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3 Critical tips for Millennials entering the workforce

Millennials are entering the workforce during a unique and challenging time in history, so how does one compete and even excel? We ask a Millennial entrepreneur what she did to get ahead (and it’s as unpredictable as you can hope for).

millennials workforce

millennials workforce

Millennials joining the workforce

While older Millennials have been in the workforce for years now, the youngest of the bunch are just now graduating college and attempting to determine their path during a rocky economy and tight job market. We all know what this generation is up against – it’s a unique combination of a struggling economy that is attempting to improve, an environment that is questioning the value of a college degree versus entrepreneurialism, a time wherein getting a job a GM out of high school (and keeping it until you retire and earning a pension) doesn’t exist, and an era where job candidates with PhDs work at TGIFriday’s until they can get their “real” work started.

How does someone new to the workforce navigate this landscape? We asked Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual because she launched her first startup at age 12, worked her way through college working at gnarly biker bars, and earned an English degree from the University of Nevada. She’s the perfect mix of ambitious and curious that embodies this generation, which led her to her founding and operating Zirtual (a startup that connects busy people with superhuman Zirtual Assistants (ZAs)), formed from a need to power her social marketing firm with offshore assistants and remote college students.

“Entering the workforce serves as one of the biggest stepping stones a person will experience,” Donovan notes. “It’s a time where the transition toward adulthood is solidified, laying the foundation for our professional lives. All in all, it’s a gamble on one of the most involved activities of your life – your job.”

She acknowledges that there’s no playbook on launching a career, rather offers three tips from her own experiences of following an entrepreneurial path after college (in her own words):

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1. Don’t jump right into the job

The biggest mistake I see students make is that they swan dive right into the job pool after graduation. Don’t do it! Recent grads are in a unique position of transition between life chapters. It’s a time of few obligations, perfect for world travel and self discovery.

After leaving college my senior year, I worked as a bartender for 6 months with one goal in mind: save up enough cash to live abroad in Italy for a month. I wanted to fully immerse myself in Italian culture and experience a lifestyle unlike what I was accustomed to.

It was the best decision I could have made. While in Italy, I learned about outsourcing, and it was the catalyst that led me to launch a business that grew into Zirtual.

2. Be proactive from day one

Hit the ground running. Actually, you should have already been running the moment you locked down a start date for your new job. Proactivity likely helped you get hired. Keep it going to impress your future boss. Here are a few easy ways to connect with your company before you even walk in the door:

  • Follow the company on social media
  • Read its engineering blog
  • Setup a Google news alert for the company name
  • Research senior leadership to discover what they’ve accomplished in their professional lives

It isn’t enough to simply look at what the company has done, it’s important to also review your own portfolio of accomplishments. Do you remember your first few weeks at your last job? If it’s been years since you changed jobs, some of the basics of what you accomplished might be fuzzy.

Pro tip: Take time to review and familiarize yourself with the concepts pertinent to your job, but that you haven’t revisited in a while.

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3. Learn to balance business & professional relationships

Here’s a thought. During the week, you most likely spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else, often more than you spend with your significant other. Can you imagine working that long with someone who didn’t bother getting to know you as an individual?

Just as your personal relationships require quality time, business relationships require this as well. Taking time to chat, laugh, or joke with colleagues has been linked to increased happiness. Job satisfaction doesn’t only relate to what you do; more importantly, it relates to who you work with.

Here’s a challenge: Try to have lunch, grab coffee, or simply have a chat with a certain percentage of your company in the first month. Aim for 10%, 25%, or, for the ambitious grads, 50% of your coworkers. It will make a huge difference in how you define “work.”


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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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