For anyone in the millennial generation who is disinclined to take career advice from a middle-aged white guy, perhaps you might consider some guidance from one of your own: If you want to succeed in your chosen career field, especially if you’re pursuing a career in technology, lose that attitude of entitlement and focus on being a team player.
Millennials, usually defined as those in the 18-to-29 age range, have a lot to learn about how to be successful at work that they don’t learn in college, says Aaron McDaniel, at 29 a millennial himself who has already enjoyed remarkable success in his young career. McDaniel, senior director of global strategy and business development at AT&T, is one of the youngest people ever to serve as a regional vice president at the company, and he’s written a book to share with his fellow millennials what he’s learned along the way: “The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top.”
I spoke at length with McDaniel last week, and I found him to be the real deal. To the extent that you can size anyone up in one interview, he struck me as astute, observant, articulate, and probably most important of all, humble. For starters, he nailed the entitlement issue that a lot of us in the older generations have observed among millennials:
There are certain things that millennials, in particular, have when they enter a work environment. One is a sense of entitlement. They feel like they deserve it. We millennials are recognized so much for just the bare minimum. I have so many ribbons and trophies and certificates just for participating. And that’s not how the working world works. The real core of the issue is this: Millennials’ parents made their lives revolve around their children, and they changed and adapted their lives accordingly. Now in the corporate world, there’s so much of a focus on changing their cultures to attract and retain this millennial talent. What is this teaching them? It’s the same thing all over again. What corporate leaders did as parents, they’re now doing as corporate leaders. If they just said, “Look, kid, this is how the world is, there are some expectations, and it’s going to take a while, you’re going to have to earn it,” that would go so much further. So the corporations are saying they need to change for millennials, but they’re forgetting the millennials as individuals. That’s really where I come in, because the advice I give is to the millennials, being one myself, saying, “Here is what we need to learn, here is the ownership we need to take of our careers.” We shouldn’t just sit around and wait for these companies to change, because we may be left in the dust in the process, and it’s not going to help us maximize our potential and get to where we want to be in our careers.
Interestingly, McDaniel noted that a lot of millennials in the computer science field are especially vulnerable to the entitlement trap:
In my job, I talk with venture-capital firms and a lot of startups in Silicon Valley. There’s an interesting “arms race” for engineers, and for computer science expertise in particular. These tech companies are paying ridiculous amounts of money to get the best young engineering talent. The practice of a Google or a Facebook is they will regularly purchase a company of, like, five engineers for a few million dollars, and scrap whatever they were working on, just to have those engineers committed for the next three years to work on things that they want them to work on. So millennials are saying, “Everyone is bowing to me and offering checks left and right,” and it’s perpetuating this sense of entitlement.
So I asked McDaniel about the fact that he has enjoyed so much success at such an early age, and what he attributes that to. I liked his response:
The biggest thing I can attribute my success to is making it about the team, and not myself. So with respect to entitlement and millennials feeling like they deserve certain things, it really pegs toward an individual mentality. I know growing up we had a lot of group interaction with teams we were on, and projects, and things like that, but still it was very much about what do I do to make myself successful. But when you do that, it becomes very obvious that you’re not a team player. Instead of focusing on my own career in terms of making sure everything I do looks great, I said, “How can I align my goals with my boss’s? How can I make my peers successful and help them?” In doing that, when it comes time for bonuses or promotions or raises, if you’re doing whatever you can do to make your boss look good, and to support your organization, that helps you, and that gives you opportunities. Everyone wants that type of person on their team.