Tag Archives: Jobs

Be Confident in Your Abilities, Even if They Call You Entitled

You’ve probably heard this one before, “millennials think they’re special, but they’re not.” Usually this is followed by “you’re not owed anything.” The veracity of these words could be questioned but why bother. What’s important is that you have to believe you are special in some capacity.

Are you the smartest person in the room? Of course not. Are you a better leader than older and more seasoned professionals? Probably not. Are you more knowledgeable than others at the company you hope to work for? Nope. Are you immediately bringing something new to the table that others at the company haven’t already thought of? Most likely you are not.

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All of these things are true for the most part; but you still do bring something special to the table. Now of course, technically if everyone is special then no one is – kind of defeats the purpose of the word doesn’t it? And any smartass (of any age) will tell you that – believe me it’s all over the internet. But believing you bring something special to the table is what will get you hired. It’s an old cliche but true, you need to be confident. And believing in your abilities comes from believing you’re special in some way.

Here’s why…

Confidence is just a word unless it’s explained. And us millennials require explanations for things, as this post so eloquently points out. So let me briefly explain my conception of confidence. I view confidence as recognizing your own weaknesses, understanding them, coming to terms with them, and even being able to express them. Being vulnerable is being confident – maybe that’s the millennial in me but that’s what we’ve been raised to believe in our culture. But the cruel joke of the professional world it seems is that vulnerability is just plain ole vulnerability. Professionals don’t see that at confident.

There is one way to be confident in the professional world and that is to believe you bring something unique to the table. Whether you’re a businessperson, or a human resource professional, or a writer, or a programmer you must genuinely believe the product, or service, you’re selling is the best out there – otherwise you’re just a fraud. There’s a reason the term fake it to you make it exists. If you do in fact believe your product, or service, is the best out there then you believe it to be special.

Well, in finding work the product you’re selling is yourself – see my pieces about personal branding to get a more detailed picture of my thoughts on that. So you MUST genuinely believe that you are the best candidate out there, which means you must think you’re special, otherwise you’re a fraud.

I’ve literally written over a hundred cover letters in the last ten months. I always grapple with two things: how to stand out, and whether or not I should show confidence through vulnerability.

I know my weaknesses and can express them. I am inexperienced, I’m an introvert so lots of social stimuli and communication overwhelms me, I’m not as strong with data as I probably should be. Despite this I know I can help an organization. I’m knowledgeable, an eager learner, a good writer and trying to get better, loyal to people and things I believe in, and honest when I don’t believe. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it, yet I can figure things out on my own.

If I’m honest about my weaknesses my application goes in the trash – who admits to their weaknesses anyway? Well to me, confident people do, but to professionals that’s not the case.

We’re not deluded, entitled, millennials (despite the title of the blog) because we believe we’re special. We must believe we’re special in order for a company to believe we are too.

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March on Washington – 50 Years Later

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the legendary 250,000+ strong March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The reason the march is remembered, and so revered, is of course because of Martin Luther King Jr’s speech. This speech, one of, if not the greatest, speech of the 20th century is part of the American lexicon – at least parts of it are. But in the fifty years since that speech we have done a poor job internalizing the major messages of, not only King’s speech, but the march as a whole.

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I’ve heard estimates of 200,000 to as high as 300,000 people

We primarily focus on the rhetorical message of freedom, but rhetoric without action means nothing. And while the civil rights generation accomplished things that were once thought impossible, the work they dedicated their lives to remains incomplete. While that generation secured our civil liberties (despite some recent attempts to roll them back), the goal of economic justice has remained frustratingly out of reach. How are we to view the progress of advancing freedom when economic justice is anything but?

The reason the march was for jobs and freedom is because the two were linked by the civil rights movement leaders. These leaders understood that good jobs, with decent wages, in a capitalist society like ours, is inextricably linked to freedom. After-all, what’s freedom without autonomy? What’s freedom without opportunity? What’s freedom without the ability to earn a living? What’s freedom without equal treatment?

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The 10 demands made by participants of the March on Washington

Fifty years later though, how can a new generation take the mantle of the civil rights generation and fulfill the mission to advance jobs and freedom? Given our current economic condition we need to re-link the need for jobs with freedom. Black unemployment/underemployment is not just an African-American problem, youth unemployment/underemployment is not just a young-person problem. These are national problems that inhibit all our ability to be free.

Charles Blow wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed piece today that:

“There is a vacuum in the American body politic waiting to be filled by a young person of vision and courage, one not suckled to sleep by reality television and social media monotony.”

