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Career Advice

What are millennials doing wrong when it comes to their careers?

As a headhunter, I’ve had the privilege to witness, analyze, and influence countless people from generation Z to babyboomer.

As a fellow millennial who escaped the “rat race” quickly and became financially free at age 28, here are the major themes I notice from my millennial peers, clients, and friends who have not found success in their careers:

1.  Starting work too late

This is by far the biggest problem, oftentimes caused by parents. Instead of encouraging kids to work, some parents only want their children to build their academic record and extra-curricular activities, not work history. Even in college, half the people I knew NEVER worked during the school year. They just had school and extra-curriculars to focus on.

By the time they graduate, work hits them in the face like a ton of bricks and they’re stressed beyond belief. Adjusting, “adulting”, can simply prove too much and lead to depression and reminiscing of the days without the responsibility of work. The sad truth is that unless you’re born into wealth, you must WORK for a living, yet most people live in a bubble until they’re forcibly thrown out into the workforce.

Start taking on as many jobs as possible in addition to your extra-curricular activities. In highschool, I was already helping my mom clean houses, weed-whacking, snow-shoveling, waitressing, while interning in white collar jobs at banks during the summer. In college, I bartended, sold high volumes of consumer goods on eBay, interned during the school year and in my summers, and taught my own brand of Chinese language classes, etc.

2. Accumulating useless credentials and degrees

When people who work too little graduate from college, they may find it hard to land a job due to fear of the unknown and lack of confidence. The thinking goes: I can’t get interviews = I’m not a good candidate = I need more bells and whistles to “stand out” as a strong candidate.

9 times out 10, at the Bachelor’s level, to get a job really isn’t that tied to academic success. It’s rather understanding how to land interviews and nail them. In fact, most people at that age don’t know what they want to do for a living, so the right strategy is to accumulate work experience. NOT go for more schooling because it delays reality!

As sanctioned and encouraged by parents and our education system, many are pushed into delaying making any hard decisions by going back into school. No matter how much time you’re wasting and money it costs, somehow this is STILL the route that many confused young graduates take.

My mom threatened to disown me due to her massive disappointment of me rejecting law school. I knew she was going to put me in a terrible financial situation as none of us had $200k lying around. I staunchly refused to be put into further financial slavery. I just finished undergrad, which I deemed more or less a waste of time; not even God could force me to do any more school!

Instead of believing in others’ pushing and your own insecurities, enter the workforce asap. Don’t believe the hype – School only works if you’re pursuing highly technical professions within STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). If you’re doing business, don’t just jump into another MBA. Many professions that value the MBA like consulting and finance will PAY for your MBA, thus why should YOU pay out of pocket for it?

3. Being idealistic versus realistic

In my graduating year, 2009, the recession was in full-swing, however, attitudes towards careers were not. All of my classmates talked about this awesome career called “investment banking”. Nowadays, I believe the equivalent is “tech” or “AI” or whatever else is #trending.

As much as I ideally would have liked to prove to my friends how cool and successful I was, I realized very quickly that I had no natural strengths and attributes that made a career in i-banking possible! I was bad at quantitative subjects, I was clueless how to get interviews at the top banks, and I didn’t even really understand what the career was all about in the first place! I just heard it was “good”.

As it turned out, I didn’t have the liberty to choose my career anyways. My parents needed me to run our family’s Chinese restaurant immediately. All of a sudden, I had 12 employees and our family’s house to look after. As I scrubbed tables, got yelled at by my staff and customers, I got to sincerely think about my future plans for myself. What would be my alternative career?

Instead of pursuing what others would consider successful, I evaluated my natural strengths which centered on people and communication. The one job type that would allow someone with little technical skills to flourish financially and professionally would be sales. At age 23, I entered into the career track of a recruiter, aka headhunter, a career centered around finding, organizing, and successfully placing people at companies for commission.

4. Approaching work with the wrong attitude

Many people I know decry the pursuit of wealth. They proudly profess, “I work to live, not live to work”. This is the exact type of mindset the produces misery. No matter how lowly of a job I worked, I always did it with a smile on my face. I worked hard and I was nice, happy, and positive. That was a survival mechanism.

Many people allow their misery to cloud their life every day. At the DMV, retail store, restaurant, white collar job, or anywhere really, you’ll meet miserable, mean, rude, selfish, lazy, bitter, and incompetent people. I feel bad for anyone who is miserable at work because I know what that’s like!

I was terrible at one of my summer internships in college. I didn’t work hard at all. That was one of my worst job experiences because I knew I was incompetent and I didn’t try to change that at all. I would fall asleep during team meetings because the job bored me to death.

I felt like an idiot, a fraud, and I had nervous bouts of anxiety since I knew I was totally incompetent! I couldn’t do simple excel sheets nor understand what the heck I was doing and for what purpose. Thankfully, that business realized I was horrible at my job and spared me by refusing to make me a full-time offer.

In my headhunting job, I knew what I was doing since I used my natural strengths of being good at sales and people. I was making over $215k by the time I was 25. However, in my workplace, 90% of every class would flunk out and the turnover was high due to the lack of passion and professionalism many had towards our job. I often wondered, why do they come to work? They should just quit and find something they like doing! You MUST find a job you can be good at. When you do, approach it with the right can-do, will-do, and work-hard attitude, and you’ll reap your just reward.

5. Refusing to understand the power and importance of MONEY

Our generation hates admitting that money is important. Due to how the student loans already take their toll on your appreciation of debt and financial management, many already have a negative perception towards wealth and the pursuit of money.

Our generation is also very idealistic (back to point 3). Instead of recognizing the natural correlation between valuable work and financial reward, many choose to hate this tethering to the need of money, even though it’s a total necessity for those of us without trust funds.

Eventually, people just give up altogether. They don’t save, plan, or investigate the many ways of how people can create incredible wealth in their lifetimes. Some embrace the idea that money is evil just so they can spare themselves the trouble of working hard for it. It’s a lot easier to hate something than to do something about it.

Instead, get educated on finance and money. No matter how young you are, if you don’t have a large inheritance or trust fund coming your way, you’re already behind. Your school also didn’t teach you anything about this. Your parents don’t have enough to retire comfortably. You need to realize, you’re on your own now for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. You better get going on understanding money and investing.

I could go on and on, but this is the majority of the issues plaguing millennials today. As social media influences us and maximizes our insecurities, these problems for future generations may continue to be a growing issue. No matter what external factors there are, it’s up to you to decide what type of life you want, and ultimately take the steps appropriately to achieve your dream.

Dandan Zhu is a Headhunter, Career Coach, Investor, & Podcaster Daily DANDAN.

This column was originally posted on Quora.com.

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