by Hannah Leigh Thompson, The Good Jobs intern
Type “millennials are” into Google, and what does the great search engine supply?
“Millennials are lazy entitled narcissists” – thanks, Time. Millennials are “idiots”, “stupid” and “screwed”, and “what age”.
“Millennials are what age”? This one I can answer fairly conclusively. According to the almighty oracle Wikipedia (which, in my opinion, has fundamentally shifted how young people conceptualize and store information – but more on that later), there is no specific cutoff, but experts label young adults born from the 1980s to the early 2000s “millennials”.
The Pew Research Center reports that us young whippersnappers have recently overtaken Generation X as the most numerous in the U.S. Labor force – like it or not, we’re here to stay. People love to complain about my generation (as their parents complained about them), but in the increasingly competitive post-recession market, they need to hire us. They might even seek us out, because the very things that make us annoying can also make us creative and efficient workers. As a college student, I spend much of my time in the world of the millennial (startups, social media, societal responsibility, Starbucks, selfies). As an intern for The Good Jobs, I hear plenty of complaints about millennials (empty-headed, entitled, expensive, enslaved to iPhones).
We think of ourselves as pioneers, overturning the inefficient past: critics call us lazy, entitled, narcissistic, technology-reliant, restless children with no reverence for tradition. And both sides aren’t wrong. As my wise and savvy grandfather just reminded me, my generation did not invent the concept of innovation or the shears to cut through red tape. We just have some tools that make it easier and faster.
I’d like to examine 4 of my favorite millennial stereotypes, give my (biased) exploration of their origins – because they all have some truth, and explain why they aren’t so terrible after all for your business. Finally, I hope to suggest some tips that employers can use to leverage those traits and recruit my peers and me.
1 – Millennials are lazy and entitled
We are the Wikipedia generation! It’s true – for most of our lives, we have had constant access to mind-boggling amounts of information. We spend less of our time and energy memorizing data (like directions to Grandma’s house, or how to make spaghetti), since we know that we will always have access to that information. We store our personal hard drives off-site!
To some, this is lazy. And our expectations for information on-demand contribute to our alleged entitlement – we are used to having what we want, when we want it. But our brains aren’t stuck in neutral. We’re spending more time on different pursuits, now that we’ve made some room. In school, we’re taught that process is more important than product: we carry those lessons into the workplace, where information regurgitation is less important than information synthesis.
Recruiting the lazy: Show us that our job won’t require us to spend our days spitting out the same information using the same processes that were effective 40 years ago. Give us opportunities to use our different approach to data – let us problem-solve and find ways to make old methods speedier.
2 – Millennials are narcissists
Technology allows us to be dangerously self-obsessed, but also requires a new level of self-promotion. In a time when your first (and second, and third) connections with a recruiter or employer or friend may be made over the Internet, promoting a personal brand is crucial. Online networking absolutely requires that candidates project their personality – and social professional networks are skyrocketing in popularity as sources of quality hires (up 75% in the last year). We may be narcissists, but we know our own strengths and weaknesses, and we’re intimately familiar with the art of marketing.
Recruiting narcissists: Successful businesses promote their employer brand and open positions via social media – a little branding goes a long way to attract all that lovely passive millennial talent. If we’re narcissists, we expect your business to be! Tell us why you’re great. We’ll certainly tell you.
3 – Millennials are too connected/disconnected
Ah, one of my mother’s favorites. Our constant connection to technology (and I mean constant: some of us really never power down) has made us more alienated from society and incapable of human interaction. There is definitely truth to this, though I might argue that we are active participants in a different sort of society.
But what does that mean for the work environment? Millennials are very used to communicating via technology, whether posting a celebration of triumph or tapping into an expert network for help with a problem they can’t solve alone.
Recruiting tech-zombies: Be sure that employees have conduits to share their success and to ask for help. Frankly, we aren’t used to working in isolation: build community, whether this means an open-plan office where employees can talk and get advice, or an internal chat system where help is a click away. Show candidates that you provide those resources, demonstrate that they will be joining a team and not just taking a job, and they’ll want to work for you.
4 – Millennials are restless
Ok, I’m afraid that this one is a myth. Millennials are no more restless than our parents or grandparents when they were young – and though job turnover has increased slightly, that has more to do with recovery from the recession than a generational idiosyncrasy.
But lets say we are more restless. Perhaps we want more project-based assignments where we can have maximum impact in minimum time. (There’s that laziness-efficiency paradox again!) We don’t want to languish for years, dangling off the corporate ladder, with our efforts unnoticed and unimportant.
Recruiting the wanderers: Show candidates that their work is necessary in some way – demonstrate where and how we are impacting the company and the world. We won’t be itching to move on after 2 years if we feel that our work is getting somewhere and going somewhere. Opportunities for career development are good, but opportunities to have a positive impact on the community and the globe are better.
Hannah Leigh Thompson is a Milwaukeean studying mechanical engineering at Stanford University, class of 2018. She attended Whitefish Bay High School (and is incredibly thankful to the teachers there, who expanded students’ hearts as well as their brains) and looks forward with great excitement to her future as a student and a job seeker. She spent many happy hours playing in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and biking the trails of the city, and likes to talk about about music, cycling, architecture, and books (fiction and otherwise).