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On Being Opportunistic about Networking (Guest Post)

February 2, 2011 12 comments

Most often asked question, “How are you always successful?” My answer is always the same; 1) I’m not; but like any gambler, you only hear of the successes, not the failures 2) I never underestimate the power of a person; I seek out mentors, find people who are smarter than me; and I latch on! So it only made sense that my first guest post was written by Allison Cheston – Career Expert, Marketer, Mentor, and most importantly – authentically unique “Baby Boomer” who UNDERSTANDS Gen Y!

As a Boomer who spends a lot of time with Gen Y’s, I can attest to the value of connecting with all kinds of people to ask and answer questions, trade information and share expertise. It’s what I do, all day long. And judging by the number of people contributing on sites like Brazen Careerist, it’s a pretty popular activity.

Why is it popular? It’s the combination of the sense of community and the appeal of crowd sourcing. The idea that you can post a question such as “Do you know any branding firms in Chicago?”, and within several minutes to an hour, not only receive a list of firms but often, someone willing to connect you to someone at that firm. Without knowing you. That’s amazing.

The majority of Boomers don’t operate that way—most of them want to be able to check someone out before making a referral. All the books on networking, like Never Eat Lunch Alone and Love is the Killer App—they’re all directed at Boomers. Because Boomers always want to understand the purpose of networking, what is the end goal. Or they’re not interested.

It’s one of the great things Boomers can take from Gen Y’s. Of course there’s risk attached to it, but there can be great rewards.

Let me give you a direct example of the power of being opportunistic when it comes to networking. I’m writing a book: In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults. In the spring, I posted requests on Brazen Careerist.com, LinkedIn and Facebook, inviting Gen Y college grads to interview with me. Because these are Gen Y’s, they were responsive. They loved the idea of the book and they wanted to be part of it. Some of my Boomer friends asked if I was paying them. I was not.

One of the first people to respond and interview with me was Jamie Nacht Farrell. We hit it off, and she sent me a huge number of her friends to interview. And then she hired me to coach her. And then she became my #1 editor for the book. And now she is making deals for us to turn the book into a curriculum both for online use and as a companion product to a variety of career sites catering to young adults. And by the way, I live in New York City, Jamie lives in Dallas and there are 20 years between us.

This probably seems totally plausible to those of you reading this who happen to be Gen Y’s. But from where I sit, I can tell you it’s unusual. And that’s too bad.

The first two ingredients necessary: openness on both sides and a generosity of spirit. And Jamie has that in spades. Not to mention her genius for packaging and selling people and products. So we’re a great team.

The message: With risk come rewards. No matter what your stage of life, stay open to opportunities and network with people you might not cross paths with in your daily life. That’s the beauty of the Internet but you have to be ready to take advantage of it.

Allison Cheston
Career Advisor
Contact Me If You’d Like to be Interviewed for My Book!

It’s NOT “All About the Benjamen’s Baby”

June 5, 2010 15 comments

Puff Daddy (I believe he is now referred to as “P.Diddy”) captured one of the human motivations for work in his number one hit, “It’s all about the Benjamen’s Baby”. While money is “nice”, Mr. P.Diddy obviously 1. did not do his ‘research’ (shocker) and 2. Was speaking about a very different generation that today’s “Gen Y” working professionals.

I’ve perused thousands of articles that talk about “what Gen Y wants in the workplace“, “what motivates Gen Y“…and here is my favorite part about them; they were all written by baby boomers or Gen Xers.

Here is my “Gen Y” advice to executives: Stop managing the masses and build your “Gen Ys” using mentorships. This is not brain surgery. All articles I’ve read have several points that most of the fancy Harvard, BusinessWeek, and other Business Journals agree on; 1) Gen Y’s value relationships (TRUE) 2) Gen Y’s want meaning in their jobs (TRUE) 3) Gen Y’s grew up in the era of constant reinforcement, hence – they want feedback; and they want it NOW (TRUE).

There is one apparent solution to managing Gen Y’s. MENTORS!

That said, as with any relationship, this is a “two way street”. CEO’s can’t just ‘assign’ mentors. The HR departments need to take the extra 30 minutes to provide questionnaires to these young employees / our future executives. And then like anything else; proteges must be matched with the mentor that “meets their needs” and genuinely care about not just the success of their protege, but their professional AND personal growth. Gen Y’s want mentors who will not only teach them the ‘business world’, but will listen to how business is affecting their life; and give advice on how to maintane both their business and personal life.

In my last post, “Does Your Mentor Ever Leave You”, I stated the best career move I ever made was to take a salary cut. I did so because I knew the two men I’d be working for would mentor me; and they did. They turned me into who I am today, both professionally and personally.

