By Leslie Stevens-Huffman
Never before has an age group entered the workforce with more hoopla than Generation Y, those born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. Pundits prognosticated about how these text messaging, social networking, brazen millennials would revolutionize the workplace with their unconventional habits and beliefs.
Indeed, after several years of working with them, IT leaders and recruiters acknowledge Gen Y has had an impact. But wholesale change doesn’t come overnight. So here’s a list of the most notable beliefs espoused by Gen Y – and the corresponding realities reported by IT managers.
Belief: Frequent Job Changes are Okay
Reality: Although even employers admit there’s little loyalty in today’s workplace, it’s still important to stay in a job for a reasonable amount of time.
"Realistically, employers are not expecting employees to stay forever, but they do expect them to stay for at least three years," says Cathy Ashbaugh, president of Pacific Shore Resources, a technology recruiting firm based in Yorba Linda, Calif. "Three years gives the company time to recoup its investment and the employee time to acquire knowledge and experience, which benefits both parties."
Employers avoid hiring tech job hoppers. If you crave frequent change, you’re better off pursuing a career as a contractor. But even then, remember you’ll be judged on the ability to keep your commitments to clients.
Belief: Prospective Employers Will Find Me
Reality: Yes, recruiters source candidates from professional and social networking sites. But you shouldn’t abandon traditional job hunting techniques because you can’t always control your own destiny. Along with traditional business etiquette, a multi-dimensional approach to the job market is still required.
"Many Gen Y-ers don’t review job postings or send post-interview thank you notes or e-mails," says Ashbaugh "They also speak too casually to phone interviewers. Instead of being eliminated, if they would just make a few changes, they’ll be able to stand out from the crowd."
Belief: Why Talk When You Can Text?
Realty: Gen Y prefers to text and tweet, but communicating in sound bites isn’t always appropriate. Outside of the IT department., phone and e-mail are still standard. Building relationships with co-workers is important, notes Dick Shay, chief of research for Seattle-based PEMCO Insurance, so he constantly reminds his Gen Y IT staff to stop texting, walk down the hall and have a face-to-face conversation.
"Gen Y-ers need to understand that the company has an existing framework which includes team meetings and e-mail, and they need to work within that structure," says Rob Barocas, global business systems technology director for the New York-based research firm TNS. "Everything isn’t going to change to suit their preferences."
Belief: Work Should be Fun
Reality: Sometimes work is fun, but not always. IT managers say Gen Y-ers want to cherry pick their assignments and avoid doing tasks they don’t like. It’s a constant challenge at General Networks Corporation in Glendale, Calif., where David Horwatt, vice president of professional services, regularly passes on Gen Y candidates who won’t do full lifecycle software development.
"Gen Y-ers seem to feel that they’re entitled to do something they enjoy," says Shay. "That’s why it’s called work. They aren’t free to pick and choose. They have to do the whole job."
On the other hand, employers have accepted the Gen Y habit of socializing with people from the office. But they need to proceed with caution, warns Shay. Some older members of the staff may be uncomfortable with the idea of mixing work with pleasure.
Belief: Legacy Technologies are Obsolete
Reality: It’s great that millennials are Internet-savvy and grew up on open source software, but they still need to embrace the older programs embedded in the infrastructure.
"COBOL is an example of an older programming language that Gen Y techies need to know because it’s not going away," says Shay. "They also need to realize that they’ll be working alongside professionals who have spent their entire careers working with COBOL, and show them some respect."
Belief: Expect Frequent Promotions
Reality: Although the recent economic downturn may have tempered this Gen Y expectation, promotions are seldom earned quickly, even when the economy is hot.
"Gen Y techies have short attention spans, so they want to move up or move on," says Barocas. "But what they don’t realize is that location and market conditions influence those decisions, and they haven’t mastered everything in nine months – even though they think they have."
Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a writer and career professional based in California.