“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
If any generation has felt the effects of stereotyping, categorizing, and labeling in hiring and promotion practices, it has been millennials.
Stubborn, skeptical, and out of touch is how I would describe Gen X and Baby Boomers, sorry mom and dad, and millennials are lazy, entitled and selfie-obsessed. Are these descriptions necessarily true? No, but we love to categorize, generalize, and stereotype groups because it is a proxy for understanding an individual. Chimamanda Adichie asserts stereotyping results in a general acceptance of a singular incomplete story, and for a millennial on the hunt for a job, or seeking a promotion, there are tangible consequences. Being pigeonholed is suffocating and minimalizes the individual spirit, but complaining about it won’t get your hired or promoted.
Most of the literature on millennials in the workforce is written for older generations to help understand us, the new and powerful demographic in the workplace. The literature is great for attempts to reach across the generation gap, but the responsibility rests on the millennial generation to bust the stereotypes.
Here are the most common stereotypes about millennials and what you can do to overcome them:
We only want positive feedback, and it needs to be constant
Report cards, coaches, teachers, and parents have conditioned us to expect constant feedback that serve as guideposts for heading in the right or wrong direction. The need for feedback is not rooted in our narcissism so much as it is rooted in a desire for growth and to understand how we measure-up.
What you can do: Instead of constantly going to your boss for feedback try finding a mentor for a more reciprocal and valuable relationship. Show your potential mentor what you have to offer. Don’t be disheartened by criticism; body language and facial expressions can give away that you are uncomfortable, so take a deep breath and be aware of the silent cues you are projecting. You want to come across as receptive, responsive and graceful.
We are entitled and expect to have things handed to us
Part of the novelty of youth is ambition and high goals for our future selves. It is easy for self-confidence and ambition to be misinterpreted as entitlement, don’t give up those high hopes but learn to manage how you come across.
What you can do: Volunteer to stay late or do extra work before you are asked or told, and express gratitude for opportunities. Ambition will not be viewed negatively when balanced with humility and being a team player.
We are too young and inexperienced
Well duh! Inexperience is the essence of youth. With time comes experience, but a lack of experience does not make one incapable of performing the functions of a job. It just means the opportunity has not presented itself before. Every seasoned businessperson was once a rookie.
What you can do: Personal branding. Help others see in you what you want them to see, tell them what value and skills you bring to an organization.
We are obsessed with technology, and are less likely to use face to face communication
Work to strengthen written communication or virtual communication because face-to-face communication is not always efficient or even feasible, but don’t dismiss the importance of a face-to-face connection, especially when making a first impression.
What you can do: Work to improve face-to-face communication including: listening skills, presentation skills, or more personal skills like maintaining eye contact. I found taking an improv class useful in making situations more comfortable and fluid.
Regardless of age or experience, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. What sets you apart is knowing how to play to your strengths and working to minimize your weaknesses through continued development.