They called me ‘The Kid’

The kiddd A just released Accountemps survey of 420 workers showed that nearly one-third said the greatest challenge when starting a new job was getting to know a new boss, co-workers and fitting into the culture. Learning new processes and procedures was also a big obstacle.

Even at my advanced age, I can relate to the abject fear of starting a new job and wondering how my boss and peers would take to me (and vice versa).

But, I was different from my peers. I was already a battle-tested veteran thanks to the tremendous competitive advantage my Northeastern University Co-Op experiences had provided. By the time I graduated, I'd not only worked in the newsrooms of The New York Times, WGCH Radio in Greenwich and CBS Newsradio in Boston, I'd also rubbed elbows with of some of journalism's best and brightest (and meanest and nastiest).

So, when I interviewed at Hill & Knowlton as a newly-minted college grad, my real-world experience ran rings around my competitors from Yale, Harvard and Princeton (FYI, the H&K of those days was as white-shoed as a firm could possibly be. Biff's and Buffy's were absolutely everywhere).

And, trust me, I needed every bit of the N.U. Co-Op experience I'd absorbed up until then. Because, at the time I was hired (note: William Howard Taft had just been elected president), I was 12 years younger than the other account executives in my group! So, I not only had to score placements for such clients as Uniroyal and The American Trucking Association, I had to deal with very intense, frat house/Mad Men-type hazing from my older cohorts.

The men AND women teased me mercilessly. The men called me Gerber. The female executives called me The Kid. But, while others may have wilted under the pressure of what would undoubtedly qualify as a hostile workplace today, I thrived. Why? Because I'd already been yelled at, patronized and ignored by world weary, deadline-driven journalists.

And, that's the point of today's blog. Most of the interns we hire (and those that I see at other organizations) tend to run in packs. They I.M. one another all day long, chill together after work and share dating and helicopter parent stories throughout the day. What they do very, very little of, however, is networking with, and building bonds, with their workplace elders.

Which is why so many young people fear the prospects of fitting into a new workplace when they finally enter the real job market. Sure, they can rock social media. Sure, they know all about the hottest YouTube video. But, when it comes to dealing with older, more experienced workers on a peer-to-peer level, I'd say most are completely lost at sea.

And, that's why colleges and universities (as well as we employers) need to better prepare students for the cultural/workplace dynamics they'll be encountering. Most interns are hired, assigned accounts and then left to fend for themselves. They learn the ropes in media relations, press release writing and pleasing the client. But, what employer takes the time to explain internal politicking, reporting parameters, professional conduct, personal brand building and networking? Precious few.

The kid (that's me) was ready for the slings and arrows of yesteryear's workplace. But, Northeastern students aside, I've seen precious few Millennials who possess the natural skills necessary to leverage their youthful enthusiasm, overcome their fear of the workplace and use both as an advantage to foster strong relationships with their busy, distracted elders during an oh-so-brief, 90-day internship.

I invite my Millennial readers to weigh in, but doubt many will. I've found that most are either afraid to interact with 'someone of my stature' or simply unsure what is, and isn't, appropriate to post on a business blog. Give them an iPhone and a BFF to text, though, and stand back.

We clearly need to build a better bridge between those two worlds.

12 thoughts on “They called me ‘The Kid’

  1. I forwarded this to Erin and hope she can find time to respond. I was not “hovering” and, consequently, she does very well interacting with all sorts of higher-ups. Mother’s pride, yes, but also the internships where she worked in DC that did exactly what you said. I hope to see what Erin has to say.

  2. love this post- very interesting. but any reader of repman should know you rank as one of the easiest execs to interact with. if someone comments, you typically reply…thus the easy access.

  3. While I’m nearly 6 years removed from my college internships, I have on several occasions reached out to members of that marketing team to stay in touch, seek advice, and even to just say thanks. My first day in that gig the VP of Marketing had a solid 10 minutes carved out to welcome me to the team. He told me two things that I’ve done my best to put in to practice in the workplace ever since:

    • Never be shy in voicing your opinion. Just ensure you’re willing to own what you say and learn from it when we tell you you’re wrong.
    • Check your entitlement or self pity at the door. The only way to earn respect is through hard work.

    I, too, was hardened by office politics and the day-to-day grind I experienced. But, that helped to take the false shine off the happy-go-lucky vision of career I had approaching my senior year. Those lessons I took away – learn from everyone and earn respect through hard work – still hold true for me as important, simple advice to incoming interns. They may even help to close the Millennial Gap.

  4. A really important piece of advice. I completely agree that no matter how icy or how welcoming an office environment may be, there is always an opportunity to learn and grow as long as you put in the effort. Probably the best counsel a young job seeker can get. Thanks, Steve.

  5. Very interesting article. I am a “Millennial Reader”, having graduated just under 2 years ago. While I believe that some of the onus should certainly be placed on the companies to educate their interns on the intricacies of their organization, one area that you mention that is consistently overlooked is the school’s role in preparing their students for their summer experiences. I was fortunate to graduate from an undergraduate business school that placed a degree of importance (now a mandatory class) on training their students for applying and thriving in a traditional corporate environment.
    As a result during my two internships in large corporations, I knew the importance of proactively reaching out to executives you admired and worked in your areas of interest. The organizations I interned with did little to orient me with the company or my individual team/department. The onus fell upon me.
    The plague of my generation, their inability to be proactive without instant-gratification, really lends itself to the idea that ‘Achievement is talent plus preparation.’ The question I then pose, is what practical lessons are our universities preparing us for?

  6. Spot on, Jordan. If universities aren’t preparing students to succeed within the myriad cultures they’ll be facing in the business world then I, too, would question the cost/benefit ratio.

  7. Great advice. We’re big proponents of checking one’s ego at the door. Wish I could say the same for some of my previous employers.

  8. Oh, I’m not so sure about that, MSE. Ted and Ed have had issues interacting with me over the years. Avi Blitman as well.

  9. rep- i think the issue with ted is that he is still upset at me and you from that MSG incident a few years back. avi blitman- that one is understandable- he wants you to sign up for his yoga class and to date you havent joined myself, bray, jimmy moock and dee dee. as far as ed, i dont know- maybe bc you always call him out on your blog and mock his mandals?

  10. Catching up on some posts that I’ve missed the past few days and I’m so glad I caught this! I will definitely be sharing this with my fellow PRSSA members at the College of Charleston. We tend to focus on networking in order to obtain internships, jobs, and just gain an overall sense of comfort in talking to potential employers but we’ve never focused on what to do after they land the job. From my internship experiences thus far, it has always depended on the type of boss that I’m working with. I have been extremely fortunate in that every internship I’ve had has been with professionals who welcome and encourage an open dialogue. I have learned so much from them and their shared past experiences. I might even venture to say that the advice I was given from them is of equal, if not more, importance than the skills learned on the job.
    Thanks for the post and fantastic advice, Steve!

  11. Thanks, Chris. Yeah, the grass always appears greener when one leaves a happy, settled culture to assume a new job at a higher pay grade. I’ve twice taken jobs that paid a lot more but made me absolutely miserable. And, more than one Peppercommer has returned, hat in hand, asking if she could pick up where she left off. Sometimes, the timing works, and we can re-hire the prodigal employee who unwittingly walked into a toxic culture and now wants to come back in the worst way. Sadly, on other occasions, we can’t (or won’t).