Joel Stein Doesn’t Get It

Joel Stein, in Time Magazine, calls us the Me Me Me Generation; he’s missing the point. To echo an idea I explored in my first blog post, Millennials are probably the most studied, discussed, and analyzed generation in history. This is not a product of us being particular unique, but a product of the explosion of content creators and content consumption in our culture. People, of all ages, want to read about and share information about generational differences, it feeds into a natural urge we all have to find patterns and group people together. The old have always looked at the young with trepidation and skepticism, the young consume such – weird/loud/obnoxious/talentless/insert your adjective – music, movies, food. The young are so – selfish/entitled/narcissistic/spoiled – and they’re bringing down our society.

The original Time Magazine cover

The original Time Magazine cover

This happens like clockwork with each subsequent generation. I think part of the way we informally and anecdotally separate generations is by gauging the demarcation-line for where old people see a problem. And as generations go by these, either real or created, distinctions will become a self-fulfilling prophecy due to just the sheer amount of content about generational differences. Over the past two decades there has been a real push to get data on generations to move from purely anecdotal evidence to actual evidence. This has been a relatively small endeavor because there have existed some significant constraints on generational studies.

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The first constraint is that prior to the 1980s there really wasn’t much legitimate empirical data available on generations. The second constraint is that defining a generation is a difficult task because it’s such an ethereal concept; I’m not yet sure if this is an inherent fault or a fixable one. The only way to find out is to gather as much data as possible on Millennials (the most studied and written about generation yet) and compare that data with subsequent generations. Generational studies requires longitudinal data as well.

This isn’t necessarily a constraint; but rather a problem with generational commentary in general, the skewed sample sizes that most commentators use is problematic. I’m not an exception to this, as my opinions are based off of a small, non-representative sample of millennials as well. I base most of my opinion on my experience (as every writer does), and most of my information comes from highly educated, mostly NYC-based, mostly white, mostly upper-middle class people. That’s afterall, the environment and the circle I grew up with.

Given all of that, Joel Stein is partially correct in saying that a particular sub-group of Millennials are the “me me me generation.” Although, I’d even be cautious about labeling the highly educated, NYC-based, and affluent Millennials as especially narcissistic compared to people from the same background of previous generations; because you still run into the same constraints discussed above.

This Atlantic piece offers a great rebuttal to the standard argument against millennials, whose newest iteration takes the form of the Time article. I’ve been blogging against these common misconceptions of millennials for months, and I’m just one of dozens of millennial bloggers and writers who are telling our own stories.

One common theme that comes up in millennial circles is the idea of heightened expectations and a non-reflective double-standard from our elders. This is not a new story, strife between generations; but never before has a generation been so heavily discussed and criticized. I think the question many people of my generation have is quite simply, to quote Nas – “most of our elders failed us, how could they judge us…?”

Boomers failed us on 9/11, they failed us by leading this country into an unnecessary war in Iraq, they failed us by extending our stay in Afghanistan, they brought our country and the world economy to its’ knees, and they’ve ignored climate change. Boomers want to blame millennials for possessing a selfish attitude about the world when they’ve been a significant part of the era that saw income inequality grow to record levels.

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One of the many parody covers found around the interwebs

And now, millennials are left with this bag of goodies to deal with. The veterans who fought the Boomers’ wars are mostly millennials – you would have thought the Boomers would have been more sensitive to sending young people to war given their experience with Vietnam. Climate change has reached the tipping point under Boomer watch and millennials will be left to address it and deal with its’ symptoms. The economy is still in recession for the vast majority of people, and under Boomer watch the few jobs that are being created are low wage.

What I can’t wrap my head around is why Boomers don’t seem to understand that helping millennials is in their own self interest. As the largest generation since the Boomers it will fall upon us to pay their social security, and support them as they retire. There is obviously the political and ideological divide to understanding why job-creation has been entirely dropped from the national conversation in both the media and in Congress. But there is also the generational divide that can be looked at as a reason for a non-existent jobs program. The Boomers have largely washed their hands of us in terms of policy and politics because this isn’t a problem that affects them directly – except when their adult children have to move back home because they can’t find work.

Solving the problems of youth unemployment, underemployment, and student debt is not about selfish millennials, it’s about the health of the entire country, and by extension the world. Having said all that, just because there are more outlets for us to gripe doesn’t mean we won’t get to the business of fixing the mess Boomers left us with. We will fix it because we have to.

