Here’s an unfortunate news flash: Current twentysomething career women—part of Generation Y—don’t always have the best reputation in the workplace. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the following comments made about your generation (not you, of course…just, um, other people your age):
“They don’t want to pay their dues.”
“They’ve been overly coddled and want instant feedback and instant gratification.”
“All they want to do is play on Facebook.”
No stereotype is ever 100 percent true (and lots of people have good things to say about today’s young workers), but it’s important to know that this perception is out there. Why? Because if you’re aware of it, then you can learn and benefit from it.
Think about it: If most people—bosses, colleagues, recruiters, the saleswoman at Saks—believe that young people are entitled, coddled, and permanently connected to their iPods, then you can really stand out by being hardworking, respectful, and well-mannered.
Here are three essential actions to take if you suspect you might be a victim of Gen-Y typecasting:
Engage a kind critic. First, find out what your professional persona really is. Seek out someone—a mentor, a respected friend or family member, or a career coach—who will tell you the truth about the impression you give in a professional environment. Create a list of questions and be as specific as possible. (Does my haircut make me look too young? Do I project negative or defensive energy? Do I say “like” or “you know” way too much?) Once you have this valuable information, no matter how hard it might be to swallow, your next step is to ask this person how they would advise you to improve any not-so-hot habits you may have.
E-mail for the job you want. You’ve probably heard the advice to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This is absolutely true, and it extends to the way you communicate, especially online. Take a look at your recent e-mails: Do you write in all lowercase? Use lots of text-message-style acronyms? Pepper your e-mails with loads of exclamation points? If so, these are all red flags to your reader that you are young, young, young. In some casual environments these habits may be the norm and that’s fine, but I bet you won’t see “LOL” in an e-mail from a senior exec at a Fortune 500 company. The best tactic for de-Gen-Y-ing your e-mail communication is to study the e-mails of people you admire professionally and model your style after theirs.
Clean up your online persona. On the topic of online communication, my final strategy for overcoming the Gen-Y stereotype is to check yourself out on the Web. In other words, Google yourself. If you see any, er, unprofessional photos, nicknames, or language associated with your name, do your best to delete it yourself or ask the person who posted it to take it down. Virtually every employer I speak to admits to checking out potential and existing employees online (it’s a free background check, after all), so make sure what they find about you is rated PG.
Hopefully these tips will help give Generation Y a better rep. And hey, maybe someday you’ll pay it forward and share similar tips with your successors—Generation Z?