New Grads Quickly Grow Impatient for Promotions

by | March 31, 2009

Jacqui Buschor is frustrated. The top managers at the trade association where she works aren't implementing her ideas, she says. The 22-year-old has been at the Columbus, Ohio, nonprofit for five months, and she's tired of it.

Ms. Buschor took the job because she wanted to make a difference and be creative. "If the organization doesn't make that possible, there's no reason for me to be there," she says.

Twentysomethings are accustomed to meeting short-term goals in schools with quarter and semester systems. They expect to see results on the job just as quickly and when they don't, impatience sets in. The disgruntled say that they don't necessarily want more money, they want stimulating assignments that give meaning to their lives.

Ryan Paugh, 23, is already concerned that he's wasting his life at his first full-time job. In January, the Flemington, N.J., resident started working as a contractor, with no benefits, in the communications department of a Fortune 500 company. Frequently, he finishes a day's work in three hours, he says. "You feel really useless." Up until recently, Mr. Paugh asked for more work from his boss every other day. "Once in a while they hand something off," he says. Now he doesn't ask so much.

"Maybe you're just paying your dues, but how do you know you're not just sitting around, waiting to get fired?" he wonders. Mr. Paugh says the situation is making him depressed.

He and a former fraternity brother started a blog, employeeevolution.com, about people in their 20s who want more rewarding responsibilities at work. In a recent post he offered advice for peers in his shoes: "Keep your resume in the flow and continue to network; screw face time -- if you've put in your eight hours and accomplished nothing, don't continue to waste your precious time."

Matt Miades, a 39-year-old recruiter at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Philadelphia, counsels twentysomething associates at the firm to be less impetuous. Pricewaterhouse hires entry-level associates to do auditing, but they're not promoted only on the basis of their auditing skills. The firm promotes people with managerial chops who demonstrate their communication skills (important for dealing with clients), says Mr. Miades. And successfully executing an advanced task just once or twice is not enough.

That means it can be years before a promotion happens. "We have a very keen sense of when the cake needs to bake a little longer," he says. But Mr. Miades says it's worth it for associate X to keep his or her wagon hitched to the Big Four accounting firm "surrounded by high-performing people & [and] all sorts of opportunities." Being patient and staying at one firm also allows entry-level workers to develop relationships, he says, which is key in advancing their skills and careers.

Mr. Miades and other partners aren't going to hassle a 22-year-old about his management skills. They'll give The Freshman some time to adjust to auditing. Mr. Miades says he encourages new hires to adapt their timelines from a semester scale to a corporate one, which isn't as clearly delineated. He makes a point of reaching out to them in meetings, at monthly happy hours or the impromptu game of pool after work.

Nikhil Thakur was impatient after two years in his first job out of college, at a technology company. Three raises didn't dent his malaise. "The first one briefly made me turn a blind eye to other shortcomings," he says, "but each subsequent one did nothing to increase my job satisfaction." The 27-year-old New Yorker, who went to college in Indiana after growing up in India, says he was awarded little more responsibility. "Requests for more challenging work & always resulted in getting the odd challenging project along with two repetitive drudgeries."

When he casually asked his supervisor to switch to a job that opened up in a different department, he says the reaction was discouraging, so he didn't apply.

But companies aren't stewards of their employees' career development, says Penelope Trunk, founder of the career counseling blog the Brazen Careerist and author of a book of the same title that's targeted at younger workers. The onus is on you.

"Look at what [you] can do to find more personal growth, and don't pay attention to the recognition or the money," she advises. "Learn to run a meeting, lead a team, be on an enormous project -- identify what skills are more important to you." Next, go to your boss and tell him or her that you want to learn these skills. Offer to trade your assigned work for the training you desire.

Those who are scared to step-up and ask for what they want will still be stymied if they job hop, warns Ms. Trunk.

Although job hopping is more acceptable now than it has been in the past, it's a red flag to recruiters if you're switching jobs every year (see related story).

Mr. Thakur wound up switching companies and says his new job, at a financial risk-management consultancy, is project versus task-based. He likes that there is limited hierarchy, and that he's part of a small integrated team, instead of the big department at his previous job. There is a mandated "fun day" for all staff in the summer, when the company pays for them to take off in groups to do something fun. And Mr. Thakur has no title. He's delighted.

Filed Under: Job Search


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