When assistant professor of sociology Christine Whelan, 33, set out to study the rise of the self-help industry ten years ago, she was skeptical. But after reading hundreds of books, writing her doctoral dissertation on the subject at Oxford, and then teaching more than 400 students, Whelan, now at the University of Pittsburgh, realized that several self-help classics had a lot to teach a generation of people who are expert at texting and other sorts of online communication, but ill-schooled in the art of face-to-face communication and self-presentation. (For more on the value of face-to-face as opposed to virtual meetings, check out our story here.)
Whelan says self-help advice is especially relevant when it comes to job seeking for a generation that was reared on the idea that the path to affluence would be smooth, but has discovered a different reality. Her term for these young people, commonly known as millennials: the "WTF" generation. She derived this acronym from a student of hers who was graduating with a mountain of college debt. He thought he had a job lined up, but then discovered that the offer had vanished in the 2008 recession. "I was like, 'WTF?'" said this student. (For Pew Research Center data on this group, click here.)
Whelan got the idea to start teaching self-help classes, which she framed as the sociology of self-improvement. She was surprised to discover how eager her students were to absorb the lessons taught in books like Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People, first released in 1937, M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled from 1978 and Stephen Covey's 1989 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. "They were raised in a therapeutic culture," she notes. "That separates this generation of job-seekers from others." Before Whelan got to the University of Pittsburgh in 2010, she taught at University of Iowa for two years.
After putting hundreds of students through her course, Whelan says she came up with some lessons that combine 20th century common sense with 21st century lives. She combined them into a new self-help book aimed at Milllennials, Generation WTF. I asked her to boil down the points most salient to job seekers, and illustrate them with some anecdotes. Notes Whelan, "nothing in this is rocket science. But it's new to them and it works."
1. Take time for introspection on what career path is right for you.
One of Whelan's students was on track to go to medical school. But she realized that she detested her science coursework. She was much more passionate about recruiting members to her sorority. While most people dread recruiting and making sales pitches, she excelled at it. She wound up landing a job at a catering company planning weddings and events, and realized that she would be much more rewarded by a career in marketing than medicine. She switched career tracks, abandoned medical school and is now heading to business school.
2. Prioritize the important over the urgent.
One of Whelan's students realized he was constantly responding to emails as they hit his inbox, as opposed to working on planning his career and finding a job. He kept putting off finishing his résumé This lesson comes from Covey's book. When he applied it, the student was able get his résumé done and move ahead on his job search.
3. Make people like you.
A graduating senior from the University of Iowa applied Carnegie's theory of six ways to make people like you, as he applied for a job at a Chicago engineering firm. One of his most effective tactics: he smiled. "He said, 'to my surprise, it works wonders,'" says Whelan. He also made sure to catch everyone's name and use it as he went through the process. "Remember that a man's name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language," wrote Carnegie. The student also listened closely and used as many industry-specific terms as he could muster. He got the job.
4. It's not just about ticking boxes.
This lesson is a little like introspection, but it also involves taking action. Whelan urged one of her freshmen to look beyond his immediate tasks. This student wound up going to office hours with his chemistry professor and exploring an interest in polymorphic acids, even though the subject wasn't part of the required course work. "That could lead to a job opportunity the student had never previously considered," points out Whelan.
5. Find balance on the job.
One of Whelan's students was working while going to school in a managerial job where she kept losing her temper when her colleagues made mistakes. Taking a page from M. Scott Peck, she employed some internal discipline, and took a deep breath before she flew off the handle. Her work relationships improved and her team boosted its productivity. "Again, it's very basic stuff," says Whelan. "But it resonates."
6. Show sincere interest.
Employing another time-tested pearl of wisdom from Carnegie, one of Whelan's students who had a mall job at a Clinique make-up counter, started to put more of her energy into the people she was servicing, as opposed to the products she was selling. After doing this for a month, her commissions rose dramatically.
"This is all golden rule stuff," observes Whelan. "This generation needs to be reminded of it, particularly while they're heading into the job market."
Thanks to Susan Adams - Getting Ahead / Blogs Forbes