To the Class of 2022—Don’t Let TikTok Dictate Your Future

A few tips on finding meaning, value, and essential skills for the workforce.

GUEST COLUMN | by Leilani M. Brown

Over the past two years, our world has changed dramatically, and with it our opinions towards work and the way we approach it have also undergone a radical makeover.

As the great arbiter of all things zeitgeist, much of the transition from regular commutes to remote work, from great expectations to The Great Resignation, has been captured on social media. We’ve all seen the TikTok videos, Instagram posts, and memes of stay-at-home workers living their best—or most head-bowingly-embarrassing—lives, and I know I’ve joined in the laughter surrounding photos of people dressed for success from the waist up only, mannequins rigged to mimic Zoom attendance, and folks caught off guard or caught on the commode when asked to keep their cameras on during conference calls.

‘Left to take their career cues from ‘the Interwebs’ and deprived of the side bar chats with senior mentors that taught many of us how to survive and thrive in the workplace, I’m afraid that those meant to be tomorrow’s leaders might just find themselves floundering.’

Next, of course, came the dramatic recordings of checkout clerks calling out bad bosses over store intercoms and employees storming out of work sites while delivering snarky comments to supervisors en route to the exit door.

Even while I couldn’t help chuckling at these shenanigans, I have to say that these scenes, as amusing as they may be, have caused me to question: is this really what we’re doing now? And, what does this all really mean for students and the future of work and, perhaps most importantly, for the future of those young people entering the workforce in this pivotal moment of transition?

These highlight reels are expertly designed to garner as many clicks, likes, and laughs as possible, but I fear they don’t show the perseverance, consistency, and what some call essential skills it takes to get and keep a job and build a lifelong career. In fact, it is possible that without a reality check, social media messages can actually start putting young workers’ professional and financial futures in jeopardy.

Left to take their career cues from “the Interwebs” and deprived of the side bar chats with senior mentors that taught many of us how to survive and thrive in the workplace, I’m afraid that those meant to be tomorrow’s leaders might just find themselves floundering.

With so many students and their families making such significant investments in their success—we’re talking time, money, and even emotional resources—it’s important to ensure that early career mistakes do not become complete derailers. As such, our collective focus as seasoned careerists should be on helping new college graduates and young professionals maximize opportunities that help them yield staying power in the workforce. To this end, we should:

1. Stress the importance of using social media wisely.
Pro Tip: No matter who you are or where you work, it’s important to use personal social media accounts as if every company is watching. Because they are. Social media posts can easily resurface and have a very negative impact on one’s career.

2. Encourage relationship building.
Pro Tip: Relationships matter, and people remember every interaction you have with them. The importance of developing meaningful and productive relationships throughout one’s professional career cannot be understated. Without a doubt, it pays off in the long term.

3. Emphasize the significance of working hard and delivering results:
Pro Tip: From the mailroom to the boardroom, most employees (or at least those who are valued) will tell you that an essential part of their job includes learning as much as possible and making their bosses’ jobs easier. Quite simply, employees are there to deliver. On time. With enthusiasm. Without error… or excuses.

The fact remains, people like doing business with people they like. Period. Despite the trend towards sarcasm and snarkiness on social media, we must be reminded that there’s value in treating people well. There’s value in measuring one’s actions and evaluating one’s impact on others. There’s value in living one’s life with empathy and grace. Unfortunately, I think our culture has largely forgotten these lessons. But, it’s never too late for a fresh start.

As we welcome the Class of 2022 into the workforce and the world at large, we owe it to them to provide a solid foundation and the essential skills we all know will serve them—both now and in the future.

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Leilani M. Brown is an advisor to executives and boards on strategy, communications, crisis management, the future of work, essential skills, equity, and inclusion. She’s also the author of “From Campus To Career: 25 Tips For Your First Professional Year.” Connect with Leilani on LinkedIn.

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