The Millennial members of ESP’s team weigh in on how their own professional experiences and their recruitment interactions with Millennial IT pros have shaped their view of the Millennial generation, and provide some advice to their peers in the tech field
In many ways, the challenges of a Millennial workforce have already been addressed. The internet has produced extensive myth-busting content about the Millennial generation, as well as tips to help bridge the gap between Millennials and older generations. We’ve learned that there are gaps even within the Millennial generation that can cause workplace tension, and that ultimately, Millennials are comprised of individuals with unique needs in much the same way as their predecessors’ generations were. But the question remains – why do Millennial stereotypes persist, and how can we end them for good? Perhaps the answer involves Millennials looking inward to identify the ways they are perpetuating these stereotypes, and seeking solutions that will turn the talk in their favor.
Working at an IT consulting firm, ESP’s employees get the chance to interact not only with Millennial IT consultants and job seekers, but also with Gen-X and Baby Boomer tech hiring managers. And because Millennials comprise over 60 percent of our in-office staff, we experience our own workplace gaps while also having the opportunity to witness how other Twin Cities businesses operate. That’s why we decided to host a “Millennial Round Table” and discuss what advice we’d give to our Millennial IT consultants and job seekers based on these observations and experiences. The resulting 3 “need-to-knows” for Millennial IT pros can not only help you bridge the generational gap with coworkers and have a more positive working experience, but can also help you become more established in your tech career – ultimately leading to career growth and success.
Need-To-Know #1: There Are Things We Could Collectively Be Doing Better
In 2015, Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1999) officially surpassed Gen-X to become the largest generation in the American workforce. Couple this with the fact that 36 percent of all millennials ages 18 to 34 have cited a desire to work within the tech industry, and you can guarantee that Millennial IT pros comprise a large majority of the candidates that tech hiring managers are interviewing.
As Millennials helping other Millennials grow their careers, we understand how easy it can be to point fingers, claiming “them, not us” about others in our generation. But working in an IT consulting and staffing firm, we’ve had the rare opportunity of experiencing firsthand some of the difficulties Gen-X hiring managers encounter when interviewing and working with Millennial tech pros – and believe us, many of them are founded in first-hand experiences, not preconceived notions. Craft a more positive narrative for Millennials by adjusting your mindset, and developing new habits.
Throw Out Lofty Expectations and Prepare to Climb the Ladder
“It’s a constant bombardment of: ‘what is ideal?’ or ‘what does everyone else have, relative to where I “should” be, or where I’m at right now in life?’ That creates unrealistic, lofty expectations.”
When it came to discussing the career expectations of the Millennial generation, we were all in agreement: we need to be more prepared to work our way up, gradually.
Shannon Paradis, one of the ESP IT recruiting team’s Millennials, said, “Frequently when I work with Millennials seeking new tech opportunities, there’s a lot of false expectations, usually too high, about culture, work-life-balance, and salary. A lot of the younger candidates that I’ve talked to that are right out of college are expecting moon and stars because they’ve seen some of their friends land great jobs, but the reality is you’re not always going to have the perfect job, particularly right out of school.”
In an extremely hot, candidate-driven tech market, high and even unrealistic expectations are natural. Often times, these expectations are not the result of an IT pro’s “inflated” sense of worth, but are instead the product of false information about the tech market. Many recruitment firms use dollars as a hook to attract IT pros and stand out from the crowd of other offers in the competitive market. Unfortunately, these promisers don’t always deliver. Though the Twin Cities tech market is booming, what’s true of the Silicon Valley doesn’t always apply to employers in the Silicon Prairie.
The bottom line: though you may hear talk of first jobs that live up to your ideal, those opportunities are not the norm.
Getting ahead in the corporate world sometimes means playing whatever role your company needs you to be in. You might not get to work with the “sexiest technologies” or make groundbreaking decisions about the direction of your company’s tech department right off the bat.
But the good news is that by not limiting the kind of work experience you’re willing to gain, you’re much more likely to ultimately achieve your “ideal”.
Talk to tech hiring managers and recruiters about your career path, the experience that you’ve earned so far, and where you want to go. With a mapped-out path ahead of you, you can focus on moving up and growing your skill sets.
Don’t “Ghost” On Your Professional Connections
“Myths about how Millennials are ‘lazy’ or ‘impatient’, can just come down to a lack of understanding about how we operate in a different world from what others grew up in. But if we’re coming to be known as ‘flaky’ then we need to be educated about the importance of calling ahead, arriving on time, and engaging with our network.”
