to live on the weekends, find that thing that makes you excited about going to work on Mondays. Find a place to work where you and your colleagues feel like work is a passion not a chore.
     
    My advice:
    1. Find “the element”
    2. Invest yourself in what you love to do
    3. Find a place to work that makes you feel like each week is a Seven Day Weekend[3]
     
    References:
    [1] The Element by Sir Ken Robinson: http://sirkenrobinson.com/skr/the-element
    [2] 10 minute video by Sir Ken challenging education paradigms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
    [3] The Seven Day Weekend http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Seven-Day-Weekend-Better-Century/dp/0099425238

    • AntonyMarcano says:

      P.S. When I say “Invest yourself in what you love to do” that means doing many of the things you advise people to do in the above blog post.

    •  @AntonyMarcano Many great points here Antony, and I agree that a lot of our education today is outdated in terms of it’s applicability to current-world challenges. This is one reason I am considering placing our daughter in a Montessori school rather than public education.

  4. Incredible post here, Robert. I love it. So many of my college-aged friends (I’m a senior in college) turn up their noses at basic networking sites like LinkedIn because they “don’t need it.” It makes my heart sink for them because, in this economy, you truly need to utilize everything you can to get a job. You need to present yourself well, and prove yourself so much more than previous generations. If a college degree means nothing anymore, then you either have to make it mean something, or make yourself mean something more than that degree ever will. It’s tough, but it can be done.

    •  @annedreshfield you bring up a great point Anne – the need to network. Almost all of my cohors in my MBA program that were in corporate America got new jobs thanks to both education and networking. Contacts are invaluable, especially today.
       
      Thanks for your comment and good luck with the rest of your schooling!

  5. Loved the post, Robert. I’m a recent graduate and I’m slowly but surely keeping my head above water in the workforce. You’re absolutely right about the need to never stop learning. I constantly adding to my skillset by reading books and learning more about my field. It has paid off well for me so far. Meanwhile other people I graduated with have been hunting for jobs but doing nothing to better themselves in the meantime. If you’re constantly learning new things you’ll always be more valuable to have around 

    •  @mattsouthern thanks for adding your experience here Matt. I’m happy to hear you’re continuing to move forward. I truly wish you continued success.

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