While that could be taken as an insult to my generation, something we’re used to in mainstream culture at this point, I view it as a challenge. A challenge to young people to not only “be our own heroes,” as is so often said nowadays; but also to recognize, and accept, leadership when we see it.

There is something very – millennial – about our generation not having a singular leader that we all look up to. We have dozens, hundreds, of different thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and artists but there is no central figure in the activist space that has galvanized all of us as Martin Luther King Jr. did fifty years ago.

Granted, MLK’s importance in American history wasn’t understood (and accepted) by all until the 1990s. In his time he was clearly an important leader, but he was one of many black leaders. It’s in the decades since his death that he has become a symbol for the entire movement. Who, of my generation, is emerging as a leader that can push the political system into action from outside the system?

Common, modern, wisdom holds that we don’t need central figures. Look at how the Occupy Movement organized themselves, no leader, just people. Dissertations could be written, and probably have, about the structure and leadership (or lacktherof) of Occupy. Going without central figures is fine, for awhile, but I’m not sure how long movements can maintain their momentum without singular figures to unify around at some point.

Those times when movements are threatened with petering out, splintering, imploding under the weight of their own expectations, and internal strife. Those times when competing egos bicker, when outside forces attempt to sow discontent, when despair and apathy start to take root. In those times, when it’s so easy for those in a movement to give up, say it’s too hard (and who could blame them), often a central figure is just what the movement needs to keep on pushing. This is, perhaps, what lead to Occupy largely dissipating. And it’s perhaps why we don’t have a mass, activist-lead, movement to reduce income inequality and stamp out unemployment among all communities.

I have heard many say that protesting is dead – The days of marching are over – Civil disobedience is no longer effective. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. What I think our generation lacks is leadership that can dramatize the problems of unemployment, and underemployment, as the great civil rights leaders did so many years ago. What I think our generation lacks is the understanding that economic opportunity and freedom go hand in hand in our country. One does not exist without the other. Perhaps, it will be my generation that solves the growing problem of income inequality among classes, and the persistently stubborn inequality among races.

The seeds are there for a mass movement. I just don’t think the leader yet exists that can sow those seeds of mass, non-violent, sustained, activism in our time – for our generation. I hope she, or he, emerges soon.

We too often look at major historical events with the distant lens a textbook forces us to view them through. We too often view ourselves as the end of history instead of as a part of it. As the culmination of all that has come before us, instead of as a growing foundation for all that has yet to come. Are we going to be a generation that continues to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice? Or do we really think Liking the Moral Arc of the Universe on Facebook will do?

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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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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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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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Millennials Give this Country that Feeling of Renewal

The other day I was cleaning out my bookcase, which housed literally hundreds of movies and some video games I had collected since around 2002. I had amassed this collection of media for a decade and the collection was a point of pride because it reflected my tastes and sensibilities (Do the Right Thing, The Man with No Name Trilogy, Shawshank Redemption, and too many superhero movies – even the bad ones). And the longer I held the collection, the more attached I became to the collection as an idea, an institution, if you will. The movies became a window into who I used to be, it became the vehicle through which I waxed nostalgic and reminisced over high school and college days long since past. I didn’t even watch the majority of the movies anymore, they gathered dust, but it was the idea of a collection that was so appealing.

I had thought about selling my collection before, but always got scared and backed down. Finally I decided to let it go by selling almost everything. I kept a few because they still had some usefulness to me; but for the most part everything is gone. And contrary to what I thought would happen, I actually felt relieved and felt renewed.

Now this is a common feeling; for most it’s called spring cleaning, but I had never collected things as fervently as I collected movies and the feeling went beyond having a less cluttered house. It was a feeling of intense hope and possibility, of letting go, moving on, and wanting to change myself for the better. I’m sure former hoarders can relate to that feeling once they parted with their possessions.

Now why am I writing about this seemingly mundane experience? Because I think it’s analogous to how Millennials must operate in the world. I think it’s analogous to how America must change. Generation Y is uniquely situated to renew this country, but first we must let go of some deeply held beliefs, attitudes, and routines.

Here is a list of three things we must change to renew this country.

1) We must stop walking and start running

Sure this is just a fancy way of saying life is short, but there is a more practical reason I say this. The economic recovery has been too slow for most Americans and especially for Millennials. Youth unemployment and underemployment is an epidemic…but you know all that.

In my last post I talked about entrepreneurship as the vehicle through which we’ll get a youth economic recovery; and the more I’ve thought about this the more sense it makes. The truth is that it could take a decade for youth unemployment to drop to “normal” levels and Millennials must accept this as gospel (even if it’s not) to motivate us to be the change we need.

