One millennial CEO's career advice to other fellow millennials
Millennials get a bad rap – perhaps deservedly.
While there are always exceptions, generally speaking, millennials have less patience and (forgive me) fewer skills than people of earlier generations. They're more finicky, dicier and more restless. They're also less loyal and not afraid to take full advantage of their happy hours and vacation time.
Due to all of the above, millennials are often viewed by the generations that currently lead most of the world's organizations as being lazy, insolent, and petulant, and I’m not going to lie, many of them are.
Or I should say – many of US are.
You see, I’m a millennial myself. I'm also a CEO.
After graduating from Bryant University in 2010, I tried to seize every opportunity I could and eventually served as head of user success and business operations for RelateIQ, which was acquired by Salesforce.com for just under $400 million. In late 2014, I co-founded Progressly, the world's first cloud-based operational performance management solution. We launched our Series A funding in 2016 with over $6 million, and our company is thriving thanks to a driven, smart and dedicated team made up primarily of millennials.
My own company is representative of the American workforce as a whole. According to a Pew Research, millennials now occupy the largest share of our nation’s employees at 53.5 million, and that number is only going up.
The fact that we millennials are the future of the American, and also global, workforce is both scary and inspiring. Inspiring because we have the opportunity to become the next "great generation," a generation that, via technological advancements and incredible developments like the cloud, change the world for the better. Scary because what if our stereotypes are true? Certainly, a bright and promising future can't be built on insolence, laziness and petulance.
So, what can we as millennials do right now, in our current jobs, to overcome these stereotypes?
Here are six things:
1. Don't be a spectator
We millennials always want "in" on the big picture. Where's the company headed? What's next? The best employers share details about the company's bigger and broader goals. But that’s only half the story. The other side is you. Don't be afraid to lead by example and make your presence felt, even if you may not hold much seniority within the organization. As you earn bigger and bigger responsibilities, higher ups will trust you more and feel that your opinion can help shape the direction of the organization.
2. Don't assume you know anything
Becoming wise or knowledgeable takes time. We millennials are used to sharing our ideas and opinions (and having parents that care to listen), but we have more to learn than we know. Making contributions makes us feel important and like we're part of the team, but when the dust settles and a colleague suggests a brilliant idea that comes from experience, that's an opportunity for us millennials to absorb some knowledge.
3. Don't be afraid to grow your new social network
We already love to network – after all, we're digital natives. This same kind of social activity can benefit our employers by attracting more talent and leading to other connections and partnerships. So, we shouldn't fight connecting with our new colleagues – we should embrace it.
4. Understand that success doesn't happen overnight
As earlier generations know so well and tried so hard to impress on their kin: Success doesn't come on a silver platter. It comes with hard work. The process makes it worth it, because you appreciate success when it comes. That said, delayed gratification wasn't part of our upbringing. Remember to give yourself time to earn trust and create a body of work that shows your teammates, boss and organization that you're competent enough for the long term and in it 100 percent. To steal a page from the baby boomer generation's book: The gratification should be the journey and the hard work itself, not the rewards.
5. Accept an imperfect balance
Putting in a little extra effort is key to not being seen as lazy. Certain occasions call for extra work hours, and on these occasions, we as millennials would do well to clock extra time to show that we really do care. It all comes down to owning the responsibility of our positions. When duty calls, we answer. Then we can go unwind, and that drink at the bar will taste that much better.
6. Communicate well
This is a broad piece of advice, and easier said than done, of course, but there are certain things we as millennials can do in the realm of communication to show employers that we're not entitled, lazy or selfish. Always be in touch and available. Not being snarky is another aspect to this. Sometimes our first instinct, especially if it's a demand that doesn't seem to make sense, is snark. Take a moment to step back and try to understand the other side, and then respond accordingly. If their POV still doesn't make sense after thinking long and hard about it, ask questions instead of getting combative. The response may surprise you. Often what seems like unreasonable demands are just poorly communicated ideas, usually because people are too busy to spell everything out.
In summary, get rid of the idea that you're the smartest person in the room, that success will come overnight or you can get by just hanging out in the background or without working a little overtime. We're millennials. We grew up with instant gratification and the digital universe literally at our fingertips. But that doesn't mean we don't have things to learn from the generations that came before us. Just like them, we need to work hard and have a good attitude. Although we may not stay as long at our jobs as our parents or grandparents did, we need to approach every new position as a new learning experience and opportunity.
Most importantly, a little humility goes a long way toward breaking out of our millennial stereotypes and ridding the older generations of their ideas about us forever.