As a millennial, I see many experts claim they know how to manage my generation and understand why we act the way we do. The only thing missing from many of those ideas is a millennial voice.
Earlier this month at CIO Perspectives Virginia, a one-day event for senior IT executives, I moderated a panel that included three millennials from ages 26-31, with different connections to IT. We set out to address the myths that surround our generation and give some context to why these perceptions exist and how boomers and Gen-X-ers can better understand us.
Equally important was the opportunity for CIOs to candidly ask the panel questions about how to attract, recruit and retain millennials for their workforce.
Myth 1. Millennials are restless job hoppers who don't have any loyalty to our companies. If we are bored or unsatisfied, we will move on without looking back.
This perception might make other generations think millennials are arrogant and have an inflated sense of accomplishment. The panelists agreed that they could be viewed as job hoppers but that other generations need to look past their resumes to find out why they have moved around.
"My CV looks like a classic job hopper, but political appointees end and you have to find a new job," said panelist Laura Horton, communications manager at Georgetown University. "I've gained perspectives on various audiences working in business, Fortune 500 and now higher education."
Joel Sackett, a product manager at Hanover Research, says that while the label, "job hopper," can have a negative connotation, it's up to millennials to show that each of their work experiences has been valuable. "With technology and all the change and evolution, roles and experiences change year to year," he said. "If you're self-aware enough to evolve, maybe that means a new job or industry. It's an evolution of your career."
The panelists said that they are attracted to jobs that allow work-at-home days, and flexible schedules and companies with a great story to tell and a mission that millennials can contribute to. "If we have the freedom to work flexibly, we know we are still held accountable," Sackett said. "We're adults and we know what to do to get the job done."
Workplaces with video games, exercise balls and other perks aren't the end-all-be-all for these millennials either. Panelist Ian Tighe, a strategic account manager at startup, VerQu, said at his last job there was a ping pong table and it was more of a trap; if you were playing ping pong, you weren't at your desk making calls.
Myth 2. Millennials are overconfident, even cocky, in our abilities, especially regarding technology. We act this way toward baby boomers and Gen-X-ers and believe our familiarity with technology is superior.
Millennials may be hopping around to more jobs in their first 10 years than other generations, but we've had a jump start in one area: technology. Our generation is the first group of digital natives in the workforce but if we don't share our knowledge wisely, our technological aptitude could be seen as a sense of entitlement.
Sackett, who led the development of Hanover Research's first technology product, a predictive analytics tool for school districts, echoes this idea, saying that his familiarity with technology does give him an edge as a leader but he needs to share it with those around him.
"Technology is part of my vernacular and something I live and breathe every day," he said. "But it's also something I need to externalise and get other stakeholders to feel comfortable with it. It comes down to being mindful. If you don't take time to reflect, it will come off as arrogance, but if you are mindful, the conversation changes."
Tighe said part of the issue of why other generations hold this perception is that although we are masters with technology, we can also be very impatient and we have an expectation that things will work easily and instantly. "If we can't figure it out quickly, we will put it down," he said.
Myth 3. Millennials have a constant need for feedback and we want a back-and-forth dialogue all the time. If we don't get that, we might assume we're not doing a good job or that we're not liked.
Our managers might be irritated by this and view it as a call for attention. Traditionally, companies were set up to do performance reviews once or twice a year and feedback through formal channels and many still operate this way.
"If the only touch point is every six or 12 months, that's insufficient," Sackett said. "It can be informal as coffee or sitting down to talk. It's not the format that matters, but the frequency."
Horton said she understands that feedback sometimes can't always be on-demand, but can be retrieved through a strategic approach. She reports directly to Georgetown's CIO, Lisa Davis, and knows when she prefers a text message over an email, for example, or when to wait for their weekly 30-minute meeting.
Horton agreed with Sackett that feedback should be provided on a more regular basis, if possible. "If you've done something well, that learning is amplified if provided in the moment," she said. "A lot of value is lost if it's not an ongoing conversation."
Myth 4. Millennials are self-promotional. Marketing ourselves, establishing a personal brand and having social media presence are important to us.
Dedicating time to our online brands and social media presence could be seen as being self-absorbed or that we're bragging about ourselves and our accomplishments. But each panelist said he or she has found value in spending time on social media and creating their own identities so they can connect with others.
Tighe uses LinkedIn to connect with potential clients and tries to find common ground with which to start a conversation. "I was an eagle scout, so if someone was involved with that, I try to leverage that," he said.
In preparation for a speaking engagement, Sackett reached out to attendees on social media to get a sense of the topics they were interested in hearing about. Horton describes herself as a news junkie and uses social media to keep up with the latest events and to get context for any press releases she is preparing.
The panelists also said there is an appropriate medium for different types of communication. They prefer email for longer form dialogues and platforms like Yammer for group discussions.
Myth 5. Millennials need immediate gratification. We're always looking for a quick response and as many likes and retweets as we can get.
Boomers and Gen-X-ers might see this as disrespect, while millennials may view no response as an unsuccessful attempt and feel frustrated.
Horton said she knows the nature of immediate gratification all too well; the Georgetown student body is one of the audiences she messages regularly. Students wanted information on-demand so Georgetown developed a suite of mobile apps, including a laundry app where they can see a map of all the nearby washers and dryers and receive text messages when their load is done.
When dealing with potential clients, Tighe said he's used to not getting quick responses. "Instant feedback doesn't happen a lot, but it's appreciated. Respond to your sales guys!"
Putting all these myths aside, the panelists advised the audience that one of the best ways to tap into the innovative nature of millennials is to let us explore and push the envelope while giving us freedom to fail. Horton said, "The best value for you is to give us space and the trust to be creative."