Career Conversations with Millennials: A Few Observations

By Sunitha Narayanan

According to Millennial Branding, a millennial research and consulting firm, there are about 80 million millennials and 79 million baby boomers in the United States today. By 2025, millennials will represent about 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. They are seen as smart, savvy, early adopters of technology YET also described as stubborn, casual and opinionated. This category of students and potential business and community leaders continue to excite, perplex and expand us as career professionals.


This year was challenging as I navigated the dual role of being a parent and career coach for my children who are completing their freshman year in college. I have a sharp and steep learning curve before I claim an expert level proficiency in either of these roles! During this personal transition, I accepted a career coaching assignment at the Career Services office at a local university and erroneously thought that this would give me collateral with my own children. Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it, when as parents, we try and establish professional credibility with our teenagers? However, these roles offered me interaction with millennials, which resulted in observations worth sharing.


National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2010 Student Survey shows that the more frequently a student uses career services, the more likely s/he is to receive a job offer. For first year students, engaging in career conversations seems to make little sense. The first year is about experimenting with decisions, keeping parents at bay, forging new relationships and celebrating the lack of high school structure. Even when there are dedicated programs such as the First Year Experience, students seem to adopt a cavalier attitude towards it, with mixed emotions of irritation and half-heartedness. How might the role of the career professional interact with such millennial students?

Make it Real – Today, this very moment, right now is what makes best sense, rather than next semester, summer and beyond. I find that having clear conversations around what is going on in classes and with relationships with friends and faculty, the easier it is to take the conversation towards interests and values. Even when students consistently say, “I don’t know,” “My major stinks,” “There aren’t jobs out there,” or “My parents want me to...” they still will engage in and think-aloud of that ideal life they would like to have, if only the “adults” would leave them alone. A couple ideas for making it real include:

    • Play detective – I keep a supply of small notebooks found in a local convenience shop or similar store to hand out to students. Students can journal, draw, write notes or questions as they “spy” on themselves for a week. Sometimes, a student is open to crafting a prompt or two to think about before they leave the appointment. I also tell them they can leave the book for me to look at and close a page or two should they wish to keep thoughts private. Their narrative makes it easier for me to bring in the value of research and link their stories to native and emerging skills as well as potential career ideas.

    • Asking Exercise – Millennials, like most people, almost always appear surprised at feedback. I believe this happens because people “see” us with vastly different lenses. This “asking for feedback” exercise can be individualized, kept simple or become multifaceted – the process loves your imagination, so feel free to use your creativity here. In its simplest form, this exercise has a student asking three or five people questions such as,

      • “what is your favorite memory of me and why?”

      • “What jobs do you see me doing and why?”

      • “If I were your favorite product, what would you say about me?

      • “What am I totally unaware of about myself?

Students love analyzing this exercise and will bring out stories to either support or vehemently disagree with the information they have gathered. Gradually, they deepen their self-awareness, adding to their arsenal of likes/dislikes and a fit between interests and choices made.

Make it Happen – This generation is confident, connected and open to change YET to have their uninterrupted attention in a one hour appointment can be challenging. I find that even before one idea is discussed completely, another bright idea beckons them. Sometimes, I race to keep up in a maze of ideas. When I force a pause, I recognize that each idea, as brilliant as it is, lacks a follow through piece. Two practices that help me tether these conversations include:

    • Giving the student a slinky – In the world of warp speed technology, the surprise of holding a familiar toy brings a pause in the conversation. Slowly, the conversation can and does turn towards following one thread to its conclusion. Each time, this practice has unexpected grace and surprises for the student and for me.

    • Using their technology - Most come to appointments with their laptops and/or Ipads. I notice that it frees thinking when asked to open a word document and start a draft, such as a script for networking, a 90-second-pitch or an answer to the dreaded, “what is your weakness?” interview question. Or drawing a quadrant and filling one section with values, interests, skills or success drivers. Maybe google two people they admire. The idea of completing one piece of an “assignment” and taking something tangible away is powerful.



Make it PersonalThe preference for texting and email leave face-to-face conversations a poor second. I believe this gives me an opportunity to encourage building personal relationships.

    • Facilitate an introduction – Each one of us can pick up the phone and model a networking request. If schedule permits, attend a networking event with a group of students and have a check-in plan. I find that it takes only one robust conversation to make a believer of this “giving and receiving” process.

    • Use a career genogram – What a rich resource for the student to deepen a relationship and learn about the paradoxical nature of career decision-making! Even the most rudimentary of genograms offers a treasure trove of insights – should, musts and wishes make powerful stories to explore and discuss.

I believe getting buy-in with a population that is savvy, opinionated and functions in a world of texts, tweets and email is mostly exhilarating with moments of exhaustion. What do you believe and what has been your experience with Millenials?



Sunitha NarayananSunitha Narayanan is a certified career coach with a passion for connecting people and their talents to life and work opportunities. She is a co-active coach, empowering her clients to believe in their dreams, set actionable goals and actively create joy in their work lives. She is with Promark Company, a Career Partners International firm that offers executive coaching, leadership development and outplacement services. Learn about her interests by visiting her LinkedIn profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/sunitha4 She can also be reached at Sunitha.Narayanan@promarkcpi.com


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Len Gomberg   on Friday 10/04/2013 at 06:36 PM

Great exercise suggestions. Loved the Asking Exercise. I believe Millenials have had to adapt earlier to economic uncertainty than their predecessors. Exercises and/or conversations that eke out responses to how they deal with uncertainty could be very telling.

Courtney Carroll   on Saturday 10/05/2013 at 11:05 PM

Thank you for writing an informative article with great suggestions.

Sunitha Narayanan   on Monday 10/07/2013 at 11:54 AM

Thank you, Len and Courtney for reading and your comments. And, to those who responded via email to me.

This is a wonderful community where we can all share and learn from each other!

Judi Heile   on Monday 10/07/2013 at 01:37 PM

Your creative suggestions are so welcome as we strive to serve our traditional students in their career development process. Thank you, Sunitha!

Sarah Bell   on Wednesday 11/13/2013 at 03:22 PM

Hi Sunitha, I like your observations and exercises as well. The "using your technology" one in particular provided a remedy to my irritation when I see them open their computer to show my their resume (which I so much prefer in hard copy and then have to have them print). Now I have a way to see it as a tool that is quite positive and creative. Thanks! - Sarah

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