This online feature may include questions adapted from my weekly live chat. It’s also an opportunity for me to answer questions I couldn’t get to during the discussion. I may also respond to questions you send by e-mail to (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com).
Last week, my guest was Robert L. Deitz, author of “Congratulations, You Just Got Hired: Don’t Screw It Up,” the Color of Money Book Club selection for August. Deitz is a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Here are some questions about young employees that Deitz didn’t get a chance to answer during the chat:
Use your judgment on social media
Q: People should use caution with their social media posts, but what about when employers overreach as to what they find “offensive”? We have all heard the stories about people being fired for posting a photo where they were holding a glass of wine, or in a (modest) swimsuit (at the beach during a family vacation). These activities aren’t illegal or socially unacceptable.
Deitz: There are many things that are not illegal or socially unacceptable but which, if employers see them on the Web, might give them pause about a potential employee. Passionately making out with your boyfriend or girlfriend is not illegal. But if I were an employer, I might question the judgment of the person who posted such activity on the Web. What all employers want from employees, among other things, is good judgment. Good judgment includes knowing which (legal and socially acceptable) activities belong in private and which should be shared on the Web.
The boss is not your ‘buddy’
Q: I had one employee, early 20s, who had many issues, but the most annoying is that he addressed me as “buddy” (I was his boss). The first few times, I thought I misheard him, or maybe I was in shock so I didn’t react. This probably only encouraged the behavior. What would you do?
Dietz: I have seen this as well. Some number of years ago, the office became less formal. Senior partners were called by their first names, rather than by Mr. or Ms. That led, I think, young employees to believe that they were equals to their seniors. Your example about being called “buddy” is a great example. He may have been a jerk, but it is equally possible that he thought that he ought to show you that he was a friend. The only way to deal with that is to take him aside and instruct him on proper office etiquette.
Millennials are people too
Q: As a young professional, I take offense to the stereotypes about Millennials. Having graduated during one of the worst times this country has seen since the Great Depression, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be employed full-time today, and am also fortunate for every opportunity I received along the way, whether it panned out or not. I think as with every group, there are going to be overachievers, underachievers and those who are perfectly content just getting by. I have observed the attitude of entitlement from my peers the same way I have observed hard work and laziness among colleagues in every job I’ve ever had. I don’t think it is fair to make assumptions about potential employees based on the age group they happen to have been born into. That said, what advice could you offer to young professionals like myself to overcome these stereotypes?
Deitz: You are right that too many people operate on the basis of a stereotype: If an applicant is a millennial, he/she must have an attitude. The only way, I believe, that one can overcome a stereotype is not acting like the stereotype. Politeness is a great start. Using sir and ma’am, showing interest, and acting and dressing professionally for an interview are great starts. When one has a job, showing that the job comes first through hard work and enthusiasm will go far.
Dress like your colleagues, not like your parents
Q: Neither of my parents worked in formal office settings (one was a reporter, the other a teacher — both in a small agricultural city in California), so when I worked in D.C. over a decade ago, I was clueless about appropriate office attire. It took me a good three years to catch on that I needed to invest in a few suits, even as a secretary. Isn’t assuming people learn from their parents a mistake?
Deitz: You have identified the issue precisely. If one hasn’t grown up in an environment where office dress is routine, one needs to learn by watching colleagues. You obviously did.
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