Confronting the M Word

first-5-icon-07Last week, we kicked off the blog series by addressing why we need millennials in public service. This week, let’s talk about how to tackle some harmful stereotypes. We already know that people can cringe at the “M word”- millennials. By this point, you’ve probably heard all about why millennials get a bad rep. We’re inexperienced, entitled, narcissistic, lazy, and too techy to have any social skills. TIME even called us the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Ouch.

Fortunately, more research shows we’re not as bad as the stereotypes say. We actually bring in a lot of characteristics ideal for working in government. Sure we’re young and less experienced, but we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and work. We enjoy challenging ourselves in a work setting while striving for work-life balance. Our interest in technology and social media can be helpful to a government workplace. And despite being known as the “Me, Me, Me generation,” we prefer work in team settings.

Millennial Myth-Busting
It’s great to have people defending us for a change. But at some point we have to ask ourselves, where did those stereotypes come from? There’s a reason why they were assigned in the first place. I say it’s our job to address them and show society that we do not adhere to such stereotypes.

But how do we confront these stereotypes? Here are four tips to take the M word from being a pejorative to being an advantage:

Familiarize yourself with employers’ doubts– There’s a reason older or more experienced employees perceive millennials a certain way. Maybe they had bad experiences with previous millennials who worked in your position.

Don’t corroborate the stereotypes. Just because people are interested in learning about millennials does not give you free rein to wear jeans to a job interview or check texts during a meeting.

Learn what your employer thinks about millennials. When he talks about younger professionals, does he usually roll his eyes? If so, consider this an opportunity to go above and beyond his expectations. Demonstrate that you are serious, can play by the rules, and be open to your employer’s leadership style before suggesting changes.

Demonstrate Job Loyalty– One of the worst stereotypes is that millennials like to jump from job to job. Government needs employees to stick around. When considering a job offer, consider it carefully. Whether it’s an unpaid internship or a paid part-time gig, don’t take it with the expectation that you’ll just take the next job if a better one comes along. Leaving before completing the term of a position is one of the best ways to burn bridges.

Even if it may not be the most interesting or well-paid job, prove your loyalty and show you can tough it out, like any other employee. If there’s no defined term limit, try and stick it out for at least a year. In the long term, it will not only earn you more respect, but also will look better on your resume to future employers.

Clean up the Social Media Profile– As much as we love individual expression and privacy, employers still check Facebook profiles and other social media platforms for their potential hires.

Are your party pictures really worth missing out on the job? Delete the embarrassing selfies, drinking pictures, or at the very least be sure your profile is set to private. If you don’t already have one, set up a LinkedIn account. It’s important to have a professional profile that potential employers can easily check as a point of reference.

Remember, ridiculous posts and pics on social media can only encourage stereotypes about milllennials. If you’re entering the government workplace, it’s important to start cleaning up the social media to be taken seriously. It’s a good sign of maturity and will pay off in the long run. No one in government can get away with posting inappropriate photos. Just Google this one and you’ll find many examples.

Harness the skills you need for the workplace– Government employers have complained that millennials don’t seem prepared for the workforce. It’s up to us to make up the skills gap. We seem to have a lot of soft skills like relationship building and communication skills but we tend to lack much of the hard skills required. Such skills include critical writing, statistics, research analysis, and data-driven tasks.

Know what employers are looking for and try to learn and apply those skills. Maybe it’s time to think about a professional degree or certification. You can also take some community college courses, online classes, or simply read up on the subject.

Reclaim the M Word
More workplaces now dedicate their time to learning millennial styles of leadership and promoting multi-generational teambuilding. So this is not a blog post asking you to change who you essentially are or the fact you’re a millennial. What I am asking is that you consider what you can do to change people’s negative perceptions of millennials. Other generations are trying to work with us- let’s reciprocate and work with them. Let’s combat the stereotypes by refusing to perpetuate them. Let’s reclaim the M word!


Photo Credit: Flickr/Chris Ford

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Christina Smith

Thanks for this article!! As a hard-working Millennial, I’m with you to reclaim the M word, each and every day!!