THE BLOG

We Were Never Their Age - An Ode to Interns and Recent Grads

06/18/2015 11:01 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2016

To many companies, this time of year brings a group of interns and recent college grads into the ranks of employees. Some interns are returning from last semester or last summer while others are new. The newly hired often, if you have a good internship program, were previously interns. With the influx of new talent, come the annual articles about how best to use interns and the commonly accepted wisdom of the characteristics of this generation.

Since Gen X joined the workforce, each year we heard about how different these new employees were, what they expected (or didn't) out of their careers and the ways in which they would disrupt the workplace. The Millennials have been fodder for these pieces as will each generation behind them.

It boils down to a simple thought. We were never their age.

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The class of 2015 was born between 1992 and 1993. They grew up with the paradox of living life online with helicopter parents. The permanence and far reaching impact of what they post on social media exposed them at an early age and in a way that earlier generations didn't face until they were more mature. At the same time, they live sheltered lives in which, they were very infrequently left to their own devices unless those devices were game consoles and iPads.

The pressure to excel and achieve at multiple arenas, sports, academics, volunteerism and work is unimaginable. What other generation has begun thinking about building their resumes while still in high school? Yet, they also grew up in a time in which everyone on a team gets a trophy for participation.

All this to say, we were never their age.

Rather than lamenting the differences, embrace them, benefit from them and leverage them.
These newest employees bring with them different experiences. While some in the company will devalue those experiences because they lack the length of work experience, choose to listen with better ears.

When I was a Twitter newbie, I knew nothing of hashtags and twitter chats. While I felt savvy in the world of LinkedIn, this newest tool seemed to either have no structure or one that was an enigma. I asked one of our younger employees to mentor me. She was generous with her time and what she knew about social media. To this day, she is a valued member of my mentor group and will have read this article and helped improve it before it is viewed by others. She is the reason I am such an advocate of reverse mentoring.

You may begin by seeing the value these younger employees bring from growing up on social media or their technological savvy from having only every known a smart blackboard. You will quickly realize what they have to offer doesn't stop there. Both in mindset and skillset, there is much to be learned from this group. Bring interns to meetings and give them real work. Encourage the newest members of your team to share ideas, push back and challenge the commonly accepted way of doing things.
When I interview new team members, I tell them the second most important quality I value, behind passion, is a willingness to tell me an honest opinion when it differs from mine.

A few months ago, I made a decision after consulting several key people on our team. There was one employee whose opinion I didn't specifically seek out. He is a relatively new member of the team and still growing in his role. That's not the reason I didn't seek out his thoughts. A decision needed to be made quickly and I didn't think to ask him even though he had access to information I didn't have.
After I laid out the path ahead, he came to me privately and told me he would, of course, do what we needed to be successful but he disagreed with my decision. He asked me for 20 minutes to outline why he thought I was wrong. Even though after hearing what he had to say, I was still confident I had chosen correctly, I told him how critical it was that he had spoken up. The simple fact that he was willing to do that, increased the value to me of his input in the future. I will never wonder again if he is telling me what I want to hear or only the information that reinforces what he thinks my opinion is.

A consistent theme in every generation is that we value opportunities to learn and grow at work. The interns and new grads with whom you work want this opportunity as well. In return, they present us with the opportunity to learn from them, if you recognize it.

#WeWereNeverTheirAge and that's a good thing.