A history lesson for millennials

Technology will not define the Millennials.

Just like World War II did not define the greatest generation.

It’s not the event, but the reaction that counts. The collective ‘now what’ after the cameras stop rolling and the historians start writing.

The millennial story has happened before — to our great grandparents. The Greatest Generation were born into a great depression, came of age in World War II and went on to build the modern world.

How dare we compare ourselves to them right? We are the narcissists, the ‘screw-you’ generation. What do we know about building wealth, family or a career — let alone a new age of global prosperity?


History has dealt both generations a bad hand — granted, ours doesn’t come with a global inferno.

Beneath the smiling facebook profiles, we too are a generation under siege.

We too have been left behind by a faltering economy. We too are at war — a personal war against debt, the quarter-life crisis and early on-set depression.

How did they do it? How did a generation scarred by unprecedented suffering and loss build a brighter world? Were they just better people? Did technology pave the way? Did the post-war economy carry them through?

What can millennials — the failure to launch, the Arab Spring, the ‘me’ generation — learn from those who rebuilt the world after the fire?

The world’s on fire — so what, now what?

15 million US veterans returned home to a country transformed. The economy had been re-tooled for war and millions of women had entered the workforce. Jobs were scarce, fear of another great depression was high.

The veterans themselves had changed. Blue collar boys and girls that grew up in tough times had spent their formative years in uniform. Would there be a place for their skills in a tight economy?

The US government was facing the kind of population crisis that had sparked war in Europe in the first place — angry, jobless vets. Peter Gaytan, of the American Legion put it another way — “it was gonna hit us like an explosion.”

As is usually the case with great things — the solution started small. Scribbled on a piece of hotel stationery, the G.I. bill was born.

The law went far beyond a welfare check or a payment for service. It was a bridge to civilian life. The bill’s provisions extended from free college tuition to low-cost mortgages, low-interest business loans and unemployment compensation.

Then President Roosevelt on the ‘why’ of the G.I. bill:

The results were nothing short of incredible. The bill made mass home-ownership a reality, established the suburban community model and sparked a manufacturing boom. All lasting achievements in their own right.

But in empowering 8 million + newly discharged men and women with access to higher education — the G.I. bill made modern America.

One action unleashed the potential of a generation, laying the foundation for decades of upward social mobility and cementing education as the cornerstone of the American dream. Centuries of class hierarchy were smashed in a single decade. Opportunity for the common man had finally arrived.

Established colleges erected endless pre-fab rooms and entire new schools opened up. New, practical courses like business and engineering quickly became the norm. It was a boom time for higher education — despite elitist concerns that a wave of blue-collar veterans would turn colleges into ‘hobo jungles’.

The impact on individual veterans was staggering. Millions who left for war resigned to a blue-collar career on their return were now reaching for an affordable degree, forever changing the direction of their lives upwards.

The veterans catapulted themselves into the professional classes and became the bedrock of the American economic miracle. Looking back, the G.I. bill still stands as one of the most pivotal pieces of American legislation ever enacted.

Millennials — a broken generation (but not really)

Discussing the state of millennials feels like wading into a marshy paradox — a mix of smashed avocado and work-tears.

It’s hard to distinguish where the bullshit ends and the facts begin. Contradictions abound, claiming we’re either:

  1. Tech savvy optimists building a better world.
  2. A generation of narcissists staring into the abyss of financial ruin.

There’s a lot going for the positive outlook. We’re the most educated generation in history, we’re good with money, we commit way less crime, we’re optimistic about the future and we’re committed to progressive ideals like transparency, diversity and community.

There’s a pervasive sense of grand potential about our generation.

We’re masters of the most disruptive force in human history. From the Arab Spring to the wildfire that is online education, we are building a new world order online.

But we’re right to feel under siege too.

I’m not talking about the labels — entitled, lazy, selfish — ignore those. Every generation is saddled with the confusion and fear of its predecessor.

Sadly, the facts cut much deeper.

  • We’ve been left behind by an anaemic economic recovery and have higher debt, poverty and unemployment than the two previous generations — a first in the modern world.
  • We’re sad. The average age for the onset of depression is now mid-twenties — it used to be early-fifties just 30 years ago. The American Psychological Association finds that millennials report more stress than any other generation — half of us lay awake at night due to money and work anxiety.
  • We invented the quarter-life crisis.

When you look at a lot of the commentary around millennials, a theme emerges. “Failure to launch”, “boomerang kids”, “job hoppers” — we’re missing something, we’re not living up to our potential, we can’t commit to our own lives.

The sad truth about millennials at work

70% of millennials are disengaged at work — 16% of us hate our jobs so much, we’re actively out to do damage to our organisation.

