May 19, 2013

25 Rules For Young “Professionals”

Last week, Kirk McDonald — self-proclaimed “dream boss” of the “cool, rapidly growing company in the digital field,” PubMatic — wrote an open letter to college graduates in the Wall Street Journal online. Essentially, he argues, us young babes are mostly unemployable (by him, at least) because we don’t speak computer. Our parents told us we could be anything we wanted, and we wanted to be basket-weaving, modern-dancing slam poets, so we majored in one of The Humanities. Now we’re screwed.

This line of thought is bad enough. Why, yes, Kirk, we absolutely need a world in which everyone can make the Internet but no one can actually produce anything interesting to put on the Internet. But then Danny Rubin, managing editor of “News to Live By,” a website devoted to helping “the Millennial generation” find “the career advice and leadership lessons ‘hidden’ in the day’s top stories,” decided that McDonald’s one lesson wasn’t enough — he has 25 lessons for us! In this case at least, his website’s misuse of scare quotes is apropos: his “25 Things Every Young Professional Should Know by Age 25″ is only “hidden” in McDonald’s letter if we take “hidden” to mean “totally absent, I just made these up.”

Well, Dan, I’m young (26), “professional” (a writer who sometimes gets paid to write things), and have violated or ignored most of these rules. I turned out fine.

25. It’s spelled “definitely,” not “definately.”

Please cc to every “professional” who’s ever sent me an email. Be sure to include a guide to your/you’re, its/it’s, and they’re/there/their along with a list of job postings in the field of Menial Labor.

24. Read an apartment lease before you sign. All of it.

Because your shitty landlord is “definately” going to honor the agreement to the letter without you threatening to take him or her to small claims court. Go ahead, folks, paint the kitchen orange. You were never going to get that deposit back anyway.

23. An Excel PivotTable will change your life.

I have no idea what this is, but I’m picturing an intern at Goldman doing shuttle runs on a ping pong table while the investment bankers throw money at him.

22. A cover letter should add color and personality. It shouldn’t summarize your resume.

I can see the PubMatic “help wanted” ad now: “Seeking coder. Fierce wit required. Must be adept at striking up conversations in bars. Neon American Apparel V-Necks preferred attire. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, amirite?”

21. Everyone likes to receive praise, but the smartest young adults actively seek constructive criticism.

Translation? Your boss is screaming at you over the phone at 1 a.m. because it’s all about feedback. Constructive criticism is great, but it’s like that unicorn in the Harry Potter books: tough to find the real thing, and even when you do some evil old man is drinking its blood to stay alive.

20. The days of a college syllabus are long gone. If you’re waiting for someone to give you direction, have a seat. You’ll be there a while.

One, have you ever seen a college syllabus? You need the Rosetta Stone to crack one of those puppies. Two, it’s us artsy-fartsy types who’re forced to find our own direction. For example, I am writing this unsolicited essay about how I’m bad at being a young “professional.”

19. Multi-tasking is great, but some moments require your undivided attention.

Unfortunately, Dan, reading your article was not one of those moments.

18. Take LinkedIn seriously.

Are we talking Hemingway serious or Faulkner serious? Do I need to get really drunk and go to my dark place before opening one of these?

17. Understand the pay-stub that accompanies your paycheck.

In my only ostensibly “real” job, as a public schoolteacher, I got paid such a pittance I used the pay stubs to write letters home asking for money. (This advice also really makes me want to yell, “Understand my credit card debt, bitch!” but we’ll save that until The Hangover III comes out.)

16. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. However, people who do “break through” tend to start their day while others are still asleep.

If staying up until 2 a.m. writing a column about GIFs counts, I guess I follow this rule.

15. Know the difference between a Roth IRA and Traditional IRA.

Uh huh, I get it now. All of the people in this Frontline documentary had to push back their retirement until their 96th birthday because they weren’t doing enough homework, and the “professionals” on Wall Street who charged exorbitant fees and made risky investments are just more “knowledgeable” than us plebes. Follow the rules and you too can crash the world economy!!

