Humility In New Graduates and Not Letting Age or Experience Stand In Your Way

2009 August 19
by Grace Boyle

I’ve talked about the attractiveness of humility. I try to exercise it in my daily life and leave behind the attitude of boasting and scoffing that I see far too often.

So when I found an article in the Boise Job Search Examiner discussing the importance of new graduates practicing humility I was interested. The author, Jayna Wiesemann, tells a story about an intern who hasn’t yet graduated, but has been talking about the kind of jobs he will be applying and looking for upon graduation. He is applying for management positions and doesn’t want to back down or “consider the possibility that he may not be qualified.”

Wiesemann goes on to say, “Your degree? It doesn’t make you special. It makes you employable in an entry level position and until you gain a little humility and a whole lot of work ethic to go with that degree you aren’t going to have much success.”

I understand Wiesemann’s angle and I strongly believe in understanding your experience level. I talk about the importance of internships (even if they’re unpaid) and that everyone must start somewhere. From first glance it even sounds like this intern is stubborn and not open-minded about his job search, which isn’t a good sign.

However, all else aside…I disagree. I disagree about the glass ceiling that often is placed on graduates and so I disagree with Wiesemann’s only entry-level opportunity viewpoint for new grads. Startups and entrepreneurial situations offer the opportunity to jump into management or even running your company, no matter your age or experience.

It debunks the real-world experience myth and understand what settling really means. I had a management role in college. For almost two years I helped run an event team, execute and plan small to large-scale events of up to almost 1000 people. Just me, the 21-year old. So my bar was set higher when I graduated yet I was realistic.

My current position was written as requiring 3-7 years experience with an M.B.A. I had neither. I had just graduated college. I reached high and no, I’m not a VP of the company, but I didn’t consider my lack of qualifications, I considered my intelligence, passion and drive.

What about Rebecca Thorman, who at age 23 was Executive Director of MAGNET, a young professional organization. These stories are everywhere.

Age and Experience Don’t (Always) Determine Your Success

I practice humility, I say “I don’t know,” when I don’t and I like asking for more responsibility and potentially talk about owning my own company. Maybe that’s in a few years when I still probably won’t have “enough” experience but mistakes are to be made.

The ‘green,’ ‘young,’ or ‘inexperienced’ factor didn’t stop Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes with Facebook, Bill Gates with Microsoft, Steve Jobs with Apple, Sergey Brin with Google and Max Levchin with PayPal. That’s right, they all started billion dollar companies before they were 25.

This doesn’t mean their success stories will be yours. But they’re all true stories, so why not if you want it? I believe humility is important, but I also tout promoting and believing in yourself. Don’t limit yourself to only apply to entry level jobs. You may be surprised you land the interview of a dream position. Even if you feel it’s ‘out of your league’ you could set yourself up for learning, new mentors and growth.

Penelope Trunk says, “The jobs that are the most fun are where our learning curve is high but we still achieve results,” and that you should reach for a job way above you. If you fail, try other positions. Be open and most importantly, “have a realistic idea of your skillset.”

Wil Schroter, Founder of Go Big Network expounds on this idea: “Being young provides a period of your life where you get double the points if you succeed and lose no points if you fail. What you’ll learn later in life is that this opportunity is almost never offered again.”

Lesson Learned: Be realistic. Reach high. Recent grads, don’t opt only for the entry level positions. Do you have a story where you ‘skipped a career step,’ surprised yourself, started your own company or even had someone doubt you because of your lack of experience or young age? Share here, I think we may surprise not only ourselves, but each other.

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  • http://ryanstephensmarketing.com/blog/ ryanstephens

    A few quick tidbits from my vantage point:

    A.) Humility is very important, so is being bold. Great explanation from Pace Smith here on Copyblogger.
    B.) Couldn't agree more with the notion of youth and inexperience. I always quote Guy Kawasaki in that it's not where someone has been, but where they're capable of taking you. Yes, business acumen goes a long way (especially with vast experience), but sometimes it's not a substitute for passion, grit, drive, etc.
    C.) I've always applied for positions over my head … It's the STORY you tell that matters. If your story is compelling and demonstrates the value you can bring you can often get the gig, experience or not.

    Really enjoyed this post Grace!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Ryan I like to hear you've applied for positions way over your head and that understanding your story and how you tell it can be leveraged in the most positive (and surprising) way. I really felt strongly and a bit of a sting from the authors belief that your degree means very little and that you should only go for entry-level jobs. I'm glad you enjoyed this post and thanks for sharing the link.

  • http://modite.com/blog Rebecca

    Great post. I totally think that being young is a huge advantage, especially when you're fresh out of school, since you're willing to try anything, do anything, be anything. Even over the past couple years, I've found I'm slowly losing that, getting nervous about risks, and getting afraid. Wisdom is beautiful, but so is youth.

