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Articles / Preparing for College / Understanding Millennials

Understanding Millennials

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 4, 2016

Parents of Millennials may be interested in some new information. First, let’s define “Millennial”:

Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

You may have one or more Millennials in your family. If you’re like many parents today, you may come up short deciphering their motivations, goals, and general behaviors. That’s the fun part of parenting.

I came across some interesting research the other day about Millennials searching for satisfaction in their life’s work. This may be of importance to parents as they watch their Millennial progeny graduate from college and venture out into the “real world” of employments and a life’s work.


I started a thread on the college Confidential discussion forum about this. It’s entitled Why Millennials want to quit their jobs. It has inspired some cogent comments from forum posters. I’ll cite some of them down below.

As the article notes, the core of this issue seems to be:

… Sixty percent of millennials, ages 22-32, have changed jobs between one and four times in the last five years, according to State Street Global Advisors.

“While pay is important, it’s clear that millennials won’t stay with companies for money alone,” said David Cruickshank, global chairman of consulting firm Deloitte.

Why this is happening sets the stage for further data and, naturally, speculation.

Indeed, despite a rocky job market, 44 percent of millennials would leave their current employer in the next two years, if given the choice, according to a new survey from Deloitte. When asked to look four years into the future, 66 percent of millennials said they expect to have switched employers.

I am the parent of a Gen Xer son who has exhibited quite similar behaviors. He is now working as an independent contractor, the latest in a series of jobs he has held since his college graduation in 1999. That series is approaching a half dozen different hirings. The positive aspect of all this movement is his skills advantage. His background is in engineering, both software and computer. He has had the ability to essentially write his own ticket over the years because of his abilities and experience.

Perhaps the Millennial (Gen Y) restlessness noted above is a carryover from Generation X, or something consistent in young people in general. What do the data say?

… According to job website Indeed, millennials ages 18-34 make up the largest percentage of working people who look at other job opportunities. In fact, the younger and more educated workers are, the more likely they are actively exploring new opportunities.

“Personal values have the greatest influence on millennials’ decision-making on the job,” Cruikshank said, while also noting that 61 percent of “senior millennials” – those with higher-ranking job titles – have chosen not to undertake a task at work because it conflicted with their values …

What do College Confidential posters think? Here’s a sampling of the (currently) 57 comments made in response to my thread:

– It’s just a different world for them. They’ve watched their parents get laid off and messed around. So they don’t have that inbred foolish concept of loyalty. Bc we have come to find the corporate world has little loyalty for workers…so why should they?

– I think job-changing has escalated. I heard an HR recruitment speech a few years back that basically said a company should expect to hold onto an employee only 3-5 years. My retired sib had exactly 2 jobs after her college graduation. I think the lack of benefit for length of stay, disappearance of pensions, lack of career path within companies and the ubiquitous “reduction in force” have led younger generations to watch out for themselves rather than adopt the attitude of a paternalistic corporation.  

– I took a futuristics course back in the early 1990’s. At that time, they said that most people would,change CAREERS, not just jobs, but careers at least seven times in their lives. And many would be switch to careers that didn’t exist when they graduated from college.

– Gen X here — this was normal for my college class (’99) and many of my ’02 law class. I have exactly one friend who’s still in his first job after college graduation, and he feels like a freak — even though he was fortunate to find his ultimate dream job at the start.  

– I started my first job after UG in the late 80’s with a big company that many people had historically retired from. I am now on my 4th employer. All of my moves have been about work/life balance. I guess I was just ahead of my time.

– one reason I would not recruit students straight of college (other than lack of real life experience and possible maturity issues) is that you can bet the farm they will be gone pretty soon after you hire them. and the return on investment will be slim to none.  

– When I *was* voluntarily “flitting” from job to job, I asked my father if I was changing jobs too often. The early to mid 80’s was confusing because things were changing. My sister and her husband thought I was changing jobs too often and it looked bad. So I asked my father what he thought. He looked at me and replied, “The places that hire you don’t seem to think you are changing jobs too often”.

– Some industries no longer promote from within. DH has changed jobs about every 5-7 years for the purpose of getting a promotion and a raise. His first switch doubled his salary!  


You can get a deeper feel for attitudes about this issue by reading all the comments. I’ve just selected a few. The sense I get from what people are saying in this thread is that frequent job changes is not unique to the Millennial Generation. I tend t agree with that.

I have changed jobs numerous times over the decades, but not from a position of proactivity. One of my running jokes is to proclaim that I have never quit a job. I have always been downsized, rightsized, laid off, terminated, or whatever it was called — seven times over the years — until I began working for the best company anyone can work for — the one you start for yourself.

One’s employment life is an ongoing, fluid fresco. The days of 30-year employees getting a gold watch at their formal retirement dinner are l-o-n-g gone, never to return, in my view. Technology, economics, and government regulation have seen to that. And don’t even think about the incoming tidal wave of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

I’ve seen headlines that predict a huge reduction in the human workforce due to machines taking over many manual tasks, even creative work, such as writing and detailed customer service. This isgoing to happen and will inspire a bevy of articles about what all those newly unemployed workers are doing  in their newly acquired and abundant free time.

We can look at the future with optimism or fear. I choose optimism. So, you parents of Millennials, don’t think your son or daughter is being excessively fussy or irrationally unsatisfied with his or her work life. It appears to be a trait handed down through recent generations, fueled by the onslaught of an ever-changing world and economy.

You may think the proper term is Generation Why? However, they see it as Generation Why Not?!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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