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Thought Thursdays
An Open Letter to Millennials on your shot at career satisfaction


I’ve never written an Open Letter – bear with me – but I think it’s the appropriate approach for this topic.  

For starters, I’m GenX. So I don’t suffer from the terrible insecurity and sense of wounded entitlement that apparently plagues your generation. I had my life off the runway (and had moved out of my parents’ house) before the global economic crisis hit, which messed up your chances of getting onto the career ladder, the housing ladder and, indeed, any kind of ladder at all. No wonder you’re all so angry. As if the insufferable superiority of your elders – who, by the way, are neither so socially conscious nor as liberal as you, nor as educated – were not enough, here’s some trumped-up recruitment consultant with a BA degree and an opinion.  

As an aside, I’m also not one to shy away from a bit of self-aggrandizement or attention, which suits this pretentious format quite beautifully. 

Also, I do like to write.  

If you’re wondering where I earned the right to an opinion about your chances for a deeply meaningful career that’s flexible, secure, interesting and pays you well enough to support a three-bed, en suite lifestyle and attend all of your kids’ rugby matches, read my bio, you lazy things. It’s at the end.

Bad jokes and casual insults aside, I do have an opinion. And I didn’t suck it out of my left thumb, or hear it on a TED talk. I did read all the obvious stuff, of course. Wikipedia. The Corporate Rebels. A Deloitte article or three. Or four. Yawn. I had a robust conversation with my CEO, Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, who addressed this topic at the “Directors Event” and spoke about Millennials on a CliffCentral podcast recently.  I managed about twenty slides of a “How to Manage Millennials” workshop before I couldn’t stomach any more of the sort of blatant condescension and bias against Millennials that goes on in a lot of those things. Did you horrible lot realise just how selfish and self-obsessed and narcissistic you are? You’re apparently all rubbish at human interaction because you live through your devices, you’ve got no darn work ethic, no respect for authority and just no stamina at all …

Truthfully, I don’t meet a lot of Millennials. As a partner in an executive search firm, I help shareholders to fill the jobs you dream about – the ones with “Chief” in front or “director” at the end. Application by invitation only. And you’re not invited. Anyone under thirty-five who makes it onto one of my shortlists is seriously HOT. Like, Actuary with a Personality hot. Not that I’m suggesting that the rest of YOU don’t think you’re special. Of course you do. Everybody gets a trophy, remember?

Apparently it’s a good idea for the rest of us to humour you – to indulge you – because by 2030 you’ll outnumber the rest of us. And we’re all going to live to be a hundred, but the retirement age hasn’t adjusted for the longer lifespan, and the only balance that keeps growing each and every year both here and anywhere else worth living is youth unemployment.  The digital revolution is here, and it’s going to automate everything and do away with the menial job you didn’t want but thought you might have to take anyway.   
If you’ve lasted this long, you’ve picked up some irony and are waiting for the good news. Here it is. 

Human beings are pretty remarkable as species go. The urge to simplify – to generalise, to label and categorise, to abstract large and unwieldy concepts – is key to our success as a complex civilisation. A neat set of labels allows us to navigate the complexity around us by categorising just about everything according to neat paradigms. You get the worst of it, because, in this new era of Big Data, we know just about everything there is to know about you, including how likely it is you’ll fundamentally change your lipstick shade at some point. (Not very).  

At the same time, there’s not a lot here that’s news. The ‘youth of today’ are lazy, irresponsible, disrespectful and unreliable.  That meme has been around for as long as we’ve had a social structure. This has always been the case. When you get to be a responsible adult, you may find yourself agreeing with this assessment. But if you apply that kind of narrow judgement to something as important as a hiring decision, you’re a bad boss. That’s sheer intellectual laziness.

I think the ratio of full-time, permanent ‘jobs’ to ‘populace’ is going to continue to shrink. So you’ll get more ‘sabbatical’. A good job, which your parents apparently taught you was an ‘entitlement’, will become a status symbol, and for that to work it’s got to be rewarding. So if you’ve got the stamina, and you’ve got some kind of an ‘edge’, you’ll do just fine. My advice? Do something you love, or decide to love what you do. Get good at something you enjoy, and monetise it. Build a personal brand. Live with your parents a little longer. Campaign for better support to the elderly.  Environmental protection. World peace. The generation after yours is going to be even angrier. And that’s something worth thinking about.


Tracy Dawson is a member of USB-ED’s virtual faculty and is a Partner at a search firm, and the local partner to one of the world’s largest retained executive search alliances. The firm helps companies to grow by giving them access to the brightest, smartest leaders available. In executive search she has a track record of top executive appointments over many years.  

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