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.