14. Even though college is over, you should still find extracurriculars. Among the many reasons, clubs and organizations are terrific places to network.

On the use of “network” as a verb, not to mention as the only “reason” for joining a club or organization that Dan deems worthy of explicit mention, I am Jon Krasinski at 4:03 in this clip from Away We Go: “I reject your unbelievable bullshit!”

13. You’re never too busy to write a thank-you note.

Fair enough. Just don’t write it on the back of your business card.

12. Negotiate your salary.

Ha! This assumes that one in fact receives a salary.

11. The ability to follow-through on assignments can take you from 25-year-old newbie to essential team member.

Just ask Congress.

10. You probably make more money than some of your friends and less than others. The only thing that matters is that you pay your own bills on time.

I should have saved my line about credit card debt (see No. 17).

9. Bring a lunch to work. It’s healthier and cheaper than eating out.

Everyone breaks this rule sometimes. If you say you don’t break this rule, you’re a damn liar. (Making mincemeat out of the interns in your office doesn’t count as bringing lunch to work.)

8. Don’t step into an interview room without research on the company and questions for the employer.

[Overheard at Young "Professionals", Inc.]

Director of Human Resources: So, do you have any questions for me?

Applicant: Yes, actually. How much does the position pay?

HR: Very little, and the hours will make you wish you hadn’t already quit that barista gig.

Applicant: Dan the Man told me to negotiate, so I want more.

HR: Hours? Well you little go-getter, you! You can start your day when everyone else is asleep, follow through on assignments all day, and go to bed once you explain to me the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA.

Applicant: I meant more money.

HR: Next! [Peeks head around door to sneer at the line of other applicants, snaking around the block.]

7. Dropbox. Learn it and love it.

I have nothing funny to say about Dropbox. I love Dropbox. Dropbox, are you hiring young “professionals”?

6. Treat interns with respect. They’ll provide you with management training and ease your workload.

Let’s be realistic here, Dan. If you’re not yet 25, you don’t have interns, you are an intern. Also, ease your workload! I thought you wanted me to HACK MY LIFE WITH THESE 25 AWESOME TIPS.

5. To impress older business associates, ask about their own career path. You may also learn a thing or two.

“Hey fogey, how did you get where you are today?”

“I went to college.”

“And you majored in computer science and did 100 unpaid internships and followed Dan’s 25 rules and always read the fine print on your lease?”

“Fuck no, I dropped a lot of acid and barely graduated and some guy just offered me a job.”

“Wait, how is that even possible?”

“Baby Boomer. Sucks for you!”

4. Under-promise. Over-deliver.

The opposite of my retirement account.

3. The less you write, the tighter the message. The less you talk, the stronger the speech.

Dan, you had to go and pitch this one right in my wheelhouse. This sounds like a non-writer’s writing advice. If you’ve ever read anything in The New Yorker, Harper’s, or The New York Review of Books, not to mention any investigative report or feature printed in any daily newspaper, or any published fiction or nonfiction monograph, for that matter (even on your Kindle/Nook/iPad it still counts!), you know this rule is not absolute. Then again, maybe you haven’t, because “the Millennial generation” won’t find “career advice and leadership lessons” “hidden” in a novel.

2. The only failure in your 20s is inaction. Everything else is trial and error.

Phew. I was waiting for you to negate YOUR ENTIRE ARTICLE with a big, fat caveat. Over-promise and under-deliver, was it? Matt: 1. Life Hackers: 0.

1. You’re halfway through the most formative decade of your life. You don’t need all the answers, but you must keep asking questions. Start with this one: what’s something new that I can learn right now?

As consummate professional Don Draper once said, “Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this.” TC mark

image – Shutterstock

Matt Brennan

Matt Brennan is a freelance writer, film critic, and graduate student whose writing has appeared in L.A. Weekly, …