Working Hard And Being Eager Don't Cut It Anymore
Working Hard And Being Eager Don't Cut It Anymore
I recently had a very telling conversation. I was speaking with a man at a networking event. Let’s call him David, for the sake of this story. David regaled me with the story of his professional life. He graduated from an Ivy League university in the late 1970s, with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Upon graduation, he moved to New York to pursue his dream of becoming an accomplished stage actor. As expected, roles were few, and those that were offered were low-visibility. After a few years, he grew tired of waiting tables to support himself while he tried to be an actor. He saw an ad in the Sunday newspaper for part-time clerical help with one of the large banks in the financial district. He typed up his resume and cover letter on 20 lb. bond paper, and sent them off to the person listed in the ad.

A few days later, David received a call for an interview. He went in and was offered the job on the spot. He started the following week. After about a year, he realized that if he wanted to be able to feed, clothe, and house himself, acting was not going to be a viable career option. So, he took a full-time job with the bank’s junior management program. This was a mentoring and training program that groomed future managers for the company.  David’s employer also arranged and paid for participants in the management program to go through a top 10 MBA program.

David spent his entire career in financial services, eventually heading up his company’s private banking and equity research groups. He enjoyed a successful and rewarding career, which afforded him a lifestyle that would have been out of reach for the average Broadway actor. What he didn’t understand, though, was why it was so hard for young people today to break into their industry of choice. He speculated that it was because millennials are disinclined to work hard and that they aren’t willing to put in their dues as he was. If they would just try harder and show some enthusiasm, they wouldn’t have such problems.

Having learned long ago that presenting someone with facts often does little to change their beliefs, I shook my head and just said, “perhaps.” David’s worldview, a view that is shared by many people outside of the Millennial generation, is, of course, fundamentally flawed. Let’s look at why:
  • David graduated with no student debt, and an Ivy League degree. The Ivy League degree, in and of itself, provided him with an automatic leg up, which only a few people have. Coming from a time when students could pay their tuition by working a summer job also meant that he was not tethered to a massive student loan bill upon graduation. This is no longer the reality.

  • He applied to a newspaper ad, was interviewed a few days later, and hired on the spot. This mode of hiring went the way that disco did at the end of the 70s.

  • He got a part-time job, working for a big bank. How many of those are around now, in the era of temping, contracting, and “permalancing”?

  • He was promoted into a formalized management training program and was provided the opportunity to earn a top ten MBA on his employer’s dime. Formal management training programs are now scarce, and even if a company does offer tuition reimbursement, very few pay for entire degree programs. Most have an annual maximum, and/or will only pay for courses directly related to the employee’s job.

  • He received multiple promotions and spent his entire career with the same company. This is exceptionally rare these days. In the 70s and 80s, it was common for companies to identify top talent, and to retain them for the long-term. That went by the wayside over the last 20 years as “shareholder value” has taken precedence over everything else.
Did David really work exceptionally hard? The answer is no, he really didn’t. He was helped largely by circumstance. He was in the right place at the right time, and that made all the difference. Please think about the reality facing new entrants to the workforce today. What worked for you in the 80s does not work in the 21st century. And please show these new entrants some empathy. The deck is stacked against them in ways you probably never had to contend with.