Let’s flip the traditional hierarchy on its head and discuss the increasingly common occurrence of how (and why) Baby Boomers and Gen Xers need to think, and act, a little bit differently when it is a Millennial who is in charge.
In the old days, positions in the organizational hierarchy were based mainly on seniority and experience, but as we all know, it’s a whole new world out there wherein age and years of experience no longer matter when it comes to who reports to whom.
Last year, I was quoted in this Forbes article entitled When A Millennial Is The Boss, but before Boomers and Gen Xers can even get to the point where you have a younger boss, you need to make it through the interviewing process. And you need to realize that a lot has changed since you first started out.
So with that goal in mind, here are five things that generational expert Brad Szollose and I agree that Boomers and Gen Xers need to think about when being interviewed by a Millennial:
1. Your years’ experience is not necessarily something to brag about
It goes without saying that the longer you work, the more knowledge and experience you accrue. In the past, longevity was a huge advantage. Age + time + experience = status, salary, and, ultimately, the corner office. Knowledge was power and knowledge-hording was a common and effective strategy to protect your career and make yourself indispensable. Getting ahead was a long journey that required time, experience, playing the corporate game, building a track record of success…and patience.
But today, as we know, that paradigm no longer holds up. When a brand new, game-changing technology comes along (e.g., Twitter), it doesn’t matter whether you have 25 years of work experience or none, everyone and everything goes back to zero. In fact, having more experience rather than less may actually be a disadvantage when it comes to unlearning old habits and adopting ever-changing new ones.
Before 1984, it was not until you graduated from college and entered the workforce that you were first introduced to, and got your hands on, the latest technologies. Baby Boomers and even some Gen Xers remember that moment when they saw and actually touched a computer for the very first time. You were in your late 20s or 30-something, right? In fact, you might even have taken a typing class (yes, a typing class!) at some point to learn how to use the latest IBM Selectric typewriter. Millennials – who grew up in a digital world with a keyboard in their cribs, a microchip in their toys, and a personal computer in their homes – can barely imagine this.
So, what we’re saying is that Millennials grew up with a very different mindset, and set of expectations, than did Boomers. The fact that you have 25-30 years’ of experience is typically not seen by a Millennial hiring manager as an awesome strength, but as a potential weakness. While you are telling war stories about the day you made the difficult transition from DOS to Windows (yes, Todd confesses that he was forced to make that traumatic change at his job in 1998 while kicking and screaming), the Millennial is thinking, “I wonder if this guy even knows what The Cloud is?” And while you think you are impressing your Millennial interviewer with your 5-page resume in 8-point font, he or she is wondering why you don’t have a LinkedIn profile or a Twitter account.
In short, being up on the latest technologies and being able to speak the new language of business is now the minimum, entry-level requirement for you to get into the game. It’s about quality of relevant experience, not quantity of years spent working. So rather than emphasizing your length of experience, Boomers and Gen Xers would be better off demonstrating your up-to-date capabilities, your willingness to adapt, and your ability to produce results in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing business environment. Your key competitive advantage might be the wisdom you bring to the table, but keep in mind the saying that “Wisdom is where knowledge and experience meet.”
2. Your loyalty to a previous company can actually backfire on you
A close friend of mine was at the same company for almost a quarter of a century; then he was laid off on the ubiquitous Friday afternoon at 3:00. This wasn’t sudden; he had warning signs for years that his time was coming to an end. Yet he didn’t bother to prepare for the inevitable. Every couple of months his department shrank one person at a time, while his own workload increased. Eventually he was the entire department.
While commendable, the first thing the company-assigned headhunter inquired about while reviewing his resume was, “Why were you at the company – and in that role – for so long? Weren’t you confident in your ability to move onward and upward?” When he responded about loyalty to his employer, the headhunter shook her head and burst out laughing.
While you were proving your dedication and loyalty for the past 25 years by staying put, the Millennial interviewer is wondering why you weren’t more ambitious or willing to take some risks. Or deeper still, he or she may be more concerned about whether or not you have the flexibility to adapt to a new, fast-paced work environment. As Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most adaptable to change.” So how adaptable to change are you?