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New Design!

If you’ve frequented this blog since I started it in January you may have noticed some slight changes today. There is a new logo and background to the site, which I think personalizes and represents my blog much better. This was solely the work of Rachel Gall, a fellow millennial blogger who has been an invaluable resource since I started. She’s a great graphic designer and I encourage you to check out more of her work at her website.

Do Employers Know What They Want?

Since the start of the Great Recession a popular mode of thought has been that employers want employees with specific technical skill sets. There has been a huge push for more Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians (STEMs) in the American workforce. We’ve all heard the numbers, hundreds of thousands of STEM jobs remain unfilled in the United States because there are not enough qualified graduates to fill them. Having said that, is the popular narrative that liberal art majors can’t contribute meaningfully to organizations entirely a myth? Do employers really pass over generalist completely?

According to this article, they don’t. Apparently many employers want broad skill sets when looking for employees. This is, of course, what college has traditionally been about. Getting a broad foundation, and dabbling in the specifics of a particular field has been the modus operandi of higher education for decades.

“93 percent of employers agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Four out of 5 employers said each college graduate should have broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences, and 3 out of 4 would recommend a liberal education to their own children.”

This is a confusing message; employers want broad skill sets, but they also want experience and talent in specific fields (usually STEM fields). It seems employers want it all, and since the recession began they are increasingly demanding it all, because they can.

The recession has allowed employers to be more selective in their hiring processes because of basic rules of supply and demand. Huge demand for jobs, low supply of jobs. What’s been dangerous about this is that while employers are apparently fond of generalists, they are increasingly making their hiring processes more demanding. Instead of just wanting people who have a broad higher educational background; they now want, and can demand, job candidates be highly proficient in a specific skill set coming straight out of school. Not only must a graduate know important concepts in sociology, literature, political science, history, and philosophy; but we’re expected to have some specific training in biology, chemistry engineering, computer science, or statistics. This is just, frankly, unreasonable. Where there used to be an expectation between employers and employees alike that there would be some on-the-job training, I get the impression this is no longer the case. Employers are looking for people that can truly hit the ground running with very little training and/or oversight. Again, it’s understandable, but unreasonable.

Which brings me to another point; employers are making prospective employees jump through hoops during the hiring process. In some respects the hiring process at some organizations is comical, but because employers can do it, they are doing it. In this New York Times piece from last week, some of the comedy of the hiring process is highlighted:

“Like other job seekers around the country, he has been through marathon interview sessions. Mr. Sullivan has received eighth- and ninth-round callbacks for positions at three different companies. Two of those companies, as it turned out, ultimately decided not to hire anyone, he said; instead they put their openings “on hold” because of budget pressures.”

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Eight to nine interviews is a bit excessive. What could possibly be gained from bringing back candidates so many times? This just leads me to believe that employers, due to the breadth and depths of candidates in this economy don’t actually know what they are looking for. It’s analogous to someone who is so picky about who they date that you get the impression they don’t actually know what a good partner is because they’ll find faults in everyone. And if you’re an organization that is facing budget pressures, is it really a smart move to be interviewing candidates you know you can’t hire? Is that fair and considerate to the candidates time and emotional investment? As job seekers we’re told to know details about a company before going into the interview process. Is it not also the responsibility of employers to know what they are looking for, and the resources available to the company ahead of time?

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The Specific Reason Networks are More Important than Job Boards

We’ve all heard the tips and career advice for job candidates out there. There is no shortage of information for how to conduct a successful job search and application process; it’s an entire industry. I’ve read my fair share of them and taken some of the information to heart, but so much of it is contradictory or common sense, and it all can be fatiguing. What’s consistent in all these advice columns, and Top-10 lists, and Today show segments is that networking is the most important factor in finding a job. I mean this as a positive, but not normative statement.Image

Treating all of that as a given, I’m more interested in examining why this is the case and if this is actually a healthy way of job hunting for both employers and job candidates alike. What is the factor that makes networking more important than job board applications? Skepticism.

Employers who meet people through their networks are less skeptical and thus more open to hiring those they have some familiarity with. Employers who find job candidates through job boards are inherently skeptical of candidates. We can all empathize with this pretty natural skepticism because many positions receive hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of applications. Job boards are intrinsically impersonal, and even if an application makes it through the automated software and to a hiring managers’ desk, there is a degree of scrutiny each application receives that doesn’t exist when meeting potential candidates personally. The impersonal application process reverses the steps in the process. Instead of apply – personal meeting/interview – offer. The networking process is personal meeting/interview – apply – offer. An inherent disadvantage to the non-networker.

The bar is higher for the non-networker than the networker, and everyone knows this. Thus the interview environment is going to be much more intimidating to non-networkers. There is more to prove, more uncertainty, and everyone’s guard is up. So, there are two things we must contend with, we need to recognize that this is a problem, and we must figure out a solution.

The piece Networking Hurts Our Workforce echoes the problem of continuing to use networking as the primary driver of finding talent.

“To the detriment of productivity, networking has become the focal point of the hiring process. Millennials are continually encouraged to earn a college education, pursue an advanced degree, and even work unpaid internships in hopes to secure future employment. After acing exams and volunteering to gain experience, Generation Y struggles with the new, vague career advice of “just network.”

It’s incredibly unbalanced and unproductive to employers, and the country as a whole, that one group of jobseekers faces more skepticism than another. So what’s the solution to this problem? Social networking of course. Now this is not a magic bullet to solve everything, and many organizations completely miss the point of social networking altogether.

Social networking is not used my most HR departments and organizations to recruit individuals and this needs to change as there are a lot of opportunities in this space that don’t exist in the real world. Creating topics for potential candidates to discuss with HR staff about the organization on Facebook or Twitter can help identify those that are truly interested in the organization and their knowledge. Seeking creative applications through Pinterest or Instagram could be a way of recruiting. Any tool is only as good as the people behind it. Not using the resources of free social networks damages the potential of organizations and keeps young people, who are not part of vast networks, from jobs they are qualified for.

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FEATURE – The Problem with Personal Branding: Public Shaming and Identity in the Modern Internet Era

We’ve all heard the criticisms of our obsession with social media for years. We have our noses in our phones, we’re unaware of the world around us, we’ve become more social online while neglecting actually being social in the world. In a Mashable op-ed published a few days ago, one of the symptoms of this highly connected but personally disengaged modern world was examined quite well.

By now some may of heard of the Adria Richards situation at the Pycon tech conference, which had the internet buzzing last week. I won’t hash out the details, as thorough summaries and analyses of the incident(s) can be found here, on Adria’s own blog, as well as in the Mashable Op-Ed itself.Image

What I want to concentrate on are not the symptoms, but the causes of the incident itself and larger trends going on with a generation used to social networking; and the, I’d argue recent, divergence of social networking and identity.

A Definition of Terms

To borrow the idea of looking at the particular Adria Richards situation through the same lens as the Mashable piece, I think it’s safe to say we’re in an era of ubiquitous public shaming.

From my perspective there are two types of public shaming we see. The voluntary shaming, those that intentionally upload their own thoughts, words, and actions onto the internet, which is then picked up by others and goes viral. Lets call this type I shaming; I like the sound of that. And the second is the type that we see in the Pycon situation, unintentional shaming, where the party that committed a ‘shameful’ act was not privy to their act being made public. Lets call this type II shaming. There is not much of a case to be made for those that engage in the first act; as they are acting entirely on their own accord, making not only the decision to write or record their actions but then uploading it. Any public shaming consequences to their actions is their responsibility to bare. Afterall, publically posting content that you yourself created is tantamount to walking to your local town square, standing on a soapbox with a bullhorn and speaking.

But I do think there is a reasonable argument to be made that not all cases that fall under type II public shaming are made equal; as there is a big difference between being caught saying slavery wasn’t all that bad at CPAC, and making a juvenile joke about dongles. The public shaming of the CPAC participant was clearly warranted; but the public shaming of the Pycon guys was questionable at best. And it’s those questionable type II public shamings that I’m going to concentrate on.

The Problem

Over the past few years social networking has evolved and grown significantly. Users now engage with their networks in different ways that in the past, and there are some benefits and drawbacks to the new use of social media. When social networks and blogging first rolled out with the likes of LiveJournal, Friendster, Myspace, and eventually Facebook, the idea of networking was relegated to a small group of peers. The individual networks were relatively tiny, and internet anonymity ruled the day. Social networks have evolved tremendously since then, but with that evolutionary change has come a revolution in etiquette and privacy – or lacktherof.

