Commentary: Millennials at Work, Wherever Boomers Make Room

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I sat in Local Coffee at The Pearl, chugging some of San Antonio’s best Americanos, with my college ring from Trinity University weighing down my ring finger as I scrolled indefinitely through job postings that I wasn’t, technically, qualified for.

Their requirements read “3-5 years experience needed,” or “Masters of Arts preferred.”

I applied anyway and kept scrolling.

I received a lot of emails saying exactly what I expected them to say: I didn’t qualify because I didn’t have enough experience. Other emails shocked me, saying the contrary: I was over-qualified and that the employer “couldn’t afford me.”

Perhaps the most shocking response I got came from a secretarial position I applied for in San Antonio’s bustling Medical Center.

“I hesitate to hire someone of your age, especially with someone who has a liberal arts degree,” the email read. I wish I had framed the damned thing.

I’m a lazy Millennial. At least, that’s what I’m told by people who have never met me, let alone know me. But I’m here to tell you why we “lazy Millennials” are not (only) lazy, but creative, aspiring, and driven individuals.

I was born in 1993 – a time when “Sleepless in Seattle” hit theaters and became an instant hit, when “The X-Files” aired its first episode, and when Matthew McConaughey stole everyone’s hearts in “Dazed and Confused,” immediately making it everyone’s favorite ’90s flick. According to an article by Forbes, a Millennial is someone who was born between 1980 and 2000. So I was right smack in the middle of the years that comprise the “Millennial generation.”

As a recent graduate of Trinity University (class of 2015), a small, private liberal arts school in San Antonio, I was still trying to find my footing in this grown-up world. I majored in communication and minored in Spanish, and I wouldn’t trade my time and experience I received at my university for anything in the world.

There’s not a large population of students at Trinity who are from San Antonio, so when I started there in the fall of 2011, there was only one other person in my class who I knew beforehand. I was lonely, and on top of the loneliness, I felt inadequate. I didn’t feel like I could keep up with the academics.

I remember nights when I would sit on the balcony of my freshman dorm and call my father in tears.

“Dad, I can’t do it. I can’t keep up. My work is piling up. I just failed my statistics exam. After this year, I want to transfer,” I said.

After the summer break, I decided to stay on for the ride. I’m glad I did. After switching my major four times, I found one that I loved, and in that major of communications, I found my passions: people, pop culture, and writing.

One of the things I loved most about Trinity was that our value as academics, as students, and as people was always stressed to us. One of the reasons I decided to stay through the hard times I was experiencing was because I had a professor tell me that I had it in me to push through and succeed.

Here’s the problem: people like me spend four years of their lives earning degrees that hold no value to a lot of employers because their degrees aren’t “specific” enough. I think a lot of employers fail to realize the value of Millennials because “Millennials” is the new buzzword that’s floating around.

Don’t get me wrong, I just started working at an amazing law firm here in town as a staff writer, and on one of my first days, the CEO of the company came to greet me.

“Jonathan, whenever you have an idea, I want to hear it. Young people like you are naturally innovative, and people like me need to hear what you have to say,” he said.

In the past few months, I’ve experienced both ends of this spectrum regarding the treatment that many Millennials receive from Baby Boomer employers. Employers should take advantage of the liberal arts education that a lot young people are getting.

We can solve problems differently than other people can, we can think of innovative and more efficient ways to do everyday things, and we can use some of our experience from our art history classes to talk about color schemes when designing a logo for a tech startup downtown. The possibilities are as endless as the Emily Dickinson stanzas we analyzed in our American literature classes.

My point is this: I am glad I’ve found a workplace that acknowledges my value, even if I am not a deeply experienced specialist in any one thing, I do have some experience in a vast variety of studies, and I can use that to help advance the company and keep it relevant to my own generation.

What can we do to help bridge the gap between our Baby Boomer bosses and the Millennial generation? We can work together – whenever and wherever smart employers like the one I’ve found are willing to take a chance on us.

 

*Top image: Jonathan Hernandez and friends pose for a photo after graduating from Trinity University. Photo by Jonathan Hernandez.

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10 thoughts on “Commentary: Millennials at Work, Wherever Boomers Make Room

  1. I would prefer to hire someone without a degree and who is willing to learn on their own. The autodidacts of this world (though rare) are more valuable than any graduate IMHO.

  2. Well Jonathan, for starters, you should probably stop thinking that millenials are experiencing something unique in the job market after graduating from college. Most of us “boomers” have experienced the EXACT same thing at your age. Some of us also received a liberal arts degree back in the day. (Actually, my degree in liberal arts is from Trinity U. too. I even failed statistics the first time around & switched my major a couple of times too!) When I graduated, it was difficult for anyone with a liberal arts degree to find a job that paid a living wage, much less in their chosen field. I received the same response from potential employers that you received. I had several low paying, rather thankless jobs in my career field choice before opening my own business. After 30 years I have had many successes and still enjoy my work. Retirement is not part of my vision. I think many folks my age still have youthful vision/dreams/aspirations– It’s changed a bit over the years, but since we’re all living a lot longer, many of us are going to be working for more years… and many of us are competing with millenials for jobs. It’s not easy to “make room.” You’ll understand that in 30 years. But here’s what’s important: Your liberal arts degree is your best friend. As an employer, a liberal arts degree tells me you can communicate, you’ll be more articulate than most; you probably have many interests and are curious about a full spectrum of ideas, interests, and issues–which is paramount in the communications field. Those of us with liberal arts degrees, even boomers, use more of our right brains and tend to problem-solve differently. This asset becomes even more apparent later on in your career. In these “entry level” jobs (btw, your job sounds great) Learn as much as you can….Be a team player–get along with your co-workers–even the boomers. Be passionate & objective about your work and work smart. Be patient, but not too patient–(I sense some impatience, Jonathon) I’m pretty sure you’re going do well. In the meanwhile, I’m confident I could show you a thing or two about designing a logo.

