Kate and Rob

January 11, 2018

Millennial Reboot: Kate Athmer and Rob Johnson

Kate and Rob

Today’s episode is with Kate Athmer and Rob Johnson, the authors of Millennial Reboot. After Millennials graduate from college, they expect to do really well in the workplace. They grew up with the internet, they have digital communication skills, they can solve problems… but the reality is that they struggle to drive change in the corporate world.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Common mistakes millennials are making in the workplace
  • How an ice cream truck led to Rob’s job in the NFL
  • How to avoid a lifetime of soul-sucking jobs

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me the story about when you first realized that millennials not knowing what to do in the workplace was a problem?

Rob Johnson: I think we knew from day one of starting each of our careers. In college, my first semester, freshman year, 18 years old. I had a professor who was working with the newly expanded Houston Texans football team in the NFL. They were playing their hall of fame game in Canton, Ohio, and he was involved in the radio broadcasting. On and on he would go about all the different types of moving parts and other things that went in to the business in the NFL.

I became enchanted with it, and that’s an issue. Because there’s not a lot of jobs, particularly in professional football. There are only 32 teams and only a few hundred nationwide where you can work in professional sports. But somehow I became infatuated with this and wanted to see if I could make a career of working in professional sports and entertainment.

“That’s really where the struggles began.”

I thought because I’m from Philadelphia and a Philadelphia Eagles fan that I could just write an email or a letter to the Eagles and say, “Hey, give me an internship.” That’s all I need to do. I’m going to college, I’m doing the right things. This is what people told me to do to be successful. Why wouldn’t I be able to do this?

On Ice Cream and the NFL

I was rejected freshman year, sophomore year, finally, my junior year. It took enough struggle to figure out how to get to somebody to even answer me. I’m not lying. It was something like my aunt’s-uncle’s-former-roommate-from-college just happened to work in the box office for the Philadelphia Eagles and would at least read my resume.

After years of literally asking everybody, “Hi, I’m Rob, do you know anybody who works for the Philadelphia Eagles?” I finally found somebody.

It literally took three years to do it. I got an interview, got a chance for an internship, and that was something I absolutely did not want to do for my career after that. I got into an office space for the first time as a 20, 21 year old. Coming straight from college athletics, I knew how to be a leader but I wasn’t really learning how to be a follower.

It was an internship.

You’re starting at the ground level and learning about office politics, how to grow into an employee. These were things that I didn’t really have a grasp on.

Charlie Hoehn: When did you first realize there was a big knowledge gap?

Rob Johnson: It might have been the first day that I got there. I was a rower, so being a leader of a sports team and into taking instructions without having input.

It was the very first day that I knew what I was learning in college wasn’t going to translate. I had to make a drastic change, and the job itself ended up being something that I knew I didn’t want to do. But I did want to be in professional sports.

As I was graduating, I launched more towards creative business and marketing. A lot of the jobs I was looking for required or asked for an MBA. That’s what led me to go to business school. Using my rowing background, I was lucky enough to get a grad assistant job at Jackson University. I was able to coach rowing and get my MBA.

But then I was stuck again trying to find out how to get in to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL team that was there. Just like in undergrad, I couldn’t get a response or even interviews. I was failing at them and just continued to go at it.

“One day in the cafeteria, there was a flier up that said, ‘Try out to be the Jaguars’ ice cream truck driver.'”

This is it. This is my way in.

I came prepared with a literal twenty-page document of how I was going to have this Jaguars’ ice cream truck, take over northeast Florida, and then the world.

It was going to be the best thing ever. I walked into this room—there were four, five people in there—and went through my plan. I practiced it, I was passionate about it. About maybe seven and a half minutes in, they stopped me and said, “Listen, this isn’t what we’re looking for.”

I said, well, “I want to be Jaguars’ ice cream truck driver. I can nail this.”

“‘No, come back next week. We have a bigger role in mind for you.'”

That led to a paid internship that turned into my first job in professional sports. Along the way, I learned all the different ways to fail. For anybody listening, failing is not necessarily a terrible thing as long as you’re learning from it.

I was able to learn and able to grow my career because I failed so many times in order to do it. It’s a great way to grow up.

Charlie: How did you fill out 20 pages on how to sell ice cream?

Rob Johnson: There are different kinds of ice cream, and then the truck definitely needed at least racing stripes. And then all the different conventions, schools…I had a map of the ins and outs of Jacksonville. Duval County is one of the largest counties in the continental United States. There are a lot of places to go with this thing. When I had the interview scheduled, I was ready to take this thing worldwide.

The most fun part of it was that I ended up having to drive that ice cream truck a couple of years into my job because the ice cream truck driver that they hired ended up calling out.

