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In First Jobs, Grads Sport Skills - and Attitude

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"I sense less of putting up with a lot of stuff over an intermediate period in hopes of getting some grander reward later," says Steven Kirn, vice president of human resources at Sears. "Instead, they are really renewing the psychological contract with you almost on a daily basis."

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As a result, twentysomethings today expect a position that offers a steep learning curve.

"They want to be challenged every day," says Mr. Wery of Sears. "And they thrive on being recognized for their contributions - it's very important to them."

But the new generation's big expectations are not wholly unfounded. Students today get better job training in school, through internships and other work experiences. In fact, many have learned in college what graduates used to learn in entry-level positions.

"[Today's graduates] feel they have more of those skills and a broader education that prepares them to do more than what those before them have done - and there is some truth to that," says Mr. Chain of Deloitte & Touche.

Zip the lip

But the biggest lesson of all - and one that, if unlearned, could prove costly for people with college loans to pay - is when to say nothing. It may also be the most difficult challenge for Generation X'ers, who managers say tend to question their superiors' decisions more than baby boomers ever did.

"They continually ask questions. They want to know why, and they won't take things for granted," says Sears' Wery. "They aren't afraid to challenge the decisions of managers today."

That characteristic doesn't always score points with managers. "We would be kidding ourselves to say that it does not create tension," adds Mr. Kirn.

Even twentysomethings admit their peers are sometimes too cocky.

"There's this notion in my company that people who come out of college weren't responsible or didn't want to take on those menial tasks - and to a point they're right," says Adam Moroze, who worked at a Boston-area advertising firm after graduating from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, two years ago.

He watched rookies tell managers how to run the company.

"It definitely put a dent in their progression at the company," Mr. Moroze says, "and it ultimately will force them to find employment elsewhere."

Voices of Experience

Corporate recruiters, career counselors, and Generation X'ers themselves offer tips on how to succeed in first jobs.

'It's important to be humble. You've got to say, "I've got a lot to learn." Don't say, "Here I am. Aren't you glad?" '

- Richard Fein, a placement director at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

'The largest error is not asking for help because you don't want to show you don't know how to do everything.'

- Alan McNabb, director of career services, Indiana University, Bloomington

'From the beginning, sit down with your manager and ask, "What are your top eight expectations of me?" '

- Allison Bailey, sales associate, Procter & Gamble

'The biggest mistake somebody brand new in the workplace makes is trying to show how much they know. Instead of conveying lots of information, try to gather lots of information.'

- Bruce Tulgan, author of 'Managing Generation X,' himself an X'er

'There's a time and a place and a way to speak your mind.... Part of being a professional is exercising better judgment and realizing that some things are better left unsaid.'

- Adam Moroze, Class of 1995, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine