So What’s the Problem?
But wait . . . although acknowledging the blessings of your magnificent digital sophistication, today’s employers aren’t ready to say all is well with your generation as workers, you self-indulgent young rascals, you.
They who still call the shots are highly critical of behavior like this:
- You show up for work with exposed midriffs that display a belly ring.
- They find you audaciously texting senior managers with requests about issues that should be handled with an immediate supervisor.
- They see you whipping out a smartphone and yukking it up on the company dime.
To further illustrate the problems employers report about younger workers, I offer this fictional but representative snippet of a job interview:
Management consulting firm interviewer: Would you like to know more about our company’s quantitative analysis group?
Millennial professional: Who would I be working for? I am not interested if I can’t choose my boss. Would I start as a senior analyst? What is the salary? How soon would I be eligible for a raise? When would I be considered for a promotion? Would I have to work past 5 p.m.? I need a vacation the first two weeks of every June because I have a timeshare in Costa Rica. And to be up front with you, I will need a half-day on Fridays because I have a cabin in the mountains and my friends count on me being there.
Admittedly, we’re talking generational stereotypes here — certainly, no specific traits define an entire generation — but in job interviews, stereotypical criticism sometimes lurks but remains unspoken.
As a techno-savvy, well-educated person, you know you have to recognize a problem to fix it. In this chapter, I show you how to counter harmful youthbashing stereotypes.
Now, on with the show. . . .
Beating a Bad Rap on Work Ethic
As a new or recent college graduate, your ability to do the work that a job requires isn’t so much in question. The iffy factor is your willingness to do the work in a manner an employer prefers.
While the work-ethic gripe isn’t singular to the younger crowd (Gen X members used to hear the same complaints when they were your age), it hits your generation the hardest. Here’s what critics say about Millennials:
- You have an attitude toward work that looks like laziness-meetsimpatience.
- You had to overachieve to get through the most competitive college admissions process in history, so you don’t feel particularly inclined to pay your dues.
- You make up the most pampered generation in history; you were expected to spend your spare time making the varsity team, not working part-time in an internship.
- You’re likely to look at a job interview in the way one 20-year-old candidate described it to a recruiter: “a two-way conversation where the company puts out what they want and expect from me, and I put out what I want and expect from the company.”
- You’re more demanding than previous generations and dismiss as hopelessly old-fashioned the traditional work ethic that people should work hard and do the best job possible.
- You can’t think on your feet. You don’t work well alone, maybe because you grew up on a steady stream of organized sports and other team activities. You’re comfortable only when pursuing well-defined goals as part of a team and can’t solve problems independently. (Mom, help!)
Today’s rookies are too often stereotyped as refusing to pay their dues, slacking off, holding unrealistic expectations, being unwilling to work hard or long, and being limited in the ability to make independent decisions and solve problems. Nevertheless, if you don’t meet the generalization head on, it can cause you to miss out on a job you want.
The positive performance you give during an interview dispelling the poorwork- ethic stereotyping can erase doubts about your willingness to do a job.
Tips for Millennials
Concentrating on the skills and accomplishments you provide and on what you bring to the employer — not what you want from the job — goes a long way toward wiping out unspoken concerns that chill job offers. Here are more tips for combating misperceptions:
- Show perspective. Every generation believes its is substantially different from those who have gone before and, therefore, deserves a pass to rewrite the rules. That’s true only in the methods and technology used to make one’s way in life.
As scholar and publisher of Impact Books, Dr. Ron Krannich (www. impactpublications.com) says, “Despite a trendy Generation Y designation, today’s college graduates still must learn to connect with the right people who can hire them for good jobs, showing they can add value to the organizations they want to join.”
- Be confident. But don’t be a prancing pony in your interviewing persona, confusing attitude with confidence. Try to come across as able but eager to learn. Radiating arrogance that implies the workplace rules must bend to accommodate your preferences because you’re young and techno savvy won’t play well with older bosses who have the power to choose someone else.
- Show respect. Bring a notepad and take notes during the interview. This shows that you’re interested and paying attention. Employers will reciprocate.
- Test the waters. Don’t be shocked if an employer refuses to negotiate entry-level salaries. But after you’ve presented your value, do ask about the timing of performance reviews, as well as performance bonuses and how they’re calculated.
- Storytell. Prepare detailed true examples of all your skills, with as many examples from off campus as from on campus. But stay away from personal stories that may work on Facebook but are more personal than interviewers want to know
- Get insider secrets. Interviewspy (www.interviewspy.com) is a tool created by Georgetown University students to help job seekers prepare for interviews. It is a user-driven site that provides candidates questions and information about many organizations, including Google, Bank of America, and Teach for America. The website solicits “spies” to post questions that they have been asked during interviews for jobs and internships, as well as information they think may be helpful for you.
Glassdoor (www.glassdoor.com) is another useful resource to get a jumpstart on learning about company interviews, reviews, and salaries from anonymous posts by employees.
Track down more resources to find out about interview questions by browsing for “employer review websites.”
- Be realistic. Don’t apologize for a lack of workplace experience beyond internships and student jobs. The employer already knows that you’re starting out. Instead, explain how your experience at your summer job waiting tables helped you hone your customer-service skills. This is a golden oldie but is especially important to young graduates.
Scripts for Millennials
- You should hire me because I’m the best person for this job. Not only am I a hard worker and a fast learner, but I bring a passion for excellence. I won’t disappoint you. For example —.
- Yes, I’m an experienced team player. I’ve had opportunities in my internships, college, and athletics to maximize my skills as a team player. On a recent project, for example, —. But being on a team doesn’t mean I can’t lead a team. I was elected president of the Environmental Action Club at my college. I enjoy making well-reasoned, well-thought-out decisions. For instance, when I —.
- You asked how I handle conflict on a team. Basically, I try to make dispassionate judgments about what’s best for the group and our goal, and then use good communication techniques to make my point. Let me tell you how I mediated a flap over —.
- I am excited to learn that your company encourages volunteering for service work. I believe that people who do not give back to their community make a misjudgment both personally and in their career development. Based on my volunteer stints in college, I find that service work adds another dimension to my understanding of what people really want and how to satisfy those longings. I hope you’ll select me for this position, because we’re on the same page here.
- You asked me where I would like to be in five years. I would like to become the best marketing representative you have in the company. At the same time, I’ll be preparing to take on greater responsibilities. For example, I’ve enrolled in an advanced-level marketing course online to be ready for future challenges. I love creative challenges, and I’m comfortable making decisions.
- You asked how well I work with people who are considerably older than me. That’s great. In my work with the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, which I’ve done for three years, all the volunteers have a mutual respect for each other. Obviously, I look to the older crowd for their experience, and I think they like what I bring in the way of my newer education and experience that maybe they don’t have. So you could say it’s a mutual admiration society.
- I have no problem working the hours you require. In fact, I would look forward to the opportunity to move around and see different areas of the company relatively early in my career, to get a better feel for what I can contribute down the line and where I want to go within the company. I’ll work very hard to make a difference for this company and for the company’s customers. I think my professors will back me up on that — would you like to see some of their letters of recommendation?
- Although I don’t have formal work experience doing this exact kind of job, my education has given me considerable background in this area. With a combination of my educational background and my internship job experience, I know that I will be a productive new addition to your team, and I will go all out to make that happen.
- I know that many employers consider my generation, the Y generation, to be somewhat difficult to manage and inspire. The joke I’ve heard is, “You’re in the Why generation — why aren’t you more interested in your career prospects?” Mr. Clemons, that’s not me. I’ve been focused on joining a team such as this one all during my senior year. And I’ve worked diligently to succeed at this goal, as I hope some of my earlier statements have conveyed. Do you think I’m the committed addition to your team whom you hope to hire?
Good Times and Your Future
The intergenerational shift in the workplace puts today’s new and recent college graduates on the job market’s red carpet. If that’s you, enjoy your edge.
- Consider the flip-flop rhythm of the economy (remember Econ 101?). Cyclical recessions and hiring slowdowns force younger as well as older people to stalk jobs for months on end.
- As workforce ranks repopulate — until the year 2020 or so — with other Millennials who, like you, are techno savvy, you’ll compete for jobs within your own age group.
- By far the biggest question mark for your future is how worldwide competition for the best jobs will impact Americans of all ages. Capital’s chase for cheap labor across the planet has unleashed hundreds of millions of workers on global markets. A number of these competitors have a Bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree.
As you gear up to begin your trip toward an award-winning work/life-balanced career, remember this one last tip: Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield.