Generation Y: How to Be a Great Employee, written by Lauren Beam for the Huffington Post, November 8, 2016

In 2015, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) commissioned two national surveys of employers and college students in which both groups graded recent college graduate hires on their preparedness and skill levels based on key learning outcomes. According to the study findings, “Many employers feel that college graduates are falling short in their preparedness in several areas, including the ones employers deem most important for workplace success. College students are notably more optimistic about their level of preparedness across learning outcomes.” There is a gap between how prepared young professionals believe they are for the workforce and what employers actually observe in their millennial workers.

The Job Outlook 2016 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shows that over 80 percent of employers look for job candidates with leadership skills, specifically the ability to work as a part of a team, to communicate well, and to problem solve. The AACU study echoes these NACE findings by indicating what employers think are the most important skills and qualities of great employees entering the workforce including:

  • Effective communication (oral and written)
  • Working with teams
  • Ethical judgment and decision-making

Members of Generation Y should be seeking out opportunities to develop these much-valued skill sets both while they are still in college and in their first post-graduate job in order to be an effective, stand-out employee. So what might this look like in practice?

Effective communication (oral and written): Seek out objective, constructive feedback from college professors, managers, peers and colleagues. Ask for feedback on formal papers, emails, PowerPoint presentations, and other correspondence. What are you doing well and how could you improve? Find opportunities to practice and develop public speaking skills through extracurricular activities and within your organization and job role. Members of Generation Y often are seen by older generations as only knowing how to communicate through quick texts or social media posts. Be a great employee by showcasing strong communication skills that go beyond using emoji and tweets!

Working with teams: Knowing how to build rapport and trust, collaborate on ideas and strategies, and execute a plan are integral aspects of effective teamwork. Use internships and other professional experiences to ask questions, observe, and learn from seasoned professionals about how to effectively engage with teams. Additionally, ask for feedback from peers, colleagues, mentors, and managers about what strengths you contribute to teams and how you might adapt your work style in order to be a more effective team member.

Ethical judgment and decision-making: Many recent college graduates are surprised to find that they will confront difficult ethical situations in the workplace. The most common ethical issues that employees encounter include misuse of company time, abusive behavior, employee theft, lying, and violating company Internet policies. Take the time to firmly establish your values, beliefs, and ethical boundaries early on as a young professional. Mentors can be great at helping you reflect on and identify core values and to understand how these impact and contribute to ethical judgment and decision-making throughout your career. Ask these mentors and other seasoned professionals whom you respect how they have handled ethical situations in the past to learn from their experiences and their mistakes as well.

In addition to the desired employee skill sets and qualities mentioned in the AACU survey results, every company or organization has their own set of expectations. Ask questions, observe, and determine what your employer (or future employer!) specifically values in their best team members.

Want to be not just a good, but a great employee? Take ownership of your career path and commit to developing the key skills and qualities that employers today are looking for through intentional learning experiences and conversations with mentors and others who are invested in your success.