NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For the past few years, the moniker “Millennial” took on a connotation that a lot of Generation Y 20-somethings and early 30-somethings weren’t happy with. Thankfully, most didn’t let it get them down, and more Millennials than any other age group now say their age can work to their advantage. More than half of all Millennials — 61% — feel they have greater opportunities available to them because of their age, according to the Spherion 2014 Emerging Workforce Study.
Here’s a look at how smart Millennials can shed the stigma and start owning their age and their careers:
Stop being so sensitive about being called a Millennial
“Who wouldn’t be sensitive if you were referred to as lazy, materialistic, selfish, entitled and less willing to do the work?” asks Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of client services at Keystone Associates, an outplacement and executive coaching firm. “Would baby boomers like to be called out-of-touch, unwilling to use technology or low-energy? I am sure they wouldn’t.”
Unfortunately, everyone gets labeled at some point. You just have to overcome those “barriers of perception,” Mattson says.
Thankfully, the conversation around Millennials is changing. More managers have seen that millennials possess skills and creativity that are necessary to any growing workplace, says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at professional staffing firm Robert Half.
“I’m delighted that the conversation has evolved. For so long, managers talked about how Generation Y needed to ‘conform,’ but over the past five years I have seen leadership start to look at this more critically and say, ‘You know what, we need these attributes. We need to work with this population and embrace some of their ideas.’” McDonald says.
People confuse “entitled” with driven and opportunistic
Millennials are ambitious, and oftentimes their ambition can be perceived as entitlement, says Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, managing partner at Masthead Media.
“To succeed today, you have to have great ambition and be willing to work quickly toward your goals. Millennials are very driven, and they aren’t afraid to state what they want, to say out loud who they want to be and where they want to go. This isn’t entitlement, it’s conviction and drive,” she says.
Millennials aren’t afraid to put in the hours to reach their goals, Ilkovich says.
”If they say, ‘I want to be a manager,’ they aren’t just saying they want to be handed that job. They’re letting you know that’s how they envision their career trajectory,” she says. “But, they also know that the traditional paths aren’t the only ways to get there anymore.”
For example, a traditional path to a management role at a company 15 years ago might have been to spend five years working as an assistant, then another five years as assistant manager. Today, Millennials may start their own companies in college and become CEOs by the time they’re 25. Or they may spend five years gaining incredible experience at a large international company and be ready to lead a smaller team by the time they’re 27.
“Millennials know you don’t have to follow the traditional path anymore. That doesn’t make them entitled. That just makes them smart,” she says.
Also, technology has radically changed the way people do business — especially Millennials. The younger generation isn’t afraid to embrace remote work, Skype meetings or getting an entire workday done via smartphone and tablet.
“Older generations may think, ‘Oh, they aren’t working hard because they aren’t in the office,’ but the Millennials are just embracing change. Just because they are embracing these new ways to work doesn’t mean they aren’t capable.”
Many Millennials are now managers and CEOs
Millennials aren’t just kids trying desperately to make it onto the bottom rung of the corporate ladder — many of them are leading companies and influencing change worldwide.
“We have been talking about how to ‘manage’ Millennials, but in many cases Millennials are already managers,” McDonald says. “Rather than talking about how to manage them, we need to be talking about their management style, and what they bring to the table as leaders.”
Older Millennials are now 32, McDonald says, and as Baby Boomers retire, Millennials will be taking on more responsibilities.
“It’s becoming more the norm to see Gen Y-ers managing Boomers,” he says.
In order to ensure career advancement, millennials shouldn’t be afraid to demand clear expectations from their managers.
“Many Boomers and Gen X-ers seem to resent millennials, using terms like ‘entitled’ or ‘precocious’ to describe their younger colleagues, but are ineffective at setting expectations or providing context or clear direction, thus leaving their millennial teammates at a loss of how to contribute effectively,” says Lee Caraher, author of Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work.
In many cases, Millennials who don’t know exactly what’s expected of them at work may not be performing to their manager’s standards.
“Although this may initially be perceived by managers as a work ethic standard, it may just be a breakdown in communication,” Caraher says.
With the right communication in place, there’s no reason why Millennials can’t be effective managers of employees of all ages.
A 30-year-old’s resume today is very different from what it was in 1970
A Millennial with five years of experience is very different than someone who had five years of experience in the 1970s or 1980s, Ilkovich says.
“Opportunities have changed. Before, if you wanted to further your career, you had to spend years in grad school. Today you can take online night courses to get a certification or degree. Or you can work at a startup and get experience doing six different things at once,” she says. “The opportunities are bigger and greater than ever before.”
Companies today also understand the importance of education.
“Before, employers had this idea that taking classes might take away from you being able to do your job, but that is completely reversed now. If you are taking a class and furthering your education, you are seen as more helpful to your employer. Many companies even provide free certifications or tuition reimbursement,” she says.
Today, entrepreneurial spirit is being celebrated.
“Take advantage of the fact that there are ways to advance your career like never before. Open a side business, take classes — you are in control of creating your career and your experiences. People are realizing that your age is not a reflection on the amount of experience you have or what you are qualified to do.”
Millennials are under more pressure to perform than any other generation
Millennials are the Internet generation, constantly connected to work through social media, smartphones and apps. "Time off" is almost a thing of the past when your boss can get hold of you anywhere, says Kerry Schofield, co-founder and chief psychometrics officer at self-discovery platform Good.co.
“Being constantly 'switched on,' under public scrutiny, becomes exhausting after a while,” she says.
Millennials also face a huge amount of competition and pressure to "win," more so than previous generations, Schofield says.
“Before the Internet and before long-distance telecommuting and travel became common, people only had to compete with those in their local area. Endless advertising bombards us with the idea that if we're not yacht-owning dot-com millionaires before 30, we've somehow failed in life. Millennials have to compete on a global scale if they want to reach the top and stay there — and if they fail, a lot more people are going to know about it these days!”
— By Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet