3 Things Millennials Know About Success That You Don't

Published: May 13, 2013

 Workplace Issues       
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Poor Millennials. It's bad enough that they're struggling with little job experience in a tough job market, but we're all beating them up for even trying.

Those whippersnappers, we snipe, they think they're entitled to a job? They want feedback? They want to be paid for what they know how to do? But they probably learned it on the internet! That's hardly viable resource for learning!

Still, you've got to hand it to them: Gen Y (usually defined as those individuals born between 1980 and 2000) are a pretty aware generation. They've lived their whole lives surrounded by information technology, and if they come off as self obsessed, know it all twits, well, it may simply be because they've got the tools to indulge in it. (Joel Stein notes in his Time magazine piece that in the 1960s everybody "trapped" friends at their homes to look at hundreds of vacation polaroids. Imagine if they'd had instagram!).

When all's said and done, Millennials may be better adjusted to today's work world than anyone else. Here's what they know they you might not:

1. The Importance of Branding

Like stargazing, there's nothing like a little internet browsing to make you feel small. You always knew vaguely that there's always going to be somebody better at the things you do out there—but in internet culture, you're consistently exposed to "the other" and the "more": more attractive, creative, engaging, charming, accomplished, etc.

Now imaging you've lived your whole life exposed to the rest of the world this way, and you'll understand Millennials' obsession with uniqueness a little better.

Rather than try to beat out others in the achievement sense, young people are trying to look inward and use what's already unique to them to get noticed—whether they're looking for more hits on a blog or trying to find a job.

Now that the job market is flooded with more experienced, more accomplished people than you, the Millennial approach may be a shrewd one: if you can't beat out the competition, you can at least vie for a memorable impression. Gimmicks are usually a bad idea here (you are trying to be seen as a professional, after all), but tapping into what's already special about you is a great way to authentically stand out.

2. Ask and you shall receive

A little entitlement goes a long way. Many of us bemoan Millennial perceived claim to jobs, then promotions, and of course, positive reinforcement all along the way. Entitlement may be the attitude, and it may be due to "participation trophy" culture. But whatever the cause, the effect is clear: Millennials are getting at least some of what they're asking for, and that translates to much more than the rest of us (who are too scared to ask for anything).

Even Stein writes in his Time piece about prominent executives who have puzzled over the fact that they gave an hour of their time to meet with young people, simply because they had asked for the time.

You may turn your nose up at the boldness of asking, but you can't argue with the results. Making a simple, clear request (whether it's for an informational interview, feedback, a recommendation) has a much, much better shot at getting an affirmative response than no request at all.

3. Fit is everything

A lot of people are calling it "delayed adolescence" or simple indecisiveness. But, given the wealth of knowledge young people have about the world and their career options in it, plus a great life expectancy, can anyone blame them for putting off major life choices?

Millennials are big on finding their "niche." As Stein writes, the internet under their influence is a "90%" positive place, in comparison to the 50/50 positive-negative split it was under Gen X's rule. The reason? There's no longer an "us" and "them" in youth culture; in fact, there's really no "subculture" at all, since there's such a huge number and variety of cultures one can dip into and out of at will. And now, thanks to the internet (and specifically, YouTube), young people know what's out there. Why bother rebelling against one type of culture when you could instead opt to be a part of another thing that suits you better?

What this all comes down to is that Millennials don't want to settle: because of the wealth of variety they're experiencing in every aspect of their lives (art, music, political opinions) they truly believe that the place they'll spend most of their time in adult life, work, can be a perfect fit for them.

Also, there really is no easy path to follow anymore anyway. The days of "Doctor vs. Lawyer" no longer exist. In an unsteady job market, a clear career path no longer exists. Millennials feel that their best shot at success may truly be in finding the best fit for their particular mix of personality and skills. And, if their branding successes are any proof, they may be onto something.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
Stop Multitasking, Start Working
Why Women Struggle With Networking: Lessons from NAPW
Star Jones: "Simple Seven" Tips for Success
Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation (Time magazine (subscription required))