We’re demanding the right things — social purpose, diversity, work-life flexibility — and we’re getting them too. In 2025, millennials will represent ¾ of the western workforce, business leaders have no choice but to build the workplace to our specifications.

But that’s not enough and we know it. Our problem is not the daily commute or the lack of beanbags.

Our problem is wanting more out of our work, but not having the guts to do anything about it.

When 95% of US workers are in the wrong role and 80% dislike or even hate their job — the system is broken. The inescapable fact is that our work defines us. It makes up a third of our waking hours, how can it not?

We were told that climbing the corporate ladder was the right thing to do — so why do we hate it so much? Why the gnawing sense of inadequacy, the lingering quarter life crisis, the anxiety?

We’re playing by the rules and going nowhere, hiding behind lies like ‘its ok — it’s just a job’ or ‘I go to work for the people’.

We’re pissed off at the world we’ve inherited and dream of building a better one. That’s admirable, we should be proud of our idealism. We’re a generation of pent-up energy, optimism and creativity, but the sad truth is that our working reality falls far short of our expectations.

While the best of us are leading the way with start-ups and social purpose projects, most of us are stuck filling out reports for companies we hate. And we know it.

Our G.I bill

The bill was a hammer. It unleashed the potential of a generation by smashing the system they were unwittingly shackled to. A system that said “you’re blue collar — you’ll always be blue collar”. The result was unprecedented opportunity for education, creativity and personal fulfilment.

No-one is coming to help us. There will be no G.I. bill for millennials, nor should there be.

Instead, we need to recognize that the millennial generation is also shackled to an out-dated system — we call it the job hunt.

Our system says “your potential is measured by your experience. You can only apply for jobs at this level, in these kind of roles, in this industry. Recruiters & online applications are how you find work. Don’t apply for dream jobs, your application will just be discarded by applicant tracking software — stick to what you know to get ahead. Achieving your potential? Why there’s a promotion ladder of course — be sure to impress at your yearly performance reviews. Purpose? Your shortlisted companies are fun, edgy places to work — there’s even an onsite café!”

The veterans lived in simpler times. The bill layed out a clear roadmap for them, get a degree — get a better job — have a better life.

Ours is a far more complicated world. Meaning, purpose, fulfilment — these are new concepts brought about by the inevitable evolution of human complexity and our drive to do more and be better.

The old rules that worked for the vets don’t apply to us. Access to education now only requires an internet connection. A degree doesn’t necessarily lead to a ‘good’ job. ‘Good’ jobs can be soul-sucking and devoid of meaning. A ‘better life’ differs between facebook feeds.

Study after study reveals the same answer to the question ‘why do I hate my job?’ — a lack of self-worth. We’re not snowflakes because we won’t settle for shit work. Our problem is not that we complain about meaningless work — our problem is accepting meaningless work as normal instead of having the guts to do something about it.

So how do we replicate that surge in personal fulfilment experienced by the veterans?

No-one is coming to lay down a roadmap for us. We have to do it ourselves.

Fuck permission. Take what you want.

The traditional job hunt is broken. It’s rotten from the job description down to the final offer.

It’s built to serve the employer’s needs and a hungry recruitment industry.

It is stacked against us (← read this):

  • Job descriptions aren’t accurate — the ‘perfect’ candidate doesn’t exist.
  • The majority of online applications are never seen, just discarded by applicant screening software.
  • Got through the screen? Your CV gets six seconds of a recruiter’s time.
  • Up to 85% of jobs never get advertised in the first place.
  • Non-English names, the ‘wrong’ major, non-industry experience put us at an immediate disadvantage.

The modern job hunt is the art of contorting ourselves to fit the specifications of a job description. Desperately trying to appear like the perfect candidate based on the company’s (usually wrong) specifications.

That is not, and never will be, how we fulfil our personal potential.

The G.I. bill worked because it gave the vets a chance to break out of a system and build their own lives.

Finding meaningful work is one of the most important things we’ll ever do. So why the hell are we outsourcing it to a system of online job boards, recruiters and applicant screening software!

The hiring funnel doesn’t work for our best interests. We work for our best interests. Let’s start acting like it.

The millennial job hunt

The millennial job hunt is an alternative strategy for finding meaningful work.

The employer-centric hiring funnel doesn’t belong in an age of unparalleled access to people, information, cutting-edge jobs, remote working and the side hustle. Relying on it to find meaningful work sabotages the creativity and passion that make us valuable as people and employees.

Instead, we should take inspiration from what uber did to an archaic taxi industry, how Air BnB democratized accommodation and what blockchain will do to banks.

It starts with an outright refusal to participate in a broken job search system and ends with leveraging the miracle of the internet to achieve meaningful work.

