By Alex Davis
I showed up for my first “big kid” job interview fresh out of law school with a new suit, a newly polished resume, a new degree, and a new last name. I had graduated, passed the bar, and gotten married, all in one great whirlwind of a summer. It was fantastic, and fantastically overwhelming, but I did it. I was eager to finally start my career after emerging relatively unscathed from this great maelstrom of major life events.
I had worked hard. Hard for my J.D., hard to balance the competing pressures of professional and family life, hard to establish my brand as a new graduate and prove to the working world that I was ready to add value to a firm. Naively, I thought that the shiny new-ness I touted, my enthusiasm and fresh perspective, would be enticing to prospective employers. But, boy, was I wrong.
Upon arrival I found that I already knew one of the interviewers. He knew I was married, but the fact that he brought it up as though it was in any way germane to the topics on our interview agenda was troubling enough. But as the interview questions progressed and were peppered by the interviewers’ concerns about the likelihood that my new marriage would impact my willingness to be all in, to work late as needed, and to be a “team player,” I became incensed. My responses were defensive. And while this would otherwise have led to my demise as a candidate, I seethed at the obvious truth that these interviewers had already made up their mind about me, my responses notwithstanding.
To make matters worse, I progressed through the interview and spoke with The Boss (actual identity undisclosed). My preconceived ideas about how an interview should progress were definitely shattered. Silly me, thinking an interview actually should involve a conversation. Rather than ask me any questions at all, the Boss regaled me with his very strong opinions about millennials in the workplace. Hint: he’s not a fan.
“You young people just don’t want to work,” The Boss lamented. “It’s all about you. What you want. When you want it. It troubles me.”
“It troubles me, too,” I chimed in, more fiercely than I intended. I was offended. Again! Not only did The Boss not even make eye contact with me as I professionally explained why I would make an ideal candidate and break that mold, but without missing a beat, he resumed his diatribe as though I was not even present.
I was insulted. I was deflated. I was mad. And most of all, I was confused. Why would someone call a candidate for an interview only to unleash a harangue of unkind, unfounded, and unfair assumptions about an entire generation’s work ethic?
I was well aware throughout my job search that I was afflicted by what I call the Deadly Trifecta. I am a woman, I am young, and I am a part of one of the most criticized generations of all time: millennials. As a woman, I have to convince my superiors that, yes, I want to work. As a professional in my 20s, I have to convince them that yes, I am competent despite my youth. And as a millennial, I have to fight against the deeply entrenched stereotype that I am privileged, entitled, and lazy.
All of this convincing can be exhausting. But it does not have to be. Mentors throughout my life have taught me that hard work, kindness, integrity, and professionalism can go an extremely long way in shattering stereotypes and building positive professional relationships. I firmly believe that the obstacles that others impose on us in the form of prejudices and entrenched biases cannot stop us from fulfilling our potential. That terrible, terrible interview knocked the wind out of my sails only temporarily. But when I caught my breath, I felt a resurgence of enthusiastic motivation. I was not about to sit back meekly and wonder if I was really cut out for the types of jobs I was seeking. No, I knew I had worked hard so that I could design the career I wanted, and I was determined to do so. And I did – with fantastic employers who value an integration of career and family life just as much as I do, and who view my youth as an opportunity for professional growth, not a hallmark of entitlement.
At the start of my last semester of law school, one of my professors admonished the class to “check your bias at the door.” I sincerely believe that as young professionals, we need to implore our experienced superiors and colleagues from another generation to do the same. While it is true that there are undoubtedly some in our generation who do not want to work very hard, there are many, many more of us who do. Those of us who were taught to work hard for good things despite the fact that yes, we did have many great opportunities at our disposal will be good employees, youth and inexperience notwithstanding. Furthermore, women who are new to marriages or motherhood can also make exceptional employees. And yes, while those new statuses can certainly introduce a host of competing demands, they also provide the context for one of the most sought-after skills in a professional: successful time management. In my own life, I have seen a direct correlation between my professional successes and the richness of my personal and family life. Not to mention, having the support of a new family does wonders for our personal confidence and overall level of happiness – which studies routinely show positively affect work performance.
My intention is not to rant about The Boss or his associates. And this article is not my attempt at catharsis. (That’s what friends and family are for, right?) Rather, I want to encourage everyone – millennals, baby boomers, Generation-X’ers, and of course, our upcoming generations, alike – to “check your bias at the door.” Don’t let your prejudices be an albatross that prevents you from discovering tremendous talent, and I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Photo credit: @wonderfelle.