Ask what Millennials are doing wrong at work and a host of older people will instantly offer endless, crotchety, “get off my lawn”-style complaints. Most of these are nonsense, according to a host of reputable studies. Young people aren’t distractible job hoppers whose every career setback can be pinned on entitlement and lack of work ethic.
But while most critiques of Millennials are sensationalist silliness, that doesn’t mean that today’s young people, like every generation before them, aren’t making some serious, career-limiting mistakes. What are these real but more rarely discussed missteps?
The question-and-answer site Quora recently elicited a thread full of thoughtful, clear-eyed, and actionable answers to the question What are Millennials doing wrong when it comes to their careers?” This feedback stands in stark contrast to the usual insulting, war-of-the-generations clickbait.
Here are some of the most useful cautions and advice that employers, fellow Millennials, and professional career advisors offered young people to help them tune up their careers. Avoid these mistakes if you can.
1. Ignoring stereotypes.
Lazy, entitled, tech-addled, coddled. The many stereotypes peddled about Millennials aren’t just annoying, most are also dead wrong, according to science. But just because someone else’s bias isn’t based in fact, doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact your life. The sad fact is, if you’re a Millennial, you have to acknowledge and confront these nasty stereotypes whether you fit them or not.
That’s according to career advisor Erin Berkery-Rovner, who contends in her Quora answer that too many young people stick their heads in the sand about others’ misguided ideas of their generation. When she advises college students, she teaches them “that if you’re taking notes on your phone, make sure that you tell people that you’re not Snapchatting, or Instagramming… because there are workers who will see one of my students with their phone out and assume that they’re just goofing off.”
Is that just? Probably not, but ignoring other people’s stereotypes isn’t going to set them straight. It is probably going to harm your career, however.
2. “Shallow” work.
Chasing small wins and endless productivity rather than accomplishing fewer but more meaningful tasks isn’t only a problem for Millennials, but it’s an issue they suffer from acutely, according to fellow Millennial and “software sales guy” Tom Sullivan.
He blames technology. “The reason that my generation in particular is stuck in this ‘shallow work’ or ‘distracted work’ way of doing things is because we are constantly communicating with people all of the time. When we’re at work, we always have our email inbox open and are constantly getting little notifications that take us away from what we’re doing,” he writes.
These distractions can be a career killer, while focus is an exceptionally good way to stand out from the crowd. “The ability to block out the distractions and actually focus deeply on a task could be a huge asset for a Millennial worker,” he insists. “My advice to Millennials, and especially to myself, is to find out how to cut the noise and distraction, and focus deeply on the task at hand.”
3. Too much talking, not enough listening.
Again, this is an issue that people of any age can suffer from, but perhaps the young (throughout the ages) have been more prone to the career-limiting issue pinpointed by Millennial and architect-in-training Leah Alissa Bayer. “We mistake skills for wisdom. As a result, we spend too much time talking and doing and not enough time listening,” she says, diagnosing her generation.
“We stormed into the workforce with an inherent set of in-high-demand skills. And you older folks? There’s no room for your way anymore and we don’t want to wait for you to play catch up,” she goes on, but “if we blaze this path with no regard for the past, no idea of the successes and failures of those who have traveled before us, we are fools.”
Handily though, “the fix isn’t complicated: Millennials have to slow down, shut up, and listen,” Bayer concludes.
4. Warped short-term expectations.
Two separate answers on the thread took the same quote as their jumping off point: “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.” Millennials are particularly likely to be led astray by excessive short-term expectations, both writers feel.
This bias means that “if a year into their career they can’t put the title of Founder, Entrepreneur, or retired billionaire on their social profile — they bounce, they rationalize, and they end up in the mound of Millenials career churn searching for the next quick opportunity,” cautions small business owner Chris Lynam.
“Our capacity for learning has not magically sped up in the last generation. We are not suddenly ‘X-Men.’ Yes, there are more tools than ever before, but there is no substitute for good fundamentals and practice,” agrees Myk Shaalo, a software manager at Amazon.
5. Underestimating the importance of your 20s.
Millennials are famously slow to settle into any of the traditional markers of adulthood (marriage, home ownership, steady career, etc.). A lot of that is down to economic realities. Many did graduate into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, after all. But part of the problem is a new cultural ethos that your 20s is essentially a throw-away decade of experimentation and consequence-free exploration.
That belief can significantly hold back your career, according to Loretta DeLoggio, who works in college admissions. “In 2008, I hired an employee — an excellent employee when she was working. But she was of the firm belief that she deserved to have ‘kid time’ until she was 25,” DeLoggio reports.
This employee isn’t just one isolated incident, she insists. “Sometime later she showed me an article she found describing this new period of life that Millennials have created called either post-adolescent or pre-adult, or perhaps both. I see it playing out in an eight- to 10-year delay between graduating high school and getting on with your life… That’s the Millennials.” Experts agree with her.