Friday, April 23, 2010

Y? Because I said so. Now get back to work.

My company is in the midst of a hiring blitz, and I ended up in charge of interviewing prospective candidates for my department. I was initially thrilled at the idea, picturing myself handpicking an elite cadre of editorial assistants, and I was even happier at the number of résumés pilling up on my desk—I figured I’d have talented new team members installed in cubicles within days, if not hours.

And then I started the actual interview process, and oh dear Gods please rescue me from this hellish fate.

The positions I need to fill are entry-level and advertised as “excellent opportunities for recent college grads.” So recent college grads are applying. Which means I’ve spent the last month wishing I could somehow go back in time and mass sterilize the potential parents of Generation Y. The kids coming in to meet with me are intelligent; they’ve got degrees in English and Communication; they are very good writers; and not a damn one of them can follow direction.

As part of the interview, they have to take an editing test, which involves reading through a two-page article and correcting the spelling and punctuation errors. “Don’t try to rewrite the article,” I tell them. “Just focus on spelling and punctuation. There’s no deadline involved, so please take all the time you need. Oh, and here’s a dictionary. Again, don’t rewrite the article.”

So what do they do? All together now…

They rewrite the article. Every freakin’ bit of it. And in their zeal to upgrade the wording and rearrange sentences, they overlook almost all of the EYE-GOUGINGLY OBVIOUS SPELLING AND PUNCTUATION ERRORS.

Actually, wait, before I start punching walls, let me go back and clarify something. It’s not a matter of “can’t follow direction” as much as it is “won’t follow direction." And I say this because I manage an entire group of Gen Y’ers, and trying to train them to do their jobs in the manner expected of them is akin to Underworld tortures generally reserved for treacherous Greek kings.

It doesn't bother me that my employees lack experience: That will change with... well, experience. But they're inexperienced and self-entitled and put far too much energy into coming up with unrealistic ways to "improve" how our department operates, not realizing that if they'd do their damn jobs, our department would run just fine. And I honestly used to think there was just something up with the people who were attracted to our want ads, like maybe we phrased the text in a way that suggested the job was perfect for unmotivated, micromanagement fetishists. Now, though, I'm beginning to suspect it truly is a generational issue, in which case I am simply unwilling to accommodate it.

Co-Witch K. and I had a discussion about managing Gen Y employees a few months back, after she'd read a "how to" article on the subject. "The author came up with some tips that I think you'd find very effective," she said. "For instance, let's say someone comes in for an interview, and he's perfect for the job. You really want to offer him the position, but unfortunately, he doesn't want to work on Wednesdays, because he goes surfing every Wednesday. Instead of passing him over, you could compromise and tell him he can take Wednesdays off as long as he comes in on Saturdays."

"Why would I offer a job to someone who tells me he doesn't want to work on Wednesdays?" I asked.

"Well, like I said, he's perfect for the job," she replied.

"Not if he won't come in on Wednesdays he's not," I spat. "I would never hire that guy. He's stupid and I hate him."

"Um, he kind of doesn't exist," she said, scooting away from me a little. "That was hypothetical."

"If he wants to surf that badly, he should become a professional surfer and get the hell out of my office."

"Alrighty, then. Here's your monkey."

Maybe I'm just getting crotchety in my old age. Maybe professionalism went through a paradigm shift when I wasn't paying attention, and now I just need to suck it up and lower revise my standards. And if this is the case, maybe I'll go right ahead and nurture a crippling narcotics dependency, because that's about the only thing that'll bolster me enough to slog through the next round of interviews.

Pray for me, Strifemongers. And send pills.


Brother Christopher said...

several words for you

Essence of Bender Over sachet powder.

If the floors aren't carpeted, get the floor wash.

Evn said...

I was thinking shock collars, but Bend Over powder could work, too.

Jarred said...

I don't think it's a case of you getting crotchety. Expecting people to follow instructions is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Or maybe I'm just crotchety too?

Le Petit-Guignol said...

The young people joining the work force have been this way for a while now- My former tennant in DC was 25, brilliant, worked in The White House during the Bush years witing the protocol for when the US has its first nuclear strike, and yet argued with me that New Orleans was directly on the Atlantic Ocean. (He also refered to Lakes Charles as Lake Charlston)

Veles said...

This is also an excellent commentary on NeoPaganism.

Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

"But they're inexperienced and self-entitled and put far too much energy into coming up with unrealistic ways to "improve" how our department operates, not realizing that if they'd do their damn jobs, our department would run just fine."


Kayleigh said...

Hello. Millennial here. *waves*

I think they might just be trying to prove they're awesome and qualified. Keep in mind that people in our generation have double the national unemployment average because a lot of entry-level jobs are instead going to desperate overqualified people who got laid off.

On the other hand, they SHOULD be able to follow basic instructions.

Evn said...

A lot of Millennials are awesome and qualified. (Yourself included. And have you met Veles? You'd like him.) It's the "not following instruction" thing inherent in my current employees that chaps my grits.

Siobhan said...

A couple things:

1) As someone who has been sent in to departments/jobs to "clean up" and develop new processes, I can say that the very FIRST thing you do is learn the existing system very well before you attempt to improve on it. You CAN'T improve what you don't know/understand, and maybe if you sent these kids right back to their desk with those words, you would get both the existing job done AND some actual meaningful suggestions a bit down the line.

