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I have been intensely focused on my career since my freshman year. In my various experiences, I’ve noticed something important about myself and my generation.

MoneyIt’s not all about the money.

It may not be completely unique to Gen Y, but it certainly is common. While making money is nice, what I truly crave is the opportunity to learn and improve my skills. I think a lot of my peers feel the same.

So if it’s not about the money, what does Gen Y seek? Here’s my take:

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Gen Y loves a good challenge.

For example, at my internship at CMU’s PR department, I was given the assignment to write for and design a publication called CMU Welcomes You (see the PDF). I didn’t even know how to use InDesign! After a short tutorial from my mentor, I checked out a few books and learned to use the program while I designed the publication.

  • Employers: Find projects that will challenge your interns. Just be sure to guide them along the way.
  • Interns: Seek out those challenging projects. Was someone just talking about how the copy for that brochure needs rewritten? Ask if you can take it on.

ResponsibleGen Y thrives on responsibility.

In addition to a challenge, I like being responsible for a project. When I worked with Fahlgren Mortine, I was able to take on a decent amount responsibility for a nonprofit. I helped coordinate their social media efforts and led a meeting on my last day to teach them how to use social media. It was incredibly exciting and motivating. (And I’d like to thank Lara for the opportunity!)

  • Employers: Projects like this will give your interns confidence. Even if it’s a small amount of responsibility, it still lets your intern know that you trust their skills.
  • Interns: Make sure you meet your deadlines and try to exceed expectations.

Up!Gen Y wants to make a difference.

It’s not necessarily important that I work for big name clients. Sure, doing work for a household name is cool. But, some of the best accounts I have worked on are the ones that I had never heard of before. For example, right now I am helping with a community nonprofit that helps prevent child abuse. I can clearly see how my professional contributions can make a true difference for the organization and the community.

  • Employers: You know that pro-bono account that you never have time for? Give your intern full rein to see what they can do.
  • Interns: Take pro-bono accounts just as seriously as you would a top-paying client. Your hard work will help show your employer your potential.

ChecklistGen Y craves feedback.

I’ve turned assignments in and heard next to nothing about it. It leaves me wondering if it was decent or so bad that the person decided to just redo it without saying a word to me. I’ve been interning at AGP & Associates for the past 10 weeks or so. One of the things I love is how I receive specific feedback on everything I work on there. Good feedback helps me learn from my mistakes and improves my overall skills as a professional.

  • Employers: While interns can provide free or low-cost labor, it’s up to you to provide the feedback that will help your interns grow as future professionals.
  • Interns: Sometimes feedback can be harsh. Try not to take things personally. Usually people give you feedback to help make you a better communicator.

ScrabbleGen Y wants to learn new things.

The more things you learn, the more invaluable you will be to an employer. I taught myself how to build Web sites. I read books to improve my skills, such as Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) and Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Sometimes I read random books about archaeology or politics, too. But, it’s always great when an employer provides learning opportunities as well. For example, AGP set up an appointment for a tour of the local printing press so I would understand the process better.

  • Employers: Opportunities to learn have great value among Gen Y. Workshops, tours or even just sitting in meetings give interns the opportunity to learn more about the profession and the workplace.
  • Interns: Take on every opportunity you can. Not only will you learn something, but you’ll show your employer that you are ambitious and motivated about your career.

If you’re a member of Gen Y, what is important to you? If you are an employer, what do you suggest to Gen Y?

6 Comments »

  1. Being challenged and constantly learning is definitely what’s most important to me. I want the opportunities to learn and GROW in my career so that I can continue moving up to bigger and better things.

    Making a difference is important as well, not even so much a direct difference as taking social responsibility. The company I work for is very focused on sustainability, healthy living etc. and that is one of the things that drew me to apply there in the first place.

  2. Amber,

    Thanks for your addition. I agree that growth is important. So are beliefs – I didn’t think of adding things like sustainability and health, but they definitely can be factors!

  3. All fantastic points, Rachel.

    Feedback, challenges, and support are most important to me. With young professionals, it’s very important to be able to give them feedback to help them improve and succeed for your company. I agree with Amber above, too. Working in a volunteer organization has truly made me see that young people want to make a difference in their work. We see a lot of things that can be improved or handled differently in this world and we want to work towards finding the right way to make those changes.

    I also recently read about a study that found that Gen-Y WANTS to be loyal to their company and work place, but crave loyalty back from their company.

    That was a bit of a jumble of Gen-Y values, but I think they’re all important points. Thanks for a good post, Rachel,

    Tom
    @TomOKeefe1

  4. This is great!

    You are so right! I find myself in an argument with my parents every other day because they think I’m not being paid enough but I *love* what I am doing and I am getting such valuable experience – which is much more valuable to me than any wage.

    And as far as making a difference goes – you’re dead on! Not only do I hope that everything I do makes a difference, but I get so excited when I meet passionate people who also believe they can make a difference!

    I love the post! :)
    @goktgo

  5. Tom – Thank you! Support is a great addition that I really didn’t touch on much. I think that study about loyalty is really interesting. I know where I come from, a lot of Gen Y don’t believe in company loyalty because a lot of them have watched their parents and grandparents, who have worked for GM or other auto companies, lose their pensions and such. It’s hard to be loyal when you’ve seen things like that affect your community.

  6. Katie,

    Thanks! I think it is a much more valuable experience if you love what you are doing and are learning, than if you are just making good money. I hope everything you do helps make a difference! :)

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About

Rachel M. Esterline works in public relations and marketing communications. Her blog, ExPRessions, contains her musings about PR, marketing, career and professional development, Gen Y issues, personal branding and more. Rachel also does freelance consulting and writing. She is originally from Genesee, Mich., and will graduate from Central Michigan University in May 2010.