Without fail, the first complaints I hear from business owners about millennials always have to do with either their sense of entitlement or their lack of boundaries between personal and professional life. And while these two issues do come up, I think the real problem with millennials is the fact that they have difficulty being specific.
Invite a millennial you are considering hiring to tell you what she knows about your company and she will repeat back to you something you wrote in your recruitment campaign. For her, your soundbyte is enough. It does not cross her mind to do her own research or dig deeper, because details don't matter much in her world. She is happy with 140 characters meant to say it all, or whatever information the latest push notification provides her.
Ask a millennial how he would find new customers and he will undoubtedly answer "google it." But you can't just type "new customer" in google and expect to find one. So google what exactly? When pushed for specifics, he'll finally tell you he'd google "clothing stores" (or whatever the equivalent for your industry is) and feel he has surely answered accurately with that response. A search for "clothing stores" would turn up ten thousand potential customers-- impossible for one person to call, and worthless because 9,990 would not be the right kind of clothing store.
Have a millennial make a sales call, and you'll likely hear her tell the customer on the other end something energetically vague like "We have a lot of really awesome new products!" But what does the customer understand from that? Every company believes that their product or service is awesome. A customer needs to know what a product is, how it works and what its benefits are in order to consider purchasing it.
So what is a business owner to do with all these blissfully unspecific millennials knocking on our doors looking for jobs? I mean, this is what we have to choose from as employees for the foreseeable future, right?
While I wish I could say talk to parents and tell them to do a better job cultivating their children's curiosity and tenacity, that won't help much in the here and now. And although it would also make sense to strongly suggest to career services directors at universities that they hold mandatory workshops on how to be specific before allowing a student to graduate, that will also take time to put in place.
What will help today is creating an in-house education program at your company to train new hires to be detailed. We must impart to them that, without a well-thought out idea, you have no product. Without a carefully-crafted marketing plan, you have no clients. Without a sales team able to clearly explain your product, you have no revenues. Cultivating this skill, in my experience, comes only through an intensive, rigorous, and repetitive training and testing program. You cannot merely tell them to be specific--you have to teach them how.
Start by giving them written assignments. Ask them to write out descriptions of your products or services, for example. Then go over what they have written together, and have them identify parts that a customer might not understand. Require them to re-write those sections. Make them re-work and revise until it is written so that you are satisfied--no matter how many attempts it takes. Then make them do it some more. You are teaching a thought process, and it takes time.
Then, fine tune their oral expression. Have them roleplay with you situations they will be expected to handle as part of their jobs. Listen to how they explain, and make sure that they start at the beginning and move in an organized and precise way through the information they are sharing. When they are unclear, tell them to rephrase, reformulate, and recommence. Ask hard questions that put them on the spot and signal where they have been ambiguous. Show them that being approximate is the same as being insufficient. Repeat the exercises until they stop talking in generalities and get exact.
Most importantly, let them know that being detailed is so important to you, that you will spend your own valuable time continuing to double check them-- by monitoring their calls, setting an automatic cc on their emails, and attending customer meetings with them--constantly and without warning--until you are sure that they have mastered the practice of being specific.
Millennials want to be successful. They just have not learned, as Harvey S. Firestone of Firestone Tires said, "success is in the sum of the details."