HR and Leadership – A Complaint Letter From a 25-Year Old

by Sharlyn Lauby on November 25, 2012

I received this letter and, for many reasons, it resonated with me. So I wanted to share it with you. It’s a little long but has a valuable message.

Hi Sharlyn. I’m not sure if you will ever get to read this, but I thought I would give it a try nonetheless (maybe I just need to vent a bit). I’m a 25 year old student who finally figured out what she wants to do with her life. I’ve been working since I was 16 years old, after graduating from high school (with honors). I made the most common mistake an 18 year old with bills could do; I worked (as an administrative assistant at a medical office) AND went to school full-time.

At that age, time management was not my biggest attribute and because of this, my grades suffered. I ended up putting school on hold thinking “I will go back next semester”. “Next semester” turned into a year then two…and before long, I found myself working 12 hours a day as an executive assistant to the biggest (for lack of a better word) jerk I have ever met, without a competitive salary and no room for improvement/growth.

I figured that I needed to go back to school and do things differently this time. I’m currently a student majoring in business management with a focus in HR. I’ve left my job and decided to get a part-time job in the HR department at my school (through the work-study program). I think I have an idea of how to go about nurturing a career within HR, but to be honest, I have no clue.

I wanted to ask, how did you go about making your career plan? What did you focus in during your school years? I’ve looked for feedback in the internet and I’ve noticed that older career-minded people tend to ridicule and patronize people in their 20’s because of our “lack of” life/work experience instead of guiding and helping them.

Someone commented on an article about resumes, “Thanks for the article. I also have a good laugh when I see a resume from a fresh graduate in their 20’s which describes them as a ‘natural leader’, with the only evidence as being a senior chorister at church or badge holder in the scouting movement.” To me, it’s quite sad that the older generation laughs at the new one (who are at least trying to better themselves) instead of providing positive and constructive feedback.

I apologize, I did not intend on making this so long, I guess I just wanted to vent. If you do get to read this, I thank you, for taking the time to hear a 25 year old complain.

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I attended a meeting recently where a speaker referenced “Gilligan’s Island” and the sound of crickets in the room was almost deafening. We have to realize these outdated references no longer have an impact. And we have to recognize that younger professionals are in our board rooms.

Young professionals are leaders and they’re making decisions at every level in our organizations.

Members of the “older generation” have a responsibility to share their expertise. If I can stop one person from making the same mistakes I made, then I’ve made a difference. It’s a win for everyone involved.

In response to this reader’s note, I would say:

  • Don’t beat yourself up about starting school after a few years in the working world. I too graduated at 16 and had to learn a few hard lessons along the way.
  • I studied political science and business in school. I love math and accounting. But, that’s not what’s important – find out what you like. Many careers can have different paths to get there. HR is one of them.
  • Even with a great education and work experience, your professional career will have a few speed bumps. Listen to your head and heart about what’s important to guide your decision making.
  • And lastly, don’t let haters cloud your judgment. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between constructive criticism and destructive comments. Find someone you can talk things through and figure out the message.

Young professionals should not have to write complaint letters about “the older generation” to get career advice. What professional advice would you give to the next workforce?

Image courtesy of Deirdre Honner

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