Ready, Set…Done!

If a group of coworkers in June were each asked to pack a supply bag for a perilous journey, the veteran employee would most likely pack all the essential tools. He/she will have measured food and water rations, compacted their load to be at a known, reasonable weight, and present their packs to the CEO after about a week. We millennials however, would show up the next day with five different packs, each with corresponding Tupperware, iPod speakers, detailed topography maps, shark repellent (you never know!), and three separate “ice breaker” card games, all with matching color schemes and waterproof seals, and deposit all five packs on the CEO’s desk with a sticky note saying, “I know, right?”

                In the above scenario, both employees completed the task, but their approaches and delivery were very different. And so too, would the CEO’s response be. The veteran employee, who presumably has been around the company long enough to understand how things are done, developed exactly what the CEO wanted and delivered it in a reasonable timetable. Case closed, satisfactorily. However the millennial, who has just joined the company after graduating from [insert university here], wanted so badly to knock their first assignment out of the park that they put in seven hours of overtime to put flashy variety and personal touch on the project. However, they kind of missed the point of the CEO’s project. The millennial did good work, that’s true, but the CEO needed a survival pack, not a party pack. The millennial has essentially expended a lot of wasted effort that didn’t really do anything extra for the business. I know—I’ve done it; it doesn’t feel good.

                More than likely, the CEO is going to use the veteran employee’s model and won’t have time to circle back to their newest employee as to why their project model wasn’t chosen. Were I the millennial in that particular situation, I would certainly be frustrated. I just spent so much time on this stupid assignment, where’s my gold star?

                Alright, maybe I wouldn’t be that dramatic, but I would be disappointed. And true, millennials won’t often be pitted against a more seasoned employee in their first month of work. But the key takeaways from this scenario remain the same. Be it running our first audit, reviewing our first case files, or making our first sales call, millennials have a driven desire to win, and win big, right out of the starting gate. In my experience this often leads us adding superfluous research to a project or trying to tackle too much too quickly on a sales call. Mistakes are made, managers get frustrated, and we don’t get the immediate, positive response we were hoping for. We may even get a shockingly negative response. And therein lies an interesting paradox: millennials are at their most creative and energetic when they first start at base camp, but base camp is where the most monotonous and technical work has to be done before we are given any of the extravagant assignments.

                I was once told in a job interview, “You won’t really hit any home-runs here. We’re mostly looking for a few singles.” While perhaps a rarity, that interviewer immediately put me off before I’d been there more than three minutes. We are an innovative and talented generation, and to be rather blunt, we’re less willing to “be bored” than previous generations. Everyone wants to be a rock star and I’ve seen twenty-two year-olds burn through an accounting file and be ready to deliver their findings before their supervisor even makes it back to his desk.

Ready, Set…Done!

But the question for us as a collective group isn’t always, “can I put my own interpretive spin on this and get immediate recognition?” The question is, “have I done this correctly and does my work represent my own professional standard?” A task that’s quite often easier said than done. Even harder, how do I channel all this energy!?

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Why Are We Where We Are?

Whenever people talk about millennials it’s always in terms of our generation, or of us as a group. I’m doing it right now. But if anything, we are the generation that most celebrates individuality and being just plain different. So if that’s the case, how divergent (*cough *Hunger Games ripoff *cough) are we really from one another?

I was interested in exploring these differences, so I collected a small sample of anonymous responses to four questions from millennials aged 22 to 30 in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Houston, and San Francisco. I asked millennials “What Made you Choose Your Current Job?” “What is the End Goal for Your Career?” “What is the Best Way to get to the Top?” and “Are You Nervous About Your Career?”

Today I want to dive into the first question to try and understand what pulls us to our particular starting points. Everyone starts at base camp, but I would imagine that everyone chooses their own trail head for different reasons.


Not surprisingly, the number one pull for millennials in the study was the industry itself. Ergo, I went to work for this oil and gas company because I’m interested in the energy sector. Salary was another expected popular category, and together industry and salary were the number one drawing factor for over half of the people surveyed.  Work-Life balance was another big-hitter as well. The phrase has become expected in interviews and an interviewer today isn’t doing a good job in recruiting you if they don’t laud the practices of their company in providing employees with a good work-life balance. So from the stereotypes surrounding millennials, that we want to be paid a lot, to do what we want, when we want to do it, our first 75% is not that shocking.

The remaining sliver of participants requires slightly more thought. Zero participants said that a company’s location or its benefits made them choose their current job. On some level that makes sense. The average twenty-something employee probably isn’t overly concerned with retirement packages and we are probably much more likely to travel or to move when we’re young and single. Yet that still leaves nearly a fifth of participants who felt that none of the options provided were what drew them to their job.

Of course this small survey isn’t indicative of why every millennial chose to set up camp where they do. Yet it is interesting to see that while not everyone’s reasoning played into some of the perceived stereotypes about millennials, a large percentage of the participants’ did. So what does that mean exactly? Do we have too high or even unreasonable expectations for our first job? Now that we have an idea of what’s bringing us to our base camps, we need to dive a little deeper into our participant pool. In order to understand fully what we expect out of career, we need to see where millennials envision ourselves at the end of our careers.    


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I’m Here! Which Way To My Office?

What happens when you take the most educated and tech-savvy generation to-date and introduce them to a mold-centric corporate world with technology stuck in the 80’s? Well, honestly, it creates a bit of unexplained friction between “millennials” and upper management. When today’s college graduate shows up to work on their first day, they’re arriving with a resume packed with accomplishments in student government, sports, Greek life, improv, acapella, community service, and maybe even a decent grade point average if they had the time. But more often than not that same go-getter, whirlwind energy that got us through college doesn’t always appear to be as well-received by our new bosses as it was by our professor of Elizabethan poetry.

     “I can download Kanye’s latest album, the Bible, and a killer recipe for quinoa tabbouleh on my phone in under a minute, but our customers can’t track their orders online? Why don’t we have an established mobile platform?”

     In the past few weeks alone I’ve seen two four year-olds operating an iPad, both within a block of my apartment. While something like that can still turn a few heads, it’s indicative of how much the average new employee’s technical skills have risen in the last decade alone. In fact it seems more likely today that one might see entry-level employees teaching their bosses Excel cheats than managers teaching recent graduates the company software.

     This gap between corporate and recreational technology reflects a generational difference that can often times come across as brashness to one party and ignorance to the other. Apart from the obvious issue that quinoa tastes like sad couscous, millennials urgent rush to hit a home run on our first day and snag a corner office before the end of our first year, can rub a seasoned manager whose spent twenty years in the trenches the wrong way. So much so that “millennial” itself is now becoming a buzzword and I haven’t met anyone yet who enjoyed being labeled as such.

     Everyone’s experiences can vary, but the differences in how our generation was taught and what skill-sets we bring to the table compared to those who have come before us are real enough. Everyone’s eager to climb to the very top. But where it was once an accepted reality to grind slowly forward up an established trail, one trekking pole at a time, our generation wants to bound up the trail, leaping from cliff to cliff, taking riskier and more frequent leaps in the hope of reaching the top sooner.

     “I’m here! Which way to my office?”                                       

     No matter what our individual backgrounds might be, we are all starting from the same place, base camp. A tense, uncertain place where we sit looking up at the mountain top, trying not to get altitude sickness and praying we don’t have to turn around and go back home. Across industries and interests there are experiences and trials that we have to face and that help us forge ahead. But sometimes it’s nice to know that there are others out there in base camp too, looking up and trying to figure out how to climb the mountain…or whether we even want to.

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