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Don’t Be Such a Millennial

Don’t Be Such a Millennial

Take back the term "millennial." Tips for revolutionizing the workplace through hard work and humility.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

August 26, 2011

Earlier this month, CNN contributor and national columnist Ruben Navarrette, Jr. wrote an opinion piece on millennials in the job market, saying, “millennials are tech-savvy, highly educated and have incredibly high self-esteem even if they haven’t done much to deserve it.” And he’s not alone.

Needless to say, Navarette’s assessment was a bit controversial to both millennials and non-millennials. But is he correct in some respects?

Millennials, falling between ages 18 and 30, bring a great deal to the workplace. They know their away around every social media outlet. They inspire a creativity that surpasses “thinking outside of the box” because using such a clichéd term to define it is insufficient. And they are self-starters – just look at Zuckerberg and the many other millenials like him in the Silicon Valley.

But like Zuckerberg, some millennials can come off seeming a little entitled. Whether you’re a millennial or not, or an entitled millennial or not, we’ve got some sage advice for not acting like Navarette’s “high self-esteem” millennial in the job market and in the workplace.

The perfect job. Naverrette points out that the unemployment rate for millennials is currently at 14%, compared to the national rate of 9.2%. There are a variety of reasons for this. First, millennials are competing against men and women who have been laid off and are therefore more experienced.

Second, because of the recession, many companies have downsized. In addition to laying off some of the more experienced employees, corporations are limiting hiring for the time being.

Third, millennials are holding out for the perfect job. They want the job they dreamed of in college – in the big city, with the perfect pay and plenty of paid days off. And while the perfect job is out there, it might not be the perfect time to go after it.

We’re living in one of those times where “beggars can’t be choosers.” If you don’t want to live in Mom and Dad’s basement for the next year, you may have to suck it up and take a job that isn’t glamorous for now. Even if you’re just waitressing or serving as a barista at your local coffee shop until that perfect job comes along, you at least have your foot outside of the basement door.

The entitlement. Naverrette states that, “…when they [millennials] do land their dream job, they have some pretty tough requirements in terms of what they want from the experience, such as career advancement. With millennials, you didn’t do them any favors by offering them a job; they think they did you a favor by taking it.”

In my few years in the workforce, I have heard plenty of younger co-millennials declare, “If I don’t get my three-month raise, I’m quitting.” Yes, some crazy companies out there just give raises based on three or six-month terms of employment. But at this time, consider yourself lucky if you even get an annual raise – or keep your job, for that matter.

The reality is that most companies don’t give raises just because you’ve worked there for three, six or twelve months. You have to actually work for that raise or bonus, i.e. your performance determines your pay increases.

In the workplace, you should have no sense of entitlement. Employees that garner attention from their bosses and qualify for performance-based raises keep their heads down, work hard and make it clear that they care about doing well by asking their boss questions like:

• How am I doing
• What can I be doing better?
• How can someone in my position work to advance here?

The attitude. In addition to hearing my co-millennials complain about raises, I’ve heard some say, “I’m not doing that task. It’s not part of my job description.” And it seems Navarrette has heard the same: “There was the chef who reported that young workers in his kitchen give him strange looks when he asks them "to do something like wash both the inside and outside of a pot or pan or to merely complete a job the best they can.” They’re more apt to say: “That’s not my job!””

No matter where you work, you’re on a team. Remember all of the clichéd sayings your high school sports team emblazoned on t-shirts? There’s no “I” in TEAM. “Team” means Together Everyone Achieves More! Well, the same applies to the workplace.

There will be times when you have to do a co-worker’s task or job. Whether it’s because they’re a slacker or don’t have time, it doesn’t matter. You have to help the rest of your team pick up the pieces.

Like your high school sports team, there are star players and then there are those that ride the bench. Be the star player that humbles themselves by working hard, maintaining a good attitude and doing everything you can to ensure that you’re an easy person to work with. At the end of the day and at the culmination of your work experience at that company, you want your co-workers to have the best things to say about you. After all, they’ll be providing the references for your next job.

While many of Navarrette’s conclusions about millennials, in a broad sense, were wrong, some were right. It’s up to millennials to take that term back in the job market and workplace. The term, “millennials,” can evolve to mean something entirely different: hard workers, creative thinkers and workplace revolutionaries.


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