I did end up getting to drive the ice cream truck once and it broke down on me.

What Millennials Aren’t Learning

Charlie Hoehn: Kate, your turn to top that. What’s your story?

Kate Athmer: My experience was a lot less filled with friction than Rob’s was. Partly because I was less specific in my goals following college graduation.

Just like Rob, I was also a rower, a division one athlete in college, and I felt like that prepared me pretty well for balancing a lot of different responsibilities. When I was in school, our business school was a bit oversold, so I had trouble getting the classes that I need to finish my degree in time.

I actually transferred to the support management program. Rob and I had similar degrees. By transferring to the support management program, I was like, “Okay, sports, this is cool, I’m interested in this field, but not definitely committed to it.”

I was also interested in becoming a rowing coach. But I graduated in 2009, and there were no jobs then. Really none.

University of Tennessee had a graduate assistant position open as a rowing coach. I took that because a free MBA and the opportunity to coach rowing is not really something that you turn down. Especially in the 2009 market.

“That taught me that I didn’t want to work in sports or be a rowing coach.”

Primarily because I was tired of being poor all the time. How else can I put this marketing education to use? I was interested in a career in marketing, and that’s where I have—spoiler alert—landed now as well.

It was a combination of my flexibility and willingness to test things out in the real world and get my hands dirty and explore. Maybe not the perfect job, but finding roles within organizations helped me bucket, “Yes, no, I want to do this, I don’t want to do that.” I also learned to function within a corporate environment regardless of whether it was my dream job or not.

That taught me where to look next and how to hone in my focus.

No crazy stories like Rob. It was a pretty traditional path. In switching degrees as a last resort to get my classes done, I accidentally switched myself into a program at my university that really did a lot to prepare me for future jobs and for the real world.

We had two semesters of classes about resumes and job interviews. We had a whole class about how to network, classes where you would shadow people in their place of employment. You could be responsible for finding someone in the field that you were interested in and bringing them in to speak to the class.

We were really able to get hands on and get experience in the working world while we were still in college.

“That that was not the norm. Most people didn’t have courses like that.”

They weren’t graded on public speaking. They weren’t graded on their resume or mandated to contact 20 new people a semester in the industry they were interested in. Every school should be teaching this. I realize how much of a leg up that gave me when it comes to knowing what to do next.

That was a big thing that inspired me. I started helping my friends with those skills that I assumed were basic. That was organically turning into how they would tell me how much I helped them, and then they would refer me to their other friends who needed that kind of assistance.

Charlie Hoehn: Were you getting them results? Were you helping them land jobs faster?

Kate Athmer: Yeah. There were a couple of them that I helped land. I have one friend who I helped her get hired at my company initially. She was also a former rower, and I met her by reaching out whenever we had entry level positions. I would reach out to rowing coaches because they had athletes that are smart and know how to work hard.

“‘Give me the ones that are interested in this industry so I can hire them.'”

I helped her get hired there and then coached her. She didn’t want to do that job forever, and I don’t blame her. It wasn’t a particularly fun job. So then I helped coach her how to find a job in an industry that she was interested in, which she did probably about a year after I hired her.

Then I had another friend who actually just recently just got another job. I’ve been working with her for about two years on how to navigate the whole process of looking for a new job. She had the same job for years and years, and there was no room for her to advance.

But she also didn’t know how to go about looking for a new job, where to find it, what any of the protocol was.

Then also, any of my interns that I’ve helped. I’ve always been straightforward: we’re not going to be able to hire you, so in exchange for all this grunt work, I will help you make sure your resume is formatted properly and highlights the meaningful work that you did while you were here.

Reaching Out with Millennial Reboot

Charlie Hoehn: Why did you write Millennial Reboot?

Rob Johnson: There was a lot that built up into kind of the moment where we decided to do this. Both being professionals and both with executive backgrounds, and we want to learn and we’re always trying to grow. We started getting our own frustration of going to see either speaking events or reading materials that millennials (fill in the blank). You can put in whatever you want there.

That infuriating tone. That started to eat at both of us.

We’ve gone to conferences that were supposed to be speaking to millennials, and there’s typically somebody in their 40s or 50s or 60s bringing these talks to these groups. We didn’t think that was enough.

As much as we read and much as we’d done at that point, we thought there might need to be something to fight these stereotypes. To do exactly what Kate said, helping people grow that might not have had the opportunity. How we can share our successes and bring people along with us?

Kate Athmer: A lot of it comes down to purely scale. We can’t help everyone, but if we write a book, theoretically, everyone would have access to it.

“We think of this book as a baseline. This is the starting point.”

So if somebody comes to us and is complaining about their job or looking for advice on how they can drop working at this company that they hate. Or they want to make it better because they love the company but they hate their boss.

If people come to us, we can say, “Okay, start with the advice in this book, it really covers a lot of ground and fills in a lot of gaps that are missing.” Then come to us and we can address the questions that remain.

Rob Johnson: Yes, for millennials, we could have put this on a Google Drive and called it a day. But we thought it would make it a little more official. One of the scariest parts of writing a book is it’s probably the first time I’ve ever put something out there that wasn’t deletable.

This is in ink. This is permanent.

We tried to make sure that we got the best information possible, to give a baseline to anybody that wants a future discussion, or that we can build on when we’re speaking to people. It seems to be working so far.

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell me who this book is definitely for and who it is definitely not for?

Kate Athmer: So, it is definitely for millennials as well as the generation coming afterwards will probably benefit from a lot of it too. Anybody that grew up as a digital native, by that I mean, they almost can’t or actually can’t remember life where they couldn’t simply Google the answer to something or communicate with someone in real time.

Communication Gaps in the Workplace

Charlie: There are some millennials that end up becoming immersed in a creative culture or a startup culture where there’s less of the professionalism and structure that you would find in a corporate setting. Is that assumption right?

Rob Johnson: You’re reading this because you’re probably frustrated in that traditional corporate structure. Millennials like to be creative…man buns and whatever you may have for today…but, remove millennials and man buns, and it was Generation X or the generation before that that was going to ruin the world.

Every single generation has had some type of struggle.

Kate Athmer: It’s very sensationalized now.

The only people that wouldn’t benefit from this book, would be the ones that are completely unmotivated. You have bad apples in every generation. The ones that aren’t interested in improving, the ones that are totally complacent, going to a nine to five job, doing what they’re told and going home.

“There’s no reason for them to read it if they’re not trying to improve themselves in one way or the other.”

But specifically, it’s not just for people in a corporate environment. A lot of it is focused around that, but there is plenty of advice in there that would apply to a more creative role.

One of the things that we really touch on in there, a lot actually, is dress code. A lot of people would say, “I work in a creative role. The office dress code is board shorts and flip flops.” And we would argue that if you just dressed 10% better than all those people in board shorts and flip flops and maybe wore jeans and a nice polo, the CEO of the company will take you more seriously. You’re going to get promoted faster.

Rob Johnson: As we interviewed executives, it didn’t matter what their ages were. We went into this with a clear insight of how can we help our fellow generation succeed, if they want to succeed.

What we found was not a generational gap.

We found a communications gap. It doesn’t matter if you’re managing a millennial or you’re a millennial that has a boss that you can’t communicate with. Take 10 minutes a week and just touch base, in person, not over phone, not over text. What we’ve seen and found and researched to date is that this will significantly increase your satisfaction as an employee and your management capability. It will grow the parts of your business that might be falling apart. Just that 10 minutes a week, touching base, will really help.

Charlie Hoehn: Any additional tips to that, Kate?

Kate Athmer: Millennials specifically, we’re expecting that real time feedback or at least frequent feedback.

“We don’t want to wait for an annual review to know that we’ve messed something up, because then it’s too late to fix it.”

I agree with Rob that the number one take away is the communication between not even just a boss and the person they report to but anybody on your team that you work with. Frequent communication can allow you to solve conflicts quicker and to become more creative and move ideas along faster.

I actually work completely remotely from my company, so I don’t get a face to face meeting with anybody I work with more than once a quarter.

But we check in every single week on Monday at 1:30 PM. It’s just a half an hour where we all go around and see what each other’s feeling. We’ll have individual check-ins as well, if needed. I have another additional check-in with my boss, and then the person that reports to me.

This allows us to all be on the same page and to resolve any differences and talk them through fast enough that it’s not holding the business back.

Where Millennials Can Improve

Rob Johnson: Let’s talk about the why, too. We can be generalized here. For the most part, if you are 35 or under you have social media that gives you instant feedback on almost anything you do. A lot of your life, you’ve grown up that way. When you post something, you get some feedback on your Instagram for your story. Your grades in college you typically get back almost immediately.

And then you will be thrown in a world where there are annual follow ups and check ins.

That is an adjustment, particularly for a generation that can see everything instantly. That is a lot of why we suggest from the manual and the manager to keep those check-ins.

Doing feedback for every single day and every single project is not practical and will harm the business. However, there is a middle ground where the manager and the employee can work it out. .

Charlie Hoehn: What are the most common mistakes you guys see millennials making in the workplace?

