by Jim Karrh
Posted 9/23/2013 12:00 am
Updated 10 months ago
In last month’s column (“Generation Share”) I addressed some unique characteristics of Millenials, those younger adults born since 1980, along with marketing implications. It is a large and often misunderstood group; most companies who are looking for growth opportunities will be well served to make them a priority.
In this column, I would like to address marketing and Millenials from an entirely different direction.
I was recently asked to deliver a keynote speech to a few hundred undergraduate college students. That invitation prompted me to think about how Millenials should be marketing themselves — for internships, jobs and promotions — during a time when labor markets are still tight.
One point I’ll be making is that many of us mature folk hold broad assumptions about Millenials — and lots of those assumptions are negative. I noticed an employer’s training guide offered online titled, “Weeding out Slackers, Stupid People and Bad Fits.” Yikes. I suspect the “slacker” element is especially pointed toward Millenials; employers fear that today’s young adults lack the work ethic, discipline and/or attention span of prior generations.
Did you see the video of Ashton Kutcher’s recent acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards, or the reaction to it? Kutcher talked to a room full of screaming teenagers about the value of hard work, perseverance, smarts and generosity. He violated expectations in a way that resonated with parents, business people and journalists nationwide.
In that spirit, here are three areas where young adults can violate low expectations and market themselves effectively as young business people:
• Know thyself, then position thyself accordingly. A foundational element of marketing is “positioning,” or finding a particular niche where you can stand out and thrive. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came during my MBA days. A management communication professor told me to focus less on skills and my resume — I hadn't accomplished much professionally yet anyway — and instead hone in on the type of work colleague I would be. He suggested that I create a grid, with four or five desirable characteristics across the top and two or three examples/stories illustrating each. That was far more productive (and authentic) than trying to memorize answers to dozens of potential interview questions. Which leads us to…
• Learn to differentiate yourself through conversations. We are in the middle of a fundamental and growing disconnect in business; despite the growth in communication options, most people in business have big issues in communicating effectively. Millenials, you are presumed to be great in social media and brief blurbs (e.g. Twitter, texting) yet also self-absorbed, lacking in writing skills and challenged to engage in a real conversation for more than, oh, 30 seconds. That might be unfair. It's also a huge opportunity to violate expectations and stand out. Take some time to develop and practice basic skills in writing, conveying stories, speaking clearly over the phone and engaging people face-to-face. You will amaze. Which leads us to…
• Network effectively. Networking isn't about job fairs or events where you are supposed to go around a room and talk about yourself. Rather, it's a mindset of connecting with others and finding ways to be valuable to them. For example, take some of the time you might spend with other social media and learn your way around LinkedIn. Endorse a guest speaker you heard or one of your professors (the ones who are on LinkedIn themselves!). When you are at an event, don't just hang with the people you already know — I see this all the time at business networking events — but instead apply your new conversational skills to new relationships.
As effective as these suggestions can be in helping you land an internship or full-time job, they can make an even bigger difference in your performance on the job. You might even establish yourself as the "go-to person" for teaching other Millenials.