Monday, July 13, 2009

Gen Y's Undeserved Reputation

"Generation Y", the population of nearly 70 million 20-somethings born in the mid-1980's and later, the "Millennials" are the fasted growing segment of today's workforce. Yet, Gen-Y has somehow formed a terrible reputation for itself. Young people today are known for being arrogant, attention-craving, and entitled. How did this reputation form? I do not know. And I wish it were not so.

As a member of this "plugged-in", ambitious generation, I too was coddled by overprotective parents who wanted nothing more than for me to have a healthy, successful life without making the mistakes that they did in theirs, nor having to struggle as they did. Instead of getting a paper route at age 15, we were sent to summer camps and joined soccer teams and school orchestras and did volunteer work in our communities. Instead of starting our professional lives at age 15, we, as a generation, generally were not expected to think about a career until 18, when it was "time to go to college". My parent's generation was much more focused, as far as careers go, than mine; my grandparent's generation even more so. When graduation from high school came, and money was tight, families seriously considered the pros and cons of sending their child to college. If the kid didn't have a good idea of what they would use their college degree for after the fact, then the kid didn't go to college. They went to work. The purpose of a college degree was to prepare oneself for the working world.

What I'm finding out now is that college did not prepare me for the working world at all. When I entered the College of William and Mary as a freshman, I had no clue what I wanted to study when I got there, or what I wanted to do for a living after school. I didn't know who I was, really. College helped me to explore myself, and find out what I'm truly passionate about. As I was trying to decide on a major, adult mentors in my life gave me this advice: "Major in something you love. Don't worry about how you will use that in your profession. Most likely, you'll go on to grad school anyway, and you can focus on your career goals then. Don't waste this great opportunity to learn about something you're passionate about now." How I wish I did not take that advice.

Alas, I did. I became a philosophy major, or as I like to think, I got a degree in something that covers all bases. I learned to think deeply about a myriad of subjects. Since I was having such a hard time deciding on just one subject to focus on, philosophy allowed me to explore them all. I took classes in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of science, social and political philosophy, ethics. Philosophy professors and students engaged in discussions about current events, while we read great literature by brilliant minds such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, and Kant. I enjoyed it, mostly. And I consider myself a well-educated young adult, with a true appreciation for learning and profound thought.

My recent graduation from college and thus deposit into the vast world of job-seekers has proved rather difficult, without a professional background in my education. I'm not only lacking that experience, but I also lack professional work experience in my fields of interest. My personality, interests and passions do not point me in the direction of professing philosophy at a college or university, and my internship experiences while I was in college were at an investment bank. Although a great working experience and environment, in which I learned new skills and met fantastic and enthusiastic hard-working people, through that two-summer long internship, I also learned that I do not wish to pursue a career in investment banking.

So what now? It's a buyer's job market, and there are plenty of laid off workers who have years of experience, glowing recommendations from previous employers, and are willing to take jobs for which they are overqualified, just because those jobs are available. Employers are happy to have proven, experienced workers on their staff, working for entry-level salaries. They seem nervous about considering Gen-Y people for their open positions because of this reputation that the Gen-Ys have for needing constant attention and close watching over, and guidance, while feeling entitled to immediate professional respect, high salaries and paid vacations. If I really thought that all "Millennials" fit that description, I would understand their hesitation. But, as an active entry-level job-seeker in Generation Y, I am offended by this large-scale generalization.

Generation Ys have a lot to offer businesses. We understand our fellow Gen-Ys, who are fast becoming the largest target audience and buyers for the majority of businesses. We quickly adapt to new technologies, and are constantly looking for new solutions that make life easier, effective and more productive. We are confident and ambitious, achievement- and team-oriented. We are not beyond asking for help, and as far as I can tell, that and those listed above are good qualities to have.

Here's my plea for help: I wish more Generation X's would take on a role as mentors to young adults, share their experiences and sentiments, so as to increase understanding and communication between the generations, and to break down that "bad rap" of Y's in the minds of X's everywhere...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Power of Twitter

Twitter's applications and value become more and more apparent to me daily. My first impression of this new social media tool was "This is nonsense. No one cares that you ate a grilled cheese sandwich at 2:32 on June 16th and even included a link to a photo for it." I joined Twitter just to scope it out, see what all the hype is about. At first, I used it in such a way that my prophesy was a self-fulfilling one. I followed my friends and a few news syndicates. I learned very little in real-time, other than the second when my buddy had found some new, time-wasting youtube video. The more I explored Twitter, the more I learned of its applicability and the more I liked using it.