Now that I don’t work with them anymore, I am constantly taking consulting jobs where it’s NOT “all about the benjamens”, but where I see baby boomer and Gen X talent. I’ve turned down $250 / hour jobs to work for $50 / hour just so I can learn from certain executives. I wonder though – if these executives have even given a thought to how they can utilize my “want” to be like and learn from them. It would seem they have not. I would work for free in return for being mentored and taught what they know. If every executive would invest a couple hours a week to professional and personal development; giving challenges and then providing feedback; I bet most of us would work for far less money. Not only that, but we would also stamp out the “stigma” that we are ‘job hoppers’ as we would be loyal to our mentors, and thus, our companies. I know the Gen Y’s I surround myself would do the same. While we may like the ‘short term gain’ of money, we far more value the long term gain of knowledge and experience.

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Don’t be a HATER

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I got an email from Gary Vaynerchuck today stating, “Hey Guys I was wondering if you guys have read Crush IT and if you had if you would please leave your honest review on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0061914177/ref=cm_rdp_product a bunch of haters have come on in the past week and I was thinking that it’s sad that people with venom are more motivated than the peeps with Honey. If I got a review for every person that has e-mailed me how much they loved the book I would be in the ball park of 5000 5 star reviews. lol. Anyway wanted to say hi and ask for this support and more importantly wish you all well and a great week”

It amazes me how many people HATE those that are outside the status quo; that are not ‘the norm’. If we go back in time, most entreprenuers that have been successful in business have gone against the norm. Even Warren Buffet tells us to “buy when it’s not popular to do so and buy something that’s not popular”. Why does he say this? Because something that is popular in business has already become the status quo – there is already a business model out there doing what you would be purchasing. It is the “next big thing” that you need to find. There are certain business models, or sales and marketing strategies, that will forever work. Example: call centers. It is rare to find a call center business that differs vastly from the others; however, in businesses that are similar – it is the one that has the unique “business approach”. In the call center example, perhaps you can find a company that will take payment on performance rather than a fee per hour. In a business like “fast food”, maybe it’s the angle of the commercials that differ. I can assure you – whomever is doing something the furthest from the norm will be the most noticed.

In relation to Gary’s email above, why do people hate Gary? Pretty simple; people are afraid of him. The biggest (most documented) fear in the human race is fear of the unknown. it is innovators like Gary Vaynerchuck who not only figured out how to ‘market’ the unknown, but have taken the step to inspire others to pursue what they never thought they could.

So, why the haters? People are afraid of those that follow their passion; afraid of the business leaders that want to differentiate and mentor others to be creative and think outside the box…they know that the next round of successful business will come from these Gen Y businessmen and they don’t like it.

Well guess what? Suck it up.

Why Do Schools AND Corporations KILL Creativity?

April 9, 2010 10 comments

In every company I’ve worked for, innovation and creativity have been applauded…sort of.

Executives encourage innovation in business, but many times unless strategies comes across to the rest of the business as “their ideas”, the executives are not happy. I contend that this is one of the reasons start up businesses have become so popular amongst the younger generation. Gen Y does not hold back. They are ‘connected’, literally and figuratively, and have grown up accustomed to any information they want at their fingertips. In a corporation, if a Gen Y is sending his ego maniac boss an idea that may be big business, you can bet they have also IMed it to 10 other people too…just to ensure they get credit. I’m on the cusp of Gen Y / Gen X – but I say, “go for it Gen Y”. There is nothing that will slow down a company more than corralling innovation. Gen Y has been brought up in the world of “positive reinforcement” and whether this is monetary or a simple ‘nice work’ email, this is what we have been conditioned to recieve…and you can be sure that we will not sit back while someone else gets the “kudos”. I know I won’t.

Some companies truly do embrace their Gen Ys opinions and have taken the time to understand how to motivate and work with them. These companies currently have the largest profit margins. Apple is a great example of a company that serves the Gen Y population. While Mr. Jobs is running the company, he’s smart enough to know that the people that will “spend money on gadgets” – even if they have to steal it from their parents – should be a large part of all of his strategies.

If we look at how schools teach today; unless a student is part of a Montessori school or private school, they are following the same lesson plans everyone else is. The students in “gifted” classes may get a bit more leeway and have a bit more room to be creative, but not much. Conform, conform, conform is all students are taught. Read the information and regurgitate the information. Education, even higher education, has fallen into this trap as well.

Is it that our businesses have sprung into downplaying creativity because they are a product of our public school system?

Ken Robinson made a revolutionary speech regarding just that at TED 2006

Gen Y + Passion = Success

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

IF YOU ARE GEN Y – THIS IS YOUR TIME!

