9 millennials share their best working tips with recent graduates

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As millennials turn 40 in 2021, CNBC Make It launched Middle aged millennials, a series exploring how the older members of this generation came of age amid the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic, student loans, stagnant salaries and the rising cost of living.

Today’s oldest millennials are reaching middle age after facing two unique economic recessions, which have impacted their education, careers, finances, life plans, and retirement prospects.

For example, nearly half wished they had chosen a different career path when they started, according to a recent survey of 1,000 American adults aged 33 to 40, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of CNBC Make. It. But the data suggests that the decisions they made in the years since have brought them closer to their goals: a majority, 68%, are now happy with their careers.

Despite all the challenges, most are happy with the way their lives have gone, according to the survey, thanks to the time and perspective.

We spoke with nine older millennials about what they wished they had known in their 20s and what advice they would give new graduates today.

Don’t hurry to grow up

In Denver, Stephanie McCay, 36, says her biggest regret is not taking more time and risks when she was young, like trying to get to New York City after school. She was hired right out of college to work for an architectural firm near her hometown, has spent the past 15 years building the communications department and is now its director.

She advises new graduates to take their time exploring their options and the world: “Don’t hurry to grow up,” McCay says. “We’re all in this ‘Get out of college and get a job’ mindset. Then you go into it and say to yourself, “Why did I rush to get into the job market?”

She wishes she had taken more time to travel before being tied to a job with limited paid time off. For new graduates who can afford it, “if there is an opportunity to travel or volunteer for a year, take it.”

Measure your success beyond work

Kristen Alfenito went to college for musical theater but was never able to work in the field after dropping out of college because of a cancer diagnosis. Over the next 16 years, she worked odd jobs in food service and retail and currently works as a cashier in a bakery.

But she and her partner recently moved from Los Angeles to Morgantown, West Virginia, where Alfenito, 35, hopes she can afford to pay off her loans and return to school to become a theater educator. “What fascinated me at 19, I still am today,” she says.

Her best advice for today’s young professionals: “I can’t stress enough that your job shouldn’t be how you measure your success. Happiness is. don’t immediately fall for the job of your dreams. “

“Sometimes it takes years to figure out what you really want to do,” she adds. “And if you feel less interested in this career as you grow, change and age, let it happen.”

Your college experience won’t define your career forever

Lee Ruark graduated in history in 2007 and spent the next three years figuring out his options – the military, law school, or law enforcement. He eventually fell into substitute teaching and obtained certification to teach high school science full time.

Lee Ruark with his wife, Val, and two dogs.

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Ruark, now 35 and living in Jeffersonville, Vermont, remembers the stress of feeling directionless right after school and thinking he was falling behind while his friends walked along.

“What’s interesting is that after talking to them about it, I realized that all of my friends had the same anguish about seeing other people’s successes,” he says.

He hopes that today’s new graduates understand their college major and that grades won’t forever define their career prospects. While these qualifications can put your resume in the hands of the hiring manager, “once you’re hired it’s more about being reliable and hardworking,” he says.

Take the risk

Celine Crestin, 39, started her career in retail management and then in management for the federal government, but felt dissatisfied and struggled to pay off her student loans for a degree that she said didn’t was not worth it. “Then I became a single mom and couldn’t make any risky career choices because I had little or no savings and a lot of debt,” she says.

But in 2017, she was able to make the leap to being a real estate agent, and after holding two jobs for two years to make ends meet, she is much happier in her second career in Buda, TX.

She advises new graduates to approach decisions with a similar openness: “Don’t waste time worrying about all the ‘what ifs’ in life, but instead focus on what makes you happy and fulfills.” , says Crestin. “Take the opportunity to try a few things and never be afraid of change. Sometimes you have to take the risk or lose the chance.”

Think ahead

Kristen Conley, a 40-year-old health worker in St. Petersburg, Fla., Was dissatisfied with her medical imaging job until she returned to school in 2017 to get her medical technology license.

Now she enjoys the work of her field, which she says is “wide open” and growing rapidly with the aging of the population. Her advice to young professionals today is to think about specialties in their interests that will continue to be in high demand.

Sarah Augustynek, 39, agrees. She has spent her career working as a higher education lawyer and compliance professional in Buffalo, New York. She advises young people today to approach their studies and careers as an investment: “Look at what you aspire to, the potential salaries and see the university as an investment. Some industries do not support funding for an Ivy League education. “

Sarah Augustynek and her family.

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When looking for a career, “be sure to look at future market plans in terms of growing and declining sectors,” she adds.

Weigh the costs and opportunities of a graduate degree

Brad Walters, 34, studied politics in college, worked in education for two years, then went to law school. He left with $ 200,000 in student loans and doesn’t think it was worth it.

Her biggest piece of advice: don’t go to law school. “Or, to put it a little more diplomatically: most people who go to law school shouldn’t,” he says. While he thought it would be a good choice based on his personality and believed it would offer a wide range of skills, he found the field to be heavily regulated with tough schedules and few opportunities for employment. go forward.

After getting married, having children and reassessing his career, he quit law and went back to school.

He advises those considering law school to think long and hard about the costly and time-consuming decision. At his peak, he was paying $ 4,000 a month for his student debt. He also says that despite the stigma and myth of young job seekers, changing jobs has been the best way for him to advance in his career.

Learn from, but don’t copy, your mentors

Steve Pederzani, a 32-year-old litigator living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, took out a $ 350,000 student loan as part of his law school.

He says the mentors assured him it was a “safe bet” and that his career would at least be “stable enough that you can have a home and a family.” Five years from now, however, he feels those goals are out of reach due to his high debt load and modest salary.

Which brings him to his biggest piece of advice to young professionals: “Don’t rely too much on others to be your insurance.” He says mentors and teachers have the best intentions for their students, but may have experienced things differently depending on the economy and other social circumstances.

“Don’t copy the advice of your mentors word for word,” says Pederzani. Rather, learn from them and adapt their advice to today’s world – the world you live in. “

Things don’t always go as planned, but they turn out the way they should

As Daniel Guerrant, 39, of Littleton, Colorado, says: “Almost nothing worked the way I expected, but it always worked the way it should have.”

For example, he wasn’t among his top picks for college, but ended up with a solid education from Cal Poly. In the Navy, he got his eighth pick for his first posting, on a submarine, but had more fun than some peers who got their first pick. After the Navy he returned for a doctorate and was only accepted at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and although he was only accepted for a scholarship, he ended up being with the NASA.

Today, Guerrant is an aerospace engineer working on a NASA-funded commercial lunar lander and a Navy Reservist with the Office of Naval Research. He says he enjoys his career, that he didn’t see himself doing anything else and that he intends to retire with his current employer.

Daniel Guerrant and his parents, Terry and Anne, and his wife, Tania.

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