What has shaped the career goals of Generation Y graduates?

recent survey on millenials – another name given to Generation Y – conducted by the Pew Research Center, explains how major events such as wars, social movements, economic downturns, and medical, scientific or technological breakthroughs affect all age groups simultaneously, but the degree of impact differs according to where people are located in their life cycle. The study goes on to describe how period events and trends leave a particularly deep impression on young adults because you are still developing core values and therefore the imprints tend to stay with you as you move through your life cycle. These are defined as “formative coming of age events”. Consequently, people of the same generation tend to share similar values, cultural principles and ways of thinking.

Given this, the various incidents which have occurred during the lifetime of Generation Ys have shaped their thinking around the factors they find appealing in their work environments and the skills they are able to offer. Tamara Erickson, in the Harvard Business Review Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, points out a number of prominent events which have had a powerful influence on the thinking of Generation Y. The following summarises the characteristics connected with these major happenings and provides some practical insights and advice based on this mindset which recent graduates can apply to their job search.

Work life balance: “Millenials don’t live for work, they work to live”

Significant high profile global events, including incidents of terrorism, the most profound being 11 September 2001 and the 7 July 2005 attacks on London, and natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the tsunami in the Indian Ocean have become increasingly common features along with pandemics such as mad cow disease, bird flu, and threats from global warming. These events all increase the possibility of significant disasters continuing to occur within Generation Y’s lifetime. This awareness that terrible events can and do happen to anyone at anytime has engendered an inevitable value being placed on the importance of self-fulfilment and a sense of immediacy. Generation Y’s desire to live life to the fullest each day has given rise to an aspiration for greater work life balance. According to a survey of recent graduates conducted by Universum, a global employer branding company, despite the economic downturn, work life balance remains to be the most important characteristic graduates would like their ideal employer to have, surprisingly ranked even higher in importance than salary levels. Another study conducted by Talentsmoothie of more than 2,500 people born after the early 1980s found that they were rebelling against their parents’ values and were determined not to lead lives that revolved so heavily around the world of work. “Instead, they were ready to resign if their jobs were not fulfilling and fun, with decent holidays and the opportunity to take long stretches off for charity work or travel”. This study also found that salary and status were not high on the priority list.

Employees need to be flexible too

Although you could contend that work life balance and flexibility increase productivity, it is important to be realistic in light of the current economic climate, which requires a great deal of flexibility on the part of employees too. Graduates ought to bear in mind that while firms are trying to respond to the needs of the current generation, a potential employer should not necessarily be ruled out if they are not in a position to offer a high level of flexibility immediately. Historically employees were required to build a good reputation and develop a high level of trust within a company before flexible work arrangements would be offered. If work life balance is a priority for you, research and target companies that are supportive of flexible working arrangements. This will help to ensure that the culture of the company you work for is aligned with your values and it will increase the chance that your needs will be met longer term.

Financial sense and technical know-how: a generation of digital multitaskers

After witnessing the financial insecurity that beleaguered earlier generations and with recent events such as the global banking crisis and recession, new entrants into the workforce are generally knowledgeable when it comes to money and savings. This has also engendered more of an interest in benefits, such as retirement plans, earlier than previous generations had at this stage in their careers. Generation Y’s are also extremely comfortable with technology being the first generation of “unconsciously competent technology users who gained the skill as naturally as picking up a native language”. In J Walker Smiths’ 10 Truths about Millenials, he states that technology is the defining characteristic for Millenials. “It is central to every aspect of their lives. It is the facilitator and portal for every interest and passion and the way in which they define themselves as unique from other generations”. The research from Pew also found that respondents felt that their use of technology is what made them distinctive from other generations. 75% of those surveyed have social networking profiles, more than 25% more than the previous generation. Generation Y has grown up digital – using mobile phones, texting, surfing the internet, creating content through blogs, social networking, and living in a virtual world through portals such as YouTube. Having been brought up on it, they are a generation of multi-taskers, reading emails while talking on their mobiles while searching the internet and tweeting.

Use digital ease and knowledge to your advantage

Use the fact that you are the most progressive age group and the first generation to have been brought up on the internet to your benefit. Highlight the skills and traits that come naturally to you, such as your ability to multi-task, your computer literacy and your affinity for networking, during the interview process and on the job. Emphasise these skills on your CV, provide examples in interviews and once you are on the job offer a helping hand to work colleagues for whom this doesn’t come as easy. This could make you stand out during the selection process and indispensable once you are on board. It is equally important to develop sensitivity to other generations within the workplace who may not share your level of comfort and ease with technology.

Strong sense of social conscience and purpose

Generations Ys were sensitised while growing up to the issues people around the world are facing such as violence, disease, poverty, drought and lack of education. A survey conducted by the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force confirms that Generation Ys are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s; with 86% of those surveyed stating it is important that their work make a positive impact on the world. Another recent survey conducted by Deloitte in Ireland on Generation Y Changing with the Times demonstrates this further with 87% of respondents wanting the work they perform to add strategic value to their organisation, offer personal development, appreciation and a sense of meaning. Working as part of a team is also reported as being a top motivator. Another strong indicator of the importance of social conscience was reflected by the fact that 57% of the respondents in the Pew survey volunteered in last 12 months.

Phyllis Rock is the managing director of career consultancy Second Bite. She has worked in human resources, at organisations including the Guardian, for more than 25 years.

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