So, I’m still thinking.
Yesterday’s post from Ask A Manager contained the following question:
What do you do when job applications ask for your work experience (and ask you to explain gaps) when, if you are young like me, 10 years ago you were in middle school? How do you provide sufficient work experience without tipping the hiring managers off to your age, which could give them the opportunity to discriminate against you based on age?
Not a ground-breaking question but it piqued my interest. Alison pointed out that a) being in middle school isn’t a “work gap” (it’s a time when you weren’t considered a working adult) and b) hiring managers are able to tell you’re young if don’t have a lot of work history and/or have graduated recently, and there isn’t really a way to mitigate that.
But where it got even more interesting (to me) was in the comments. Someone responded that perhaps what this person was experiencing wasn’t necessarily “age discrimination” but not being considered for a position simply because they lacked the relevant experience versus other candidates. Which makes sense – if you’re young, your experience is simply not going to stack up against somebody slightly older who has been in the working world longer.
This prompted the original poster to respond thusly:
I understand that both of you (EngineerGirl and Charlotte) see differently, but in my experience my age has worked against me. I was fortunate enough to graduate college during one of the worst economic times in history. Many of the entry level positions that would normally be available are no longer being offered or they have been taken by those who have been in the industry longer, but that is not my problem. Recent graduates are one of the largest unemployed groups in America. Recent grads are looked upon negatively (in my opinion) by many hiring managers and people. I am trying to protect myself from that initial assumption.
This got me thinking about this industry show I went to on Monday. I sat in on three seminars while I was there – one about the intersection of hospitality design and technology, one that was sort of a Q&A with various hotel owners and developers, and the last was about the redesign and rebranding of a hotel in Boston’s theater district. Lots of interesting things to take away and think about, but I did notice a curious theme across all three seminars, and one that I’m certain was unintended by the panelists and presenters…and that is there seems to be a lot of collective angst around millennials. How to understand them, how to market to them, how to…deal with them.
Admittedly I am intrigued by this because for all intents and purposes I think that I am classified as a millennial – at least when it comes to how others perceive me. (In actuality I’m pretty sure I’m a couple of years too old to really fit the classification, and so I’m kind of uneasy about being included within it, but I’m not entirely sure what to call me – I am far too young to be considered Gen X. Wasn’t there supposed to be a Gen Y? I thought Gen Y was what came between Gen X and the millennials, and therefore that would make me Gen Y, but according to some cursory internet research it seems that Gen Y and millennial is used interchangebly. It is confusing, and I think it’s kind of inaccurate. But this is a tangent.)
In a former life (all of six years ago) I was still in college getting my liberal arts degree (I hear those are real useful these days), reading a lot of critical theory and thinking a lot about identity politics and reflecting a lot about The Other. The Other is kind of complicated to explain, but I’ll do my best – or better yet, because I’m lazy and haven’t been in a college lecture hall in many years, I’ll defer to Wikipedia:
A person’s definition of the ‘Other’ is part of what defines or even constitutes the self (in both a psychological and philosophical sense) and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude ‘Others’ whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of ‘otherness’ is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an ‘other’ as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatization or condemnation … othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain.
So that’s a lot of jargon and academic buzzwords. Fun. I hope you enjoyed that. That said, I felt like there was a lot of “Othering” going on during these seminars towards millennials. It became noticeable to me at first during a discussion about how to create dynamic hotel design that appeals to millennials. Talk of things like smart mirrors (it’s a mirror that acts like a smartphone! It’s like having Siri in your bathroom! Because millennials like the smartphones, see? And then they can look things up while brushing their teeth and showering and stuff! Because they are always multitasking with their smartphones!), and how to have a dynamic social media presence for your property through Facebook and Twitter (because millennials are always on their smartphones with the tweeting and the status updates!).
Oh, those wacky millennials. Always with the technology and such.
And alongside all of this excited talk of Things Millennials Want In Hotels was also this curious undertone about millennials being impatient and spoiled and overbrimming with an undeserved sense of entitlement. At one point a panelist was asked a question about resort fees. I’m going to have to paraphrase here because I wasn’t able to write the whole exchange down fast enough: the question was suggesting that resort fees are silly because they are extra nightly charges for amenities and so are deceiving, because the quoted room rate might be low but then a guest gets surprised with the resort fees (which undercuts the favorable rate and results in them spending more than they thought they would) and it’s a bit like having to pay extra to board the plane first. It’s not the clearest of analogies, but I more-or-less understood the point the questioner was trying to make.
The person answering proceeded not to address the issue of resort fees at all and instead went on a brief rant about how millennials always want to feel that they are extra special and so they want to board the plane first so we might as well let them. Which…huh?
Oh those wacky millennials. Always with the instant gratification and such. Because they like the technology. With the smartphones and the social media and the real-time immediateness. And also they want to board planes before you.
It was weird, let me tell you.
So look, I’m not suggesting that all of this What’s The Deal With Millennials? stuff is because of some latent desire by Gen X and up to subordinate and ostracize us (hah, “us”). Nor am I unaware of the fact that this is the way it always is and always has been when you look at mainstream cultural depictions of the generation gap: the older generations always think the youngsters are impatient and entitled and snotty. It happened to the Boomers, it happened to Gen X, and now it’s happening to the millennials. No surprises here.
