THE BLOG

Advice for New College Graduates: an Interview With Gen Y Expert Dr. Tim Elmore, Founder of Growing Leaders

02/18/2014 02:26 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014

Dr. Tim Elmore and his organization, Growing Leaders, have a long and successful track record of developing leadership and character in young people all over the world. Because of his vast experience and insight into the thinking of Generation Y, I interviewed Dr. Elmore for thoughts on how to best prepare this generation for the workforce:

What is your candid advice for recent college graduates in finding jobs in this difficult economy?
Two things. First, be sure your expectations are realistic. Today's graduate enters the toughest market since the Great Depression. Don't lose sight of your dreams for a career, but know you're likely to enter at the bottom of the ladder. All you need to be concerned about is making sure it's the right ladder.

Second, be more conscious of what you can give, than what you will get. Typically, graduates are conditioned to be preoccupied with negotiating salary, benefits and vacation time. All of that's important, but you will be refreshing to employers if they see you are consumed with adding value to the team, not extracting it from the team. Think contributor, not consumer.

Is there a best and worst practices list for approaching the job market which comes to mind when you consider this group?
Yes, as you interview and seek placement in the job market, perform the following balancing acts:

1. Balance confidence with teachability.
Research from a variety of employment sources reveal that 76 percent of young employees believe "my boss can learn a lot from me." That may be true, but any hint of arrogance in the interview may repel a Baby Boomer host. In the interview, know your value and strengths, but communicate a teachable spirit--that you want to learn a lot from your potential employer.

2. Balance warmth with formality.
Often, recent college grads become too informal, joking about personal elements in their lives or about the interviewer themselves. This is risky. Many HR executives believe this is the number one problem with young employees. Some even text or take a phone call during the interview. Instead, be warm and friendly--but remember, these people don't know you yet. Don't lose the chance to go deeper.

3. Balance creativity with cooperation.
Today, 83 percent of new graduates are looking for a place where "my creativity is valued." A full two out of three want to "invent their own position at work." While that is understandable, your new boss may value your helping the company with their current ideas first. Let them know you've got ideas, but you're hungry to help with theirs as well.

4. Balance ambition with humility.
Employers love ambition. Just be sure yours doesn't make you look cocky. Many call this balance, "humbitious." Humble yet ambitious. It's a rare skill set. Two of three 20-somethings believe they should be mentoring older co-workers on how to get things done. Even if this is true, don't say it in the interview. Be humble, get hired, and show them who you are. Folks want to see a sermon not hear one.

5. Balance listening with initiative.
Spend plenty of time on the organization's website and learn all you can. Find out who the key leaders are, and greet them by name when you see them. In the job interview, answer questions clearly and candidly, but then, inquire if it is okay to ask the interviewer a few questions, as well. This usually is impressive. Pose questions that show you've gotten acquainted with their mission. Ask about the future. Embody the values of the organization if possible, demonstrating you'll fit right in.

6. Balance passion with work ethic.
Let me explain this correlation. Half of today's college graduates would rather have "no job" than a job they dislike. Yet, nine of 10 say they'll work very hard if they know where their task is going. Passion marks the Millennial generation. Some employers wonder however: "Will you display work ethic on a project that isn't glitzy? Can you show some passion for the smaller, mundane task you'll do as you stand on the bottom rung of the career ladder?"

Is there a Gen Y success story you can recall of a new job seeker who anded a great job after graduation? What was different about this person and why do they stand out?
Yes. We have several of them working with us at Growing Leaders. Alysse entered confident yet so mature, affirming positive things she saw in our office, asking good questions and suggesting ideas we could implement even before we hired her. Jim simply blew us away with his "extra-mile" service, arriving early and staying late, just to make sure he didn't slow any other team member down during his learning curve. Chloe was an aggressive "learner" hungry to pick up any wisdom, taking notes at every meeting. Each had a teachable spirit, a hungry mind and a bias for action sold us on them.

What do Baby Boomer and Generation X leaders who are hiring Gen Y for their companies need to know about this group?
There is much for us to learn. We must learn to look past the differences and see the strengths they bring. For instance, they may appear picky, but they just want to do work that makes a difference. They may come across too "social" for your tastes, but they want to work with a community of people that feels like a family.

They may joke around too much, but they don't separate work from play, which means they may do their best work at midnight not noon. (Remember Facebook is their Rolodex). They may come across a bit cocky, but they can probably teach us a few things about technology and social media. What we must do is be open to mutual mentoring--where both the established leader invests in the young employee, and allows that young team member to mentor them as well.