A few rules of the professional world stand the test of time:
- Never be late to an interview
- Maintain connections – don’t burn bridges
- Practice open and honest communication
Though Millennials should all be well aware of these best practices, many of our Millennial staff have had an encounter with another professional in their generation who left the negative impression of being “flaky”.
While a hot tech market may lead some Millennial IT pros to believe that making connections has become a less-important industry practice, maintaining a strong professional reputation remains one of the most important aspects to advancement in IT – and particularly in tech consulting.
In our round table, ESP’s HR Generalist Emily Zlab compared some of the behaviors that she’s noticed to “ghosting” – a term used in the Millennial dating world to describe someone who’s dropped off the digital face of the planet. “But when it comes to professional interactions” she says, “you can’t just drop off. You need to respond in a professional way.”
IT gig-seekers: it’s much better to communicate with a recruiter or hiring manager if you have lost interest in a position, than to simply “drop off”. Clear communication and a reasonable explanation will not only help you to keep your professional reputation intact, but can actually enhance it.
Whether or not the opportunity before you is one that you want to pursue, by maintaining connections, not burning bridges, and otherwise exhibiting reputable behavior (i.e. following these tips for interview success) you leave your options open for future opportunities with a consulting firm or employer.
Need-To-Know #2: If You Want to Overcome Stereotypes, Become A Millennial Advocate
The real reason Millennial myths need to get “busted”? Much of what we hear about Millennials isn’t founded in research or facts, but instead comes from opinions and individual interactions. Yet, there are some truths about the Millennial generation that differentiate them from those who came before.
For example, the “sharing culture” of Millennials means that less working professionals ages 18-34 invest in items such as cars, houses, and luxury bags. While some from the previous generations see this as a “negative” quality, for many Millennials, these purchasing decisions are the result of economic constraints (i.e. the hefty amount of college debt accumulated by the generation, and the proven decrease in Millennial’s household earnings) rather than personal preference, or indifference to long-term investments. In the same way, there are misconceptions surrounding many other Millennial “myths” – but it’s up to you to reveal these areas, and prove that they shouldn’t be perceived in a negative light.
Cater To The Positives
“I’m tired of being told that our generation is all go-with-the-flow. No plans, no commitments, no investments. There are some positive truths about the Millennial culture that are often misunderstood.”
Millennial IT pros must answer the question: What differentiates you from your predecessors? Is it simply an increased familiarity with the newest technologies? Or do you bring other unique contributions to the professional world? The truth is that not all “stereotypes” about Millennials need to have a negative stigma, and many of them can be presented to tech hiring managers in a way that showcases the value Millennials bring to a team.
- A Fresh and Enthusiastic Perspective
In general, someone who is new to or a few years into his or her IT career brings new knowledge, creative ideas, and a fresh perspective. Regarding the Millennial generation specifically, we’ve learned that Millennials are eager to rise up and achieve, and search for feedback (both positive and negative) that will help them to do so. As the only Millennial member of ESP’s leadership team, AnnaLisa Krupnick shed further light on the way these behaviors can appeal to a hiring manager. “The question frequently is – do I hire someone with enthusiasm and fresh perspective? Or do I hire someone who’s been in the industry for longer? It’s a hard question to answer, and will differ for every opportunity. Sometimes hiring managers just have to go with their gut.”
- Fusing Passion and Creativity with Tech
A popular truth about Millennials is that they want to feel like their work makes a difference. Not only has this lead to a generation that is more passionate about the work that they do, but it’s also led to a generation that places a high value on creativity. Because of this, many Millennial tech pros seek to work in creative industries, or industries that they are passionate about. Millennials can use this as a “selling point” during an interview by explaining what they value most in a workplace, why a particular company appeals to those values, and also how having a passion for different fields uniquely qualifies them to succeed in a contract gig. By showcasing a level of investment in a given company that extends beyond your day-to-day tech work, you’ll prove to a hiring manager that you are a good fit, and worthwhile investment.
- A Culture That Shares, Invests in The Community
Another positive stereotype about the Millennial generation is that they are more invested in their community than previous generations have been. This can mean that Millennials are more likely to volunteer within and outside of an organization, and strive to give back to their professional and personal communities. And, as ESP recruiter and Millennial Alex Webb pointed out, “The scope of our ‘communities’ are so blown up, too – if I share something with my LinkedIn community, all 500+ of my connections know about it.” Let hiring mangers know what community means to you – whether you’re interested in helping to organize your company’s volunteer day, or you’re an IT consultant whose network of connections could prove valuable to your client.