No longer perceived negatively as job-hopping, having four different positions at four different companies within a decade is actually considered a good thing in this day and age. It means you are ambitious, adventurous, unwilling to settle for the status quo, and believe in your potential to take risks and to grow. So while loyalty is an admirable quality, don’t let it backfire on you by creating a perception of complacency.
If you have been in the same company or in the same role for a while, you probably want to try to turn that perceived negative into a positive by reframing your background in a way that the interviewer might appreciate and admire. You stayed because you were challenged every day and worked directly on some of the most dynamic projects of your career…so you actually developed and advanced while within that role. You loved working with your boss and being a core part of the team. You had many chances to leave, and chose to stay, but NOW you are ready and excited to take this next step in your career journey. The key thing is that you don’t want to be seen as a dinosaur, which you are not.
3. Brush up on your technology and social media savvy
If you think that “email” is the latest and greatest communication technology ever invented (and it was, in its time), you may be surprised (even shocked) by what else is going on out there. Just for one example, this recent, thought-provoking article from INC. explores and explains “Why Email Will Be Obsolete By 2020.” Whether that is true or not, it is definitely a possibility worth pondering so as to avoid being caught completely off guard if/when it does happen.
Think social media is a fad? That Facebook is just for posting family photos, and that Twitter is just for keeping up with the Kardashians? Well, think again. Businesses are using social media in ways that many never envisioned. And is there an app that could come along and forever alter your industry and how you do what you do? Think Uber and Airbnb.
Do you feel that the business world is becoming too social and too casual for your comfort level? Do you think that addressing your CEO by his/her first name rather than Mr. ___ is a sign of disrespect, or that friending your boss is inappropriate? Do you object to the fact that “friending” is even a word? Well, Millennials don’t have an issue with any of these things. So you probably shouldn’t either.
When a Millennial manager in one of Todd’s recent leadership workshops commented that he “felt weird interviewing someone who could have been my mother,” that really reinforced once again how the natural order of things has been flipped on its head. So when being interviewed by someone in their 20s or 30s, hard as it may be, we Boomers need to leave our egos at the door, and get rid of some of our outdated preconceptions of “the boss as parent figure.” We need to consider, and communicate with, Millennials as equals, and to know enough about the job, the company, the industry, and the new world of business to speak their language.
If you don’t already, make it a point to understand the business applications of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Eliminate any doubt and put their Millennial mind at ease by demonstrating that you know what a hashtag is and what the @ sign means. And if you don’t already, then go ahead and look it up. We’ll wait.
One more note: Millennials hate inefficiency and ineffectiveness, and have no patience for bureaucracy or outmoded technologies. If you remember this and work on staying a step ahead of the curve, you will be able to eliminate any doubt and show that you fit in.
4. Become an Influencer!
When was the last time you saw an amazing, industry-specific article that was spot on? Chances are you found it on Linkedin or Twitter. Did you pass it on to a prospect or a colleague, expecting nothing in return, except good will? Well guess what? THAT is just one way to use social media for business. And chances are, you find these consistent gems all the time from the same five people in your network. So why can’t YOU be the leader in your own group?
Todd and I are constantly supporting each other’s work by passing the latest articles on to each other from Forbes, Fast Company, The New York Times, etc. I have set up a Google alert that specifically looks for articles with key words in the title like: “Millennial,” “Companies in Trouble,” “Holocracy,” “Workforce Culture,” etc.
So start re-posting articles you like. Write a few yourself on LinkedIn, and tweet them out on Twitter. Start blogging about your industry, and don’t hesitate to jump into discussions on LinkedIn groups. Express your opinions, share resources. Provide solutions that are innovative or counter-intuitive. Seek to help others, with no expectation of return, and you may just find that what goes around comes around.
THAT is how you become a thought leader, an “influencer,” and start being seen as an “SME” (“Subject Matter Expert”) in your field. Know that when you leave the interview (or, perhaps even before you get there), count on the interviewer googling you to see what comes up. What do you want them to find? Blogging, posting, and re-posting articles you find relevant will allow you to control your digital footprint and will impress anyone who is interviewing you – especially a Millennial. After the interview, sending the interviewer a thank you email with a link to a blog post you wrote is a great way to boost your credibility, demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and value, and reinforce the notion that you are up on things and the right person for the job.
