Down-to-earth career advice for millennials—and everybody else

Do you ever wish you had a savvy big sister you could ask for honest advice about work? Meet Tracey C. Jones, author of ‘A Message to Millennials.’

Down-to-earth career advice for millennials—and everybody else

Millennials have outnumbered every previous generation in the U.S. workforce for a couple of years now, and all 53.5 million have at least one thing in common, says author Tracey C. Jones: They’re hungry for career advice and encouragement.

President of consulting firm Tremendous Leadership, Jones took notice when droves of young people began coming to her for guidance after her presentations and coaching sessions at companies. That’s when she started thinking back on all of the helpful tips she had received from older mentors when she was in her 20s and 30s. 

That, plus the insights she gained as an Air Force officer, manager for several engineering companies, and while earning an MBA in global management, led to her latest book, A Message to Millennials: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You and Your Employer Needs You to Know. But don’t let the title fool you—the book is packed with the kind of smart counsel that can supercharge a career at any age.

Born in 1963, Jones is perched on the cusp between the Baby Boom cohort and Generation X. “I’m not quite old enough to be most millennials’ mom,” she says. “So I’m advising them more as a kind of big sister.” 

Monster recently spoke with Jones, where she shared a few crucial secrets to creating a stellar career.

Q. The subtitle says, “What your parents didn’t tell you.” Have millennials gotten less career advice from their parents than previous generations?

A.  I think they have, partly because the pace of everything has sped up so much that everyone’s focused on their smartphones instead of on one-on-one conversations. So, millennials end up relying on social media, where there is a lot of misinformation, and opinion is often hard to sort out from fact.

Even so, what makes a great career really has not changed, despite all of the technological upheaval and economic ups and downs. The main thing millennials need to understand is that success takes time. You are a work in progress!

Q. You put a lot of emphasis in the book on avoiding negativity at work. Why is that essential?

A.  Quite simply, if you are part of dysfunction and negativity at work, your employer will notice, and it will keep you from getting a bigger job. Discipline yourself to deal with small problems cheerfully because when you become a leader, it only gets harder. If you can’t control your attitude in small situations, there is no way you can handle big ones.

And it’s always a mistake to complain at work. Misery does not love company. Half of the people you vent to won’t care, and the other half are secretly glad something bad is happening to someone other than themselves.

Q. Why does your performance at your current job matter if it isn’t your dream job anyway?

A.  Always keep in mind that the person who’s looking to hire someone for your dream job is going to call the boss you have now! Anywhere you work undoubtedly has its share of people with sorry attitudes. You’ll stand out by being different! There is something in your current job that is going to have a huge impact on your future success. Find it, and work on it.

Q. If you were to name one thing employers wish millennials knew the most, what would it be?

A.  At Tremendous Leadership, we did our own survey on this, and the No. 1 answer from employers was that it’s not about you. It’s not about whether you like the job or not. You’re being paid to accomplish something. But this isn’t really so different from previous generations. Nobody has ever been more of a “Me Generation” than Baby Boomers back in the ’70s! It’s all about learning workplace norms.

Personally, I tried a lot of different things in my 20s, and I was always enthusiastic for the first six months or so, and then I’d start to complain, and my dad would tell me, “Never mind all that. Go in there and work as if you owned the place.” It’s still smart advice. Even if you can’t stand your boss, you can always learn something—including what kind of boss you don’t want to be.

When you’re upset, step away from the keyboard, and take a deep breath. Anger is only one letter away from danger. And resist the urge to make a thumb-sucking sympathy call. Your mom will always take your side, and you’ll only ruin her day.


Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics for Fortune and other publications since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?