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VOL. 131 | NO. 100 | Thursday, May 19, 2016

Latest 'High Gear' Book Maps Success for College Grads, Millennials

By Don Wade

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The 21 million U.S. students enrolled in postsecondary schools grew up with technology and the hourly clock of life ticking ever faster. Yet this has not always translated into a generation of young people ready to attack a world that waits for no one.

In the book, “The Future Belongs to Students in High Gear,” co-author Amy Howell stresses the importance of students elevating their game as they transition from college to their careers, and says strong communication skills are essential to making contacts and impressing potential employers. 

(PA Wire/Press Association Images)

“It’s not a matter of making good grades. It’s a matter of looking at things from an employer’s standpoint,” said Amy Howell, co-author of “The Future Belongs to Students in High Gear.”

Howell is CEO of Memphis-based Howell Marketing Strategies. The book was written with Anne Deeter Gallaher, also CEO of her own company. Howell and Gallaher previously teamed up for “Women in High Gear.”

This latest book is a call to action of sorts, or as it says on the book’s cover: “A guide for students and aspiring game changers in transition from college to career.”

Notice there is nothing in there about taking a year off to “find yourself” or any hint that the authors endorse becoming a professional student. That’s because they don’t.

Howell is always ready with a statistic to back her points. Here’s one that speaks to young people, well, grinding their gears: Pew Research Center reported in 2011 that 21 percent of college graduates ages 18 to 34 lived at home.

In 2014, Gallup Daily indicated that 29 percent of all U.S. adults under age 35 report living at home.

This is troubling on several levels to Howell and to those who share her mindset.

“The biggest problem kids have is they think it’s going to be handed to them,” she said.

Howell tells a story of interviewing a woman who was a recent college graduate. Although Howell was the potential employer and the woman was the potential employee, she came to the meeting with a quick-draw list of demands that she expected Howell to meet, including working a flex schedule built around her afternoon yoga classes.

That said, Howell won’t place all blame on millennials, adding that parents, school, society and the young people themselves all play a part.

Michael Glenn, executive vice president and chief marketing and sales officer at FedEx Corp., wrote the foreword to the book. He says that when evaluating young professionals he is most looking for signs of leadership.

“My definition of leadership,” he wrote, “is the ability to motivate a diverse group of people to accomplish a common goal. Study groups, church groups, and social organizations all provide opportunities to hone leadership skills.”

Leaders also have to be able communicate in myriad ways – not just by text.

Patti Clauss, vice president of Global Talent Acquisition for Williams-Sonoma, Inc., says she would give young people today a “7” in communication on a 1-to-10 scale. But that’s less lavish praise than it is proof there is room for improvement.

Clauss, who also is quoted in the book, is amazed at how often millennials fail to pick up communication ques. If a prospective employer emails you, then you should return the email and not call. If the potential employer calls you, you should return the call and not email.

She also finds that young people may misinterpret what it means to be in “high gear” by becoming immediately restless.

“Millennials get excited about that first job,” Clauss said, “but they just won’t live it and experience it long enough. I’m having to pull them back and say, `You may be in this role for two years. Be patient.’”

So, “high gear” does not mean going into directionless overdrive. But it does mean working hard, maybe harder than many young people imagined they would have to work.

Howell believes it is smart to begin gaining work experience in high school. She also doesn’t favor staying in school to get a master’s degree.

“We’re saying don’t go to grad school, do it while you have a job,” she said.

Howell likens good decisions to compounding interest in a bank. The earlier you start making them, the sooner the payoff and the greater the payoff.

Conversely, hitting the delay button on immersing oneself in a career can be potentially disastrous. Howell says if a person is not on a clear career track by his or her early 30s, earnings potential is forever stunted.

“You’re done,” she said.

Near the end of the book, Howell explains how this journey has been an exercise in taking her own advice even when that’s not the easiest route.

“As I write this, I’m torn between focusing on my client billable work, and finding time to write this book. Not to mention I also have two teenagers and a husband. I must balance my time, and make sure I’m paying as much attention to my family and my client work as I am to this book. Yet, I know this book will be helpful to many, and it is an investment in me – my brand and my future.”

And she’s not done with this balancing act.

Howell’s next book, “Healing in High Gear,” will serve as an inspirational guide for families who have to advocate for loved ones when tragedy strikes. Set to publish this summer, a portion of the proceeds from the book will go to help support patient advocacy and awareness.

Howell’s first two books are available through www.amazon.com.

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