5 Things I Have Learnt in my Millennial Career (So Far)
I’ve always found the term ‘portfolio careers’ quite an odd one. When I think of a portfolio I picture a large glossy black file full of immaculately presented items. In reality, my career looks more like a battered up old A5 diary full of post it notes and tea-stains. That being said, a portfolio career it has been, chopping and changing, moving from one thing to the next, gathering traction and gathering skills. Something us millennials are becoming increasingly familiar with.
I have learnt a lot on this route. When you are an editor, a social media manager, a content creator, working in events and multiple business development projects all in less than three years (and not getting paid for most of it), it’s a lot of up and down, a lot of failure and a lot of mini cries in the shower (and on the tube and in club toilets at 3am). A fledgling start it might be, but time isn’t everything (more on that later) and it’s really given me some food for thought on not only why we crazy Gen Y, digital savy kids structure our careers this way, but also on how we might best go about navigating this portfolio approach.
1. Skills Are More Valuable Than Qualifications
Education has always been really important to me. When I learn something new, when I master a new bit of knowledge, that’s when I thrive. I light up. In my teenage years I would have told you that getting an education is the most important thing you can do. Now, I know that’s not strictly true.
Getting a degree, getting qualifications is important if you need those to do a particular role. To be a lawyer, a doctor, a surveyor… they are all quite tricky (and frankly dangerous) to do if you are just making it up as you go along. But to do any of the jobs I have had (see silly long list above) I haven’t needed my degree. It was simply the springboard to launch me into a certain direction.
What has mattered is the skills I have nurtured. The software I am now able to use. The people that I have met during my degree. Essentially, understand that education is not something you can complete, it’s a lifelong process. If I was looking to hire someone to work with me, I would take the person with solid people skills and work ethic over someone with a first class degree in an instant. Being good at what you do beats having a certificate hanging on the wall any day of the week.
2. It’s Who You Know
That old saying. At first glance unfair, but at closer look it’s the most powerful thing I have learnt. Yes you need skills to get a job. Yes you need to know what you’re doing (for the most part) but knowing about the best opportunities in the first place, is the real trick to getting what you want.
The big secret? Companies, big brands, that industry that you have been trying to ‘break into’ for years, they are all run by people. People just like you and I. Gone are the days when only the wealthy and connected could get through the door. You can rock up with your big smile and personality and knock that thing down yourself.
The internet has meant that even those without privilege (be that social or economic) can meet amazing people. Starting this blog for one thing has brought me a wealth of opportunity, but I have also flittered around London the last few years like a social butterfly, chatting to and picking the brain of anyone I can find. Actresses, editors, social hackers, PRs, makeup artists, consultants — everyone has something interesting to say and who knows when a common connection could result in something magical.
My advice? Find yourself a few events, take some business cards and go and chat to people. Don’t expect to get anything from them, just listen, learn and who knows where that will lead you.
3. Digital Platforms Are Powerful
I wouldn’t be where I am professionally today without the internet. That’s a cold hard fact. I secured some of my great internships through seeing posts about them on Facebook. I got a big break in social media through my own at-home efforts. I got head-hunted to work at my dream company (a creative but smart start-up run by amazing people) by someone discovering me online. The internet is not a distraction, social media is not ‘ruining’ people’s lives. It’s a powerful, FREE democratic tool that can get you where you want to go. People are just using it in the wrong way.
Millennials need to spend less time Facebook stalking their ex-boyfriends (unfollow their posts and let that be water under the bridge my friends) and more time discovering people in their field via twitter. Looking for people with the same passion for embroidery/clay-pot making/coding on Instagram. The internet isn’t getting in the way of your success. You are.
4. Work ‘With’ People Not ‘For’ People
In the current climate of ‘fake news’, general trust of big business and ‘the man’ has never been lower. When our parents were working, they knew that they could get a job and be set for life. Their bosses would take care of them, they were in charge for a reason, right? Well decades on and things are completely different. We know that companies are run by people just like us, meaning that they can f**k up. They can royally f**k up. So it’s no surprise that hierarchies in the workplace are dying and collaboration is the new buzzword.
Young people have a lot of insight and knowledge that is crying to be heard. In the new digital landscape employers need to understand that their newest recruits are not just employees, they are innovators and can contribute serious value. Also, we don’t want to work ‘for’ someone we want to work ‘with’ people. Millennials would rather work in a place they feel that they are making a difference, than a place that makes them lots of money. In a dystopian future where a sexist, racist tyrant is president of the USA, who needs money anyway?
5. Age Is Just A Number But Gender Is The Silent Killer
In most of my jobs I have managed people who are older than me. Trained people who have at least 5 years on me. Given workshops to rooms full of people literally twice my age, and do you know what? No-one cared. I didn’t care. They didn’t care. We are just people wanting to get s**t done. If someone does pick up on you being younger than them in a professional capacity, that says far more about them than it does about your abilities. Experience is measured in depth not in length.
That being said, being a woman in the workplace is another matter entirely. When working on a particular project a female colleague and I were constantly asked if there were any men in the senior management team. ‘Oh just all girls then?’ they would try to ask innocently. I have had emails directed at male colleagues instead of me because they assumed the man was heading up the project. In true guilty feminist style, I have also had some fantastic opportunities because I am a woman and sometimes I smile nicely. It’s not right, but it happens. I try and check my privilege on this all the time.
So yes, the ‘modern world of work’ has come on a long way from pencil skirts and secretarial jobs, but sexism is still rife and we are foolish if we think that our work here is done.
So, why do we have portfolio careers, us crazy commitment phobic millennials?
There has been a shift in perspective. We aren’t scared of commitment, we just trust ourselves to be in control of our careers. Rather than trusting one organisation, our parents or the government to advise us on the best route. Since the last generation there has been an increase in transparency in the system, through the internet, the deconstruction of traditional industries and the economic crash in 2008. We want to invest our time and energy into our own skills, our own progression and growth. We will give and give (and give) so long as we are receiving more than just money in return. We don’t want to contribute less to society, we just want it to matter more.