As I voraciously learn everything I can about millennials, I roll my eyes at what people are saying about this early-career generation as they move from college into the workforce. By “Millennial”, I’m specifically referring to people, approximately 32 years old and younger, who are trying to earn an income. (For more information about the age of Millennials, please see the last blog: Who are the Millennials? …the real answer.)

My initial conclusion is that ANY generalizations about the Millennials will likely be erroneous and unappreciated. For the last five or six years, I’ve been trying to make sense of what seems like a lot of conflicting information…oftentimes coming from Millennials themselves and frequently in the same sentence. I want to understand. I’m a career coach. I want to help my clients. Everywhere I go, I try to find an opportunity to have a conversation.

I have a million questions:

  • What are the biggest challenges in launching a career?
  • What was unexpected?
  • Did your college experience help? Prepare you?
  • What was/is your job search like?
  • What was helpful? Unhelpful?
  • Do you have hope for a successful future?

Yesterday I had a conversation with my hairdresser. She became a cosmetologist to earn a living while she figured out what she wanted to do. (I think it was a good choice: most people have hair and many will likely need her services.) She’s also going to dental school. (Again, it’s an excellent choice. People will continue to have teeth and need to see a dentist.) I found her choices very unusual.

After thousands of conversations with millennials, parents, managers, business owners, economists and anyone who has an opinion about this generation, which is everyone I meet; I’m finding that the answers are all different. There isn’t any consistency at all.

What’s the problem with millennials?

It depends who you ask?

Let’s ask a millennial:

In this YouTube video,
this millennial says:

“Why are they [people over 40] so mad at us? We’re just existing. We aren’t contributing anything to society. Our generation doesn’t have the basic manners…We listen to obscene music…We’re lazy, entitled. We want to make a lot of money and have free education and we’re not willing to put in the work. We spend more time online making friends than actually building relationships.”

WOW, those are remarkable comments. However, I’m certain that it isn’t a common example of how Millennials think or talk about their generation.

Let’s ask college professors:

An overview of 50 articles brought the following list:

  • This generation is a different challenge.
  • Parental involvement now includes selecting their courses, their resident halls, attending disciplinary hearings, calling and emailing professors, administrators, and staff….all with the approval of the student.

I didn’t believe it! (I’m a former college professor) …so I asked a focus group of Millennial jobseekers who have met with me every week for the last five months. All but one person agreed. Still, I am certain that this isn’t a solid generalization of what college professors think of their students.

Let’s ask managers:

In a nutshell, this is the list:

  • Arrive late
  • Are on their phones all day
  • Don’t pay attention
  • Lack respect
  • Are non-communicative
  • Have a sense of entitlement
  • Unwilling to go beyond the given task

YIKES! If that is true of Millennials in general, this is not going to develop into a positive future—for anyone.

Fortunately, I do not believe this is true of Millennials in general. It has not been my experience. I’m also relieved to find other managers who have found the opposite to be true.

Let’s ask economists:

Economists have an interesting take on Millennials. This article from CNBC indicates:

  • Millennial workers have had it rough, coming of age during the Great Recession with regard to unemployment and underemployment.
  • A new study finds that millennials will dominate the U.S. labor market for the next 50 years.

The Millennial dilemma:

Generalizations for some Millennials, don’t hold true for others.

This can easily be said for every generation, however, there seems to be a much wider spread at this time. I’ve been mulling this over for several years. As I stated in an earlier blog, we are still too close to this generation to begin to make generalizations at all, nonetheless, we have to find a way to help them and build a foundation of success.

Marcia’s theory:

I tried to do some out of the box thinking.

So, I asked, “When former generations began their career:

  • What shaped their worldview?
  • What played a role in forming their values, motivations and behaviors?

The Traditionalists (GI Generation and Silent Generation: 1901 – 1945) experienced World War I, World War II and the Korean War. What was their worldview? Patriotic, loyal and had faith in government.

Next came the the Baby Boomers. They experienced Vietnam, Watergate, the Human rights movement. They had a very different worldview which included a negative view of government. They were touted as the first “Me” generation. They valued money, title, and recognition.

Generation X were also known as the Latch-key generation. The divorce rate tripled and they were targets for new entertainment through technology. One example is the Game Boy fad. With these changes, it is no wonder that they came home from school and learned to manage themselves and their environment. They are a resourceful, self-reliant generation. They have a distrust of institutions and are highly adaptive to change. It makes sense. What do they value? Work-life balance, and a portable career …one that allows them to move from one company to another.

A theory was coming together.

Generation Y was next. I began to ask myself what they experienced prior to entering the workforce and what they are currently experiencing as they try to start their career.
Many Millennials are experiencing:

  • College debt
  • Limited employment opportunities
  • Information is always available which includes:

  • The national debt
  • Environmental threats
  • National security
  • Global dangers (ISIS, North Korea, the Middle East).

I wondered what it was like for them when a school shooting took place. These shootings were the actions of other students. Many testimonies indicated that some of the shooters were “nice” everyday people. What was it like when they went to school the following day after these events hit the news?

I wasn’t surprised by this article that cited the Number One Concern of Millennials to be: Safety.

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Safety? Sure. It all started to come together for me. The Great Recession caused some Millennials to experience the collapse of their home economy as their parents may have lost their jobs, homes, cars… If not their parents, they likely knew someone whose life was dramatically changed when the Great Recession hit.

They may have experienced the Great Recession when they tried to apply for college and found that the finances simply weren’t available and with changes in their household income, they may not have qualified for assistance. Their future college plans may have had to change. This may have been the case for siblings, friends, and cousins. Regardless, there was a possible impact at this juncture to them or someone they knew.

When the earlier Millennials graduated in 2007, the Great Recession was causing massive layoffs. Hiring was at an all-time low. Some were hired because they were lower-salaried employees. However, training and initial support were unavailable. The beginning of their career brought unforeseen challenges.

Here’s my point:

The Great Recession continues on…at least for Millennials, especially if they are trying to start their career.

There it is. The Great Recession was from December 2007 to June 2009 according to The State of Working America which is associated with the Economic Policy Institute.

Those may be the dates, however, the reality for Millennials is different.

Millennials have experienced the Great Recession, in different ways, since it began ten years ago!

This changes everything. As I have watched, questioned, conversed, coached, mentored, assisted, served as a reference, had breakfast, lunch and dinner with any Millennial who would talk to me, I have come to this conclusion:

Millennials experience the Great Recession at different times and in different ways in their young and early adult lives. When and how they experience this phenomenon has a major impact on their values, motivations, and behaviors. …and it is different for every individual.

This is my theory as to why we can’t generalize or make assumptions about this up-and-coming generation.

Positive action steps to help Millennials

Treating Millennials as individuals and withholding any negative preconceived expectations is a first step.

If everyone (yes everyone) were to make a habit of encouragement as we welcome this new generation into the workforce, it will help us all become more effective in the workplace and in society in general.

* * *

There are other factors that play a role. And that is the topic of another blog.

* * *


Master these jobseeker skills to differentiate yourself, and stay ahead of the curve.

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