5. Dress for success…whatever that means
Many years ago when this whole generational divide issue was new, I presented in front of a group of financial services professionals: financial planners, insurance agents, underwriters, etc., and I purposely didn’t wear a tie. Oh I had on an amazing Hugo Boss suit, with a silk handkerchief and a Calvin Klein shirt with cuff links…you know, the works. Twenty minutes into my presentation I looked over at the owner and knew that something was seriously wrong. So I confronted him: “Sal, what is the matter?” He exploded, “You didn’t wear a tie!!!” “I did that on purpose,” I said. He physically slumped down in his chair. “You did that on purpose?” He was clearly confused.
Many Baby Boomers and even many Gen Xers, wouldn’t even think of going on a job interview without a suit and tie. And yet, to many Millennials (depending, of course, on the culture of the industry and company), wearing this traditional business uniform – even if it’s a $2,000 Brooks Brother’s suit – might end up backfiring on you, eliminating you from contention. Why? One is the perception that you might (literally) be too “buttoned-up,” old-fashioned, and out of touch, and another concern is your ability to read signals and adapt to a culture where being comfortable and casual is more important than dressing like a politician.
The reality is – Boomers and Gen Xers — whether you accept it or not, the world has changed. That doesn’t mean you wear flip-flops, shorts, and your 1978 Ramones concert t-shirt to an interview, but what it does mean is this: Millennials are the generation raised to believe you are to be judged on your work and knowledge, NOT on what you wear. They don’t have the formality and restrictive rules in their heads that we grew up with.
So while some companies and industries (e.g., banking, law firms) might still expect traditional business attire (especially for an interview), other, more cutting-edge companies and industries have less formal expectations wherein wearing jeans, a button-down shirt (and, perhaps a blazer) might be considered perfectly acceptable. And it’s fine walking in carrying a $50 nylon backpack rather than a $500 leather briefcase. Yes, it may feel to you like it’s too casual, but as we discussed in our last post, that’s the world Millennials grew up in…and the way they like it and want it. To Millennials, it’s not about putting on a business suit and playing the role of a businessperson; it’s about bringing your true self to work, being authentic, building relationships, and making a difference. And you don’t need to wear a tie in order to do that.
So dress sharp. Dress well. And wear something that fits YOU, and makes you stand out in a dynamic, personalized, businesslike way. I always wear a silk handkerchief in my breast pocket, no matter if I have on a suit or a sport coat with jeans and cowboy boots. Make a statement that says you are hip and cool. But be authentic and don’t try too hard. That yellow Wall Street power tie you got in 1986 will actually make you look less, rather than more, powerful in the eye of the Millennial who is more interested in what comes out of your mouth than what you have on.
Dale Carnegie wrote that people judge you by four things: What you say; How you say it; How you look; and How you act. Unlike a lot of other, more external, factors, these four things are all within your control. So if you remember who your audience is, and what you are trying to achieve (i.e., getting hired) you can – while still staying true and authentic to yourself – make the modifications you need to succeed in this brave new world of work.
This was part three of our four-part series on generational issues in the workplace. Our next and final post in this series will focus on the often-overlooked group known as “Generation X.” While most of the conversations going on out there tend to focus on Baby Boomers and Millennials, Gen Xers are often thinking, “Hey…what about us!”…leading to the question: Is Generation X the “Jan Brady” of the generations?
For more on this hot topic, check out Brad’s “Liquid Leadership” blog for numerous articles on how to bridge the generational divide.
Guest contributor Brad Szollose is a global business adviser, former C-Level Executive of a public company, Web pioneer, Generation Y Millennial expert and keynote speaker who helps smart companies understand how much technology has transformed corporate culture and behavior…especially the behavior of Generation Y, and how that impacts management, interaction and expectations in today’s Information Age. Brad is the award-winning author of “Liquid Leadership.”