Overcoming the “E” Word

Lots of people are buzzing about the recent New York Times Magazine cover story, “What is it About 20-Somethings?” The article focuses on the fact that today’s 20-somethings are “delaying adulthood” by moving back in with their parents, marrying later and hopping from career to career.

The article speculates about whether these shifts are happening because of the current economy, a fundamental change in the definition of adulthood or — as many of the article’s more negative commenters believe — the “entitled” nature of the Millennial generation.

Personally, I believe that 20-somethings are simply reflecting the reality of our current times. But I have seen evidence that some Millennials aren’t aware of the way they are perceived, particularly in the workplace. Every day I hear recruiters and employers complain that today’s young people have a sense of entitlement — a belief that they deserve jobs, high salaries and advanced responsibilities even when they don’t have much experience.

Whether you personally feel this way or not, it’s important to understand that this perception of 20-somethings is out there. In many companies, the older generations are still in charge, so when you are looking for a job or wanting to advance in your career you’ll have a better chance of success if you avoid the “entitled” label. Here are some tips for overcoming the “E” word:

1. Show appreciation for responsibility and opportunity.
One of the biggest grievances I hear from managers is that Gen Y employees expect to be given high-level, exciting work on Day One of a job. Never forget that you are being paid to work! And your bosses probably “paid their dues” for a long time to get where they are. Many of them expect you to pay your dues too, even though technology and business move much faster these days.

The best way to receive the kind of work you want is to do a great job with every assignment you’re given. Then, when you do receive increased responsibility or a cool project, be sure to say thank you to the person who assigned it. Gratitude is remembered and rewarded.

2. Follow protocol.
While you may want to share your suggestions directly with the CEO of your company, it’s probably more appropriate for you to share those thoughts with your direct boss first. This type of hierarchical reporting structure may change someday when Gen Ys are in the corner office, but for now, it’s reality. If you’re not sure whether it’s okay to reach out to someone at a higher level, ask your boss first.

3. Focus on what you can do for your employer, not the other way around.
In cover letters, email messages, conversations with recruiters, salary negotiations, etc., make sure you frame your value in terms of what you can offer, not what you need. Recruiters roll their eyes at cover letters that begin with, “I would like to find a position in which I can learn.” Likewise, negotiations fail when you ask for more money because, “I need it.” You’ll have a better chance of getting what you want when you focus your argument on how it will benefit the company in terms of increased sales, more productivity or lower costs. Always ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?”

As I read through the above list, it strikes me that avoiding the entitlement label is really about using your common sense and best manners. What do you think? Please share in the comments!

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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