The Biggest Career Mistake That Millennials Make

What are millennials doing wrong when it comes to their careers? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Erin Berkery-Rovner, career advisor, former recruiter, freelance writer, on Quora:

There's one main mistake I see millennials making, which is not recognizing the stereotypes about millennials.

Yes, there are studies and statistics that tell a certain story (check the Harvard Business Review and the Bureau of Labor statistics). Yes, these stories have hard, concrete evidence, but too often employers use those facts to make assumptions about their young employees. Whether it's about their work ethic, use of technology, or perceptions about the world.

For example, I'm currently teaching a senior co-op class, where seniors in college are working four days per week and then are in class all day Friday.* Part of the purpose of my class is to work with them on being professional in the workplace. One of the points I make early in the curriculum is to ask if they have a pad and pen to take notes with.

Some of my students are in product development in fashion, so they're going from warehouses to offices to tailors, and all over the place. Is it the best practice for them to carry around a notebook? For some, it's easier to take notes on their phone.

So instead of me just saying "take notes," I have to teach them that if you're taking notes on your phone, make sure that you tell people that you're not snapchatting or instagramming (or whichever social media platform is assumed to be most popular at the time).

This is because there are workers who will see one of my students with a phone out and assume that she's just goofing off, when she might be checking her email to see if the ribbon she sourced is ready, or how garments she did quality control for that afternoon. Because that stereotype is real: if you're an intern or entry-level employee taking notes on a tablet in a meeting, and someone from the office doesn't know you, he can assume that you're goofing off, emailing friends, or doing something not work related.

So I teach my students to inform their bosses and co-workers and to make it obvious (and that they won't look like fools for saying loudly to people, "Did you want me to email the notes I'm taking on this meeting to you?") And in some cases, if their bosses give them flack, my students do get a notebook, even if they end up transcribing it into their phones or computers after work, because it's easier for them to combat the people who assume that just because of their age, they're playing Pokemon Go at work.

So if we know that people (sometimes wrongly) assume that millennials are "always on their phones" or "have no work ethic," then you have to put in a little extra effort to show them that you're not doing that.

One main caveat to this question is that millennials (like any large group) are not all doing the same things wrong when it comes to their careers. There are some who are making mistakes and doing a lot of things that I would consider bad career moves, and others who aren't. There are some students I've had over the years who do live up to that stereotype I mentioned above. I have had more than one conversation with a young person who is shocked (shocked!) that if he's checking his personal email on a work computer that the company can (and sometimes does) read it. But not every millennial is like that. It's a generation, but they aren't all homogeneous.

*Some of my students are working a second job on top of this forty-hour week of interning and classwork. The "millennials have no work ethic" thing drives them mad! They are hustling so that they won't have to pay off as many student loans and yet don't always receive credit for that. And it's almost never acknowledged that the cost of higher education is so much higher these days. These are the students who are literally working their way through school, and none that I know of can work enough to pay off their tuition as the bill comes in.

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