Millennials have been dealt a tough hand. While unemployment is low, many of the jobs available for young people are minimum wage. Millennials with college degrees are struggling with massive student loan debt and few prospects.

That being said, many if not most millennials share an obnoxious habit that limits their career prospects and antagonizes those around them.  That habit: constantly talking and writing about themselves.

Here's a perfect example, an email I received earlier this week from a millennial:

Hi Geoffrey,

How are you?

As economic forecasts get gloomier, I am launching a campaign encouraging the government to place a greater emphasis on business training in our education system.

I started my sustainable business, aged 23 in 2014.  During my business journey I've experienced everything from breakfast one on one with Jeremy Corbyn and being backstage at Elton John concerts to having my bank account balance hit £0 to being offered a shop rent free on the King's Road in London.

Please let me know if you'd be interested in hearing more about this, Geoffrey, I'd love to tell you why I believe young entrepreneurs need more support than they're getting.

Thank you for your time,

Note how every sentence (other than the perfunctory "How are you?") is all about him. He assumes (wrongly) that I'm interested in his life story and, worse, that I care about what he'd "love to tell" or what he believes.

At no point does he attempt to see the world from my viewpoint. He doesn't even say anything about the customers of his business!  He's obviously a smart guy, but he comes off as he believes the entire world revolves around him personally.

I've seen this obtusely self-centered attitude in communications from dozens of millennials, so much so that I can guess the age of an emailer based upon the number of times he or she uses the first person singular (I, me, my, etc.)

In a way, it's not their fault. Millennials were right around when the "self-esteem" pop psychology fad was gathering steam, and their parents (most of them anyway) treated millennials as if they were God's gift to humankind.

This attitude was echoed in the school system, where millennials were instructed to write about their feelings rather than fact. Example: "How would you feel if you were a pioneer?" That's an actual essay question that turned up in my kids' curriculum.

As a result of the deification of self-esteem, many millennials seem to be under the weird impression that they're somehow important and special, simply because they exist. But that's not how it works in the business world. 

Not at all.

In business, success is always based upon your ability to get inside the heads of other people, see things from their viewpoint, and communicate with them in terms that they understand.

  • Great managers don't tout their own leadership skills; they listen and adapt to the needs of each employee.
  • Great salespeople don't bloviate about their company; they seek to understand their customer's company.
  • Great entrepreneurs don't blather about product features; they discover new ways to satisfy needs and desires.

The same thing is true of job candidates. When job hunting, millennials tend to talk about themselves, like how passionate they are or what they want out of life and career. Millennials don't seem to realize that nobody cares.

All people care about in business is what you can do for them.

To be entirely fair, until recently the Baby Boomers were the most obnoxiously self-centered generation of all time. However, many BBs have matured out of it or retired from the workforce. But not, alas, before passing the virus to their hapless children.

The millennials who will succeed even in  this difficult economy are those who realize that neither they nor their emotions are special, important or interesting.  Instead, they'll build their careers around what they can do for others.

Which, by the way, has always been the only true formula for success.