Millennial Career Growth: Breaking the Stereotype

The first time I heard the term “Millennial” in reference to my generation I was in my early years of college. I was under the impression that Millennials were the younger generation of kids who grew up with an iPad as a pacifier. I didn’t want to associate myself with that generation, mostly because of the negative connotation that came with it. I was a kid of the 90’s; I played outside until the street lights came on and had to call my friend’s house phones to talk to them.  I got my first cell phone in late high school, around the same time that Facebook became a thing. I couldn’t be classified as a Millennial.

It wasn’t until my first year out of college that I realized the world viewed me this way. I was working as a Digital Sales Rep, and as the main digital point of contact for the newspaper sales reps I was called a Millennial almost daily, most of the time in a conversation that I could laugh off, but pretty much always  in a condescending way. I took it with a grain of salt since most of the reps had been selling paper for 30+ years and seldom brought their company assigned laptops to work.

The first time it really bothered me was when a “boss” (team lead) who was 3 years older than me said I had the “typical millennial mindset” when I decided I wanted to go for a different position within the same company. I told some of my colleagues about it and they went into detail about the popular stereotype, informing me that Millennials are the lazy, entitled generation who do little work but expect big rewards and promotions regularly. As someone who has been working her entire life with no breaks or shortcuts, this royally pissed me off.

It took working on some generation targeted display campaigns to really learn who was considered a Millennial.

When we get down to facts, a Millennial is classified as ‘a person reaching adulthood in the early 21st century’, and is typically anyone born between 1981 and 1996. This includes my old team lead, and many other couple-year-older bosses who would use the term as an insult. With that said, I realized most of the articles and stereotypes about “lazy Millennials” came from the generation before us. While there may be some validity to it (every generation has slackers), my interpretation is that just because we do things differently than they did doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. With changing times comes changes to the way we do things. So instead of letting the term “Millennial” bash me over the head, I’ve learned to embrace it and use it to my advantage, capitalizing on the strengths associated with it to grow as a professional and climb the corporate ladder.

Millennials Know Things

When I was working as a Digital Sales Rep, one of my newspaper colleagues took me on an appointment to a church, hoping I could sell ad space in our event app for their upcoming church fair. When I got there, I quickly realized that none of the 60+ year old attendees even knew what an app was, let alone owned smartphones. Two hours and a very painful lesson-in-applications later, I left with a $225 sale. Was the revenue worth my time? To my employer probably not, but to me – it brought new perspective to the career path I’d chosen.

As someone who grew in the era of daily releases of new technology, it was common knowledge in the school hallways how to use HTML code to add a glittery gif of your name to your MySpace page, or how to upload and edit images from the snow-day photo shoot you took with your best friends. We grew up during the time of “the next big thing” in technology and social media, meaning that these are things we are well versed in.

How to Use It: This knowledge is valuable, use it to your advantage and list it as one of your strengths. While it is true there is some negativity associated with technology, it is something that will keep evolving. We can get ahead in life by evolving with it.

Did you Earn it?

My least favorite part of the Millennial stereotype is the term “entitled”. Knowing that I was going to graduate college inundated with debt, I spent my college career interning and working towards my goals, trying to get ahead. In my first job out of college I was promoted after 2 months, then again after another 6 months. I credit this to a combination of taking initiative and having a boss who believed in me, but hearing about how Millennials assume they deserve promotions they haven’t earned made me question it; did I earn this?

It took some self reflecting but I can confidently say yes; I attribute most of my career success to hard work and determination. Seeing my parents work as hard as they did while I was growing up instilled it in me: it may not always be something I want to do but it’s something I have to do.

How to Use It: The key item here is determination, which endures failure,  setbacks, and lessons learned. It may not always be immediate and you will have to learn to be patient at times, but if you can overcome these trials and stay focused then you will succeed, and damn right you earned it.

If You’re the Smartest Person in the Room, You’re in the Wrong Room

This plays off the entitled part of the Millennial stereotype as well, and I live by these words. I strive to be the best I can be, and to do that I must consistently be evolving and willing to grow. This includes discomfort, feelings of inadequacy, and sometimes a good failure or two. If you are not doing these things, you are comfortable. If you are just comfortable, you are not growing. It’s a vicious cycle to get stuck on, and once you do it can be very difficult to get off.

How to Use It: While it is ideal to find a company that you love enough to stay with and grow in, I live by the rule that if I ever feel like the challenge and ability to grow has halted, it’s time to move on. Once you’ve hit that plateau, what are you learning? How are you growing as a person and a professional? Timing and overall happiness definitely play a part in this too, but the most important thing you can do is to never stop building on yourself.

Confidence is Key

It is easy to look at a job and say “I don’t fit the qualifications. I only have 4 years experience, not 5. I am only proficient in excel, not advanced.” It’s easy to make excuses why you shouldn’t go for the things you want, what’s hard is telling yourself that you should.

Confidence is deeper than meeting qualifications or your perception of what others think of you; it has to do with what you see in yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses; understand where you excel and where you can grow.

>How to Use It: Confidence is not about who you are now, but who you strive to be. Believe in your abilities and hold yourself accountable for the growth you need to get to the next step, and others will have confidence in you, too.

While success is not something that happens overnight, it is ok to take chances on yourself. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and learn from them, and most importantly use actions to tear these stereotypes down. Define what success means to you, and continuously work to improve yourself. The best way to shut them up is to prove them wrong, #AmIRight?!

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