Advice from a Hiring Manager to Young Professionals

By: Jeff Green

As a manager who frequently hires college-aged people, may I kindly plead with those of you who are responsible for bearing them (there was initially a typo that said beating and I almost left it) to make sure they understand the following? For better or worse, I am writing this based off of actual experiences that I have had over the past couple of weeks.

  1. In the real world, not everyone gets a trophy. If everyone gets a trophy, no one stands out. If you do not stand out, you are not memorable. Be weird, be quirky, be competitive, be something that is going to make me remember you for a good reason. Almost every college student I interview states “drive” as the thing that makes them stand out amongst their competition, but few can tell me where they are driving to. They are basically just wasting gas, and that is bad for the environment. For those who know the answer and can back it up with effort, you will instantly stand out to me.
  2. It is not your gifts and talents that make you special, you will be defined by how you use them.
  3. Almost every person I interview has a college degree. That alone does not give you a leg up, at least not here. Community service (though not of the court-mandated kind) will make you stick out and is one of my favorite things to see on a resume. So is military experience, foreign languages, musical proficiency, being an Eagle Scout or any other various activities that show me your ability to dedicate yourself to something for a sustained amount of time. This is especially true if your work experience to date is limited. It shows character, and that is not something that can always be determined by a college diploma. A degree is by no means a bad thing and there are companies out there who will require it, but as I mentioned before, your unique attributes may be the difference in whether or not you are remembered once you leave. (BIG Disclaimer – I am speaking from my perspective here, this doesn’t mean every hiring manager feels this way. Don’t go home and tell your parents you are quitting college because I said you should. I’m just saying your diploma may get you in the door, but how you represent yourself will likely play a big part in whether or not you get the job.)
  4. Work ethic is everything. Feel free to come in with expectations regarding what is in it for you and, if you are inclined, turn down job offers until you find the exact culture you are looking for. When you find it, you had better work your tail off because there is probably a line of people waiting to take your place. A positive, fun work culture is not something you are entitled to for simply showing up, it is a return for the dedication you are showing. Also, it is rare. If you have it, don’t fail to appreciate it. And if you don’t find it, still work your tail off. That company is writing checks that provide for you and your family. If they aren’t treating you well, don’t stop working hard, just find something better. Don’t ever put yourself in a position where you might leave a company based off of their decision instead of your own.
  5. Find something within what you do to make you feel good about it. If you don’t find value in something that you are spending the majority of your waking hours doing, chances are you are going to be a miserable person. If you are a miserable person, I don’t need or want you on my team.
  6. Speaking of team, if you are on one then you need to be a part of it or you need to leave. Being on a team means carrying extra weight when another team member is sick, hurting, struggling, or dying. It also means they will do the same for you. It definitely means pulling your own weight when there is no reason for you not to do so. If you aren’t operating with this mentality, chances are you are a mediocre performer at best. At worst, someone is carrying your weight while you slow the whole team down. Again, if this is the case, then you will not exist in this dojo (nor will my “fear” in showing you the door).
  7. I don’t care if you are going in to a job interview knowing that there is a relaxed dress code, you had better be dressed up for the interview or I will send you out the door before you get your name out. Weak handshake? I will work with it. Failure to make eye contact? We will find you some confidence. No resume? I’ll help you draft one. But you have to get the job before any of that can happen, so you had better make as good of an impression as possible in the interview. Dress for the job you want…
  8. Another point about interviews…someone is taking a lot of time out of their day to meet with you. Do them a favor (and yourself one for that matter) and make sure you learn as much as you can about the company before you arrive. Don’t blindly send out resumes and then fail to prepare and take notes before you go and meet the person who may become your future boss. If they have a website, look at the dang thing. If they don’t have a website, all the more reason why you need to go in with a list of questions to figure out what you are actually interviewing for. A little voice inside my head is going to try to convince me that I should make you feel about 3 inches tall if you waste my time. Don’t.
  9. I do not expect perfection. I demand it. Just kidding, but seriously, you need to strive for it. You also need to acknowledge that you are currently far from it. A big part of that means asking questions when you do not know the answer so that you can become an expert. If you are making assumptions, you are a liability to your team and your company. Diamonds are not ready to be mounted in a ring at the moment they are found, they must be cut and polished over time until they are at a point that flaws can only be seen under magnification. Make sure you ask questions so that your knowledge, and therefore value, is constantly being cut and polished by those who know more than you. I regret to inform you that on your first day, that will literally be everyone in the office. The faster you can change that, the faster you establish yourself as a key player.
  10. Others should want to share in your success. If they don’t, you need to ask yourself if that is because of their faults, or your own. No one is going to be waiting to cheer you on at the finish line if you tripped every other runner to get there. Unless you trip the guy that tripped everyone else, then I will high five you. That may sound like a joke, it isn’t. Well, maybe a little. But seriously, if someone is stepping on others to advance themselves, call them out or you are simply an enabler and not much better than they are. This is not your middle school friend group, this is business.
  11. For your expectations, I would advise you to find a supervisor who is legitimately interested in helping you grow and develop your professional skill set. If you are coming out of college with no relevant work experience, then there are very few job opportunities that are beneath you. That said, you should try to find the one that will help you develop a solid business acumen. Despite what you think, you do not know everything coming out of college and you will make mistakes. Find someone who will help you challenge yourself and make sure you take constructive criticism as a compliment. Most supervisors suck at giving it (apparently, so do a lot of parents), so if someone is taking the time to do so then that means they probably care about seeing you become the best employee and person you are capable of being. And I will say the same thing here that I said about culture. When you find this person, do not take advantage of them. They could end up being a lifelong mentor for you.