THE BLOG

9 Career Lessons From Millennials

11/20/2013 09:12 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Last week I had the chance to sit down with a group of college students and new graduates to pick their brains on how kids these days are starting their careers. One of the most exciting things about working at Collegefeed is the access to millennials from all walks of life. Collegefeed's mission is to help every single new graduate get hired, regardless of whether they're engineering majors from Stanford or literature grads from tiny private schools.

Despite facing skyrocketing tuition fees and a pretty scary unemployment rate, what struck me most was the enthusiasm, conviction and hope they all had in taking that first step. As we spoke, they shared insight into how today's first-time jobseekers approach the job hunt.

Here are nine of their best tips we should all apply to our own career goals:

1. Meet More People, Every Single Day: Part of being in a school is constantly meeting new people. That's why your 14-year-old son has two thousand Facebook friends already when you only have two hundred. Whether it's for a project, advice or sheer fun, they're very good at starting conversations with peers.

Over time, our minds take us inward. And yet we know that personal referrals account for anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of new hires. Go to Meetups, join (and participate in) LinkedIn groups, schedule those lunches you keep saying you'll "do" and reach out to all your professional contacts. With all the upcoming holiday activities, December is the perfect excuse to expand your circle of connections. You never know how serendipity can impact your future.

2. Say "No" More: Kids coming out of college have the entire world before them. They've been asked what they want to be when they grow up since they were in kindergarten, so they expect to be treated fairly and for things to work in their favor. Sure that can translate to entitlement, but it also means that they won't say "yes" to something that doesn't appeal to them.

Female professionals particularly have a harder time setting boundaries around how much they'll take on and which tasks they're willing to do. But every time you say "yes" to something extra, you've just decreased your availability for those activities you really want to do. With the New Year approaching, this might just be the perfect opportunity to practice saying "no" a bit more often.

3. Failure...what Failure?: College grads try so many new things so rapidly and have little built up baggage, that they don't even realize they failed somewhere along the way. While we certainly all want to learn from our mistakes, over time those failures can start messing with our minds, making us more hesitant to re-experience the loss.

Thomas Edison was known to say, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Not surprisingly, if you talk to the most successful entrepreneurs, they've all failed big many times and still keep going to achieve success (again). And frequently, those failures end up being the biggest blessings.

4. Brand Yourself Online: Millennials are savvy at branding themselves online socially and now they're striving to establish a professional brand too. In fact, Collegefeed teaches this as one of its core values, reflected in our Hall of Fame. Other millennials are creating their own "me" pages on sites like About.me and Zerply. They are easy to use and look uber professional. You can add photos, select from very slick backgrounds, include portfolio samples and give viewers a way to get to know the real you beyond the plain text of your resume.

Or if you haven't already, spend the hundred bucks and get your JennySmith.com or BobStone.com website registered. You don't even have to build it out now. Undoubtedly you'll find someone out there with web design experience looking to trade something you can offer. It's great to have ready and waiting if you ever decide to monetize your work, add marketing automation tools or just to make sure your name is doing some SEO work for you.

5. On Leaning In: New college grads, especially young women, are emerging from an environment that teaches them to question everything. And they do. Think the whole "Lean In" movement. With each generation, the notion that female workers are secondary to their male counterparts fades more and more. A whole new crop of young grads is entering the workforce right now, sharing the philosophy that leadership is not gender-specific.

Ask yourself whether any part of you is still internalizing outdated beliefs about who gets to do what in the workplace. Then start being the leader you want to become.

6. Free Your Mind (and the Rest will Follow): College grads are open minded - partly because they're just starting out, but mainly because they're fresh energetically. Over time, our minds become so clogged that we can become our own enemies. We tend to think in binaries: I can do this or that. But the reality is there are hundreds or thousands of options available right now for you. You just need to retune your brain to recognize the opportunities that are probably sitting right in front of you.

7. Be More Agile: Millennials do things fast. They've come of age in an era where getting answers to really complicated questions takes seconds. And staying in touch with friends across the globe is instant. So if they are excited about something, they jump right on it.

Experience can slow us down and impact how fast we execute. Contrarily we tend to be able to see the macro picture, which is a definite plus in most scenarios. But sometimes even that gift of aging can become an impediment. Achieving the end-goal can feel too daunting to even begin. Whereas when you're young, you're rarely thinking past next month, let alone next year.

So embrace that big picture wisdom earned by life experience -- and then start moving on the very first task in front of you. Or as Peter Drucker said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Always act fast. Set small goals and reach them quickly.

8. Social Media is Your Friend: Job-seekers over 30 don't know about some of the newest ways millennials are finding jobs. A new grad gets on LinkedIn and without any professional experience is totally lost. That's one area we have a natural advantage. Plus there are a ton of new social sites popping up like Talentful and Indeed that make it easier to find jobs. And don't underestimate the power that Google+ and Twitter can offer to expand your professional circles. Why not spend an hour Thanksgiving weekend researching the newest social tools for job-seekers?

9. Do it For Free: Until the moment they enter the workforce, everything millennials do is for free, from school assignments, attending classes, internships, volunteering, playing on Facebook or Twitter, and so on. And yet these experiences are what prepare them for a career -0 and also lead to some unexpected opportunities.

Whether it's offering to help a non-profit with a mailer or setting up the facilities at a conference, you should be offering your services with the dual goal of helping out and making new connections. We all have bills to pay, but just getting involved opens new doors for you. The latest research suggests that you are 27 percent more likely to get hired if you volunteer. And this time of year, it feels extra rewarding to pitch in on something you really care about.

*Disclosure: I am the Head of Public Relations for Collegefeed, however views expressed are my own.