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Career advice to millennials: a job is just a job, just get started

Whether you’re a frustrated millennial, or someone reconsidering your career, Maggie McGary offers up sound, no-nonsense advice based on her long, winding career path.

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maggie mcgary

maggie mcgary

Advice from an industry veteran

You probably know Maggie McGary from her 10+ years in the association world, or you may have seen her on stage talking about the state of affairs of both non profits, social media, and the intersection between the two. But McGary didn’t graduate college and immediately land in her current career, no, like most people, it was a diverse path that has gotten her to where she is.

Millennials are one of the most under-employed groups in America, and many are frustrated, but we look back at McGary’s lengthy career, and she advises flustered millennials to just get started, and while the job landed today may lead to a dream career down the road.

Q: Tell us about your current work – what do you do?

A: I’m the online community & social media manager for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a professional association representing more than 150,000 speech-language pathologists (SLPs), audiologists and speech, language and hearing scientists. I’m responsible for all facets of social media: strategy, training, implementation, monitoring and daily management of ASHA’s social media channels and blog.

Q: How did you get into your current role? What was that path like?

A: I started at ASHA as a web content developer, a skill I was forced to learn on the fly in my previous job as web content coordinator. At that point, I was a personal blogger with a passion for social media, and managed to morph my role away from web content and into social media management.

The path has been interesting and challenging; what started out as just pure fun and a hobby is now the way I earn a living… which is both good and bad. Good because, well, who wouldn’t want to get paid to do what they do anyway in their own time, but bad because now that it’s a job, when I’m doing it for fun, it feels like I’m still at work! But all in all, I definitely can’t complain (although I need to find a new hobby!).

Q: What were you doing at age 21?

A: I can’t even remember, that was so long ago! Ok, I have a vague recollection of being in my first job out of college, secretary for the trade association representing the nuclear power industry (how I wished the title was at least “administrative assistant” so I didn’t feel like I’d totally just wasted four years getting a college degree. But, secretary it remained until I successfully lobbied to change it to “media relations assistant”…or maybe that’s just what I put on my resume?).

I was, in fact, a media relations assistant, in charge of preparing the daily “clips” package for the media relations staff – a task that consisted of reading about 10 newspapers, and cutting out any/all articles that in any way related to the nuclear energy industry then gluing them onto copy paper and, once the whole chore was complete, making copies and distributing them, and I monitored the AP wire as it came in over a dot matrix printer, assembling press kits, answered phones, and also word processing, as it was called back in the day.

That was my first inkling of techie-ness, as I was pronounced the Wang expert in the office (for those of you who think I’m just being rude, Wang was the 1990’s equivalent to Microsoft) and tapped to be trained as the Wang administrator. At the last minute, they decided that the mail guy deserved it more and I was left to my clips package and coffee making duties. Just as well, because today, being a Wang adminstrator would be a useless skill, while coffee making is something I still do daily… but just for myself.

Q: How has your professional life evolved since then?

A: Well, no more Wang, for one thing. Or dot matrix printers, or cutting and pasting newspaper articles. Now, they have this thing called the Internet and I spend about 16 hours a day on it. I did manage to work my way out of the secretarial pool, and up to a managerial position with my own office.

Of course, now I’m in a cubicle again, but I also have a job that can be done from virtually anywhere, and stuff like my title or where I sit doesn’t really matter to me anymore.

Something I never dreamed I’d be doing back then is something I do frequently now: public speaking. My degree was in English and I always thought I’d be a writer, which I’m not, exactly, although I get to do a decent amount of writing between my personal blog, blogging at work, and writing occasional articles for ASHA and other publications.

All I can say is thank god for the Internet – it has opened up a career path for me that I’d never even have been able to dream of back when I was 21, because it would be another five years before I’d even hear about “the worldwide web,” and another five to become totally addicted to it.

Q: What career advice do you have for millennials?

A: The main thing I’ve learned in the 20+ years I’ve been working is that all you need to do is get a job, somewhere. It doesn’t matter doing what, because most of the opportunities that arise come from already being inside a company. Whether it’s meeting people you learn from, seeing other jobs you never knew existed and deciding that’s what you want to do–or never want to do, or being able to try on different hats before committing to a certain career (or even just doing that particular job for a year or two), you can learn a ton just from working, period.

I’ve done many different things over the past 20 years – planned and run meetings, edited, created websites, fetched coffee and lunches, sat through a billion meetings, traveled, met a ton of cool people, and made some good money. I cared a ton about my title at various times, but in retrospect, it doesn’t matter what it was at any point along the way, or what it is now, for that matter.

What matters is that I’ve managed to figure out a bit about what I hate doing and what I like doing, and what’s important to me versus what isn’t. I still don’t know where I’ll end up, but at least I know there are a lot of choices out there.

Also, remember that a job is just a job – there is always another one out there, even if everyone says there isn’t.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. jessicanow

    November 5, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I couldn’t agree more.  My first job in 1999 was an executive support person at a big technology and business consulting firm during the internet bubble, after three months I was getting more opportunities within the company through networking internally.  The only advice I would add is that if you can’t expect to get advancement if you don’t ask for it. And by asking for it I mean talking to your manager and saying, “I’m committed to the success of our organization and I would love to map out a plan to grow…can we map out a growth plan so I know what milestones I need to reach in order to be promoted?” That will start the conversation but make sure you back that up with working hard and going above a beyond…an “it’s not part of my job description” will counteract any of those efforts. @jessicanow

  2. maggielmcg

    November 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    @cmcniece thanks!!

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Keep your company’s operations lean by following these proven strategies

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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The past two years have been challenging, not just economically, but also politically and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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Business News

How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Average age of successful startup founders is 45, but stop stereotyping

(BUSINESS) Our culture glorifies (yet condemns?) startup founders as rich 20-somethings in hoodies, but some are a totally different type.

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startup founders average age is 45

There’s a common misconception that startups are riddled with semi-nerdy, 20-something white dudes who do nothing but sip Nitro Brews and walk around the open office showing off the hoodie they wore yesterday. It turns out that it’s extremely rare that startup offices resemble The Social Network.

However, the academic backdrop for the real social network story (AKA Harvard), produced statistics that will serve to put the aforementioned misconception to rest. According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of people who founded the highest-growth startups is 45. Say what?! A full-fledged adult?!

In fact, aside from the age category of 60 and over, ages 29 and younger were the smallest group of founders that are responsible for heading the highest-growth startups. I guess you can accomplish a lot when you’re not riding around the office on a scooter all day.

The study also found that older entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed. The probability of extreme startup success rises with age, at least until the late 50s. It was found that work experience plays an important role.

Many will argue, “Well, what about someone like Steve Jobs?” You could easily argue right back that it took Jobs until the age of 52 to create Apple’s most profitable product – the iPhone.

The study continues to answer questions like, why do Venture Capitalist investors bet on young founders? This goes back to the misconception at the start, and there’s a notion that youth is the key for successful entrepreneurship. Wrong.

There is also the idea that younger entrepreneurs are likely working with less financial options, so it may be common for them to take something from a VC at a lower price. As a result, they could be viewed as more of a bargain than older founders.

“The next step for researchers is to explore what exactly explains the advantage of middle-aged founders,” writes Pierre Azoulay, et al. “For example, is it due to greater access to financial resources, deeper social networks, or certain forms of experience? In the meantime, it appears that advancing age is a powerful feature, not a bug, for starting the most successful firms.”

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