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How You Can Use Your Age To Your Advantage In The Workplace

Nick Shuster

Age: 24

Job: Chevrolet District Manager Aftersales, General Motors

Location: Dayton, Ohio *At the time of our interview, Nick was living in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Nick and I were connected by his friend from high school, Alex, who was also my interview from last week. Hearing about Nick’s experience at General Motors and how he moved across the country was great to hear, but it was his advice of learning how to get yourself out there in a new city that stuck with me. I think you'll enjoy hearing more about Nick's career, too.

Give us some background and tell us how you ended up where you are now.

I grew up in a small little town in West Michigan, so I have the blue-collar work ethic engrained in me. When I went off to college and met people from different areas, I had a little bit of a culture shock, but I have definitely been able to use that cautious naiveté, if you will, to my advantage in a lot of different facets of the professional world.

I was a three-sport athlete growing up and have always been a competitive person. It’s kind of how I’ve tackled the professional world. I give it all I have all the time. How I got my job with General Motors was a little bit of being in the right place at the right time. I was in a class in my last year of college, which was filled with mostly underclassmen, and the professor had a recruiter come in from GM to discuss summer internships. I approached the gentleman afterward and we discussed a training program for district managers. I’ve usually been a fairly ADD-driven person where doing things over and over again is like my own version of hell. So hearing about an opportunity where I wouldn’t be going to the same place every day made me want to give him my resume right then and there. I got the offer and enrolled in the program a few weeks later and it all happened really quickly. I wasn’t expecting it to be that fast so it was kind of surprising, but I haven’t looked back since.

How has your age played a part in your work experience?

It’s a double-edged sword. It is definitely a hurdle to overcome, but as long as you know how to spin it to a strong suit. It’s like one of those interview questions, “What’s your biggest weakness?”. You can spin it to say “I’m a perfectionist.” Once I graduated from our District Manager training program, my first assignment was in Fargo, North Dakota. It is an interesting place. You would think they are a solid seven years behind the time. A lot of the stores I called on were these shops where the entire employee base is six people and the owner still doesn’t use a computer, has a flip phone, and no desire to catch up with modern-day. One of the things I heard the most from them, especially those closer to retirement age, was “I’ve been in business longer than you’ve been alive.” When someone starts off the conversation like that, it just makes you want to freeze up, and I’ve done that. I’m the first to admit that I am a professional at falling on my face, but at the same time, dealing with people at that age, when the automotive industry has such a strong focus on technology now, I have become their go-to contact because I am a millennial. As a millennial, you sometimes become the designated IT guy. That’s sort of how I grew my credibility here actually, through technology.

Recently, I taught someone how to open and save a document in Excel. The other thing about the age gap is these people have been around the block, so they know who is and who is not genuine right away. Another way I built my credibility was just being as transparent with them as possible. One of my favorite phrases is “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” And they love that. They would rather have someone be upfront with them than lie to them. I think basic expressions of competency are the best way to overcome being a young professional.

Do you trust people easily in your profession?

I’m from the midwest, so of course, I trust everyone, Kamber. No one can lie to me. No, but really, it has been an issue at times. There was one instance in particular where I took a guy’s word too quickly before going into the situation. I made a mistake, and it caused the company to lose a little money. When I made that mistake and was too trusting, I told our Customer Relationships Manager that this one was on me and I asked what I could do to make it right. When you operate with integrity on a daily basis, who is not going to respond to that? It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but for the most part, it’s not too hard to figure out who is trying to “BS” you.

Tell us about a great leader you have worked with.

At GM, we have a great mentor program that really speaks to our culture. In your first two years with the company, you are assigned a leader, so they are your go-to person for any questions. I call my mentor two or three times a week. One of those times is just asking her a question, but the other times I’ll just be on the road, so I’ll call her to catch up and see what’s going on in her neck of the woods. The company takes building your personal network within the business very seriously. As a mentor, she is always there and if she doesn’t know the answer, she will send me to someone who does.

What is your work-life balance like?

That is an interesting question, just being a field rep. It depends on what time of the month you ask me that. If it’s the first two days or last week of the month, then that scale is 100% work. At that point, we are trying to hit our objectives and finishing up our sales. At the beginning of the month, that’s when we are rolling out our customer rebates for the month, dealer incentives, staffing policies, and any changes in warranty procedures. It is basically resetting the clock. But when you get that sweet spot of those middle times, my schedule is what I make it. What I have found is that during these times I can be way more flexible in terms of whether I am in the office or not. During those weeks, it’s a pretty good balance and I get home around four or five. It is pretty variable, but again, it’s what you make it and what you schedule it to be. For the most part, I do have that time to go out with friends, grab drinks, or go to the gym when I need to. The other cool part about the job is I don’t have that one place to go every day, and if it is a nice day out and my inbox is empty, I might go play some golf. There’s that flexibility which I really like. It all evens out.

Can you touch on what it was like moving to a new city where you knew no one?

It was probably one of the more terrifying times in my life. When I found out I was going to North Dakota, I didn’t know how to process it. I refused to believe it was happening until I was on the plane heading out there. It is scary, I’ll be honest. With all of the technology we have at our disposal, it’s easy to get into the habit of working Monday through Friday, then settling in for the weekend watching Netflix and just being on your computer, catching up with friends in other places. I went through that phase a little at the beginning, but once I got settled and I could feel like I could call the place I was living home, I got myself out there more.

Any last words of advice?

The advice I would give is just to learn how to be in public by yourself, otherwise, you’re not going to meet anyone. Find your favorite coffee shop or get a membership at a good gym. I met a friend that way, who was more of a local guy, so I sort of snuck into his group of friends and I really enjoyed my time there after that. It is super easy to say just put yourself out there, but it’s a whole other thing to do it. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. I think it happened at a very crucial part of my life. You get that fresh start in college, but I sort of had the chance to do that all over again. I got the chance to figure out what my true priorities are and what I really value, and with that, I have shown more confidence.

The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

– Use being a millennial to your advantage (i.e., become the IT guy)

– Basic expressions of competency are the best way to overcome being a young professional

– Learn how to be in public by yourself, otherwise, you’re not going to meet anyone

– It is super easy to say just put yourself out there, but it’s a whole other thing to do it

Check out: General Motors, Dayton, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Fargo, North Dakota

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