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Millennial Crash Course

EACE Blog contribution by Kelly Scott, Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University

Millennial Crash Course

Millennials, Gen Y, the Net Generation. As a career counselor, you can’t get away from it- from newspaper articles (like this one), to scholarly journals to parody training videos, Millennials have been targeted as lazy and entitled among other not-so-nice characteristics. Although most (if not all) of EACE readers are well versed in their traits, while doing research for a conference presentation I was reminded of the context in which they (we) grew up. Ideologies and attitudes don’t form in a vacuum and it was refreshing to be reminded of that fact- especially after reading negative things about your generation most of the time.

By no means could I possibly cover the breadth of research done on this generation in a short blog post, nor do I intend to- instead I hope to remind readers of some of the most talked about traits and the thoughts behind where these common traits came from based on some research and my experience living the Gen Y dream. I’m also not trying to make excuses for the behaviors some Gen Y exhibit- but understanding the source can help us empathize more as counselors.



The “Deadly” Traits

Entitled, high achieving/confident and pressured. Entitlement is not attractive, period. What’s interesting is that in my experience, the most entitled clients lack a sense of self-awareness that I didn’t think was possible. Where did that come from? Speaking generally, Gen Yers have been told by family and teachers that the world is their oyster. How is that different than other generations? The fact that they’ve also been told, step-by-step, how to be successful. It usually sounded something like this: Good grades in high school plus extracurriculars and community service gets you admission into a good college which, assuming you do well, will get you a good job and a good job will get you the life you’ve always dreamed of… or so we thought. Then 2008 happened and it was all like “wait, but I did everything you said, where is my trophy and my corner office?”

That high achieving, pressured student is not getting the reward that they expected after following what was preached as the best path to success. Now there is more pressure: pressure to pay off student loans, pressure to be successful and pressure to not let down those parents and teachers that have been cheering them on for the last 23 years. Naturally high achievers, they put pressure on themselves anyway and their lack of success comes out as entitlement and disappointment and in worse case scenarios- the blame game. This is of course not the case for everyone, some people are just entitled regardless of their background, but I’ve found that when I’ve pressed a seemingly entitled student (and given them a gentle reality check) and questioned why they think they deserve said corner office, it comes out that they did everything they were supposed to do and now they’re not sure why it’s not working out the way they planned. That’s when you say, in a nice way, “life isn’t fair, sorry”.

Values fairness and work/life balance. Gen Y is all about being fair and they don’t live to work. This does not always sit well with prior generations in the workplace who respond with “stop complaining and pay your dues kid”. They value flexible work schedules and don’t believe hours spent in the office equate quality work. Similarly, they are confident and high achieving and thus want to be evaluated on what they’ve accomplished or how they added value to an organization, not by their years (or lack thereof) of experience or time with the company. This doesn’t always sit well with corporate America and it can be misinterpreted for our next trait below.

Lacks commitment/work ethic. Employers have complained that Gen Y lacks commitment, work ethic and are serial job hoppers. Their need for work/life balance can also be misinterpreted as lack of commitment and/or entitlement. Why do Millennials want work/life balance? The aftermath of the Great Recession has them questioning how loyal companies really are to their employees after watching family members lose jobs and CEO’s get raises. The New York Times writes,

“‘I think it has less to do with lack of conscientiousness — it’s more a recognition that no company is going to bury you when you die,’ said Scott Ruthfield, 39, who runs Rooster Park, a recruitment firm in Seattle. ‘You’ve seen your parents go through large companies that don’t take care of them, and you realize that you’re responsible for your own well-being.’”

I guess getting laid off after 25 years of services just doesn’t seem “fair” and that’s not going to jive with Gen Y.

Regardless of your opinion on what Gen Y is or isn’t, like all generations before them, their ideologies and attitudes are shaped by the realities of the world we live in. Having the ability to recognize and understand where the motivations for certain actions are coming from can lead to a more empathic and successful counseling session. Additionally it gives us as counselors the context to help the student realize why they may be feeling a certain way about prior internship experience or job. Entitled or not, this generation of confident professionals is not going down without recognition, and they’ll still make it to spin class, whether you agree with it or not.


Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott

Kelly is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development and “blog master” for the Northeastern University Career Development blog, The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand and enjoys reading and writing about workplace culture. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Contact her via Twitter @kellydscott4 or LinkedIn

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