For the First Three Years, Focus on Building Skills

As a former hiring manager and supervisor, one thing I’ve noticed that’s true of nearly all Generation Y employees is their self-proclaimed “passion.” It’s what I love most about workers in this cohort, and what I dislike most as well. Why? Of course, passion is a great quality. Passion is what separates robotic, cog-like workers who don’t question anything from engaged, inspired employees who truly want to make a difference.

But just as man does not live on bread alone, man cannot work on passion alone. Passion for your work, as noted in this delightful Harvard Business Review article, is an attitude that’s really developed over time as you acquire the skills you need and master them. While you work on establishing your career, the qualities you should apply–more so than passion–are diligence, thoroughness, attentiveness, and developing a strong work ethic.

Passion can become particularly problematic for Generation Y workers because they have been burdened with the dreaded pronouncement, since they were young, that they should do what they love. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for doing what you love. But the reality is that you typically don’t do what you love in your first job, perhaps not even in your second job. Since Gen Y workers are expected to do what they love, when they don’t do what they love for a living initially, they feel that somehow they have failed. And this perceived failure can really distract you from doing what you should be doing in your first, post-school position—developing an arsenal of different job skills, learning about yourself and others, and just learning how to work and live.

Just as passion may be one of the defining characteristics of the Gen Y cohort, there’s also another characteristic I’ve noticed—impatience. As a recent grad working your first job, you may feel impatient about getting your career going on a quicker track to doing what you truly love to do. I’m convinced that this impatience stems from a couple of things. First, individuals born in the last two or three decades have been raised in a cultural and technological environment that emphasizes instant gratification. If you want something, the zeitgeist goes, you should be able to get it right away.

Secondly, you’ve just finished college, and cycles of time are measured in semesters. You classes end in four months, and you get completely new classes afterwards. At work, there are no cycles. It’s just week after week of more or less the same thing, and this reality can be very difficult to get used to coming from an academic environment.

So what’s a recent grad to do? Give up on your passions? Absolutely not! The point I’m trying to make here is that you should take every personal and professional experience in and make it valuable. For the first two or three years of your career, spend that time learning. Learn all the skills required to succeed in your job like the back of your hand. Then learn more. Doing what you love will come soon enough, once you’ve learned the job skills you need to apply them in a creative and masterful way.

Melanie Foster is now a freelance writer and blogger. She’s particularly interested in trends in higher education, but also enjoys writing about social policy, professional development, personal finance, and sustainable living. Melanie welcomes your comments below.

4 thoughts on “For the First Three Years, Focus on Building Skills

  1. As a senior in college, this post really sparked my attention and made me think about what lies ahead for me. The point about college student’s lives running in cycles made me stop and think. For the past 16 years of my life, each year has been flashing by in cycles. I need to start preparing myself for the working world. Starting in entry level positions are not going to be fun or easy, and I am not going to be able to look forward to three months of summer. I am starting to understand that, and I appreciate this blog post to remember what is important in my career. While I may not like my first and second jobs, I can at least learn from them and build my skill set.

  2. I appreciate this post because it’s easy as a student to get caught up in looking for a job after graduation that is the “perfect” fit. While it would be wonderful if that happened, this is a great reminder to focus on finding a place that I can continue to learn and grow as a PR professional.

  3. This post seemed to come at just the right time. I haven’t been on Culprwit in a while, and this time I have a much different perspective. I am no longer in college. Although I thought I was preparing — internships, networking, PRSSA, etc. — it wasn’t until I was literally thrown into the post-college world when I realized the real challenges.

    Granted, I took a little bit of a different route and picked up and headed West. So that presented its own challenges. Through all of my experiences, I can say: No matter what the job, whether an account coordinator or a sales associate, ALWAYS pull skills from each position. Be patient. Finding my passion is a process.

  4. This post really speaks to a lot of things that I have been going through and that I have been trying to explain to people who have graduated after me. However I think you left out one thing about why the new generation is trying so hard to immediately get to the top: student loan debt! I constantly try to figure out how to circumvent entry level positions so that I can pay down my loans faster.

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