Digitally-native Millennials are the next driving force in change around the world. Nearly 80 million strong, a few Millennials are already household names. But this same group of rising stars must earn the trust of Gen Xers and Boomers before taking the reins of the business world.
I started writing this blog post about a week before Cathryn Sloane’s widely shared and highly contentious article was published. Her piece entitled, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25” is not required reading to enjoy this article, but the polarizing title and the ensuing comments highlight the digital struggle Millennials face every day between doing the thing that feels good right now and doing the right thing to move forward in a career.
I have been watching our generation (yes, I’m a Millennial) progress in responsibility over the last five years. Running a company where the average age is 26 has also given me some insight into the things Millennials do to advance their careers and the things they do to self-sabotage.
10. Blindly trusting social media outlets with sensitive information
The inherent trust our generation places in social media outlets is simply careless. As global organizations understand how to integrate social intelligence into their lumbering business models Millennials are setting themselves up for big problems. Everyone from Presidential candidates to entry level applicants are facing unprecedented levels of digital scrutiny. With the stakes so high should Millennials really be posting about medical conditions, party pictures and risque links? Many smart people have already written about this topic and as time marches onward it becomes more relevant.
9. Staying inside geographic comfort zones
Seek job opportunities in a new and unfamiliar city where meaningful careers are more numerous and prospective mentors are more plentiful. Use your network (real world or virtual) to help you get there and commit to staying for at least one year once you arrive. Crash on a couch, use mass transit and eat ramen noodles. It won’t be fun but it will be enlightening and dramatically increase the odds of securing a career at the forefront of any industry.
8. Avoiding risk without parental buy-in
Some of the most disappointing examples of Millennial self-sabotage occur when otherwise bright young job candidates respond to tough questions with, “I want to ask my parents before I respond to that.” It sounds ridiculous, but I have received that response word for word in business situations at least three times in the last year. Our generation seems to have trouble making tough calls without buy-in from authority figures. It should be noted that we all look to our elders for advice and there’s nothing wrong with that (see 5 below). I’m thinking about requiring a permission slip before the interview process.
7. Refusing to play the political game
Attitude, appearance and the words we use matter. Choose them carefully and deliberately for the task at hand. Even trendy tech companies reward the people who understand how to navigate sensitive political waters, as much as they would like to project otherwise. Disruptors, renegades and change agents still have to play ball in the business world. And that means putting positive, can-do energy on display each and every day, going the extra mile for the client or customer and openly giving credit where credit is due. Arrogance and Millennial knowitalism – especially when discussing technology – should be thrown out the window.
6. Ignoring physical fitness
Healthy body healthy mind. Cliches aside, being physically fit is an outward display of discipline, self confidence and self respect. Exercise and eat right. Drink less on the weekends. Eliminate negative influences that lead to bad behavior. Millennials have the advantage of being young and vital, so it takes less time and energy to actually accomplish fitness goals than later in life generations. Right or wrong decision makers are taking your physical appearance into account, so feel the burn and get ahead.
5. Failing to adopt a mentor
Success breeds success. Accept that you know a lot less than you think (even if you truly know a great deal). Identify the key players in your industry and relentlessly pursue them. Hone relationships where you can and create a structured plan to communicate with those key individuals on a regular basis. If you can do so comfortably, formally ask an industry expert to mentor you once per month for an hour. Prepare questions, share problems, chart progress and get direction.
4. Making poor financial choices
Save what you earn and don’t buy in to societal pressures to own designer products and gadgets. Go to school, but don’t use an expensive education as an escape or stopgap from the real world. Getting an MBA, for example, without at least five years of career experience in one industry can be a huge financial mistake. Entire industries are being built around fiscal responsibility for Millennials – use them to arm yourself with the information and the tools to achieve financial freedom.
3. Stopping at ideas without learning how to execute
I have never met a successful entrepreneur who – if you took away all her employees – couldn’t make her product or service work on her own. Mark Zuckerberg created and supported Facebook because he knew how to code. Do you expect to create anything meaningful if you can’t do most of the up-front work yourself? Buy a book, take a class or use the internet to acquire a skill. Practice at it, hone it and prove why a company should pay you top dollar for it, or turn it inward and create something yourself. Too many Millennials stop at ideas with the belief that they have accomplished something, if only they could secure financing to hire people to do the real work.
2. Succumbing to Startup Syndrome
Working on the next Facebook sounds tempting. So tempting that many Millennials fall victim to mindlessly flitting from startup to startup, lost in a cycle of hard work with little tangible reward. I also have some news for you. Hiring managers don’t want to see a resume with ten failed startups on it. As our economy gets lean and mean the quantity of startup success stories is dwindling quickly. Don’t get caught in the trap. If you want to go work for a startup demand that you receive payment for your services. If the company can’t afford to pay you fairly and in cash then look elsewhere. There are always exceptions to the rule, but in the world of startups everyone wants to believe their company is that exception, and entrepreneurs can be very charismatic.
1. Believing that social media buzz = success
Millennials are wired for instant rewards. It’s why gambling can be exhilarating and why social networks are so popular. Each time you see that little red number pop up in Facebook you feel a rush of excitement. Will it be something good? Will it be something bad? Maybe… Just maybe it’s something incredible! And that emotional rush can be just as bad and self-destructive to Millennials as a gambling addiction because the stakes are always going up. Don’t give in. Don’t create content for the sake of controversy and attention. Use discipline and realize that careers aren’t built off of Facebook friends and Instagram followers.