Millennials get the bad rap nowadays. I am still young enough to remember when my generation was talked about in largely the same way. These things have a tendency to be cyclical.
Lots of the things we hear about millennials are not really how they are or how their generation will end up. But one thing I think we can say now is that careers may look different in the future than they have in the past.
One trend that is simply a continuation of past trends is the decrease in “loyalty” to one company. But adding on to that, millennials definitely want to experience variety in their career in terms of what they do, what they learn, who they interact with. In an age of specialization, this can lead to some challenges: Individuals may not be in a job long enough to truly master it or gain the skills needed to transition to the net role; teams may not form enough “bond” to carry out their short term or long term objectives; companies may not be able to successfully plan for their workforce needs.
And for the individuals involved let’s not forget the scary yet awe-inspiring potential for automation to supplement or replace entire lines of work. We already know the career ladder has morphed into the career lattice (credit: Cathy Benko); now navigating a career is even more complex, like one of those lattice balls you give your cat.
So things are complex, but if you are starting your career now, I think some basic principles are good to ground yourself in.
Be committed to a JOB when you start, but be FLEXIBLE within that job.
Be ready to spend 2-4 years doing the same basic job, learn absolutely everything you can about that function AND the functions that are in the 360 scope of that function – like the upstream processes that feed in and the downstream processes you provide information to.
But when people ask you to do something, do it. Learn to “multi-task” among different projects; learn to find the nuggets of learning in even the most mundane tasks; get to know people.
Look for opportunities to manage people
You don’t need a title or reporting relationship to learn about managing people and leadership. Help out on a project where you work with other staff; find a portion of the project where you can assign some work to another; see what it feels like to review work, to hold someone accountable, to react when they don’t do what you want when you want. Learn how to tell what strengths others have so you can try to assign the right work to the right person. Get involved in a strategic planning-type of process where the leader may delegate to you work that involves getting information and input from a variety of sources; see how different people do things differently given the same ask.
Learn how to analyze industries and companies
Learning how to do fundamental business analysis – the type of analysis you might learn while obtaining an MBA, or in a public accounting or consulting business – is the type of skill that can allow you to be more flexible as you go through your career. You will be able to move between industries by proving that you can quickly get up to speed in that industry without having been a “lifer” in the field.
Learn how to negotiate deals
All businesses do deals. Could be revenue arrangements, vendor contracts, partnerships, mergers, etc. Knowing how to analyze what each party is getting and the value of those elements makes you valuable. You may be able to make better deals than others. Learning how to analyze legal terms in contracts, and how business terms get translated into legal terms is also a differentiator. It can lead to more efficient deals (and time often matters), and again get your company slight advantages and benefits in the deal.
If you do these things, your career will have more options. You will be able to jump to a new industry if you see a big opportunity or your industry gets stale. You will adapt quicker in new roles. You will be set up to influence strategy in your department, your company, your industry; and become a more senior leader. These are things that should give you a better chance at long-term career success.