Alyssa Rogan

If you were born between the early eighties and the mid nineties, you probably categorize yourself as a millennial.  Since the youngest millennials are now in their early twenties - myself included -most of us are of working age.

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Sadly, I include myself in the cohort of discouraged post-grads who have not yet landed a job, even though I’ve been applying for jobs (ten, to be exact) since the fall of my senior year.  I often wonder if my bad luck has anything to do with being a millennial - the number of negative stereotypes held by employers about the millennial generation is overwhelming.

Unfortunately, some stereotypes are not always false.  As I considered various reasons for these biases, I thought to myself: wow, if I were an employer, I wouldn’t want to hire me either.  So, instead of casting blame on anyone or defending the Millennial generation, I’m going to summarize what these stereotypes are, why they exist, and how we, as millennials, can learn from employers.

‘Millennials are entitled’

This is probably the phrase I hear most often.  The rationale goes something like this: How can they expect to just get a job straight out of college?  Just because they have a degree, that doesn’t mean they’re qualified for an entry level position.

In short, employers are suggesting we overestimate the value of our education, even though it’s astronomically expensive.  The post-grad millennial owed an average of $37,172 in student debt in 2016 - so are we wrong to value our education higher than employers value our education?  The curse of the millennial means we’re both the most educated generation to date, but the most under paid, making $2,000 less than people our same age in 1980.

Why do employers overestimate the value of our education?  Evidently, they think we’re unprepared for the workplace.  While ninety percent of post-grads believe they're prepared for a job, only half of employers share this sentiment.  Despite paying for a lofty education, employers find that millennials often lack soft skills such as interpersonal communication, writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills.  They also think we’re overconfident, self-centered, and have unrealistic expectations.

Admittedly, I can see why an employer would not want to hire a millennial given the above.  If we can’t communicate clearly, how can we expect to do a job well?  Perhaps this is why employers underestimate the value of our education.  If we’re not learning soft skills in college courses, how can we be expected to land a job?  Where do we learn 'soft skills?

‘Millennials are technology-obsessed’

Because technology obsession delays our ability to develop soft skills, our reliance on technology has had catastrophic consequences.  Studies show that excessively checking social media isolates us from society and causes anxiety.  Additionally, research from the Pew Research Center says that technology experts and stakeholders believe excessive technology use will lead to cognitive decay.  Researchers project that teens and young adults are losing their ability to think deeply and make thoughtful choices, settling instead for instant gratification and quick fixes.  In fact, we’re so hooked on instant gratification that advertisers targeting millennials know they only have five to six seconds to capture our attention.  

So, we millennials still need to nurture our interpersonal skills if we’re going to nail that job interview.  There’s no better way than to practice, so why not get a cup of coffee with friends and leave the phone at home?  A little bit of practice goes a long way - soon, interpersonal offline communication will come as naturally as it has in previous generations.

‘Millennials are lazy’

I think we’re a hard-working generation, so this one’s hard for me to rationalize.  The truth is, we don’t quite fit into the workplace culture that generation Xers and Boomers have established.  We may, in fact, be just as hard-working as everyone else, but employers often don’t perceive this because we defy tradition.  We’re more likely to build our professional life around what we love to do, such as selling on Etsy or building a following on YouTube than work at a monotonous job.

In trying to choose a college major, how many of your parents advised you to choose the safe major that promised a steady income, rather than the major more in line with your passions and talents?  I’ve seen several of my friends struggle with the decision between purpose and success as if we can’t eventually achieve both.

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 I’ve seen my friends struggle with the decision between purpose and success as if we can’t eventually achieve both.

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I think everybody wants their job to have purpose, but millennials are more likely to take that chance and do something that may not guarantee traditional career success or a steady income at first.  Sometimes, employers see this as the easy way out of working hard; we want to take shortcuts, rather than humbly starting at the bottom like everyone else.

Millennials also value intangible work benefits (i.e. friendly work culture and an inspiring work space), expect flexible work hours, challenge authority by asking tough questions (i.e. why a decision was made), endeavor to move up the profession ladder quickly, and value autonomy over structure.  A combination of these attributes are often misperceived as laziness and arrogance, rather than ambition.

The way around this misperception is communicating to employers that we respect their authority and the way the workplace is organized, rather than challenging everything the second we walk in (even if our ideas are brilliant).  We need to willingly do the boring (seemingly meaningless jobs) rather than rush to the top and willingly learn from those who have been around the block a few times.

‘Millennials are narcissistic’

Our increasingly individualistic culture supports to this stereotype.  Popular songs from today contain more self-focused lyrics than they did in the 1980s; individualistic phrases such as ‘I am special’ have increased in books since the 1960s; and parents are giving their children uncommon names, emphasizing our individuality.  Given the fact that we grew up being told we were unique, it’s no wonder we believe we’re capable of anything, toeing the line between confidence and narcissism.

But somebody answer this for me: when did the world stop believing the very thing they told us when we were young - that we were capable of anything?

Because the generations before us are responsible for setting up unrealistic expectations, we’ll have to learn how to avoid this stereotype the hard way.  There’s a chance we’ll be looked down on, underestimated, and misunderstood upon entering the workforce simply because we’re Millennials.  All we can really do is practice humility and be ready for failure.  

And that’s okay.  Let’s take it like champs.  Employers will see that we have lots to offer, even if they don’t initially believe it.

‘Millennials are oversensitive’

We’ve covered that millennials are told they aren't special after all, and have no reason to believe they can just waltz into any job after receiving their diplomas.  Because we can’t handle this truth, we're then considered oversensitive.  The analogy of the consolation prize is often used to describe us: even when someone wins the trophy, the rest of us still get consolation ribbons because no one is a loser.  Again, it was the generations above us who set up this unrealistic expectation in every situation, so our adult lives are already beginning on the wrong foot.

Another problem is the danger of political correctness.  We need to be okay with people having unpopular opinions or taking stances against issues we disagree with.  Often, we get stuck believing one ‘universally accepted’ way of thinking, ironically becoming intolerant of people who approach issues from anything that deviates from the norm.  This is not to say, however, that we should excuse hostility and prejudice - just that we need to be able to live in the tension of disagreement.  Otherwise, building rapport and friendly relationships with our coworkers will be extremely difficult.

In the workplace, we’re going to run into all kinds of people who have different views - some widely expected, some not.  Let’s seek to understand the way they think, rather than get defensive and it will make for a more interesting workplace.

So what do we know now?

I wish I had a clean, easy answer to this question.  As someone who’s unemployed, uncertain, and discouraged, I’m still trying to figure this out myself.  What if I can’t land a job because I do, in fact, fit into these stereotypes?  Have I overestimated my education, my ability, my self-worth?

If you, too, are battling these same insecurities, we are in danger of letting these stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies.  In other words, if we’re constantly told we’re entitled, lazy, technology-expressed, narcissistic, and over sensitive, odds are we’ll start believing it.

So, let’s go get that job.  Let’s learn from employers.  Let’s be humble, disciplined, interpersonal, considerate, and tough.  Let’s prove them wrong.

 

Alyssa Rogan earned her degree in writing from Houghton College, a small, liberal arts college in western New York.  A native of Rochester, NY, she dreams of one day becoming a published author of contemporary YA literature.  Other than writing she loves reading, working out, baking, thrift shopping, the Buffalo Bills, and all things ‘90s.  Follow her on instagram at @alyssa_rogan.

 

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