Years ago Facebook began rolling out it’s sign-in feature, for use on any website that wanted it. I remember the backlash this idea initially garnered. It was seen as an invasion of privacy via anonymity on the internet. One could, of course, opt out of this; but overtime it’s ubiquity has essentially made it a must-have feature for any website worth its’ salt.

There is currently a clash between the pre ubiquity of the Facebook sign-in and the post-ubiquity of it. It’s a clash between the former anonymity of the internet and the era of post-anonymity we find ourselves in right now. Personally I have one foot still in web 1.0 anonymity and one foot in the modern web – I guess we’re up to 3.0 now?

The problem is that, and what few seem to be acknowledging, this transition from the anonymity of the internet to the current internet is as much a question of identity as it is Twitter handle. Where at one time I felt free to be entirely candid on the web, over the past few years that feeling of freedom has significantly diminished, partly by my own accord and partly because companies like Facebook and Google have been pushing hard the idea of seamlessly melding our internet selves and real-world selves into one identity. This has all been aided by the tremendous growth in both the capability, and use, of smartphones. What’s become apparent though is that instead of melding these two identities, we’re increasingly deciding to create duplicates of ourselves, faux identities to get by in the online world. The internet is becoming not a place of unabashed opinion and realness but a place of exclusively professional etiquette.

Having sanitized versions of ourselves all over the internet can lead us to be holier-than-thou many times. We blast our good deeds and pronounce our outrage over offensive things; but we do this while suppressing our actual feelings, emotions, thoughts, and challenges. Do we really go through life that outraged at the dozens of offensive things we see, or experience, in our everday lives? I submit that we do not. Those questionable type II public shaming incidents I discussed before are what I’m talking about. I’ve certainly heard my fair share of things that made me uncomfortable in my life, especially as a black male. But when I was growing up hearing these things I didn’t have access to the tools of web 3.0 that are so damaging. If I had a problem with something I previously had three options: Confront the person who offended me, ignore the situation, or go to a third party with my gripes. Nowadays there is a fourth option, which is to publicly shame the person that offended us without so much as saying a word to the person ahead of time. I think that’s kind of dangerous.

Branding Ourselves

We, collectively, those of us who use our real identities on the internet, have essentially become the on-camera media. We are mimicking the decorum and professionalism of media personalities on our personal social media profiles, abandoning the idea that the internet is a place to be candid and open. Now I know some may say this is a good thing; but I disagree, I think we’re branding ourselves instead of being ourselves. And there is a fundamental difference between branding and reality. A brand is always perfect, always on, always receptive, always engaged, always positive, always thinking ahead. We, humans, are none of these things. Despite what Citizens United may of said, brands are not human beings. And I am not perfect; and most likely you, dear reader, are not either.

The fact that we are branding ourselves, instead of actually being ourselves is problematic. It leads us to take actions online that we may not take in real life, or in other-ways gloss over the realities of life to fit overarching themes our personal brand represents. Our mundane and imperfect humanness clashes with our exciting and near-perfect brand in this modern age. Our networks are larger, our reach wider, our words a bit more prominent; but we are not paid and professionalized media personalities, we are just people.

I think we’re all guilty of saying the wrong thing a few times in our lives. Barring something egregious most of our mistakes are taken in stride. In the past someone may call us on our offensiveness and we apologize, learn, grow, and adjust. I’ve been called out by someone who didn’t approve of my words before, but they approached me privately. I happily changed my actions and attitude permanently because of that. In the web 3.0 era too often our first reactions are to tweet our outrage, instead of live our outrage. That can’t be healthy.

Don’t be a Bully

A particular tumblr phenomenon that took off a few months ago called Nice Guys of OkCupid, was the catalyst for my interest in this idea of web 3.0 public shaming. The tumblr page and the reactions to it were a case study in the merits and potential dangerousness of public shaming. While some of the things that some of the “nice guys” said on their profiles were truly disturbing, misogynistic, and worthy of contempt; I was equally as disturbed by the public shaming that was going on of these men who clearly had issues and needed some sort of private intervention. – Admittedly, this falls more under the type I public shaming I mentioned before so I won’t spend too much time on it.

The entire internet can gang up on a certain individual or group at any moment. Your face and words can go viral in an instant and you can be harassed, threatened, talked about, and written about by thousands of people. Is this not a form of bullying to some degree? The heavy handed condemnation of this collected group of “nice guys,” across the web was like a combination between rubbernecking after a crash and schoolyard bullying. Is this the degree to which we will publicly shame other human beings? I think this piece in the Atlantic highlighted the problem perhaps more eloquently than I ever could.