Kate Athmer: Not having patience when they want to bring change. We will come in guns blazing saying, “I know that there is better way to do this process.” Or “We need to have this technology in place.” Or “I can’t believe that this hasn’t been changed.”

“We assume that we are the first people that ever thought of these ideas, that we know what’s best, especially when it comes to technology.”

We’re not careful enough to ask more questions or to learn more about the big picture of the business. To get an understanding of where we might be able to productively drive change without just making people mad.

Rob Johnson: I will give an example of this. I was running a marketing team for a major sports organization, with a lot of younger employees that were much more into Snapchat. The question always came up: “Why aren’t we more active on Snapchat?” When I go talk to colleges, the first thing that’s out of their mouths is why aren’t you guys more present on Snapchat?

It came from the lack of understanding of how does this drive the business. We are in the business of in sports and entertainment, selling tickets, and making sure that the product on the ice, the field, whatever it may be, looks the best. Snapchat did not at the time have any type of way to make revenue.

It was a new social media that hadn’t been proven but was extremely popular with the younger group without understanding that it does not fit any type of business case.

It dawned on me: It is important for almost any manager know what the business goals are.

You could say, “Okay, great. I love your idea. Tell me how it fits into our business goals and we’ll do it.”

Channelling Millennial Ambition

Charlie Hoehn: What do you suggest to millennials who may have that ambition to go make a company so much better and to rewrite the rules?

Rob Johnson: The first thing is to slow your roll. There’s a time and a place.

Call it an elevator pitch or whatever you like, but make sure that if it’s appropriate for you to speak, that you’ve researched enough. Being a millennial and a digital native, you know how to find all the answers. It’s a great way to start a conversation with a co-worker or a possible mentor or somebody else in the company.

Kate Athmer: Yeah, I would agree with Rob. Slow your roll. Take the time, especially when you are new to a company, to ask a lot of questions. Collect data.

So instead of saying, “We need to be on social media,” maybe say, “Why aren’t we on social media?”

“I am trying to learn and understand whether it is a decision that we’ve made or whether there’s a gap here that I can help fill.”

“And then try to align yourself with the person or people in the organization that have experience initiating change.”

I recently spoke with someone who, she’s a Baby Boomer, and she said, “I am the person that comes in guns blazing to the meetings to drive change.” We talked about that a bit, and she said, “But I can get away with it because everybody here has seen what I can do. I’ve been with the company for 15 years. They understand that when I come in and want to change something that I have done my research and I’ve proven that I am someone that they can trust to move a project forward.”

As a millennial, find that person in the organization. Align yourself with them, learn from them. Get them on your team when you are ready to advance an idea. Ask them for feedback. Use them as a mentor.

Rob Johnson: It’s execution that gets rewarded, not the idea. So make sure that as you present it, it’s planned out, you are able to execute it. As you do, your reputation will grow.

How to Avoid an Awful Job

Charlie Hoehn: Ending up at a company where someone hates their job is often described as soul crushing, soul sucking. How do we avoid those jobs in the first place?

Kate Athmer: Do your research online. There are a ton of resources online where you can learn about a company, starting with their website, maybe look at their about us page and see what the makeup of their executive team is.

“I would never just use one data point.”

Check the Glassdoor reviews. Take them with a grain of salt, but if they are all bad or if they all have little hidden pieces that say the same thing, then that might be some cause for concern.

During the interview process, know what questions to ask that are going to tell you about how the company functions. Ask about what the opportunities are for advancement, ask about how the company approaches new things. Ask what you’ll be equipped with to do your job. The technology that you will need or the budget to actually deliver on what they are asking you to deliver. Ask how the teams within the company work with each other.

The biggest thing though is asking what opportunities there are for you to grow. I also think that you will get a sense of the company based on how they treat you in general during the interview process. Whether they call you or join the call when it’s scheduled, whether they are on time for the interview. Whether they are treating you with respect, whether they give you a free offer.

All of those things can come into play, and you want to compile all of those data points. Get a feeling for the organization as a whole and whether that is somewhere that will be suited to your working style.

Rob Johnson: If you’re in a soul crushing job, it’s on you to get unstuck. You have to take the next right step in order to do that, rather than complaining about it. We do coach people, and they often just complain about their job and don’t take the next step. Or even worse, their next step is blindly sending out a resume to the thousand-and-one different sites.

“That is not getting you unstuck.”

You need to grow. And a lot of the best jobs or a lot of the jobs that you want that probably aren’t on LinkedIn or on Indeed. They are probably through in a network of people. So how can you find either a meet up around your profession or your likes? How can you start growing your own network in order to find the way to get unstuck? That all falls on the individual. If you really want to do it, you have to take the next step. It is not going to be an easy process. If it was easy, anybody would do it.