Understand How You Interact With The Stereotypes
“Some Millennial stereotypes are true of you as an individual and others are not – we’re a whole generation of individuals.”
Whether perceived as positive or negative, most Millennials likely do identify with a few of the stereotypes about their generation. The key to acknowledging when you do align is first understanding why this stereotype is true of you, and then exploring ways in which you personally live it out. These questions for Millennials will help them to identify where they land on important Millennial topics, and what their tech hiring mangers or IT recruiters need-to-know.
- Can We Keep our Flexible Hours but Prove We’re Not Lazy?
How can Millennials prove that leaving by 3 or working remotely doesn’t mean they’re putting in less hours, or being less productive? The key is understanding that what may seem “lazy” to others is often actually “efficiency” to the Millennial generation. As ESP Account Coordinator Monica Matson explained: “I would much rather have the flexibility to respond to emails at night and connect with consultants when they are available. I enjoy that I can minimize my commute by leaving a little earlier, get home at a decent hour, help my fam cook dinner, and continue to work later in the evening.”
Yes, it means abiding by the stereotype that Millennials are “plugged-in” to technology much more than other generations, but this allows them to practice the highly-valued work-life-integration model of working different hours, not less. Make sure to tell your IT recruiters up front if you prefer opportunities with flexible scheduling, or remote capabilities. On the other hand, if you differ from the pack and prefer a standard 9-5 schedule (as some of ESP’s Millennial teammates do), make sure to share that information with hiring managers to avoid being stereotyped.
- Do Job-Hoppers Have a Positive Case for Themselves?
Research has shown that the average worker will hold 10 different jobs before age 40 – a statistic that leaves tech hiring managers especially fearful in the midst of the talent shortage. But as ESP Associate Recruiter Armel Martin pointed out, just as IT consultants learn and grow from their many different experiences, this sort of job-hopping can “make us much more adaptable and versatile.” Though some hiring managers see this frequent job change as Millennials having “short attention spans”, oftentimes the job change results from Millennial’s desiring further growth, which they feel can come only by having a variety of experiences.
That’s not to say that growth opportunities are the sole motivator behind frequent Millennial turnover. Another common reason that Millennials leave companies is in pursuit of increased work-life balance. And though some may negatively label this desire as “self-love”, statistics show that employees who feel they have a greater work-life balance are more productive, more engaged, and are better brand ambassadors for your company than those who burn out from overworking.
Millennial IT pros: if either the desire for further growth or the pursuit of work-life balance have been reasons for your previous job change, share that information with your technical recruiter. Knowing what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past will help him or her identify the types of opportunities that will better serve you in the future. On the other hand, if you are a Millennial tech pro with a track record of loyalty to one or two companies, or who has held multiple contract gigs that got extended due to the excellence of your work – point that out! Always seek to identify the ways that you stand out from the crowd.
Need-To-Know # 3: Part of the Generational Gap is an Experience Gap
By the end of our round table, the ESP team had acknowledged quite a few “truths” about the Millennial generation that all seemed to share a common theme: many of the negative “true stereotypes” about Millennials might not really characterize us as a generation. More commonly, they seemed to be the result of inexperience.
Whether you’re an IT pro who is newly graduated from college or graduate school, or you’ve been working in the tech industry for a few years already, acknowledge the areas where you may still be on a learning curve. In doing so, you not only show respect to your Gen-X coworkers and supervisors by recognizing their expertise gained through the years, but you also give yourself permission to take a step back, and be comfortable with where you are.
It Takes Time to Establish Yourself Professionally
“When people are new in their careers and are coming-of-age professionally, they’re figuring out who they are and what they’re good at and how they work. People make mistakes early in their career that they wouldn’t make later on.”
The big question for both older Millennials and professionals born in previous generations: what mistakes did you make when you were first starting out? As a group, the ESP Millennials caught themselves more than once referring to the youngest in our generation (those just now graduating from college) as “they”, not “us”. We had to ask ourselves – have even those within the Millennial generation been associating the “Millennial” term with professional novices?
ESP IT recruiter Devin Fischer thinks so. He reflected on his own journey and his professional interactions with both Gen-X and Millennial IT pros, saying: “For a 21-year-old to be perceived as ‘immature’ by someone who’s been doing their job for 15 years… it isn’t that shocking. I’m sure that those folks also had mentors early on in their career who perceived them in the same light. Maybe it’s not a generational thing – maybe it’s an age thing, a maturity thing, a life thing.”
Perhaps the most important tip for Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers to help bridge the generational gap, then, is to take a step back, remember what challenges they faced when they were first starting out in their careers, and see if there are any parallels in their current experience with Millennials at their workplace.