A lot is made of big government not being a solution to our problems (I wholeheartedly disagree with that) and much of this talk is driven by already successful people within the beltway. Even if we disagree with that philosophy we must accept, as an unfortunate political reality, that a second stimulus will probably never happen; but we also must accept as a practical reality that big business is never going to offer any opportunities that don’t directly make them profit in the short-term.

In order for Millennials (and this country) to not have a lost-decade, as Japan did in the 90s, we must provide opportunities for each other. There is no point in waiting any longer; the longer we wait for help to come the more our knowledge, skills, and abilities will corrode and the more entrenched we will become in lackluster jobs or in chronic unemployment. Our time is now.

2) We Must Modernize Higher Education

Higher education is behind the times in more ways than one. Modernizing higher education does not only mean increasing the use of technology and expanding online classes (although these tools are part of it), it is more about changing the way we educate students and making college more efficient for everyone.

I’m of the mind that college has outlived the need to be four years. I firmly believe that students only actually gain practical knowledge during their college careers for about 2.5-3 years. Beyond that timeframe it seems that students, parents, and the country as a whole, get a diminishing return on investment. I may do some actual research on this particular subject later on, but for now it’s just a feeling.

The four year degree cycle was thought up and was useful in a time before the internet and before cultural and gender diversity. What may have taken an entire semester to learn in previous eras can be learned online or by collaboration in half that time. I know that the best classes I took as an undergraduate were typically summer courses where the intensity of learning so much information in a shorter time period actually allowed me to internalize information better than a drawn out Fall or Spring semester course. I essentially learned SPSS, the data analysis program, while enrolled in a six-week research methods course, and it was one of the toughest (and most useful) courses I ever took as an undergrad.

It’s analogous to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts where short bursts of intense activity can lead to better results. Likewise, during college, short bursts of rigorous and intense academic training may yield the best results for students.

There are dozens of great ideas to fix our higher education system and adopting a HIIT type mentality into higher education is just a possible solution.

3) We Must Tackle Climate Change 

While climate change is seemingly unrelated, I think there is a great opportunity and a great space for Millennials to contribute by mobilizing to pressure politicians, by creating green tech startups, and by becoming a mass movement to tackle a single issue that will give our generation a unique purpose. Every generation has a single issue (usually a war) that defines their age; whether it be the Cold war, Vietnam war, Depression/WWII, or the Civil War. What is our defining issue? What has the ability to motivate and mobilize us? I believe that issue is climate change, especially as storms get fiercer, droughts get longer, wildfires become more frequent, and climate refugees destabilize parts of the world. We will need talented young people to tackle these symptoms of climate change and young policymakers to tackle the root cause. The cause of our time will be to declare a war on fossil fuels. Our generation needs purpose, and this is it.

America is on the path to renewal and it will take American leadership to steer this world into a bright century. Like letting go of a prized collection, we must move on from the battles and ideas of the past and open ourselves up to this brighter future, because it will not come on its’ own.

Please Like, Share, or Comment on this post whether you agree or disagree. I’m always open to debate!

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How Businesses Should Recruit Millennials

In my first post I discussed why millennials should embrace the entitled label often ascribed to them. The label is meant as a pejorative, but I argued a sense of entitlement is the natural end result of being the most educated generation in American history. While I feel it is necessary to defend my generation against many of the unfair labels placed on us and great arguments can be had on the positive and negative aspects of our generation; there are some practical consequences for business and organizations if they don’t adapt to changing attitudes regardless of the merits of those attitudes.

I have spent most of my time writing negatively about the intersection of Millennial expectations and the job market; but I think there are some positive takeaways for businesses looking to recruit new workers, which will benefit both employers and Millennials alike.

Here are ten ideas for recruiting millennials into your growing business:

1) The world has changed dramatically, even over the past decade. Embrace it. Technology now allows employees to work from anywhere and at all times. And believe it or not but the dirty little secret about Millennials is that we will in fact work from anywhere and at all times. Our noses are already in our phones, tablets and laptops 24/7, so getting that email or text from the boss at 3pm on a saturday is not much of a problem for younger workers anymore. Editing that article while on vacation is not as inconvenient as it once was.

But beware, just because Millennials are willing and able to work from anywhere and at anytime, does not give you the right to abuse your power. The privilege of expecting employees to always be on, should be met with equal deference to those employees in other areas.

2) Flexible Schedules, or what is sometimes referred to as alternative work schedules is also a product of our highly connected 21st century world. The traditional model of a nine-to-five Monday through Friday job is outdated, and many businesses and organizations have already thrown this model out the window. Introduce a new model; allow employees to work some days from home, or allow them to substitute working on Monday for Saturday. Introduce 11-7 workdays, or at least give this option to younger employees that don’t have kids back home to rush home to. These are just examples and there are dozens of other types of flexible arrangements that you, as an employer, should be looking to introduce to your company.

Remember, young workers may not bring these options up on their own out of deference because they are the newbies in the office, but you can be certain that they yearn for a flexible schedule and may bolt for a job that gives them the flexibility they crave if you don’t provide it.

3) Benefits are more important than salary for many Millennials who are entering the workforce. Millennials are increasingly opting to delay marriage and/or children until they are well into their thirties, which means their salary will mostly go towards themselves and paying off student loan debt. They are also practical and recognize that due to the great recession businesses and organizations are more constrained in the near term.

Make sure your business, non-profit organization, or government agency is offering comprehensive benefits and expanded benefits to younger employees as a replacement for lower salary.

4) Formality is dead, good riddance. While formal attire has its’ time and place and is not going anywhere entirely, there is a distinct attitude among Millennials that rejects formality as an institution in almost all walks of life. This is a generation that embraces individuality and diversity, and formality stymies these qualities. We used to think that uniformity equaled productivity but with the advent of web 2.0 and 3.0 and the democratization of the web through blogs and social media, we now know definitively that people can be productive even while sitting in their underwear at home. Creativity and innovation are spurred by informal and relaxed environments, make sure your business acts accordingly

5) Expand training/mentorship programs despite the fact that there is a high opportunity cost associated with these. Training/mentorship programs may be one of the areas that needs the most innovation in HR departments across businesses and governments alike. Millennials have grown up in a culture that embraced education, sometimes at the expense of experience so certain business specific skills that were not part of their formal education must be taught and instilled in younger workers.

Mentoring is better than training, because mentoring is naturally more informal than training. See #4

6) Don’t penalize inexperience because you’ll miss out on potential workers with a lot to offer. Millennials can’t necessarily be choosey in this economy, but since they are the most highly educated generation, they will embrace companies that embrace them and give them the opportunity. Don’t miss out on the opportunity of adding a highly educated member to your team because they temporary lack experience. Inexperience is a temporary weakness, not a reflection of the ability of a young person to do the job.

7) Allow for opportunities for promotion early on. We are an entitled generation that expects a lot in some areas but actually expects less in other areas. As mentioned before, we are probably more willing than any other generation to accept lower salaries in exchange for other benefits. One benefit is moving up quickly in the ranks and receiving more responsibility. We want to impact the world and we know the best way of doing that is by replacing the old guard in the workforce with new ideas and perspectives. And since we all have attention deficit disorder we don’t have the patience to wait decades to make our impact.

As a business or organization, you should be embracing this ambition and if you can’t offer high salaries, offer quick advancement through the ranks to compensate employees who work hard for you. This is a generation that doesn’t define success by the amount of money we have in the bank, but by the positive and wide reaching impact we have on the world.

8) Give them real work. When it comes to work, there are few things a person of my generation hates more than busywork. If hiring an intern, don’t make their primary responsibilities fetching coffee, printing documents, or data entry (otherwise known as “various administrative tasks” in job listings). While entering data is a legitimate task that everyone has to do at one point or another, there is no other surefire way to make your intern (or new employee) hate their job then by sitting them at a computer and handing them a stack of numbers to enter into a database or spreadsheet.

This common practice teaches them next to nothing about the industry/business the company specializes in, teaches them very little about the truly important day to day operations of the business, and perhaps most importantly dissuades them from ever being truly invested in your organization. You want to foster and cultivate the wide-eyed curiosity and excitement of young workers, not stymee it through data entry.

9) Go to where the millennials are, meaning if you don’t have robust social media presence then that’s probably a sign you need to be hiring a millennial. Probably one of the most effective ways of attracting young people is by blogging or microblogging. One of the hottest workplaces in America right now is with the Huffington Post and this is not by accident. They have pioneered a model of blogging that reaches and engages young people more than traditional news sources do.

Rule of thumb: There is always something to write about. Blogging or microblogging with frequent posts about the industry your business or organization belongs to is a good way of engaging potential employees. And as a bonus, frequent consumers of your blog could one day become employees themselves.

10) Googlify yourselves. No, I am not telling you to Google yourself; although this is always a good exercise in narcissism, I actually mean Googlify (can I patent that version of the word?). Many people are familiar with Google’s workplace, they are consistently ranked as one of the top places to work in the world and this is because their attention to the details of human resources is unparalleled. Googlifying your organization is just a fancy way of saying you should pivot to emulating Google in your own HR departments (or hiring practices) despite not having access to the vast resources Google does.

Feel like this list could help a business owner or HR professional you know? Share it with them and we all win.

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