….From Here

Given that right now we’re in a transitory state in how we’re interacting with the world, the question is what does the future hold, where do we go from here? I don’t consider myself someone who is prone to overstatements; this is not the end of civilization or civility, and it isn’t a brave new world. This doesn’t mean there is an empathy crisis among young people, or any such nonsense. It’s simply just an evolution in how we look at, and interact with, the world around us. However, I do mourn the loss of candidness and conversation on the internet, for about a dozen years we had something really special.

Finally, I think we’re all used to hearing that every individual isn’t perfect and that we all have our flaws and make mistakes. But while we hear this often, with social media we’re permanently highlighting other peoples’ flaws, while preserving our own “perfection” for our personal brand. While there is not a crisis of empathy, I do wish more people would be more empathetic before publicly shaming others.

What are your thoughts on public shaming and personal branding? Is there an inherent problem with branding ourselves instead of being ourselves? Do you believe that you are your brand and visa versa? Do you think internet shaming is a type of bullying? TYPE your thoughts and SHARE this post.

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The Smartest Generation

There have been a host of great pieces written about Millennials in major outlets as of late; and reading these have provided some confirmation bias on an argument I’ve briefly touched on in previous posts. Namely that Millennials are the smartest generation. I believe every generation has an aura that symbolizes it, especially after history has cast its’ judgement.Image

We have the greatest generation which endured unprecedented economic distress and fought heroically in the deadliest war in humankind’s history. We have the Boomers who were the driving force behind civil rights, ending the war in Vietnam, and growing the American economy. And we have Gen Xers, who often get a bad rap as the “lost generation,” but who are largely responsible for truly realizing many of the ideals of the civil rights era. Gen Xers are the generation that embodies critical thinking, as they are skeptical of authority and seek alternative opinions.

Now, of course these are all generalizations, this is not a science. Normally I would say that should go without saying, but disclaimers seem necessary in this day and age. Having said all that, I believe history will look back on millennials as the smartest generation. This actually seems fairly obvious if you think of it this way; each generation builds upon the knowledge of every previous generation. As time goes on the knowledge base grows; we must know more about the world because more information exists in the past than previous generations had access to. Add to that the exponential growth of technology and the growing expectation that millennials should at least possess some background in programming; well, we end up with some pretty high expectations of a knowledge base for young people.

A few years ago the aggregate student debt in this country surpassed the aggregate credit card debt for the first time. Debates were had about whether this was “good debt” or not, whether we’re setting young people up for financial trouble, and whether college is even necessary for many young Americans. What was lost in this debate is the fact that young people have pursued higher education at record numbers, and during the recent economic downturn many students went on to pursue advanced degrees instead of entering the job market right after college, I being one of those people. What was lost in this debate is that we’re producing a highly educated generation that will lead the country for the next four decades.

Personally, my decision to pursue an advance degree was a calculated risk. I had seen the studies that concluded that those entering the job market in tough economic times tend to always lag behind their peers in earnings potential. Over time the added student debt I would rack up furthering my own education would more than pay for itself by the extra income I’d earn throughout my life. I still think it was a solid economic choice, despite being further indebted. The benefit of this choice for me, and the thousands of fellow young people who made this choice, is expanding our knowledge base beyond the four year college experience.

I learned a lot during my college years, especially in my last two years of undergrad. And as much as I learned during those years, I’ve learned even more during my two years of graduate studies. Despite it being a tough job market right now, I believe that pursuing higher education and advanced degrees will be beneficial in the long run. And that attitude is shared by a significant number of my fellow millennials.

As I discussed in my inaugural blog post, this is a generation that has grown up being told that education is the most important attribute for future success. Beyond that, we’re a group that enjoys learning, and many young people pursue job opportunities that provide for lifelong learning and professional growth. A fellow blogger briefly discusses her own experience pursuing educational experiences on the job.

While the education system has not worked for every millennial, and there are plenty of young people who have not had the educational opportunities that some of us have had. Overall we’re more educated, more informed, more knowledgeable, and more willing to learn than previous generations. I believe this is what we’ll be remembered for, not as the “entitled generation.”

 

Do you consider yourself part of the smartest generation? Do you agree or disagree with my characterization of millennials as being the smartest generation? What are your views on education and the unprecedented levels of student debt? Do you think your student debt was worth the education you received? TYPE your comments and SHARE this post.