Alexis Will, ESP’s Administrative Assistant, agrees. “I feel like there’s always a sense of ‘this generation isn’t living up to us.’ Or ‘things aren’t as good as they used to be’. That keeps happening –we are guilty of doing that when we look down on Gen-Z. It’s part of history repeating itself.”
But taking a step back and reflecting on Millennials’ inexperience isn’t only the responsibility of the previous generations. Millennials, too, need to learn how to acknowledge the areas they have yet to grow in.
Debunking the common myth that Millennials are entitled, our Millennial team instead acknowledged how much pressure their generation puts on itself to succeed. Rather than thinking they deserve to hold a high-level role, Millennials seem to be worried that they are somehow not achieving what they “should” be, or (as Alexis stated) not living up to expectations. Our advice? “Get rid of that pressure. Take a job, figure out what you like, what you’re good at – then move forward.”
Finally, sometimes advancing your career in the long run means “taking a step back” early on. For many tech pros, higher education can feel like one such step back. The tech talent shortage has increased the number of tech pros able to find work without first earning their degree, and many have debated whether or not computer science degrees are still valuable. Factoring in the cost of school, those who choose to earn their degrees may feel that they start out their adult lives “behind” those who entered tech careers right out of high school. But the long-term benefits to choosing school can mean greater opportunities for career advancement in the future. Seek to understand the long-term outcomes of your hard work and early choices, and be okay with waiting to reap the rewards.
You’re Adapting to a Different World
“We’ve said we’re adaptable. If that’s true – let’s adapt a little. Your first job might not be your dream job. You might have to work different hours than you want to until you have proven yourself and earned some flexibility in that area. We can’t just walk in with a plan that, ‘we want to work this way’. We’re playing in ‘their’ world, and it’s a game we have to play.”
Millennials want to change the world – and that can be a really great asset of the generation. Generational-cycle science identifies Millennials with the Civic generation model: “focused on ‘how to clean things up’”.
But the world won’t change overnight, nor should it. Positive change happens gradually, over time, from the inside. In order to enact change, we have to first embrace the current systems, and understand why they are in place – recognizing the good intentions of those who came before.
For Millennial IT pros, this means understanding that your previous experiences (in part-time jobs, colleges, and internships), and your expectations entering a new career might not translate. The working world is a meld of Baby Boomer, Gen-X, and Millennial practices – and we all have to “give” a little to help this world run smoothly.
If you seek flexibility, you too must be flexible.
This means being prepared for a few hiccups your first time in the professional world, and trying to be open to learning opportunities and growth within your current role before job hopping. Consider how often others really land their dream opportunities right out of college, and you’ll probably discover – despite the few instances you read about on social media – that this doesn’t commonly happen. Adjust to a supervisor who may prefer phone calls or in-person interactions to text or IM (or try meeting him or her halfway with email). In turn, you may earn yourself the flexible hours, remote working capabilities, and career advancement opportunities that you are searching for.
To any future IT pros who are still in school, we encourage you to use college as an opportunity not only to gain knowledge about the newest technologies, but to learn about building a resume, interviewing, and life in the professional world. Seek internship opportunities that will help you to gain the soft skills and professional experience you need to land a job. The youngest Millennial of ESP’s team, Kelsey Lyngdal, explained how valuable working in our downtown office has been for her career. “That’s something unique that I can have coming out of college that my friends don’t have,” she said.
Understand that, no matter what, no one enters the working world 100 percent prepared. When asked if they felt that their expectations were ‘totally realistic’ upon entering their professional careers, the Millennial members of ESP’s team responded with a resounding ‘No!’
Many on our team encountered difficulties when they were first starting out in their careers – and a large majority of our Millennial employees began their careers in our office. However, just as we have experienced success and a high level of happiness as a team, we are confident that Millennial IT pros – those sought-after commodities with the hottest skills on the job market – will experience great satisfaction in their careers, as well.
With a little introspect, and a lot more understanding on both sides of the generational divide, Millennial IT pros can overcome stereotypes, experience satisfaction, and thrive in their careers. Though the term “Civic generation” will probably never stick over “Millennial”, when we recognize our historical role to be a generation that enacts positive change we are able to confidently move into the future that’s being crafted. By adapting to the world that they are currently operating in, looking inward to make self-improvements, and advocating on behalf of a generation that is setting out to do great things, Millennial IT pros can earn their place as leaders and experts in the tech industry.
Are you a Millennial IT pro seeking new opportunities, or a tech hiring manager seeking fresh talent?