A Millennial Perspective

A college senior shares his insights into what the millennial generation may bring to the ever-changing world of work. HR executives should expect a generation of congenial, blunt-speaking hard-workers, he says.

Saturday, July 1, 2006
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Standing at the peak of my college career about to take the plunge into "the real world," I've never felt so much momentum behind me. I've never experienced as much anxiety either.

Bottom line: My race is on. If you want to survive in the "millennial" world, i.e., the brave new world for people in their 20s, you'd better bring your running shoes; "slow" is not a word in our vocabulary. If you can't keep up, you're going to be left behind.

A popular topic of conversation among my friends has been what we'll be doing a couple years from now. We're so determined about our futures, it's no wonder people say we have such high expectations. But it's not what my generation has in common that makes us an exceptional group; it's our individuality.

I've lived in a fraternity with more than 30 guys for the past three years of my life and can attest to the strength of our individuality. What makes each of us unique, I think, goes beyond our visions and thoughts; it's what we feel about what we want to do that personifies us. We share the common goal of making it big, but distinctions lie within our passions about where we're headed. "We're all going to get there," one of my friends says; "it's just a matter of how we do it."

So what is it we'll bring to the table when we open the door to the world of work? Honestly, it's more a question of what we can't bring. We're never satisfied with doing the bare minimum and we don't hesitate to ask for more responsibility.

Interning at a community newspaper last summer was my first real step toward becoming a journalist. It was also my first insight into just how energetic we millennials are. It was a great experience because I worked with some of the younger members of Generation X who still remembered what it was like starting out. They started me with one to two stories a day, but when the editor had my assignments on his desk before lunch, I think he was a little surprised at what I could handle.

Before I knew it, full-time reporters were tossing me assignments from every angle. The stories may not have been the hardest-hitting pieces there, but the satisfaction at seeing my byline appear as regularly as those of full-time reporters was . . . well . . . beyond description.

At the risk of sounding too direct (a trait I'm told millennials share), I got the feeling some co-workers thought I was simply "brown-nosing," but I really just wanted to keep busy. I could either ask the boss for another assignment, or look up sports scores on the Internet. Either way, my goal was, is and will remain to keep busy and stay engaged. If there's one thing my generation seems especially good at, it's going beyond the call of duty to get a job done.

Don't get me wrong, we're not "workaholics;" we most definitely like to have our fun. In fact, our social lives are just as busy as our work schedules. (Hint: The coffee pot is never turned off in our house.)

Ever since we were old enough to walk and talk, our parents conditioned us to have a knack for social life. From day camp to soccer practice to attending the birthday parties of every single kid in our kindergarten classes, we rarely had time to be lonely. We were trained to be the social butterflies we are today.

Not that there's anything wrong with "social butterflying." We get along great in groups, especially large, diverse groups. At the same time, we never lost sight of the prize; we excel in our pursuits while chumming it up and putting people at ease. We won't have any problem fitting in at the office. In fact, it's probably more likely older generations will have a harder time getting used to beginners with such enthusiasm about what they're doing. They'll also have to give us a break if we decide to rewrite a rule or two: We're more eager to succeed than please, so the rules better make sense and help us get there.

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Fueled by a passion for what we do and a mental sharpness that hasn't been dulled by boredom or bad lifestyle choices, we're quick learners who are always trying to be better. We also like to face realities head-on, with no "politically correct" agendas. Some of the best insights I've had in journalism have come from my biggest mistakes. As an intern, I once spelled a mayor's name wrong. The backlash from my blunder trained me to always go back and check the facts. No one's name has ever been misspelled since.

Overall, we're high performers who are good at taking criticism. We know we're not perfect. If ending up where we want to be is going to involve hitting a few speed-bumps, we'll just buckle our seatbelts so we don't get too bruised in the process. Don't be afraid to rough us up a little bit; we can handle it.

Through the years, I've watched determined seniors wrinkle-release their button-downs, slick back their hair and throw on suits and ties to look professional in the hot seat of a first interview. Take it from me, it's a most astonishing thing to look in the mirror and see you've become that same resolute go-getter. It's also a little scary becoming a real person, an adult.

The exciting news is we're comfortable with the adults in our lives, so working with them won't be a problem. Some say we're a little too comfortable?so close to mom and dad, in fact, that we come with parental strings attached to job interviews. Some companies even report parents helping to barter salaries for their "star-child" millennials. I say that must be a matter of taste; it's certainly not mine.

Personally, I don't think we need that kind of help. I'm positive and confident that my generation is ready to take on the world. Our "can-do" attitude and comfort with individuality will probably surprise the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers who probably saw little more than ill-advised over-partiers as we transitioned into adulthood. So here we come, ready to work with you, "real world." Just please have enough for us to do.

Ryan Paugh, 21, will graduate in August from Penn State University in State College, Pa., with a bachelor's degree in journalism.


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