  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa Doucette

    I visit both sides of the fence on this. I was young, and damned good at any job I set my mind to. Like yourself, in college I held extremely challenging management positions and my work study job involved doing PR for the summer camps in Maine. Unfortunately my Mom got sick and I had to move home to help take care of the family. Shame on me, I never went back.

    There are jobs that I KNOW I would have kicked ass at and used every foot/leg/appendage in the door I had for. In the end, the thing that has gotten me to where I am today (managing over 50 agents with 4 other people for an entire state) has been working HARD and pouncing on every opportunity to prove myself. Then to meet young people who come out and condescendingly look down on the work I've done to get where I am…well…you know an Irish-Italian girl's temper!

    This is not to say that ALL Gen Yers have this snobbish outlook towards the workers, but I've unfortunately met a few too many and it starts to make you generalize in your head. Fortunately I know enough other cool people (like our little blogging community) to offset it.

    I think the people who preach humility the most to Gen Y are the people like me, who'd love to think the world is entirely a big plate of raw oysters waiting to be shucked, but it hasn't worked out that way for us. Call it a big dose of “suck it up and deal” that the rest of the world needs to get used to. :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Rebecca “Wisdom is beautiful, but so is youth.” I love that. I think each year I get older, I might take less risks. That's a scary thought, but I become more calculated maybe. Thanks for sharing!

    @Elisa I would never say where you have been and what you have worked for doesn't mean something. That is definitely not the case. I think that limiting yourself to only entry-level jobs (even if you're right out of college) is narrow minded. Reach far and try things that might be out of your reach. It still means you will have to work for it…whether you're starting low or starting a bit higher than average.

    I do understand the snobbish outlook to employers from Gen Y. They believe they want what they want, we don't settle and think we “deserve,” the best position. That mindset is different than someone who is powerful, humble but also isn't afraid to take risk and leap far. Does that distinction make sense? Thanks for sharing, this is such a good mix of thoughts.

  • jaynawiesemann

    Grace -

    I want to say thank you for remarking on my article. It is nice to know that someone is reading what I send out into the cyber world! I really appreciate your viewpoint and I agree wholeheartedly that everyone should believe in themselves and reach for the stars. I just temper that with 10 years of experience recruiting talent for the likes of Microsoft, Google and the cliche Seattle start-up during the dot com heyday. Simply put, my perspective is different.

    I see the individuals who apply for a position they are not remotely qualified for, who have no real work experience and smugly present a college diploma as proof positive they deserve to be CEO. Granted, that is not every new graduate, but, from my perspective, it is an ever increasing number. The purpose of the article was to encourage all applicants to stop and think about what they bring to the table along with their degree. I will admit, however, that stating definitively to apply for entry-level positions may have been a bit limiting. It may have been more accurate to say, “Apply for the positions you want to obtain and pursue them enthusiastically. Just don't march in with the attitude of “Hi. I'm here to save all you old farts from yourselves.'” The people who hold the keys to the kingdom had to work their tails off to get there and they expect you to do the same.

    And you are right about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, et al. They all started at the top of the companies that made them iconic. They were able to do that because they started their own companies rather than applying for top positions at established companies. My gripe wasn't with the entrepreneur.

    I do want to thank you, by the way, for reminding me to take a dose of my own medicine and be a little more humble. I appreciate being forced to think outside of my own narrow perspective and look forward to reading more of your blog!

  • http://twitter.com/ryanknapp Ryan Knapp

    Nice post Grace. I was just talking to a friend of mine about this today.

    I was lucky enough to take on a volunteer position with a high level amateur soccer club, and within a year I was sitting on that club's board of Directors, and found myself General Manager and President.

    I never thought that in 2006 I would doing what I am now. But sometimes you just have to go for it. I love the quote about getting double the points, but then losing nothing if you fail. It's great to have that as a backup.

    Often it is about finding people who are willing to take a chance on you with regards to experience.

    The important part in my mind is paying that back to up and coming students/recent grads when we have the chance to do so.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jayna Thanks for your response. Your article piqued my interest so much, it led to this post so thank you for writing it!

    I definitely didn't want to discredit your experience. Nothing can take that away, which of course, is always valid. It's unfortunate to see individuals apply for jobs in which they act smug, with their college diploma like it's the end all be all. I don't think it's unfortunate if a candidate applies for a job that they may not be qualified for, because the resume or what you see on paper doesn't always trump personality, passion and potential.

    As a recruiter, I know you have seen it all and it's too bad that the 'attitude' follows. The 'attitude' of the intern in your story and others you talk about, seems to be the real issue here. Like you said, reach high and with enthusiasm but remember that humility is important and that you are applying for a job with company x. Don't ever belittle or believe you're above them. That's a huge mistake and I'm sure we can both agree on that.

    Thanks for presenting your point of view. This was a great response and I'm so happy you stopped by. I look forward to connecting with you in the future and reading more of your recruiting stories–they always interest me greatly.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Ryan Great story! Your testimonial is just what I was talking about and congratulations on taking the leap, while also growing so much into your new (and improved) position. You will see Jayna (the author of the article I was mostly disagreeing with) commented above and her answer is interesting and well thought out.

    And ultimately, I'm all about just going for it. That's the best way to live life! Thanks for sharing, Ryan.

  • http://akhilak.com/blog Akhila

    Wow, what a great and inspiring post Grace! Your story is inspiring and it shows that hard work, passion, and reaching for the stars CAN get us places…and that we can still remain humble while striving for great things.

    I completely agree. I agree that we should not be arrogant, and we have to be mindful of our faults and limitations. I think the key distinction here is that we cannot DEMAND management jobs or absolutely DEMAND our dream job, refusing to settle for anything less. Sometimes this just doesn't work out, honestly. And demanding something amazing for your first job just doesn't scream “good attitude.” You have to keep your expectations reasonable.

    Aim for the stars — don't hesitate to apply for the jobs you dream of even if you don't know whether you're qualified. I think the main thing is not to be afraid to reach for great things, but at the same time don't demand these things as if you are entitled to them.

  • http://robot-heart.tumblr.com heartbot

    I think some of the “I'm here to save all you old farts from yourselves,” attitude comes kids believing that the best way to communicate their abilities and wishes (particularly to land a job or a promotion) is to act very confident and to at least pretend that you know the answers to everything. There's a fear among many that if they don't appear to be Super Employee they aren't going to get hired, they won't be considered for new roles, etc. I think a lot of kids my age are overachievers, and have been told most of their lives that if they want to go places, the best way to do that is tell everyone that they CAN go places or, if they want to be more forceful, that they SHOULD go places. I think it's less an issue of needing humility than it is being insecure and hoping that if they make themselves out to be better than what they are, they will convince others of it, too. Naked bravado probably works in some fields, with some employers, too. But on the whole, I think what most people my age need is just a good recommendation for how to communicate what they want in the right way.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    This is an excellent point. Whether it was growing up, in high school or even in college we were taught to not only act with strength and “I can do anything,” but also have that mindset. Sometimes it can be seen as pompous or shallow, but the root value doesn't start that way. Thanks for sharing this point, I think it's really important to look over and is definitely generational.

  • http://www.lifeschocolates.com sameve

    Sorry for the late comment, but this is a really interesting post. I think that we need to find a balance between humility and confidence. Too much of either one can get us in trouble. I kind of wish I'd read something like this before I started my post-college job search. I remember there being so many jobs that sounded interesting, but like yours, asked for way more experience than I had. Even though I'd had three internships, I didn't believe in myself enough to apply to most of them.

    So, I don't have a story about how I skipped a career step, but one thing I did do was apply to anything and everything that I thought I could apply my skills to. Many journalism students are so set on working at a traditional media outlet, and that mindset can be really limiting, especially in this economy. By casting a wide net and keeping an open mind, I ended up with a great job in Marketing at an online ad network. My advice would be believe in yourself and dream big, but keep your confidence in check with the occasional dose of reality. Great post, Grace!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Sam Great points! I've noticed that we have been taught to be confident and a lot of Gen Y actually doesn't want to settle so it comes off the wrong way to employers. I also think that someone who is too passive or meek will also lose in the job-game. So a balance (as always) seems very important.

    This was such an interesting article for me to find, because I really disagreed with it. You will see that Jayna responded to what I wrote about her article and I think she brings up some great points too. Always interesting to bounce ideas off each other!

  • http://www.lifeschocolates.com sameve

    Sorry for the late comment, but this is a really interesting post. I think that we need to find a balance between humility and confidence. Too much of either one can get us in trouble. I kind of wish I'd read something like this before I started my post-college job search. I remember there being so many jobs that sounded interesting, but like yours, asked for way more experience than I had. Even though I'd had three internships, I didn't believe in myself enough to apply to most of them.

    So, I don't have a story about how I skipped a career step, but one thing I did do was apply to anything and everything that I thought I could apply my skills to. Many journalism students are so set on working at a traditional media outlet, and that mindset can be really limiting, especially in this economy. By casting a wide net and keeping an open mind, I ended up with a great job in Marketing at an online ad network. My advice would be believe in yourself and dream big, but keep your confidence in check with the occasional dose of reality. Great post, Grace!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Sam Great points! I've noticed that we have been taught to be confident and a lot of Gen Y actually doesn't want to settle so it comes off the wrong way to employers. I also think that someone who is too passive or meek will also lose in the job-game. So a balance (as always) seems very important.

    This was such an interesting article for me to find, because I really disagreed with it. You will see that Jayna responded to what I wrote about her article and I think she brings up some great points too. Always interesting to bounce ideas off each other!

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