Welcoming the New Millennials
M.B.A. Programs Adjust to the Next Generation, and Their Parents
By Ronald Alsop
December 4, 2007
The Wall Street Journal
The millennial generation's leading edge — 24- to 26-year-olds — has finally arrived in many M.B.A. programs, especially those that have started admitting younger applicants. M.B.A. Track columnist Ron Alsop recently interviewed Daphne Atkinson, vice president for industry relations at the Graduate Management Admission Council, about the millennial generation's career interests, its likely impact in the workplace, and how business schools and the council are adjusting to the millennials — and their parents.
WSJ: Are millennials as interested in an M.B.A. degree as previous generations?
Ms. Atkinson: A segment of this generation will definitely gravitate to b-school, in part because of their interest in lucrative careers and the connection between earning power and the lifestyle they want. But this is a generation inundated with information that has developed very sophisticated screening mechanisms. So getting to them is a challenge. At GMAC, we are working on upgrading our Web site, www.mba.com , to make it millennial friendly by incorporating new media.
WSJ: As hovering "helicopter parents" become more active in the admission process, how should schools deal with them?
Ms. Atkinson: The schools have been quite surprised because they weren't accustomed to seeing parents at admission events at the graduate level. We were all wondering why the parents couldn't simply advise from the sidelines. But we have come to understand that parents are there because they are investors who hold their children's schools accountable for a proper return on time and money. Clearly, parents are trusted advisers to the millennial generation, and their presence and influence can't be wished away. We can either reach out in a calculated way to provide them with good information or let them find the information on their own, which may or may not be accurate.
WSJ: Are schools encountering new challenges in teaching these multitasking technology whizzes?
Ms. Atkinson: Some schools are looking at new approaches in the classroom, such as the use of a talk-show format that allows for different points of view and more interaction than a straight lecture. There also are classroom role-playing simulations that are more personal and interactive than a printed case study. And some schools are even introducing games to engage millennials. At the same time, millennials' multitasking is driving some instructors wild. At a faculty workshop I conducted, a professor asked if laptops are open, how does she know whether her students are checking email and surfing the Web instead of taking notes. I asked her if she was glued to the podium, and she said she was. So I said, "I guarantee if you circulate around the room and stand at students' elbows, they'll get the message."
WSJ: Are millennial M.B.A.s also proving demanding for career-service offices and corporate recruiters?
Ms. Atkinson: One new challenge is the use of social-networking sites by students and the ability for hiring companies to view those online profiles. Millennials do not necessarily have the same filters for censoring or sharing personal information that older generations have. Another challenge is the sense that it is either irrelevant or meaningless to "pay dues." It can be disappointing to find out that you won't be president of the company in two years. Millennials want their dream job as early as possible. But entry-level jobs are seldom dream jobs, although they may be at dream companies or in dream industries. A final challenge is that millennials don't see it as particularly damning to have had four jobs in a year. They fully expect to job hop as they search for the dream job. I'm not sure how you package that as a benefit to a corporation.
WSJ: What do you believe will be the millennials' biggest contributions to companies?
Ms. Atkinson: I would say probably their skill in integrating technology seamlessly and their optimism. They also are quite serious about reforming the work environment for more flexibility and reasonable hours to accommodate their personal goals and interests. Unlike baby boomers who talked about work-life balance but weren't wholehearted about achieving it, these young people will insist on it.
WSJ: What deficiencies do employers see in millennials?
Ms. Atkinson: While millennials bring skills in multitasking, technology and working in teams, they tend to demonstrate less ability in oral and written communications and interpersonal interaction. They also have been socialized since childhood to get constant feedback and are going to look for it in the workplace too. As a result, some employers consider them high maintenance. But if everyone can agree on the terms of the feedback, it could be a superb tool for managing performance.
WSJ: What are some careers that millennials are especially drawn to?
Ms. Atkinson: We see interest in entrepreneurship and management consulting. Starting their own business gives millennials the chance to do something that is personally meaningful. With the safety net provided by parents and the ease of creating technology-based businesses, why not take the chance while you are young with relatively few responsibilities? As for consulting, it allows millennials to work in teams and provides constant stimulation and learning through a stream of project work.
WSJ: I'm surprised that consulting is of so much interest, given the travel and long hours it usually involves. What do you think of the apparent conflict with millennials' desire for work-life balance?
Ms. Atkinson: As with all human behavior, some contradictions should be expected. Millennials are hungry for experiences -- the more, the better. They find the variety in project work attractive because the boredom factor is minimized. I suspect that for stimulating work with lucrative pay, millennials are willing to hammer out intelligent compromises. I am also confident that millennials will challenge the notion of balance in consulting, and because consulting firms want their share of the best and brightest, they will find ways to accommodate their newest generation of employees.