Millennial Career Goals: 5 Things Young Professionals Want from a Job

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For practically a decade, millennials have been the focal point of countless discussions. There’s even a running joke about the number of businesses they’re ‘killing,’ according to often bombastic headlines. While this term is often used by older generations—and even millennials themselves—as a catchall pejorative for all young people who behave differently than them, the truth is this generation is getting older and settling into their careers. In fact, Pew Research reports millennials are now the largest generation represented in the workforce.1 As more workers from previous generations begin to retire, millennials will play a bigger role in dictating the future of how businesses operate.

So what does that mean? While it’s difficult to make sweeping conclusions about a large and diverse group of people, there are certainly some prevailing trends and attitudes becoming more common as this generation matures. We’ve asked working professionals from a variety of backgrounds to help identify some of the things millennials commonly seek from their jobs. Read on to learn how this generation is changing the way people do business and what to look for as they rise through the ranks.

5 Things millennials are looking for in a career

Though some like to speak of this cohort as though they’re an alien species, many of their career goals remain fundamentally similar to that of other generations—they want stable jobs, decent wages and the ability to live comfortably. While that’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, we’ve identified several other areas where millennials may be straying from the beaten path. 

1. Meaning

Meaning is not something you should settle on. You spend a lot of time at work, so it should be something you feel has purpose in your life. Whether that’s serving your community or doing something you love, a sense of meaning will likely make you a better employee and a happier person.

According to the career recruitment company Robert Walters, millennials are not like the “prototypical clock-punchers of the last century.” Walters says they’re driven by opportunities to provide community service, help people in need, invent things and generally make their mark on the world in a positive way.

This desire could be traced back to several sources. Some may have sensed a lack of satisfaction from work in previous generations and want to set a different course. Others may have shifted their personal priorities due to coming of age during tough economic times—more may be comfortable with not wanting to be defined by a paycheck but rather fulfilled by a purpose. Either way, the pursuit for meaning is key for many millennials in the modern job market.

2. The ability to make a difference

Some millennials find purpose in doing a job they know personally impacts the lives of others such as nursing, teaching or social work. But even if their jobs aren’t making a clear-cut, positive impact, many still value working for organizations they perceive to be doing good in the world.

Miguel Suro, founder of The Rich Miser lifestyle blog, says many millennials would ideally like to work for—or start—an organization that does good in the world.

“Companies that sell harmful products or take advantage of questionable labor practices may be looked down upon,” Suro says. “Even tech companies that have privacy issues may get low marks from millennials.”

Millennials are some of the most dedicated consumers and employees of socially responsible companies. Charitable giving and the values espoused by organizations all can provide another layer of meaning to the work millennials do.

3. Work-life balance

This factor appears to be growing in importance. With file-sharing software, smartphone emails, and other technologies that allow work to escape the confines of an office, it can be very easy to blur the lines between home and work.

“Burnout is a big problem, which I attribute to the rise of smartphones and home computers, and the 24/7 work culture that has developed,” Suro says. “Millennials in their 30s are burning out rapidly and looking for a way out.” 

When considering a career or company, many millennials want to know how an organization approaches this balance—and what they may do to offset some of it. Some companies offer wellness programs or more generous time-off policies. Others offer telecommuting options that allow employees to work from home. In fact, a Gallup polling report found 43 percent of professionals already work away from their team members at least some of the time.2 Suro says this flexibility is something millennials who have started or anticipate starting families should definitely look for in a job.

4. Regular feedback

Plenty of angst-driven articles claim that millennials are too fragile when faced with adversity. Supposedly, they can’t handle criticism and cower in trembling fear at the prospect of negative feedback in a performance review. But the truth is that most millennial-related frustration with performance reviews has more to do with how they’re conducted—not what’s being said.

In a survey conducted by HR services provider TriNet, 69 percent of millennials say that annual performance reviews are a flawed process—but not necessarily because they don’t like the feedback.3 This survey found 74 percent said they frequently feel “in the dark” about how their managers and peers think they’re doing at work—a sign some may be craving more consistent input on how they’re doing.3

Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce advisor at Achievers, says this desire for regular feedback is no surprise. Because this generation is used to real-time responses in their personal lives via social media and other electronic outlets, they should naturally want that mirrored in their professional lives.

She goes on to say that it’s not just the frequency of feedback that matters but “the sense of connectedness it offers.”

Feedback is not just about correcting flaws or issues. It is also about building relationships and engagement within your professional community. Forming those connections can help foster an overall sense of meaning and office culture.

5. Growth opportunities

Money is obviously important. Millennials have rent, groceries, gas, pet food and a daily coffee habit to pay for, after all. But money isn’t everything, and they know that. There are some things in a career that, while closely related, trump even a bigger paycheck—things like growth opportunities.

Like some of these values, this one isn’t exactly cornered by the millennial market. As someone relatively new to the job market, opportunities to learn and develop as a person and professional are key to feeling a future in any career.

Perhaps more specific to millennials, however, is their affinity for challenge and learning from failure. Rachel Cottam, content manager at ZipBooks, says, “Millennials are okay with taking risks and maybe even failing a little.” She reasons that millennials do not prioritize job loyalty or consistency as much as previous generations, saying they “aren’t afraid to change companies, positions, or even industries.” Overall, they are interested in learning opportunities and will go wherever they see that need being fulfilled—particularly if they see that as a path to advancement or higher earning potential.

Expect a career that helps you make a difference

As a young professional, it can be hard to ask for what you need, but as the workforce is evolving in the modern age, don’t be afraid to lean into the great changes your generation is making across all professions. Work isn’t just work anymore. It is an opportunity to grow as a person and make a real impact in the world.

To learn more about careers in which you can leave your mark, check out our article “7 Amazing Jobs that Let You Make a Difference in the World.”

1Pew Research Center, Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, [accessed August 2019] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/
2Gallup, State of the American Workplace, [accessed August 2019] https://news.gallup.com/reports/199961/7.aspx
3TriNet, Survey: Performance Reviews Drive One in Four Millennials to Search for a New Job or Call in Sick, [accessed August 2019] https://www.trinet.com/about-us/news-press/press-releases/survey-performance-reviews-drive-one-in-four-millennials-to-search-for-a-new-job-or-call-in-sick

Hannah Meinke

Hannah Meinke is a writer at Collegis Education. She enjoys helping people discover their purpose and passion by crafting education and career-related content on behalf of Rasmussen College.

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