As a college student or a recent grad, it's easy to feel like you have more weaknesses than strengths. You haven't had time to develop your skills like some of the senior-level executives have, and it's discouraging to see all the entry-level openings that require 2 or more years of experience. It's part of why I wish WayUp had been around during my first job search- it levels the playing field for all young professionals concerned about hopelessly competing with a more experienced crowd, allowing employers to exclusively search for college students and recent grads.
Now that I'm on the WayUp team, working so closely with the college students hired on our site, I've noticed that there are a few perceived weaknesses about students which call for a different perspective. Certain qualities which can be initially viewed as weaknesses in the workplace can actually give younger employees a distinct advantage, as long as they're used in the right way.
In her Commencement speech to the Harvard class of 2015, Natalie Portman validated recent graduates, saying that "inexperience is an asset and will allow you to think in original, unconventional ways." She painted a picture of how at times, experience can be crippling, describing a famous violinist who can't compose because "he knows too many pieces, so when he starts to think of a note, an existing piece immediately comes to mind."
The surprising advantage to being inexperienced is that you come in with a clean slate - no preconceived notions or expectations, no limits to what you can or cannot do. At WayUp, we've seen this in the way our two college-age interns, Jess and Hannah, a senior and a junior at Cornell changed the course of our company through our big rebrand from Campus Job to WayUp. We had wanted to change our company's name for months (we were tired of people saying, "Wait, you have jobs off-campus? Wait, you have entry-level jobs?!"). Though each person at our company had the experience and the capability necessary to conduct this change, it was our college-age interns with not even a year of experience under their belt who came up with our new name and designed our new logo, serving as the catalysts for one of our company's biggest moments last year.
College students and recent grads: you have the ability to make a creative and pleasantly unexpected impact on any company by innovating and implementing new ideas. Regardless of inexperience, if you work hard and continue to think in new ways, you will tackle whatever you take on.
According to Susan Cain, author of the book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," 50% of the world is composed of introverts. Despite this somewhat revolutionary number, that percentage may as well be less than 10%: the workplace has assertively valued extroversion, rewarding and promoting the employee who speaks up in meetings and loudly states his or her opinion.
As recent grads forging the way through our first jobs out of college, both my friends and I would recount stories where we felt that we had nothing valuable to contribute to meetings. We quietly offered up one opinion while senior level executives went back and forth on a particular proposal. Dealing with college students on a regular basis, I've noticed just how quiet they can be. (In fact, our team regularly interacts with students who have a chronic fear of the "Reply All" button, resulting in a few pretty disjointed and confusing email chains.) However what I've also noticed is that while it may be tough to get introverted students to speak up, they have a tendency to be extremely thoughtful and excellent listeners. As an introvert myself, I took in the environment around me and observed how my co-workers and upper management tick. It's extremely valuable to have an employee who thinks and listens before they speak or act because it means that, when they do decide to move forward in voicing their opinion, it tends to be a careful and thorough idea.
3. Making mistakes
Making mistakes isn't something that is unique to young employees: everyone makes mistakes. But because younger candidates haven't learned all the professional protocol, there can certainly be a steeper learning curve. We've seen everything from students who cleared their hard drive and lost the entire footage for a contracted video to a student who showed up to a Skype interview shirtless.
The advantage for young professionals when they slip us is that they quickly figure out the right and the wrong way to go about their professional lives. Known to be fast learners, they can figure out a way to overcome the minor bumps in the road. At WayUp, we even encourage our young employees not to apologize - after all, mistakes happen - but instead, to find a way to make it better.
If you're a young employee, find a way to leverage the weaknesses you have into strengths - and if they can't be transformed, work as hard as you can to improve them. It may feel more like growing pains for a few months into your first job, but don't discount yourself: instead, create the opportunity to prove to yourself that you have an incredible contribution to make. Your career will flourish because of it.