Talking to Gen Y: Don’t Let Them Walk Blindly Into the Workplace Minefield

Last Friday, as I walked the streets of New York, my phone rang.

On the other end was my Gen Y daughter. The sound of her voice shone brightly through the phone. Just hearing her voice, I knew it was good news.

“Dad,” she said,” I just got the job.” In a moment of haze and disconnect, I said, “what job?” Then, I realized that the company that she been interviewing for the past week had made a decision.

After all the “practice auditions” that we staged, researching companies, reviewing interview questions, talking about the industry, it had finally paid off. We left no stone unturned. We collaborated throughout this process.

This was one of those moments that we both will always remember.

After finishing college back in June, she is now on the lowest rung of the ladder in the sales/marketing department for a major media company in New York City.

After I hung up, I thought back through this entire process. The one thought that came to mind was that there are so many college graduates walking the streets throughout this country working part-time or at jobs they had no idea that they would be doing — just trying to hold on till something else comes along.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We have always noticed public service ads that implore us to discuss every issue imaginable with our young people. The most important item on the radar, not only today but in the future, is these young folks careers. So why not have that conversation now?

As an HR dad, I know that one of the most important conversations that parents should have is to talk to your kids about careers. If you don’t have kids, talk to others that you come in contact with.

If you have had a career setback, build a conversation around it with some young person. Have the conversation but be sure to listen. Don’t preach, but listen.

Remember the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule). Give them your view of what work with be like for years to come. Tell them what you would have done differently if you had the chance to do it again.

Even something a small as a resume should be tackled at an early age. Why is it needed? How do you build one? How do you add to it? How often do you update?

Keep the conversations going

The entire spectrum of career management has changed. In a lot of ways, this is a good thing because too many people have been sleep-walking through their own careers.

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Almost every successful adult that you see today went through a lot of u-turns, circle, laterals, and other such maneuvers to get to his or her spot in life. I know a trained lawyer that is now a fashion editor for a major magazine. There is also the accountant that that took a job in HR and is a world-renowned career coach. You know what happened; they eventually found their voice.

Each of these cases I know personally, and both said that they followed their parents’ advice in making their original career choice. It was not their call. Become a lawyer because everyone in the family is a lawyer. Become an accountant because you will always find a job. Problem is, that this was not what either wanted to do.

Don’t let this happen to your kids. Don’t let them become jaded even before they enter their livelihood. When this happens, they enter with a half-tank, and this disillusionment will play out not only in their professional but personal life as well.

Going forward

In my last corporate gig, we “adopted” a high school with that in mind. We talked to the kids, we talked to the teachers, and we had our Chief Creative Officer give one of the most compelling commencement addresses that I have ever heard. She talked about her childhood dealing with dyslexia and how she chose design as a career. She did not waver in her choice regardless of outside influence.

In this economic climate today and going forward, we can’t let our young people walk blindly into this minefield.  You need to discuss the roadblocks and detours that will pop up from time to time. I especially like to rehash the lawyer-fashion editor and accountant-career coach analogy.

It is OK to make a career change. It is not the end of the world. Some folks do not hit their stride until late in life, while others will hit a home run their first time at bat.

Talk to a young person; share your experiences with them. Remember, if you don’t talk to them, their employer and their friends surely will.

So, just talk to them. In the long run, we will all win.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.