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Six Ways to Fight the Gen Y Stereotypes That Keep You from Getting a Job

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—If you're a twentysomething looking for a job, the deck is stacked against you. It's not just a theory anymore; it's a fact. In new data collected on behalf of Beyond.com from HR professionals from around the country, the bias is staggering: Millennials are seen as disloyal, lazy and incapable of leading. And remember, these are the opinions of the people interviewing you for a job.

Now here's what to do about it.

We've listed below the responses to these questions-of-perception from the survey of 6,000 Gen Y jobseekers and HR professionals. You can compare the results and see the actionable suggestions below each stereotype.

Are Millennials Tech-Savvy?

  • 86% of HR professionals said yes
  • Only 35% of Millennials felt they were tech-savvy

Also see: Talking About Money Comes Easiest for Gen Y and Breeders

This perception disconnect may be simply a matter of perspective, according to Jenny Blake, author of Life After College (Running Press, 2011).

"What each generation considers to be 'tech-savvy' may be a little different," she says. "So, what an HR professional who's 55 may think is tech savvy, a Millennial might think, 'Oh gosh, that's nothing!'"

Blake offers an example: "I was working for a startup company right out of college, I was 20 years old, and my boss used to hand me a brand new phone -- I've never seen this phone or used it -- and he'd say, 'Help me figure out how to do X-Y-Z.' And I would know within five minutes, as though I'd had this phone my whole life."

So while the Gen Y job applicant is thinking, "I don't do Ruby on Rails, so I'm not really tech savvy," the HR rep is thinking "This kid probably knows what the Twitter is."

Bottom-line: don't discount your skills as a digital native.

Are Millennials Team Players?

  • 60% of Millennials thought they would work well with a team
  • But only 22% of HR professionals believed Millennials would make good team players

Also see: Why Gen Y Is Losing The Debt Battle

Lindsey Pollack, the author of Getting From College to Career (Harper Business, revised 2012), thinks this misperception stems from the fact that Gen Ys are collaborative in a totally different way than previous generations.

"They collaborate online and not necessarily by subsuming their own personal brands to the larger group," Pollack says. "I suppose a way to counter this stereotype, which I think is unfair, is to provide examples of playing on teams, collaborating with different generations on projects -- such as through volunteer work -- and working on team projects in school or during an internship."

You can also stem the stereotype in the manner in which you write your resume and what you say during an interview.

"Use collaborative words like teamwork, contribution, dedication and commitment, rather than more individualistic words like passion, confidence or learning," she says. "One of the biggest pet peeves I hear from recruiters is when Millennials write in their cover letters how they are applying for a job because they want to learn. That's great, but it is not why the employer is going to pay you. Instead, show that you want to contribute to the organization's success."

Do Millennials Have Strong Interpersonal Communication Skills?

  • 65% of Millennials responded that they relate well to others
  • Just 14% of HR Professionals thought that Millennials were strong communicators

Also see: A Quarter of Gen Y couples Are Buying Their First Homes Together Before Getting Married?

Millennials can change this misconception right from the start: in the job interview.

"You should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you," Blake says. "So don't just put on a mask and be whatever you think they want you to be. I think it's really important for interviewees to be natural and personable and ask important questions."

Gen Y also has some work to do in polishing their electronic communications skills, according to Pollack.

"This is harder for Gen Ys, who for most of their lives have used email in an entirely casual and personal way," she says. "Some Millennials have never been taught how to write a professional email. So my advice is to educate yourself about professional email rules and etiquette. Always have a parent or trusted professional check your email messages before writing to any employer. In general, be concise, never say "hey" as your greeting, don't use text message acronyms like 'TMI' and use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling."

Are Millennials Hard Workers?

  • 86% of Millennials identified themselves as hard workers
  • 11% of HR professionals thought Millennials would work hard

Jenny Blake believes the best way to end this fallacy is by showing past results.

"Provide examples of projects that they have both initiated and seen through to completion," Blake says. "Because there are benefits in showing 'I'm a self-starter, I initiate things, I have ideas, I'm a leader, I'm innovative,' -- and that's not always enough, because we all know that it's easy to start a project and not always easy to finish it. So to that extent, a Millennial can show where they persevered and they worked consistently over time to achieve specific results."

That can include projects for a previous company, for an internship or even a self-made project.

"Now more than ever Millennials have the opportunity to start and release projects to the world on their own, without any permission from anyone else," she says. "You see many Millennials starting blogs, even starting Kickstarter campaigns for various projects or startup ideas, so they have the ability to show both initiative and follow-through."

Are Millennials Able to Lead?

  • 40% of Millennials identified themselves as leaders
  • Only 9% of HR professionals believed that the age group had the ability to lead

"I would be curious about this one over time," Blake says. "Has there ever been a time when HR professionals said that someone who is 21 has the ability to lead? I wonder, too if this is about managing other people, and if so, that's a skill. Not even people in their later years always have that passion, interest or talent."

Blake refers to her friend Julie Clow, author of the The Work Revolution (Wiley, 2012) and adds: "One of her core principles is 'impact, not activities.' So when a grad is writing his resume, it's really important to articulate 'what were the specific results that they helped achieve,' whether at a volunteer organization or at a job. Not just what they did. You can say, 'I filed papers' or 'answered the phone,' but what were the results? Usually it's communicating the way of increasing efficiency or profits. How did that company or organization benefit from having this person involved?"

Are Millennials Loyal to Employers?

  • 82% of Millennials self-identified as being loyal to an employer
  • A mere 1% of HR professionals believed Millennials to be loyal to an employer

Jenny Blake feels that loyalty is a two-way street and notes that companies haven't been "that loyal to employees, either" over the past few years, but admits that Millennials – in fact, workers of any age – aren't always going to be thrilled with their job, and have to resist the urge to job-hop.

 

"Think of your career as a smartphone, not a ladder," Blake advises. "So instead of a linear process, or a template, it's a smartphone: it's up to you to download the apps you need and want for your skills and experiences. So even your first job out of college -- it might not be perfect -- but it might be helping you download useful apps for the future."

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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