Professional Development Advice for the Millennials Out There


First things first, I’m a Millennial, and proud of it. There’s a lot of literature out there denigrating Millennials, and going on about how entitled or whiny we are, but there is also a lot out there about how we want to have an impact, make a difference, and are the most collaborative generation ever. I know these generalizations don’t define any of us as individuals, but sometimes they resonate a little, at least for me.

How many of these things sound familiar to you?

  • You’re ready for a promotion but your company keeps putting you off or isn’t ready to give it to you.
  • You’re ready for leadership opportunities but your company doesn’t seem to have any for you to take on.
  • You’re interested in professional development but you’re not sure what you should focus on.
  • You’ve been told to be patient or wait your turn.
  • You skim job descriptions of people above you in your organization (and others) and wonder what you’d need to do to get there while simultaneously viewing yourself as qualified on paper.
  • You’re observing the politics of your organization (because yes, there are politics) and you’ve noticed that who knows you and advocates for you matters more than your merit or track record.

That list takes me back. I remember feeling like all those statements were true for me, and it was really frustrating. But what are you supposed to do? How can you “fix” it? What can you do from where you are right now?

Here’s what I say: focus on and increase your ability to be influential. Your title is what it is, and it may not change anytime soon. Your experience is what it is, and the only thing to do there is continue on. But you’ve probably only scratched the surface in terms of your influence capabilities.

Here are some simple ways to build and leverage your influence.

  • Tap into your existing network: Make a habit of reconnecting with old colleagues and friends and share what’s new for both of you. Schedule a call or write an email every week to at least one person you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Build your network: Request time via a phone call or coffee with someone you look up to or admire professionally. Come prepared with three or four questions, and let the conversation flow. Your objective should be to find common ground and create a connection you can build upon later.
  • Start collecting your stories: Keep a running list of “stories,” life experiences, lessons learned and hilarious or poignant moments that you can mine when you need to make an impact or be memorable. Practice telling them with different framing and nuance.
  • Improve your listening skills: Check in with yourself during your conversations… how much time do you spend listening to others instead of talking? Try to up the ratio. Try asking more questions and giving advice or offering your opinion less.
  • Practice empathy: Don’t just trade words with others, find out what’s going on below the surface. Hang with people in whatever emotion they express - bright or dark - and let them move the conversation out of that space.
  • Find and say yes to new things: Push yourself out of your comfort zone and build your confidence by learning.
  • Collect experiences: If experience is required, make sure you’re getting that experience. Raise your hand when opportunities presen t themselves, even if you’re afraid.

If you do things like this, you will increase your influence and the perception others have of your influence and leadership. And you can do them all today, without waiting for anyone else.

What have you done to increase your influence recently? What else could you do?

-- Kara Davidson, Cofounder, wolf & heron