Millennials: Using Stereotypes to Your Advantage

It happens as every generation ages into the workforce: stereotypes kick in and every potential employer, whether consciously or subconsciously, has a preconceived notion or inkling about who you might be before you even walk into a room.

While your birth year doesn’t define you, in some ways you are a product of your generation. Here are four stereotypes about millennials and how you can best embrace them to ace the interview for an internship or job:

1. Millennials are entitled and don’t think they need to start at the bottom

According to new research from the Young Entrepreneur Council and Buzz Marketing Group, this is actually not true at all. In fact, 82% of those surveyed said that they view an unpaid internship as a valuable way to gain skills to start a business.

What to say to a potential employer who expresses concern about your willingness to do grunt work:

Go ahead and embrace the stereotype that you are smart and capable of doing more than fetching coffee. Explain that you understand that as the new person on the team, some of the less exciting tasks will fall on your plate—and you are okay with that because learning how things work from the ground up is important to understanding the business. But, also say that in your mix of projects, you are interested in taking on initiatives that will have direct impact for the team. Explain that you are accustomed to innovating and having a sense of ownership and would love to put those valuable skills to work—even as an intern.

2. Millennials all want to start their own companies

This one is potentially damaging for millennials interviewing for entry-level positions because most employers don’t want to invest time and resources training someone who they think is going to quit in a year to launch a separate startup.

What to say to an employer who thinks you’re there to learn the ropes and jump ship:

Acknowledge that as a millennial, you have had unprecedented access to technology and heard countless stories of garage-based startups taking over the world, which makes it seem that anything is possible. Explain that you will bring that sense of optimism to the company you are interviewing with—something that more seasoned employees might have to dig deep to find—is part of your DNA.

3. Millennials are lazy

Part of this stereotype is related to technology. Back when your potential employer was in college, he probably had to go to the library to use computers to research. Or even more likely, there wasn’t the internet as we know it today and he had to dig out an archaic relic that is known as a book. There’s no way to deny it—lugging yourself to the library, using the Dewey Decimal System, and photocopying pages from a book is much more extraneous than using Google. But that’s not your fault and it doesn’t make you lazy.

What to say to someone who implies that you might be lazy:

Express gratefulness that your generation has had the luxury of access. Explain that you are accustomed to efficiency and the ability to gather information quickly, which is an asset in any position. The expectation that you can access information fast is not the same as a lack of willingness to dig deeper if your initial Google search doesn’t produce what you need.

3b. Millennials are lazy (part 2)

What your employer knows about millennials might come from the HBO show Girls, which does you zero favors. While the show is entertaining, it paints a less-than-impressive picture of your generation. None of the main characters have steady jobs and many rely on parental support to supplement a large chunk of their living expenses.

What to say if your potential employer implies that you don’t need this job because you can rely on your parents:

The best way to handle this kind of conflict is to steer the conversation back to the position. Honestly, your financial situation isn’t anyone’s business—and it should never be a factor in whether or not you are hired for a job. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you are paying your bills.

4. Millennials are scared to talk to people in person

This is a newer stereotype that cropped up in June when the New York Times published an article about millennials’ avoidance of voice mail—which some assume translates to a fear of talking rather than texting or emailing. The article also included a little jab: “[Millennials] frequently don’t review or pay their own phone bills”.

What to say if an employer questions your communication skills:

The interview process itself is your chance to prove that you can hold a conversation. Be smart about your communication method. If an employer calls you, call back, don’t email or text. Dispelling this negative myth is about showing, not telling. One positive to mention is that your comfort with written communication is a great asset in terms of assuring that everyone is on the same page and has the same information.

Flip the negative stereotypes about millennials to show that you will bring the creativity, drive, and ingenuity that defines your generation, to any internship or job. Be true to who you are and you will transcend the millennial stereotypes, making the interview about you, the individual, not you, the millennial.

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Jody Michael Associates

Jody Michael is CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates, a Chicago-based company that specializes in career coaching, executive coaching and organizational consulting. She is a Master Certified Coach, Board Certified Coach, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and University of Chicago-trained psychotherapist with over 15 years of corporate experience in the finance industry and more than 20 years of experience coaching high school and college students, career professionals, teams and organizations. She has been featured on National Public Radio (WBEZ Chicago), MSNBC Primetime, PBS, CNN and Discovery Channel. In addition, she has taught, lectured, given workshops and participated in panel discussions at The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and School of Social Service Administration, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Southern Illinois University and Chicago Public Schools on a wide range of topics including neuroscience, the brain and change, linguistics and accountability, and successful entrepreneurship. Read more from Jody.

  • Kelly

    Great article – will be sharing with my cousins starting to interview!

    • Jody Michael

      Thanks so much, Kelly. I am really glad it was helpful.