Tue, Nov 1, 2011
While Generation Y is in the midst of booming into the workforce, the job market for millennials is anything but booming.
The truth is, there seem to be fewer and fewer jobs available, a matter further complicated by the fact that many members of the emerging workforce have been pigeonholed into stereotypes that aren’t necessary reflective of reality.
You know the ones: that Gen Y has unrealistically high expectations for career advancement, born out of a false sense of entitlement and overinflated sense of their skills and abilities. That they’re lazy, lacking morals, ethics and emotional intelligence, and have a general antipathy towards hard work or paying the dues necessary to make it in today’s world of work (and so on…)
I’ve personally spent over six years in my current role as a career counselor at a top-flight research university, where I interact with countless Gen Y students and alumni every day, and I realize that many of these myths, like most stereotypes, are born out of ignorance or inexperience.
Because the fact of the matter is, these generalities about “Digital Natives” or “Generation Next” prove misunderstood, misinterpreted and misinformed.
Generation Y might be more beneficial and valuable to organizations than most might think, representing a proverbial “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” The very characteristics that many see as weaknesses are in fact, strengths that many members of the emerging workforce possess – and many employers desperately need.
One thing I see every day, in countless interactions with members of Generation Y, is a growing divide and disparity between perception and reality. That’s why it’s important to take a different approach, and deeper look, at some of the most pervasive Gen Y myths.
Here are a few of the most common and the realities that require rethinking what you think you know about Generation Y:
Perception #1: Generation Y is Lazy
Reality: Generation Y is Confused
Explanation: With the world and technology constantly changing and becoming more complex, members of Gen Y are just trying to decipher how to navigate their way around. Every day, Millennials are bombarded with thousands of messages, and it is often difficult to determine best practices from easier options (which is why recruiters are bombarded with 1000 resumes per job posting versus more effective techniques such as networks).
And while other generations in the workforce are faced with the same problems, Generation Y lacks the experience and foundation to best utilize these various technological resources.
Which leads to the next major misconception…
Perception #2: Generation Y Is Apathetic
Reality: Generation Y Is Bored
Explanation: Since everything now is accessible at our fingertips, and Generation Y is the most experienced and, dare I say, qualified to understand and decipher the social media landscape, their attention tends to waver quickly from one task or subject to another. It doesn’t help that a world now filled with YouTube and DVR allows us to more quickly get to (or through) the information we need.
As such, if, as an organization, we are not moving at the speed of these technologies, we are already behind before we’ve even started. As a result, we perceive a younger workforce that is disloyal and needy, when, in fact, we are having difficulty just maintaining their interest.
Perception #3: Generation Y Lacks Morals
Reality: Generation Y Has Different Values
Explanation: Millennials are the product of the ‘Me Generation,’ where money and status were king among core values (think: Wall Street). As such, other core values such as service, respect, and change are often difficult to decipher, even though they are hidden way deep inside the heart of this generation.
After all, the Millennials were the key demographic behind the success of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election, which leads to yet another common misconception, that Generation Y is more liberal than previous generations. In fact, what you may not have noticed is their tendency to prefer to seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities and/or through their work.
How else do you explain the rise of social entrepreneurs (happen to hear of Tom’s Shoes?), the growth of core value-laden companies such as Zappos and Google (witnessed by Google’s core principle “you can make money without doing evil?”), and the new found commitment/interest in non-profit organizations?
Perception #4: Generation Y Has Trouble Finding Jobs
Reality: Generation Y Has Trouble Networking
Explanation: The age-old standards preached by Dale Carnegie are becoming a lost art.
How to Win Friends and Influence People has given way to ‘How to Find Jobs Without Getting Information.’ The problem is, Gen Y thinks online job searching is the easiest way to get a job because it’s the most accessible.
They also are accustomed to taking a Trait-Factor approach (that is, a Gen Y candidate might look at a job description and think “the job description asks for qualifications and requirements that I already have so I should fit right in!”) to determine whether they fit a job or not—without taking into account the other facets of career satisfaction.
The recent growth of management development training programs and formalized mentorship initiatives seems to be a product of this dilemma because it assists Millennials with the other facets of career satisfaction, including personality fit, skills/interest match, among others.
Perception #5: Generation Y Thinks They’re Smarter Than You Were At Their Age
Reality: Generation Y IS Smarter Than You Were At Their Age
Explanation: …as long as they utilize reputable sources.
Five-year-old children are able to find more information on a smartphone or tablet than their parents. Quadruple that age to 20 and the possibilities are endless. The Millenial generation is growing up faster and expected to act more like adults at younger and younger ages in real life as well as online.
Back in my day (did I just age myself using that expression?), one could get a quality college education with an SAT score of 1100 (OK, definitely aging myself)…care to guess the average now?
Of course, with college costs and debt soaring, these scores aren’t the only thing inflated since the halcyon days of Boomers and Generation X.
Of course, there are many other perceptions about Generation Y that need a reality check. For instance, do they truly have a positive outlook or are they scared to wit’s end? Do they have a sense of entitlement and power or are they actually searching for love and acceptance?
Recognizing the truth behind the myths is the first step to determining the best ways to attract, grow and retain these valuable members of our workforce (and society).