I recently spoke to Alexandra Levit, who is the author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World (10th anniversary edition) and the co-author of the 2014 Deloitte Millennial Leadership Study. Levit is a workplace expert, who served as a member of Business Roundtable’s Springboard Project, which advised the Obama administration on current workplace issues. She’s written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other publications and has also authored books like How’d You Score That Gig? and Success for Hire. She’s created free resources, including JobStart 101, which helps prepare students for the workplace, and a U.S. Department of Labor course that helps military veterans transition to the civilian workforce.
In the following interview, Levit talks about how companies are being impacted by millennials who would rather be entrepreneurs, why millennials aren’t ready to become leaders, why schools aren’t preparing them for the working world, and her best advice to millennial entrepreneurs.
Alexandra Levit: The Deloitte Millennial leadership study showed that more than other generations, millennials are eager to become self-employed at a younger age and are willing to take major career risks to make it happen. Seventy percent of global millennials want to launch their own companies, yet less than 20 percent aspire to senior leadership in a large organization with 10,000 or more employees. More established organizations will have to offer more entrepreneurial opportunities in-house if they want to attract and retain millennial talent. Otherwise, they’re out the door.
Schawbel: One of the major findings in your study is that millennial leaders don’t feel ready to become leaders. What can a millennial do as a result of not feeling ready to be a leader?
Levit: The first step is to admit you don’t know everything and seek out senior-level mentorship, both in an official and unofficial capacity. Take advantage of every opportunity to participate in real-world scenarios in which a critical business problem must be solved, and work on acting independently where possible. The best way to learn, especially for millennials, is to do. We call this experiential learning.
Schawbel: What is the millennial management style like compared to older generations?
Levit: Millennials tend to be less hierarchical, less formal, and more collaborative when managing teams. One young manager I talked to recently summed up the millennial approach perfectly. He said: “When a stranger walks into my team meeting, I don’t want her to be able to tell that I’m the boss. I should be perceived as being on equal footing with everyone else.”
Schawbel: Why are schools still not preparing their students for the working world? Do you think millennials have to self-educate instead of relying on their schools?
Levit: Schools have moved the needle, certainly. I first wrote They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World 10 years ago because I had entered the business world totally unprepared and had to learn everything the hard way. But I can see by the number of universities creating classes around the book that they are starting to catch on that skills like communication, diplomacy, problem-solving, and risk-taking should be explored prior to the first employment experience. However, schools still have a long way to go, and college students should absolutely be self-educating through self-assessments like YouScience’s Latitude, online courses like the Business Roundtable’s JobSTART 101, and any chance they have to preview the business world via internships, volunteer opportunities, or job shadowing.
Schawbel: What three pieces of career advice would you give to a millennial entrepreneur?
Levit: My most important piece of advice is to be an apprentice on someone else’s dime first. You are much more likely to be a successful entrepreneur if you understand how a business works, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Go work for someone else, learn your way around a P&L report, etc. Other guidance? Think carefully about whether the volatile, feast or famine lifestyle of an entrepreneur is really right for you, and try your business idea as a side-gig first to assess whether it can generate substantial income. Basically, you want to take one small step at a time, with as little risk as possible.
Dan Schawbel is a workplace speaker and the New York Times best-selling author of Promote Yourself. Subscribe to his free monthly newsletter for more career tips.