There’s a lot of information online about millennials. Some of it is anecdotal, some of it is statistical. Yet if you look at the authors writing on it, you won’t find many millennials. In fact, many of those who are commentating on this topic and passing on wisdom to young people are often much older than those in the demographic. In order to give helpful advice to young working people, from young working people, I asked several millennial employees one question: “What would you say to a room full of 1000 of your peers?”
Here’s what they said:
Communicate value to people
“Send a handwritten ‘Thank You’ note in the mail to someone who helped you get to where you are today,” says Samantha, a marketing manager at one of the world’s largest tech firms. While digital dominates much of our communication, there is still a place for handwritten notes. She goes on to say, “Send an email to someone at your current company who you look up to but have been too afraid to contact. Ask them if they'd be willing to chat about how they got to where they are.”
Being proactive in communication, whether in handwritten notes or emailing someone above you, demonstrates a desire to grow and learn as an employee. Even in today’s digital workplace, handwritten notes are able to communicate value to others in a way not repeatable in other forms of communication. One HR executive told me he attributes some of his rapid growth in his company to reaching out to those above him in the company. “When you go to a company and you see someone doing what you want to do or leading in a way you want to lead, go have lunch with them,” he says. And one of the biggest ways they can help an employee? “They’ll help you navigate office politics,” he told me.
Seek the good of your company
"If we are good to the company, the company will be good to you; sometimes there’s too much of ‘what’s in it for me.’ If you are really helping the company succeed, it will unlock opportunities to succeed," says Matt Fischer, President & CTO of Bullhorn. Fischer started as an intern at Bullhorn, and by remembering this advice from his dad, he sought to make the company better every day. He is now the President & CTO of this growing tech firm.
What Fischer says points to a challenge within the millennial generation: the "What's in it for me?" mindset. When Time Magazine called millennials the “Me Me Me Generation” on a 2013 cover, they attempted to illustrate a sense of entitlement that young people bring to work. While this stereotype may have some truth, millennial employees can change this perception by working for the good of their company every day. Working for the good of the company seeks to advance the mission and vision of the company above the employee’s mission and vision.
Think before you speak
Kaylea Nortathomas, Senior Media Analyst at Porter Novelli in Atlanta, points to an interesting truth when she says, "Know when to be silent and when to speak." Social media changed the game for communication, and as Nortathomas puts it, “I live under assumption that I have no privacy.” Millennials are the first generation to enter the work force comfortable with sharing our lives. As Facebook and Twitter gained momentum during our high school and college years, we became increasingly accustomed to sharing our thoughts on anything at any time. The challenge in the workforce, however, comes when we assume everyone wants to hear what we have to say.
Knowing when to speak and when to stay silent is a sign of high emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is a growing topic in the workplace, and for good reason: it can be a strong predictor of someone’s performance as an employee. Good communication skills, particularly listening skills, are signs of someone with high emotional intelligence. For millennials to strengthen their EQ, they can begin by realizing when not to share their opinion. Instead, they would be wise to listen to what others have to say first.
Curiosity is key
“Be curious,” says Chris Barksdale, VP of HR at Scripps Networks Interactive. When interviewing Chris on how Scripps recruits and retains millennials, he told me that curiosity is “the skill [Scripps wants] most. When I look for an employee, I look for curiosity and intelligence.”
When Apple founder Steve Jobs gave his commencement address at Stanford in 2005, he ended with the quote “Stay Hungry. Stay foolish.” Jobs’ encouragement to that graduating class was to never lose their sense of curiosity and wonder. That mentality stayed with Jobs throughout his life. And it was his hunger and curiosity that drove him to lead Apple to become one of the biggest tech innovators in history. If employees, particularly millennials, want to make a difference in their workplace, they must realize curiosity is a skill that needs to be utilized well.
This article first appeared in Forbes Magazine