Reader Response to Millennial Reboot

Charlie Hoehn: What have been the most remarkable stories of people using the materials in Millennial Reboot to reboot their lives?

Rob Johnson: One of the best things that came up as we were writing this book was to hear the stories of how people are using it. I have a longtime friend who was flying to a job interview across the country, and it was something that he really wanted. He read our book for the most part on the flight there, and as he told the story to me, he used almost every piece of job interview advice that we gave. He got the job within the next few days.

And he was nice enough to credit us with it.

I am sure he had a lot to do in making sure he was prepared, but that was a pleasant story to hear very early on after it was released.

Then also the non-millennial and how it’s helping them learn a little bit more about how to manage their younger employees. That’s been a surprise and something that we are starting to grow as we coach people. This is a problem in rebooting millennials. Not just getting rid of the sensationalized headlines but making sure that we’re put in a better light.

Kate Athmer: Yeah, I gave a presentation to a group of managers of millennials recently to help them understand the way millennials think and the way millennials prefer to work in the workplace, and then also some of the things that have gotten forgotten over the years that you should be teaching your employees.

One of the things that I mentioned was to make sure everyone understands how the company makes money.

“Millennials are much more motivated to contribute appropriate and advance ideas to the organization if they understand how the company makes money.”

It seems so simple, but so many companies forget to teach their new hires the ways that the company makes money.

So one person actually emailed me the next day after the presentation. He said, “The first thing I did when I got to the office was I pulled in all of my employees and went through how the company makes money. And three of them came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Wow we had no idea. This makes so much more sense, and I have this idea or this idea,’ or ‘Oh I need to reprioritize because my projects are going to make our company money.’”

He did it the next day as soon as he realized it, and he then got feedback from his employees that that made an impact.

Rob Johnson: We’ve talked to a couple of people that feel like they have gotten unstuck with it as well. The key being communication. Just the 10 minute meeting and asking your manager for that. It’s regular feedback, not every day. And it certainly helps in job satisfaction for people that feel like they’re stuck as well.

Charlie Hoehn: I don’t think older generations have that problem as much.

Rob Johnson: When you have an entire population of people that grew up with effectively all of the knowledge of the world and a super computer in their pocket, you’re going to have this most efficient generation ever. They’re able to find most answers to anything they want, and that mystery of getting to point B is lost on everybody that has access to that.

Kate and Rob on Writing

Charlie Hoehn: So what does the rest of this year look like for the two of you?

Kate Athmer: Well we are working on scheduling regular events where we speak to millennials or managers or people who work regularly with millennials. We are doing a couple of webinars, and I’ve just started working with another person in the space on developing a podcast, which will be called Millennial Playbook.

Rob Johnson: A lot of our goals are about making this a little bit more experiential and making the book come to life. So as Kate said, we’ll be working on regular events, but we’ll probably bring on our first employee and have an event manager. We’ll start in the northeast and the west coast for our first few events toward the end of the year.

Charlie Hoehn: Do you have any parting advice for aspiring authors?

Kate Athmer: Have some sort of mechanism that keeps you stuck in a timeline. Pay someone or put your money somewhere. Otherwise it’s very easy to say, “I’ll work on that tomorrow. I really want to go have a cocktail with my friends.”

For me that was the biggest thing. I needed to know I had a deliverable deadline. Just like back in school where you chunk it into pieces. It can’t be like, “The book has to be done by December.”

It has to be like, “This part has to be done by this time. This part has to be done by this time.” Setting milestones that someone else is holding you to I think is really the most helpful part for me.

Rob Johnson: I always wanted to be able to write a book. I put it off for years and years until Kate and I had enough conversation toward this and asked what was I waiting for? I could have done this years ago.

“It’s like anything: Today is the best day.”

Kate: It’s never going to be perfect timing.

Rob: Right, and then we could have written this forever. Make sure you have a deadline and holding yourself accountable to it. If we didn’t have a deadline we’d still be writing this seven months later after it came out.

Kate: Someone needs to tell you when to stop. It’s done, let it go.

Charlie Hoehn: What is the number one way our listeners can help you guys?

Rob Johnson: Yeah, buying our book would be great. It’s available on Amazon. We have millennialreboot.com where you can see our blog. Also the book is available there.

If anybody wants to contact us on Twitter is on @rebootbook and then there’s [email protected] and [email protected]. Feel free to ask us questions. We will get back to you, and we love to hear from you.

Kate Athmer: And the number one way they can help themselves is buying our book, too. It will help them more than it will help us probably, yeah.