THE BLOG
09/05/2013 10:34 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

It's a Millenial World

"Whatever you do, don't use the word 'team.'" My eyebrow shot up at this advice. A new friend who writes a lot about Millennials was comparing notes with me. We'd made lists of phrases we thought would engage or disconnect post-college job seekers and want ads. It wasn't just academic; I was placing an ad for a production assistant. My colleague's parting shot about the one I was writing: Make sure you challenge them to show you what they've got -- and remember, they have to know what's in it for them. Those last words got me... what, a job they'd want wasn't enough?

Apparently not. Sure, anyone applying for a job would want to show her best stuff in an interview, but what about afterward? The bottom line is still that a job isn't a perk to woo talent; it's a job, an entry level position, a start, in our case, with a mission driven organization. Not that there aren't some very good benefits, mind you, and not just that we're located in Hawaii. At its core, though, this job, as with most doorway jobs is a chance for some inexpensive lessons in life, and some early career learning.

That idea seems to get a little lost with Millenials. Often what replaces it or at least takes a front seat, is the entitlement to be all in - even in areas where clearly they have no experience or no explicit decision making responsibility. Some will balk at the realities and very unglamorous necessities, preferring to skip over them. Others want to simply pick and choose what tasks they do because they like them better or find them too difficult. They want choice regardless of the job description or the impact their actions have on, yes, the other people on the team who might just need them to do their job decently -- and all of it.

It's tough not to appreciate the Millenial drive for balance and experience not dependent on money, and I share the perception that life is a learning lab. Hey, I work for public radio, remember? That still doesn't make up for the one thing we fail and need to talk about: how much we as employers keep enabling a younger generation to be mediocre and think they're stellar and it has to stop.

Recently an assistant at a friend's small company was not too long into his job when he called her to ask whether he "really needed to come in" that day. She's an early Baby Boomer who came up the hard way in the 1960's, so she answered politely but plainly, "No, not really... unless you want to keep your job." That night, she swore that next time she recruited, she would hire a grown up.

If you're in the Millenial generation, and if you're still reading this, albeit with pissed-off-attitude rolling around your gut, please know this: I don't blame you. You and your brothers and sisters in the Me Cubed Generation didn't pull entitlement chips out of thin air. We helped. We gave you the same idea many of our own parents gave us: we're perfect in every way and just because we're breathing. We, too, were led to confuse 'need' with 'want' and emotional justification with opinion grounded in fact. When we could have used someone early on to say cut the crap, we, too, continued to get the green light to use happy faces and invented spelling... until the one day some of us got our asses chewed and actually did begin to grow up.

I'd like to believe that day of reckoning comes to everyone and the navel-gazing will be summarily curtailed. There is a learning curve in knowing how to function as an emerging adult in the company of others with diverse backgrounds, greater levels of experience and varying degrees of tolerance for said emerging adult's personal needs myopia. And yes, I've tried to mend my ways.

We have a lot of interns who come through the public radio station where I work and I've also mentored high school and college students. Often they'll call from out of the blue to get a little insight, to feel out whether a shadowing day or formal internship would appeal to them. Lately, I've wanted to send them a Forbes article from this summer: the 20 things 20 Somethings need to know in the workplace. It's a good primer to cross check the conversation, especially when it begins to expose their justification why what they can get is more important than what they can give.

So far, I've only slipped a few times and snarled under my breath that someone needs to GTFU and yes, it helps to remember that not all Millenials are shallow, selfish and entitled. Alex Capecelatro, the founder and CEO of At The Pool even uses the word 'team' in an interview. Knowing that is a vote for optimism, deep breaths and couched questions with the Millenials who do walk through my office door about the possibility of a bigger lens to look thorough and whether they see a way to meet their needs in the context of an employer's.

Somehow, though, it still feels like a sell 'em, don't tell 'em exercise. Granted, that's part of the gig as a parent, boss or mentor, but every episode leaves me wondering what happened to this geneation's version of the P(iss) and V(inegar) my grandfather told me I'd need to make it on my own. Today I received another query which began, "This would be perfect for me because... " I may soon start snarling after all.

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