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Experience Requirements Are Silly

In a short piece from last month, a fellow millennial wrote about the conundrum many of us find ourselves in. It’s a truth you’ll probably hear from the mouths of twenty-somethings across the country:

“I can’t find a job because I don’t have experience, and I don’t have experience because I can’t find a job.”

While I’ve agreed with this sentiment in the past, the first time I heard it expressed so succinctly was in another blog post about a year ago. It struck such a nerve with me that I’ve adopted it as a mantra. It’s become a sort of battle cry for young people who are frustrated with this economy, and perhaps more importantly, frustrated with the hiring process in general.
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Over the past three months I’ve applied to dozens of jobs and internships, all of which are positions in organizations I believe I could happily contribute to. But there are dozens of other positions I haven’t applied to for one specific reason, experience requirements. Now, I understand the gamesmanship that comes with writing qualification requirements, they weed out potential applicants before they even send in applications; it’s a process of self-selection – “I know I don’t have 5 years of experience so why even bother sending an application?” Fair enough. It’s probably quite efficient for employers to do this, but with efficiency, comes missed opportunity.

The problem is that this self selection process is completely broken. Employers are posting experience requirements for positions that most college graduates have the ability to do. Do I really need 5 years (five years!) experience to be a research associate, or a communications associate, or a marketing specialist, or a writer, or a social media manager? As Seth Myers would say – really, I mean, really!?

This is madness, it’s inane, and it’s contributing to this problem of youth unemployment and underemployment. Some organizations have begun to address this problem and have reformed their hiring processes. Gawker values inexperience, other organizations have implemented training programs that are full-time paid internship positions where successful completion of the program seamlessly transitions to permanent employment. They act as a sort of residency program for non-medical professional degree holders. And still others have all but abandoned the traditional hiring processes in favor of social media interactions/applications.

Now, this is not to say that experience requirements are unneeded, for certain positions professional experience does matter. But I’d argue that a large chunk of positions out there can be successfully filled by graduates with limited experience; and that organizations are overvaluing experience as a barometer of future success. What’s more important, experience or organizational fit? Experience or ability? Experience or passion? Experience or creativity? I think it’s clear that many of the most successful modern organizations run on the creativity, initiative, and passion of young people. I just hope that as these companies grow they don’t lose sight of the formula that made them successful.

Despite the experience conundrum, I’m fairly optimistic that a paradigm shift in the hiring process has begun and will continue. As millennials are beginning to flood organizations across the country, attitudes and practices are changing for the better. Millennials who are already in positions of influence have empathy for their peers; and that empathy can go along way in not only improving the jobs prospects of the unemployed and underemployed, but also in improving the prospects of organizations that may be stagnant.

The question employers must ask themselves is whether they are going to be vanguards of the traditional hiring process, or innovators and leaders of the country we want to see.

If you’re an employer what are your thoughts on young prospective employees? If you’re a millennial, are you frustrated by the experience requirements? Type your thoughts in the comment section, and share this post with friends.

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Should We Rethink KSA?

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Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) is the three pronged approach to evaluating job prospects; at least this is a standard in government. We ask employees what they know, what they are capable of doing, and if they have the skills to execute.

I have no personal problem with this conceptualization of how to find workers; it’s straight forward, easy to understand, and a fair evaluation technique. I believe the disconnect between my generation and the current batch of employers (mostly made up of Boomers and Gen Xers) is that while Millennials are probably the most knowledgeable generation, the perception is that we lack skills.

I’m going to explain why I believe employers should re-evaluate how they are weighing these three concepts. But first I must explain my working definitions of these terms.

Knowledge
I don’t think it’s all that disputable that we’re an extremely knowledgeable bunch, Millennials have grown up in the information age afterall. We are bombarded by information constantly; and not only that, but we’ve pursued higher education in record numbers to learn how to sift through this information and make sense of it. We’re intellectually curious, which is a gift and a curse. To me the level of intellectual curiosity someone has is incredibly important. This attribute tells me that a person cares about the world around them, that they respect the process of learning, that they think before they leap, and that they have varied interests. To me, having varied interests is more of a strength than a weakness, but it appears that for many employers there is an extreme distaste for the jack of all trades, master of none. I personally like to say that I’m a jack of all trades, master of one since I’ve almost completed my Master’s degree.