It was Jack Keruoac who said, “I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”

And Jack Keruoac did change the world. He went against the norm, he hated status quo, and people thought he was too passionate about his beliefs. For those of you who don’t know, Jack Keruoac was an author and the father of the Beat Generation, which was a group of writers that started the movement and became what we all fondly know as “hippies”.

He was passionate. Was he mainstream? No. Could he walk into an office setting? No. But he was brilliant, he had no fear, and he believed in what he was doing; in fact, he was willing to give up his life for what he was doing. Passion.

While he was an author, you’re probably thinking, ‘of course it was okay for him to be passionate, he didn’t have to go into an office everyday’. Here is where I challenge that thought. I propose that the only people who truly succeed, are innovators, build businesses, rise to the top; are the ones who are passionate about what they do. This may mean something different to everyone, but I’m sure we can all think of someone we worked with who everyone looked at and said, “wow”. They leave high paying jobs to go to low paying jobs (or no paying jobs – start ups) because they believe in something. They get to work at 7 am and don’t leave until midnight at times. When you get into the office, you already have 3 emails from them from the middle of the night. In meetings, if there is an idea they don’t agree with – they will argue with you and tear you down with such conviction, you will run the other direction. You love to love them and you love to hate them. They may scare you because people who are passionate enough and crazy enough to change the world are the ones who actually do.

So, how does that play out in today’s “corporate” culture? Well, I would argue that even five years ago, many of these people were looked at as ‘impulsive’, ‘too emotional’, and not “a good fit” for an organization. In today’s world, is it still like this? With the rise and demand for creativity, innovation, the addition of being able to be contacted at all times (Blackberry and iphone), can one be successful if they are not passionate? I ask myself this question and I look at the companies and CEOs I have worked for or with; and it is clear. Success is driven by passion. I would argue that it is largely due to Gen Y that business people have started to embrace this passion. Perfect example of someone who is passionate, successful, happy, and who many would call “non corporate” – Gary Vaynerchuk.

There are also still many corporations that are more conservative and want to ensure that “passion is harnessed”. Great learning experience for me; I worked for 1 company that, in the interview, spoke of passion and winning and loving their work. In fact, the Chairman of this company sold me on the spot. I realized when I got to this company was that it was more important to be “corporate” and to “fit into the corporate culture” than be passionate. And I knew immediately this company was not for me. HINT: If you are a “Jack Keruoac” type, talk about this at an interview. Find out the feeling about this before you decide to go to a company!

But let’s look at the DOW; and let’s look at these conservative “baby boomer” corporations; it appears to me that they are losing. Their stocks are not only dropping now, but were dropping 5 years ago when everything else was booming. What types of companies have risen to the top? GEN Y companies like Facebook and Google. More Liberal minded companies like Apple. Steve Jobs has adapted and companies like PEPSI have the median age of their BOARD to be 27 years old. As quoted by their chairman, “To be a leader in consumer products, it’s critical to have leaders who represent the population we serve.”—Steve Reinemund/PepsiCo.

So, IF you are 1) GEN Y and 2) PASSIONATE

YOU HAVE A STEP UP ON ANYONE ELSE IN THE MARKET PLACE. IT IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE. THESE ARE YOUR 2 MOST VALUABLE ASSETS; COMPANIES ARE SEARCHING FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU (AND IF THEY’RE NOT – YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK THERE!)

Introducing…the real “deal”

January 19, 2010 1 comment

If you’re one of the millions of people who have jumped on the ‘social media’ frenzy, likely that you have learned about a category called, “reputation management”.    I have yet to find one website (including dictionary.com) that has a consistent definition of what this actually is, but net / net – it’s strategically managing what others think of you.  Simple tactical example:  Someone posts something negative about you;  it goes out on the PR wire and is popping up on the SEO portion of google, yahoo, and bing.  You are MORTIFIED;  what do you do?  Well, if you work in repuatation management; what you would do is publish as many POSITIVE twitter updates (real time, so this is the quickest way to lower something on SEO), articles, etc. to “push” that negative article down.  The internet has not only given us the ability to connect, share, gossip, etc. but in turn has created hundreds of businesses that make a profit by negating those freedoms.  It’s an economy builder, but at what price?

As I begin this blog, here is my promise to you;  there will be no “reputation management”.  I keep it real.  If people don’t like it or like me, so be it.  I will write my blog with the same candidness that I develop in relationships; ‘you keep it real with me’, ‘i’ll keep it real with you’…and while this may be the “Gen Y” style of a contract or handshake – this is the foundation of any good business relationship.  Authenticity and Trust.

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