There are 8 steps:

You can go for any job you want. The arbitrary limits that we think define us — ‘the right experience’, ‘the right degree’, ‘the right connections’ — don’t mean a damn thing in a world where you can start anything, learn everything and meet anyone.

Only you know what purpose looks like to you. Hoping it’s at the end of an online application, recruiter’s call or corporate ladder is the greatest lie we’ll ever tell ourselves.

70% of us don’t enjoy our jobs. What the hell are we doing with our lives!

If you genuinely enjoy quarterly insurance sales reports — great. If not, you’re miserable at work because you’re doing quarterly insurance sales reports. Go do quarterly sales reports in an industry you are genuinely interested in.

Genuine passion is how you get ahead. It makes you hungry for industry news, stimulates creativity, and empowers you with professional confidence. It makes you valuable to an organization as a window into their customer base. It will keep you engaged in the job hunt process, shine through in the interview and is the most important ingredient for true professional fulfilment. You can’t fake it — so don’t try.

Warren Buffet spends 80% of his time reading. You should too.

You will eventually be hired for one reason and one reason only — someone thinks your opinion is valuable. The ideas and inspiration that set you apart won’t happen if you don’t expand the list of things in your brain.

You simply can’t expect to grow as a professional without investing time at the cutting-edge of your industry.

What does immersion look like? Optimising your social feeds to follow industry leaders, moving from a passive to active professional social networker, reading books, joining industry organisations and blogging.

Curiosity is single most important ingredient for creativity, confidence and developing marketable insights.

The closest thing to our G.I. bill is staring back at you. Online education is reshaping the world at a blistering pace — use it. A handful of the thousands of coursing examples out there:

  • Web developer bootcamp — £10, 43 hours
  • Learn to code by making games — £10, 52 hours
  • An MBA in one course — £10, 49 hours

We have entered an era of continuous learning. If you aren’t progressing a skill-set or learning another, you are falling behind. It’s not about being an expert, but quickly developing practical skills that make you a more effective professional.

Target your upskilling to achieve a specific role at your dream organisation — it’s that simple.

Up to 85% of jobs never get advertised. If you don’t have a strategy to compete for these jobs, you’re wasting your time.

If you’ve struggled with networking before, you are not alone. In what could be the biggest handbrake on our generation — 50% of millennials still don’t network.

Networking is a skill. Like any skill, you start out small and train up. In the 5-step networking strategy guide (← read this), I break down networking into a step-by-step process with actionable goals, examples and scripts covering:

  • Step 1 — Social media networking
  • Step 2 — Tapping your existing network
  • Step 3 — Targeted informational interviews & making allies
  • Step 4 — The (dreaded) industry event
  • Step 5 — Hustle a referral interview

Apply once, but apply like hell.

Your resume tells, your hire-me pitch shows.

It’s a bold demonstration of your initiative, curiosity, industry insight and determination. It sets you apart, immediately and clearly, from the competition and identifies you as an exceptional candidate.

Your hire-me pitch is your answer to your target organisation, department or team’s challenges. A single page case study tackling a problem or exploiting an opportunity is enough. Or get inspired by best-in-class example nina4airbnb.

Your hire-me pitch is how you demonstrate the kind of value you intend to deliver. How you transition into a new industry. How you completely sidestep the hiring funnel. How you take back control of your career and land meaningful work.

It’s everything that the traditional job search isn’t. It’s the centrepiece of the millennial job hunt and is a showcase of your creativity and passion. Have a look at my article covering hire-me pitch principles, examples and 21 topic ideas (← read this) to get started.

In the end, it will only take a 40 minute interview to land meaningful work. Those 40 minutes with the decision maker represent a journey of self-development and introspection. It’s built on hours of industry research, networking, upskilling and hire-me pitch building.

Land the interview by convincing a current employee to refer you based on the strength of your hire-me pitch.

Land the job by leading that interview with your hire-me pitch — laying out actionable steps to confronting the organisations’ challenges and clearly demonstrating your value as a hire.

The choice

The G.I. bill was a turning point for a nation — but it started as a personal turning point for millions of individuals.

The millennial generation is on the cusp of doing the very same. I have no doubt that we’re the ones to build a brighter, better world. Our ideals, motivation and faith in progress make us an unstoppable force for change.

In understanding our challenges through the prism of history — we should take inspiration from the greatest generation.

The vets were up against a great depression and a hostile foreign power. Their great hand-up came from the top-down.

Our great depression is own. Our war is for purpose and meaning in a rigid economic system stacked against us. Our great hand-up is the recognition that the system that our grandparents built and believed in just doesn’t work for us anymore.

We each have to find our own way forward now.

Leave a comment and join the conversation — we’re all in this together.


Originally published at millennialjobhunt.com on August 29, 2017.

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