But as a person who is, upon first glance, probably classified as a millennial, it did make me a bit uncomfortable, if only because if the millennials in my industry are being Otherized by the established folks in my industry – the folks who make hiring decisions – how is this affecting my ability to work in my industry? What (absurd) assumptions are being made about me based on my age demographic, and how does that shape how I am perceived by potential employers?
By the way, I’m not foolish enough to think that this millennial perception thing is only limited to my industry – it’s undoubtedly across the board. Let’s return to the poster who asked the age question on AAM yesterday:
My group may not be a protected class according to the law, but that does not mean that discrimination against our age group does not happen. I have frequently been asked by managers, my age and whether I have children. I am assuming that they see these things as predictors of maturity.* I’d rather not show my age because I would like the manager to evaluate me based on just my experience. I am not claiming to have the most experience in the world, but I don’t want someone to assume anything about my experience level unless they review my resume. I don’t want them to make those assumptions based on my age.
Fair enough, kid. I think maybe this fellow young person might be getting overly paranoid; bandying about the word “discrimination” in this context is a stretch (and seems to be what is rankling the other commenters who are chiming in on this issue). This isn’t a case of some hiring manager having an interviewee come in, noticing that they have a few gray hairs and a college degree from the 1970s, and then immediately hustling them out the door with a “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” But, I understand the concern: one doesn’t want to be written off as some young whippersnapper who doesn’t know anything about anything. Or who wants to be able to board planes before everyone else. Just ’cause they think they’re so special and millennial-y.
I’m not sure what we do about this perception issue aside from wait it out – at some point the millennials will be old enough to be taken more seriously and there will be a younger demographic of youth for everyone to roll their eyes at while simultaneously freaking out about how to market to them. That’s inevitable.
But in the meantime, we still live in one of the worst economic times ever, with lots of young folks out of work and lots of assumptions being made about them based solely on their youthfulness that may be in some way impacting their ability to obtain employment. What happens to these people, both for now and if/whenever the economy starts to turn around? Will it all be okay in the end, or is there going to be a population of 20-somethings out there with humungous gaps on their resumes who will then be judged by those gaps? Not gaps caused by middle school, doofus. Gaps caused by having graduated into this recession and not being able to find work. Then what? A whole population of people who didn’t work between the ages of 21-30 who now still can’t find work because they didn’t work between the ages of 21-30? Is that where things are headed? That’s not good.
I’m not really sure on what note to end this. In many respects I feel a bit like a spectator to this whole phenomenon because as I mentioned before, I really don’t feel that I can accurately classify myself as a millennial. I may seem like one to someone older than I am (because I am so fresh-faced and youthful! really), but I’m not a new graduate. And to be perfectly honest, I have been known to make unfair generalizations about folks younger than me as well. Yes, I’m a terrible Other-er. I admit it. (I’ve never assumed that the younger set have a deep desire to board airplanes first, though. I mean, honestly, that was really incredibly weird. I mean, if it isn’t obvious by now how weird I thought it was given how many times I’ve brought it up, let me say it again: it was weird. And also, we never got a proper answer about resort fees! That’s actually an interesting topic. For real. I’ll probably write about it later.) I also feel a bit like a spectator to the whole phenomenon of young folks being unemployed because even though right now I am in between jobs I have been lucky enough till now to have always been employed pretty much since I finished college. I don’t really know what it’s like to be on the unemployed train long-term. (Look, now I’ve probably gone and jinxed myself. That was stupid of me.)
But this is an issue that I have been thinking about for a while, because even though I feel like a spectator I’m surely affected by these millennial perception problems nonetheless, and it’s important for me to be aware of it, and to always be cognizant of how I am presenting myself and of how people are reacting to me, and to think about the best way to combat whatever strange assumptions people might be making about me – whether it’s how young I seem or whatever other markers I might have about me that lend themselves to othering.
But what is the best way to combat these assumptions? It’s easy enough to say well, of course I’m not the sum of a bunch of random stereotypes about a generation; I’m an actual person, with actual experience, that could be actually valuable to an employer. I contain multitudes, and all that. (Look how my liberal arts degree comes in handy!) But I am not so sure it’s really all that simple. Once one is Othered, it is hard to become un-Othered. Whole books have been written about this. Granted, most of those books are about cultural imperialism, so perhaps this is overly melodramatic. (This is where the liberal arts degree gets in the way.) Let me assure you that I really don’t think millennials are at any risk of being colonized by Gen X or the Boomers.
But it would be nice if they could stop assuming that all they (we?) care about are Twitter, hotel bathroom mirrors that look like smart phones, and boarding airplanes early.
Okay, I don’t think they all think that about millennials. That would mean that I’m Othering folks older than me, and would be pretty hypocritical. There’s containing multitudes, and then there’s completely nullifying any kind of point I’m trying to make. I’m trying to avoid the latter. Hopefully I am succeeding.
Anyway, this is all something to keep thinking about. Like I said, thinking is always good.
*I thought that this question-asker might also be missing the point about why they are being asked (inappropriately so, by the way) about whether or not they have children, and turns out I’m not the only one. Another commenter sums this up nicely:
You’re making an assumption about why managers are asking you about your age and if you have children that may not necessarily be accurate, especially with questions around children where having young children can make a worker appear less attractive to hire because they may be seen as not being able to put in as much time or may be taking more time off to care for their family. When employers ask that question, it’s not about looking for “maturity”. They shouldn’t even be asking about your age and family status in the first place. They are leaving themselves open to discrimination lawsuits by even going there.