Success

This is the important quality Michelle Obama looks for in the young people she hires

Michelle Obama during the 2020 BET Awards, which aired on June 28
BET Awards 2020 | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

What sort of traits does former First Lady Michelle Obama look for in young people who want to work for her? Willingness to put in the "grunt work" with a positive attitude, for starters.

On a recent episode of Spotify's "The Michelle Obama Podcast," the former first lady spoke to Valerie Jarrett, her former boss while working for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and a senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Obama recalled career advice that she recently gave her daughter Malia, 22.

"We were talking about having impact, and how young people — and I know our generation talks about it — a lot of times, a lot of young people want it really fast, like I want to make change," Obama said.

In truth, success requires climbing the ladder and putting in the "grunt work," she said.

For Obama, the young people who have been working with her the longest are those who began "doing some of the grunt-iest jobs," she said on the podcast. For example, those who handled small tasks like volunteering to pick up speakers at the airport or doing "advance work" to prepare sites ahead of time for appearances, "which is some of the hardest stuff," she said.

Today, these are the people who Obama trusts to manage her schedule, run book tours or work for her production company, Higher Ground.

"Watch how young people do the work that they don't want to do, the thankless work that's not so fun," Obama said. "Those are the people that I look to and go, 'Huh, that person's ready to be pushed, that person wants to do more. I'm ready to invest in them.'"

Jarrett agreed, adding that "attitude matters," she said. "And effort, and energy, and you know being a cheerful spirit even on a bad day."

To that end, Obama also said that young people who are looking for mentors should think about what they're bringing to the table.

"Sometimes young people think that mentoring's just about, just show me the way, just tell me what to do," she said. "I want young people out there to know, when they're looking for a mentor, they also have to think about, well, what are you going to bring to the relationship?"

If you are looking for someone to mentor you, she suggests taking initiative to introduce yourself to people and starting a conversation. Ask them to get coffee, "or set up a meeting to ask them whatever questions you have on your mind," she said. 

As fist lady, Obama started a program for disadvantaged teens from Washington D.C. to be mentored by senior leaders in President Barack Obama's administration, which prepared the mentees to be able to step into any room confidently, and see their potential.

"If you can feel your growth getting comfortable in the most powerful house in the land, there's nothing you can't do," she said.

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