Overcoming the "E" Word | Lindsey Pollak's Blog

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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  1. Karen F. says:

    For the 20-somethings out there, I kinda feel bad for those who I know are busting their bums to go out there and get a job…some get pretty disillusioned pretty quick…some are tough as nails and grow up almost overnight. It really depends on what kind of tools parents provide them to foster (or deter) their independence, as well as the other people that have surrounded them, their immediate environment and their perception of life in general.

    Read a wonderful post yesterday about interns on TalentCulture.com so I know there is at least one 20-something I know who is on the right path.

    For the rest of them, it really is quite a turnaround compared to older generations who have been working since they could walk! But the sooner they wake up from their own private reverie, the sooner we can get them out into the real world and make something of themselves…and not from the comfort of their parent’s basement….find your own basement to grow in!

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

  2. Tamara says:

    I loved that article. And your response. Well done.

  3. Randi says:

    I have two sons in that age bracket, and I have mixed feelings about this. My sons were raised with a strong work ethic from their father who never went past high school education, yet he taught them skilled trades and they did more things in that area growing up than most kids their age. Their father thought he was teaching them how to be responsible, rather than giving them a fish for a day he gave them bait for life. Yet do they appreciate any of that? Not really. One son does manual labor after bombing out of college, but now he’s back in college paying his own way. The other son is close to graduating by a semester or two, but he ran out of money. We paid college for both of them for over four years and yes, I think they feel as if they’re “entitled” They will have to learn the hard way, I guess. Bad timing now since they won’t have anyone to fall back on.

    • @Randi – thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It’s definitely a hot topic and very personal for many people.