I started by following all the people on the list of Twitter-recommended followers. A few followed back, but mostly, it was ineffective as far as keeping me interested and getting my own tweets seen. Then, I started running some searches for things that interested me: music, marketing, PR, health, food, wine, philosophy, school, careers, networking, etc. I looked through seemingly endless lists of tweets on those or related subjects, as people had used hashtags (#) to document them for this exact purpose. And so, I learned the value of the hashtag. I started following some of the people who had posted tweets that caught my eye, and before I knew it, I was off and running with quite a few more followers.

This became a continual process for me. Every day, I make a point of running another search for a topic of interest, and following a few more people. It may be a slow process, but it's one that I am enjoying, and it's setting off all kinds of fireworks in my mind. Now, I have a dashboard application that unobtrusively shows me incoming new tweets in the corner of my screen, without interrupting whatever I'm working on. I am learning about all sorts of different things that I never would have had access to or time to dig up otherwise. I am contributing to conversations and getting my own questions answered, or at least discussed.

Recently, I've become a "Twitter Strategy Intern" for, an online career resource center. As an intern, I'm working as part of a virtual team to promote Careerealism, and to give job-seekers, like myself, a little bit of hope and guidance in a lonely, desolate job market. In the past six months, Twitter has changed my life, and the way I communicate with strangers. It is set up so that it feels personal and intimate, yet I'm talking to people I've never met, who live all over the world. Twitter is empowering.

I recently came across EventManagerBlog with a video post called "Tweetcamp '09 and Unconferences", and it really got me thinking about the possibilities that Twitter opens up. Can you imagine going to an industry conference, where a speaker stands up at the podium, behind him a large projection screen showing a Twitter feed. Everyone at the conference has their iPhones and Blackberry's in hand, typing away to contribute to a larger conversation, and to give immediate responses to what the speaker is saying. This conference has become an educational forum, a discussion, and increased the efficiency of what can be done there. As they say, "Two heads are better than one." Well, imagine what 400 heads, all with extensive industry knowledge and experience, could do. Twitter is a powerful tool, and it is at everyone's fingertips, if they choose to let it be.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Got Joy?

The covers move beside me and I feel myself being jerked from a peaceful sleep. Annoyed, I slowly open my eyes into slits to glare at the creature that has disturbed me. It's still asleep, but morning is upon us. That won't be the last rustling. I slowly stand, stretch my arms, arch my back, make my hairs stand up so that cool, fresh air rushes in to my skin. As I walk past the food and water on the floor, I feel a pang of hunger from within, and stop for a small snack. Then, I find a cozy place to doze uninterrupted until it rises.

These people make so much noise when they move around, it is impossible to miss one. She gets up and stumbles to the bathroom, clanging around, running water, brushing teeth. I watch her walk past and downstairs, and slowly follow her, watching, watching. She goes to the desk first, as always, sits at the computer for a few minutes. Like an alarm clock ringing, the beast within her growls and she gets up and heads to the refrigerator. When I see her pull out a brand new gallon of milk, my mood lightens. Nervousness and excitement are upon me at once as I watch her slowly remove the blue plastic piece that allows her access to the milk. I am sitting on the floor at her feet now, attentively looking up in anticipation. I do my best to make myself known without seeming overanxious. I ask politely, "Mine?" She looks down at me, smiles, says good morning, and tosses the plastic to me.

Joy! The object of my desire is in my possession. I toss it, hold it, watch it, run with it, stalk it, pounce on it. The person is back at her desk. I daintily carry my prize to her and lie down at her feet with it, gazing up at her longingly. She looks down. My muscles tense, ready to protect. I see her hand move toward me. My head is close to the ground now. She reaches for my piece and grabs it. My heart is racing. She flings it away from her, and I go flying with it. My body moves with this little piece of plastic. I can't control my movements until it is back in my possession. I allow my heart rate to slow as I make my way back to her, toy in teeth.