Last Spring my college son asked me to proofread his resume and critique his cover letter. I scanned his resume but told him I had no idea how to help him with a cover letter. He pointed to my years of experience in writing cover letters, and still I balked.
Here is the problem. My son was applying for jobs that not only did not exist when I was in high school, but they did not exist when he was in high school. These are companies that measure their tenure in months, rather than years. Their dress codes are not established, their cultures are fluid and there is no clear career path. For parents who have mortgages, tuition payments and IRAs in mind, this can be a scary, or at least unsettling thing. But it shouldn’t be.
When I finished school, the holy grail of employment was a solid job at a good company. Nothing looked more enticing than to be interviewed by people who had been with “the firm” their entire career. When I met the very elderly male partners who ran the consulting firm that I first worked for, it seemed like a dream come true: lifelong employment security coupled with financial success.
I put on my little blue skirt suit, banished all original thought and prepared to work grueling hours for…well, the sake of working grueling hours.
But college-educated millennials see the world differently. In fact they see a different world all together. Instead of looking for rigid corporate structures, millennials are seeking opportunity. Almost two-thirds of them would like to start their own company. They don’t want to go to work at a great company — they want to create one. While much has been written about the perceived laziness of the youngest generations of adults, it is clear they are willing to think and act differently in their approach to employment. In that respect they have much to teach their parents. Here are some of the lessons boomers could learn.
Solve an old problem.
Start-up success stories, be they Open Table or Wikipedia, give us a better, faster, far more comprehensive way to do something we have always done. They found a market that was untouched by technology (think about the Encyclopedia Britannia sitting on your shelf) and through the magic of the internet made us forget the way we once did things.
In an attempt to understand those just out of college a bit better, I spoke to Cameron Doody of Bellhops. He and his partner Stephen Vlahos have started a new moving service. College graduates in 2008, both men went to work for banks assuming that security would lead to fulfillment. Soon the pair, still in their early 20s, felt they were punching the clock, going through the motions but not engaged with their work. Away for a weekend together they vowed to stay up all night, or until they had a good business idea, whichever came first.
Doody says that one-third of all people in their 20s move in any given year. They move in and out of dorms and apartments within short distances and have only a moderate number of belongings. Fifty million Americans are expected to move this year — 30 million of them locally. The most compelling statistic? Three-quarters of these are ‘do-it-yourselfers’, meaning 22 million local moves are manageable enough for non-professional ‘movers‘.
They want a cheap, reliable moving service that they can arrange, without talking on the phone. Old problem, new solution. Thus Bellhops, a short-haul moving service, was born. College kids do the work; prices are prearranged. The business started in one city as a dorm-moving service. It now has 8,000 movers and takes on small moves in 130 cities and 42 states.
Do something different.
If you are working with someone who wants to be the next [fill in the blank] you might as well go to work at [fill in the blank]. Bellhops isn’t trying to be one of the big national moving services with their giant fleet of trucks, large salaried staff and “call for a quote” business model. They are not looking to empty the family home and carry the contents across the country. Rather they have jumped into a disorganized, splintered market of small local movers that make up the short-haul, small move market between apartments, dorms and storage facilities.
With just an app and a smart phone, customers can arrange their move, get a price based on an established hourly rate and know that college kids with a U-Haul will show up at the specified location. Bellhops is trying to be the next Bellhops — establishing their own business model and standards for customer service and success.
Boomers learned that people work best when they are surrounded by those who inspire and motivate them. Yet traditional organizations still give employees very little control over their schedule and environment. Bellhops is staffed by students, so flexibility in scheduling is essential. Like Uber (taxi dispatchers) or Lyft (for ride sharing), when a job comes available, Bellhops adjacent to the job are pinged on their smartphones to claim the gig on a first-come basis. This means that the client always gets someone who is eager for the job.
Hang up the phone.
There is nothing millennials like less than having to talk on their phones with a customer service representative. They would rather be able to order what they want, with a quick response, great service and recourse using only a keypad. Customer focus is a great watchword, but so many established companies have a hard time switching to this new paradigm. Anyone who has ever tried to get a cable company on the telephone knows this frustration.
New companies bake customer service into every transaction. Customers do not need to pick up the phone and complain (something companies count on as a deterrent) or fill out a lengthy and off-putting survey after the fact.
When clients book their move with Bellhops they are emailed the photo, email address, and a short bio of their movers. They now have name and a face — not just an 800 number — to deal with when plans or circumstances change. The internal system reminds the Bellhops to call their clients to confirm moving details, the day before and the day of the move. If a Bellhop fails to show up for a job (something that happens less than 1% of the time), every Bellhop in the area gets an immediate text asking them to pick up the slack. Doody says that within an hour a Bellhop is on site.
I entered the workforce believing that hard work, long hours and paying my dues was the formula for becoming the boss, for claiming control of my employment destiny. Millennials, partly because many are still free of the burdens of home and family, crave flexibility and the option to determine their own work schedule. Almost half of them would choose setting their own schedule over additional income.
At Bellhops, Doody has found that by letting movers select their jobs themselves, rather than being assigned to them, the company has an almost zero no-show rate. His workers choose jobs as they arise and indicate whether they want to play a leading or secondary role in the assignment. If they want to be the boss or “Captain,” they sign up for that role. If they want to be the “wingman,” they tick that box. By self-assigning their own workload and hours, everyone is a boss. The motto of Bellhops COO, Matt Patterson: “Bellhops are entrepreneurs in their own rights. By empowering our Bellhops to be their own boss, there’s a natural tendency to really impress and provide the same excellent customer service that a company owner would provide.”
This built-in flexibility, although not a model that would work in every environment, addresses many of the work-life balance problems that boomers have struggled with for a generation.
Create new culture carriers.
While boomers might have dreamed of a long career with a thriving company, millennials are looking for a thriving career at any number of companies. The average millennial will stay in a job a little over two years. Company cultures were once codified with handbooks, propagated through the homogeneity of their workforces and reinforced on company retreats. The rapid movement of employees makes this much more difficult. Social media, internal communications, virtual events and regular personal contact from those in charge will be the new culture carriers.
Little things make a big difference.
My son was lucky enough to get a job at a start-up and on Fridays he goes into work a bit later. He doesn’t mind that the delayed start means staying at the office later that evening. Everyone loves sleeping just a bit later one summer morning a week, he reminded me.
When boomers talked about job perks, they were generally thinking of health insurance and extra days off. Millennial employers are far more creative, offering job rotations, on-site chefs, yoga classes, foosball tables (pictured on almost every job site) and of course the chance to watch the World Cup in the office on a big-screen TV.