Young People You Can Move Up

Mar 26, 2001

It’s what we’re all looking for: young people that we can move up. And if we aren’t, we’re fools. Why would we hire someone, especially a younger person, who we don’t think has any potential to go onward and upward in the organization? It would be crazy! It’s costly to train neophytes. Plus, they tend to have a higher turnover rate. So do what you can to make the most of your investment. Only hire entry-level people who you think can move up— way up— in the company. These are the seeds of your firm’s future. Here are nine characteristics I look for in younger employees: Not overly sensitive. If there’s one characteristic in a younger employee that’s an immediate turn-off for me, it’s dealing with someone who is so sensitive that you can’t ever be honest with them. I hate this “walking-on-eggshells” feeling that you get when you can’t tell someone what you really think. I just don’t even want to deal with those people. I see a lot of this. Confident without being overly so. I like some confidence, cockiness, and swagger. No confidence means you will never be able to tell someone else what to do or convince a client to do something that you think is in his or her best interest. But carry it too far, and you have someone who can’t learn because they think they already know it all. Not easily intimidated. Young folks who can’t pick up the phone to ask to speak with the CEO or the head of a public agency are at a real disadvantage. Worse are those who are afraid to ask their boss a question. When I see this, I know that the neophyte has limited potential to move up. Easy for older and middle-aged people to talk to. This is what I call the employee’s “approachability” factor. The more approachable, the better. It’s hard for me to put my finger on it, but I’m sure most of our readers know what I am talking about. Some young people cannot hold a conversation with you. Others can do so easily. Those that have this ability are bound to be able to relate to their fellow workers, firm managers, and clients much more easily. Their age (or lack of it) will not impact their potential for upward movement. Willing to learn. Some neophytes think they already know it all because they have four or five or six years of schooling. Others know that every day can be a learning experience if they are open to it. Those in the first group will have a hard time justifying their pay and will get frustrated when they don’t move up. Not fearful. Some people are afraid. They hide when the boss passes by. They won’t try something new, they don’t want to travel, they don’t want to get out from behind their desk to make a presentation, and they don’t want to use a technology that they haven’t tried before. Others embrace new things and new situations. These people, the ones who are unafraid of moving out of their comfort zones, are the ones you will be able to promote. Cooperative in every way. Good team players who will do what you want are always more likely to move up than those who argue with you every step of the way. On the other hand, those who are too compliant won’t move up either. Disagreement is fine as long as the people disagreeing with you can build a case for why they disagree and occasionally bring you around to their points of view. Plus, they have to be able to work with other people and respect those people’s expertise. Able to anticipate what their manager wants. If you can’t anticipate what your boss is likely going to expect, then you aren’t tuned in and don’t have any common sense. This anticipatory skill is a must for those who want to move up in any organization. Their superiors will penalize those who don’t have this ability. Hard worker. It’s hard to be a good work ethic. It was told to me once by an early boss of mine that, if I just worked twice as many hours as my counterparts, I would get experience twice as fast. That makes sense. No, I don’t want everyone to kill himself or herself. And I do respect that people need a life outside of work. But what better time to see what you can really do than when you are young and don’t have a lot of other commitments? You’re seeing the best in the way of work ethic that you are going to ever see out of a newcomer to your firm. It’s downhill later on in just about every case! Originally published 3/26/2001.

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