In the professional world, knowledge will only get you so far. And the “jack of all trades” mentality is frowned upon. I argue employers don’t really care about this first prong of the evaluation process of job candidates. That is why educational experience is not as highly regarded as it once was. Knowledge is not sufficient, and in some cases, not even necessary.

Skills
This seems to be the single most important attribute employers look for in job candidates. That’s fine on its’ face, of course employers want to hire a skilled person. The problem is that many of the skills employers want nowadays are in very specific areas – see STEM fields. It’s not that Millennials lack skills, it’s that many of us lack STEM skills. Some have called this a failure of our education system, and to a certain extent that’s true. We do lag behind other industrialized nations in math and science, fair enough. But this is also a failure of businesses of not being clear in what types of skills they want, and not being open to other skills prospective employees can bring.

Abilities
This third and final prong of the evaluation of prospective employees I view as the middle ground between Millennials and employers. If Millennials and businesses were in a negotiating room and Millennials argued that knowledge was the most important attribute of being a successful employee (as I argued above), and businesses argued that skills were the most important, then abilities would be the negotiated happy medium between the two sides.

Abilities are things a prospective employee is capable of doing to help the business/organization succeed. Abilities are less tangible than knowledge or skills; they are hard to measure because they are based on potential, not demonstrable results. For example, I have the ability to fly a jet, meaning the potential to learn and execute, but I possess neither the knowledge nor skills to do so at this moment. A more relevant example: I have the ability to oversee a project from the conceptual phase to its’ conclusion, but I don’t currently possess the experience to prove I can do this.

If you’re going into a white collar career, you most likely possess certain abilities that are useful in the workplace just from years upon years of experience of collaborating with peers in higher education. Presumably most people that apply for white collar work know how to communicate effectively in writing, in person, or over the phone. These are abilities, not skills, as these don’t take formal and intense training to learn, they are just cues and capabilities we acquire along the way. Certain types of writing does, in fact, require training to perfect, but writing is more of an ability in my view.

Things like project management I also view as an ability, not a skill. For example, I have the ability to manage projects, even multiply projects, but I lack experience in doing so in a professional environment. I would have to learn some of the nuances of the job but I certainly possess the ability to do the job.

To me, we gain abilities to move into multiple professional roles through the process of education many of us have gone through. We don’t go to school from kindergarten through college/graduate school without picking up on abilities needed in the professional world that lie outside of our formal education.

Do you agree that we need to rethink KSAs in how job candidates are chosen? Which aspect of the three pronged approached should be emphasized the most? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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STEMs vs. THRUs: The Sequel

A few posts ago I discussed the idea that there is a mini-war brewing between the STEM community and the rest of us. Lets call THe Rest of Us THRUs instead, because we all love a clever acronym. This topic kind of hits a nerve for me, as I’m the classic “I suck at math” type of student/person. From preK-12 I went to a school that emphasized liberal arts. Technically it emphasized all subjects, but in reality it was a liberal arts college shrunk down to a high school size.

It would be completely appropriate to say I managed to barely get through algebra II in high school. I think the kneejerk reaction to admitting to something as “heinous” as this is to say I was lazy. Sure, if that floats your boat, I was a lazy math student. It’s not a subject I ever connected with, or particularly enjoyed. Having said that, I consider myself someone who loves and respects the scientific process, and thus STEM fields appeal to me in theory, just not in practice. And, as anyone will tell you, the basis of many STEM fields lies in mathematics. If you can’t do multivariate calculus by the time you graduate college you’re probably going to fail in these fields. – Yes, that is in fact, hyperbole.

Having said all of that, just because I was a “lazy” math student, does not make me a lazy student overall. I repeat, just because I do not have the patience, or natural ability, to do math, does not mean I don’t have a tremendous interest in other subjects. The social sciences and liberal arts always interested me, and thus I pursued those subjects in college. And I got what I needed out of college, I became more aware of the world, more aware of the intellectual and historical foundations of the world we live in. This would not be possible without pursuing social science (political science) and liberal arts (philosophy) degrees. If you want to earn a law degree, the best way to prepare is by studying logic, which is a philosophical exercise. If you want to understand public opinion, international relations, and politics the best way to prepare is by studying political science. If you want to know how government actually works the best way to prepare is by studying public administration and policy. 