  3. Jonathan, nice story. As a baby boomer who is looking for employment, I was oddly comforted to hear of your struggles to find employment. I just assumed all young graduates were able to get employed when and where they wanted too, taking the jobs I applied for in which I receive no feedback at all as to why an experienced “older” person was not provided an opportunity to show an employer what he can offer. Congrats on your new job!

  4. I have a question that this article doesn’t answer: At what point in your educational path did you ever believe a liberal arts degree had any value in the marketplace? Who told you this, or what led you to believe this?

    Because this song, the “my liberal arts degree is worthless to employers” refrain, is a tune that’s been sung since the Industrial Age. I’m curious why this comes as any kind of surprise to you. Or anyone.

  5. Why do you think it was any different for any of us? I was born in 1962 – not really a baby boomer, got a liberal arts degree and faced the exact same issues. I think I even have the same letter as you do, in a file, not in a frame. I was fired from a minimum wage office job once for being “over-zealous”.

    I am about to send my own 18-year-old off to college and have told her this, after she bemoaned the fact that she is not headed off to Harvard and that some Harvard grad would surely be considered first in the workplace over her degree: YOU make what you are, Harvard (or whatever degree you have) does not make you what you are. So, go for it all, whatever that is, wherever you are with what you have.

  6. Ive been in a position to hire new graduates for about 15 years or so and your experiences mirror most with common not very specific degrees.

    I’m curious. Did you research the job market before you settled on your major? So many coming out of college don’t and are shocked when they get start applying for jobs. I thought this was something being drilled into students in the last few years after the housing and dot com bubbles.

    Some advice, yes young folks bring fresh ideas, but be mindful that things always seem easier when you have no idea what kinds of problems you’ll run into. I say this because I see many recent graduates pitch old ideas that have already been tried or ideas that are naive. You’ll be much more successful if you can pick an successful person’s brain before you pitch something new.

  7. Cry me a river, Jonathan

    The only difference I see is that the “millennial” (non-capitalized) generation has an entitlement attitude that seems linked to the procurement of a degree (so sorry you believed that student loans guarantee you a job). I am a boomer and my expectation was, upon getting a degree, that now the real work begins in terms of testing my mettle and ingenuity.

    I note also that San Antonio has marketed itself as a millennial Mecca (complete with “loft” housing and recreational accessories). So perhaps the millennial job market is too competitive here? Put your laptop in your backpack and head somewhere else.

    Lastly, experience DOES matter. Get some even if it is not up to your level of expectation. And maybe you will impress a boomer boss.

  8. Great piece, Jonathan!! BTW, the person who told you your age was the reason they didn’t hire you should be fired–that’s ILLEGAL and age discrimination. You should report them. I’m so sorry you had to go through that–finding a job where your creativity and ideas are welcomed and appreciated is tough, but I’m so glad you were able to find a home. San Antonio is a great place to flourish if you’re smart and willing to work hard. It sounds like you’re going to do well. The hardest part about advancing your career is getting through the door, and you did it! I’m a millennial and I have worked in jobs where my input is ignored and jobs where my input is important to all our business decisions. I think businesses spend a lot of time focused on diversity of race, gender, etc but don’t understand the importance of generational diversity on a team. It’s hard to put yourself out there and write a piece on your opinions, but I think this article is important for everyone to read!

    • Actually, you have to 40 or above to have a legal age discrimination claim in Texas. Theres no law in Texas that prohibits age discrimination when you’re under 40.

  9. Jonathan, great piece. Having graduated in 2012 from UTSA with a BA in Communication, I recently went through what you are going through now. I moved to Phoenix shortly after graduating and applied to over 30 positions. Through the countless applications, resumes, cover letters and emails, only two interviews were had and was not selected for either position. To keep this comment short, you may have to “settle” for a position within a company before you’re able to spread your wings. After three months of searching I had taken a part-time position that required I worked Sundays, but once in, I was able to make the position important and showed my value by using what was acquired in college; promoted and full-time (and no more Sundays!)

    Getting in is the toughest part, but once you get an in-person interview, sell your personality and eagerness to grow. Show that you’re willing to take on the mundane, “meaningless” tasks. From there, you’ll find yourself in position to show your worth to the company. As stated in a previous comment, volunteer. If not community, volunteer to come in early, stay late, come in on the weekend.

    Do not give up. Do not get down on yourself. Do not let anyone downplay your degree and what you worked so hard to achieve.

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