Insights for Millennials on Being Successful at Work
Not everybody works at trendy startups filled with millennials who are their closest friends. Sometimes that “dream job” is at an established firm, and most of the other employees are “seasoned.” What’s the best way to handle a situation in which most of the employees are significantly older?
Much of the talk in the workplace these days is about fitting millennial needs and understanding millennials. Scads of articles online describe millennial characteristics, many of which don’t always paint younger workers in the most favorable light. Some of the descriptions attached to millennial workers include:
- Constantly praised by mom and dad and told he or she was special
- Want to work in groups and enjoy collaboration
- Addicted to technology
Very often others in the organization may have read those articles about what to expect from millennials and accepted these stereotypes. They may or may not have worked with younger teammates in the past, or they may even have millennial children of their own. Having survived this far as the youngest on every team and in every role in my career, I have found some valuable guiding principles and insights.
Earn Your Place
Avoid contributing to the millennial stereotype that young workers are “entitled.” Yes, you are probably creative and smart, but do you have years of experience in your field? No, you don’t, so step one is to stay humble and work hard. Work the later hours, practice for that big presentation you have to give, jump in to help when others are swamped. That is all part of growing in your career. You shouldn’t allow others to talk down to you or become a grunt tirelessly doing favors just because you are younger, but a certain amount of “putting in your dues” has to be met. Help your coworkers form their own impressions about why you are so great by letting them see your hard work.
Don’t mindlessly scroll through Instagram during staff meetings, stop group texting your friends about the concert you are attending this weekend, and please don’t Snapchat your food at that client lunch. While social media has a place in many careers, and in fact, having a strong grasp of social networking could help you stand apart from the crowd, you must be conscious of how much you are doing it when you should be engaged in business. You want to be aware of the professional “brand” you are establishing for yourself.
Another key factor of self-branding is the choice of work clothes. The most common advice is “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” While your workplace might be completely casual, and you can pretty much wear what you want, take your cue from what you see your managers and executives wearing. Most of them don’t stroll in wearing flip flops or hoodies. Also, clothing choices can make you look older or younger. You can still express your own personality and style with your outfits, but it’s a lot easier to have for others to take you seriously when you are dressed appropriately.
Do not share your drinking stories! Unfortunately, I’ve heard many of my peers talking about their crazy weekends, and it makes me cringe. You might like to play beer pong with your friends and get wild, but that should not be shared with your coworkers. You may have seen your boss take down three glasses of wine at last week’s happy hour, so you think he or she may have the same level of enthusiasm as you have for alcohol, but it’s still not okay. It makes you sound immature and potentially irresponsible. Also, monitor your drinking at work events. Just because it’s an open bar and everyone seems to be overindulging doesn’t mean you have to. Relax and enjoy yourself, but make sure you aren’t creating embarrassing stories that will follow you forever.
Learn from Each Other
The best part of being the youngest in the workplace is that a young person can find lots of potential mentors and different experts to go to for advice. On my last team a coworker talked to me about the process of refinancing his house and helped me understand the potential benefits and what to think about for my own place. That’s advice I wasn’t getting from peers my age at the lunch table. Recognize the years of experience surrounding you. Take note of presentation styles, meeting leadership, and negotiation tactics. Don’t be afraid to ask for tips or advice but also look for ways you can add value for your older coworkers. I heard about another millennial bringing in an educational presentation to her staff about how she uses social media. Maybe you are traveling with a supervisor or colleague who has never used Uber before. It might seem obvious to you, but it could be a real learning experience for those around you.
Don’t Hold Back
Earn your spot and work hard, but do not necessarily defer to coworkers simply because they are older. Pay attention to true seniority boundaries, but if you have a new idea or an opinion about a project you are all working on, be sure to voice it. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by age. Your peer might be old enough to be your dad, but he isn’t your dad. In this situation you are peers, and your opinion matters just as much.
Share the Love
Help others make their way in the workplace. At some point you won’t be the youngest in the room anymore. As you garner more success, take the time to look back and help the next newbie coming through. Get involved in your company’s mentoring programs or just informally offer to mentor interns or other more junior additions to your team. They will probably teach you a thing or two as well!