None of the aforementioned subjects is the concentration of STEM degrees, and that’s fine. I’m friends with many STEM students, and many have the historical and philosophical background that is necessary to being a well rounded adult. My annoyance is not with these students, who are just pursuing their own interests; but rather, with the new political, social, and business environment we’re in. An environment that is so unimaginative they can’t see how, or why, liberal arts and social sciences remain important and why they’ll still be needed in the future.

What I think many STEM advocates fail to recognize is that THRU fields have a deep understanding of the world we live in. We think critically about problems in society, we identify previously unknown problems, and we find solutions to these problems. My fear is that as we emphasize STEM fields, we are losing track of why THRU fields are so critical to building a mature society.

It is necessary to repeat the point that I do not begrudge STEM students for having a marketable skill. I’m actually just as excited as everyone else in the new concentration on STEM fields, especially in early education. I even raved about the initiative Made in NY, which is mostly a STEM initiative, in my last post. Our country will in fact need people in these fields. My overall point is that just because something is currently marketable does not mean it renders our social sciences and liberal arts useless; and in all this excitement about STEMs lets not lose track of that.

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Millennials and Startup Culture

In an earlier post I argued that the political system is so dysfunctional at the federal level, that the likelihood of ever getting a second stimulus to spur job growth and promote youth employment was next to zero. I don’t believe this is a good thing, I believe the country desperately needs another stimulus, but alas, this is but a dream. In that post I also discussed how I do not think big business can be relied upon to help reduce youth unemployment and underemployment as there is no short-term profit-motive for them.

The conclusion I came to is that the only way to address the massive youth unemployment and underemployment problem is for Millennials to take it upon themselves to help each other out. And to help each other out we need to be starting businesses and hiring each other. To be quite honest, I believe older workers have a tremendous leg-up in the traditional market, many of those that are unemployed have years of work experience. On top of that, from all those years of work many older workers have forged relationships and connections with dozens, or hundreds, of people. They have some sort of network to turn to.

So where does that leave us, the Millennials? Well, as in previous recessions, entrepreneurship tends to increase in downturns as workers can’t find traditional jobs, so they decide to make their own jobs. The great recession was particularly ugly because big business and financial institutions held onto their cash, so the flow of cash for investments ground to a halt. Entrepreneurship simply wasn’t possible because no one was lending for many years. The first stimulus was crucial because it provided a replacement stream of cash for businesses and startups to continue to innovate and hire. While we’re still crawling our way out of the depths of the recession, I think an attitude of hope is emerging amongst Millennials because capital has started moving again.

This brings me to the just-announced Made in NY campaign, a portal for startups and job seekers to connect, while also being a resource-well for businesses. The program is mostly concentrated on tech startups, but there are opportunities for non-STEM individuals as well. The portal features a jobs map of NYC, with over a thousand opportunities at startups. It also features resources for starting your own business, or if you want to learn STEM skills there are even free courses offered throughout the city.

It’s opportunities like these that give me hope for solving the problem of youth unemployment and underemployment. The work will be our own; afterall, starting a business is no picnic, but we all need a bit of guidance and opportunity to realize the dream of starting a business. This specific campaign offers that guidance and opportunity for young entrepreneurs.

My one caveat to this idea that we should all start businesses is that statistically speaking, most businesses fail within the first few years. But I believe that with a platform and environment like Made in NY, that failure doesn’t have to mean complete failure. I think there is a community of young entrepreneurs that is bubbling, and that means, in a practical sense, Millennials will be there for each other when the going gets rough. For example, lets say your business fails within the first few months, I believe that the community of entrepreneurs (see – most likely your former competition) will probably recognize and reward your ambition, execution, and drive to start a business. It seems only natural that failed entrepreneurs could find opportunities at former competition. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, it probably is, but at the very least it is something to put on a resume when applying to traditional jobs. Think about it, I may have limited experience, but if I can list on my resume that I founded my own company, I’ve got to believe that stands out to employers.

Millennials are a restless bunch, we want to have a significant impact on our world, that’s been ingrained within us through positive reinforcement since birth. Our elders can hold this against us and view this entitlement as unearned, or they can guide us in the process of starting our own businesses. The Made in NY initiative is as much a product of Millennials working together to help each other, as it is a way for our elders to guide us into the idea of taking control of what we can. We know of public-private partnerships, well, initiatives like this are Millennial-Boomer partnerships and these are most likely the vehicles through which we will solve our youth unemployment problem.

Agree, disagree? Have you founded a startup? Do you want to? Leave your comments and let me know your stories. We’re in this together!

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