2) I preface this by saying I am 35. So I am not some entitled kid right out of college. However, our current work system is deeply, fundamentally broken. A company that will work with me to allow me to take care of my disabled kid (I don't have one, but if I did...); a company that will work with me to let me attend school to improve my skills (this IS happening); a company that will understand that work is what we do because we fucking have to do it and have absolutely no other options than to live in a corporate trap if we want health care, if we want to have a place to live, etc... this is a company I will slave for, will go the extra mile for, etc. Anybody else, I'll punch in my 40 hours and fuck 'em.

We buy into a big lie that 9-5 M-F is mandatory and "professional." It's mandatory and professional becuase our corporate overlords have decreed it so, and they do their damndest to make sure there is no other option, no way out of the trap that we are caught in, no way out of the unending miserable grind... not willing to buy into the bullshit? No doctor for you if you get sick. not willing to buy into the bullshit? have fin taking care of your kid on the street. You MUST submit to the soul-destroying miserable grind we decree is proper or we will destroy you physically.

Willing to stand up and ask for something that might make life a little less bleak? I say hurrah to you!

Jennifer said...

Last I checked, GenY people who want to surf on Wednesdays don't run offices. And won't for a long time. So...yeah.

First thing you learn out of college is that you don't get to set your own work schedule sort of running your own business, man.

Kitty said...

I am so proud at how you ...basically... relayed that conversation without any exaggeration! Second, as the parent of a GenY'er, if you go back in time and sterilize me I'll kick you.

k. sequoia said...

Dude! So true. I've luckily been safely removed from the glory of managing this group (I'm home raising babies now, though I spent years in the trenches of management), but I remember seeing a decided "attitude" shift occurring in the late '90's, early '00's. (In the Bay Area, esp after the dotcom bust.)

I chalk it up to what is revealed in various studies and info showing the rise in narcissism from the mentality brought on in the 70's re: self esteem. (That, or cocaine and ecstasy.) I'm amazed at the lack of ...*effort* that I've encountered, coupled with an amazingly skewed sense of return.

This sense of entitlement (your words, not mine, but it fits) is kind of mind-blowing. I don't blame them, but the parents who didn't parent.

Gah...whatever. [shakes fist at the wrongs of the world, cubicles and all!]

Kim @redhandferi

Siobhan said...

Why does it have to be entitlement or narcissism? Why can't it be a fundamental rejection of having to be a wage slave in order to get a measure of basic humanity? @Jennifer, that's EXACTLY my point... what if this person says "I don't give a flying fuck about this game. And I don't HAVE to. I may never "get ahead" in the world living it this way but I will LIVE MY LIFE and love it, instead of living a life of quiet desperation?"

I am speaking as a wage slave, and a damned good one, and I am "getting ahead" and I am waking up to realizing this is NOT HOW IT HAS TO BE. This is a BIG LIE. It's a big lie with powerful backing and tremendous structures set up to make it continue, but it is a big lie, and we can reject it.

k. sequoia said...


I agree with much of what you say - I'm not someone who feel that the Cubicle Culture is even normal, let alone a requirement for success. I'm not talking about those who are slaves to the concept of 'getting ahead', 'keeping up with the jones,' etc. (Though they are most certainly in this camp as well, if you want to nitpick it. It's all part of the fruit.)

But your speaking of apples and oranges within that fruit basket - *IMO*, I have encountered a lot of generations after mine (and starting a bit with mine - I grew up in the 80's Excess) that absolutely have a sense of entitlement, grandiose ideas of their greatness, and lack of focus. There is no strong work ethic of any kind.

And the fact is, to survive in the world, no matter the path you take, you need to be able to contribute, work, help, etc. Wealth isn't money, but to *thrive* one must engage with others. (I'm starting to wander off topic here)

I feel like your response is coming from someone who bucks the system (YAY! You. Btw, I have always told people you have to play the game and know the rules before you can subvert the paradigm, so... yeah). For me, I was talking about those who want to exist in the system and have it all 'happen' for them.

I haven't had any coffee yet, so I'm hoping this makes sense.


Siobhan said...


Thank you for clarifying. Yes, I do agree with everything you say, and I know there are those people out there who feel entitled.

I think, however, if someone is ballsy enough to ask for Wednesdays off to surf, discuss it with them! Say "well, you can work part time, you probably won't get that far here, are you willing to accept that trade-off?" If they are, they are probably living their dream, and AWESOME for them!

I also think (on the other subject) there is a LOT of emphasis placed on innovation and creative thinking, and these guys come out thinking THAT is what they are supposed to contribute, and THAT is how they get ahead. And they don't realize that you have to really know the job before you start suggesting process improvements. And, speaking from experience (it was my job, lol!), it is HARD to start doing that once your spirit has been broken by TPS reports.

Evn said...

Just to clarify my own situation a lil' bit: I'm very lucky to be part of a company that rejected the standard corporate model in favor of a tribal structure. Everyone has their individual role, and everyone--from the newest entry-level employee to the president and VPs--is important, valued and treated with the same respect. Plus, most of us are on nontraditional schedules, so if someone really did need to go surfing on Wednesdays, that could actually be accommodated.

And this is where I get so frustrated with some of my employees, because the company is happy to accommodate them, but they refuse to accommodate the company in return. If they would work with me instead of begrudgingly for me, things would be great.

Siobhan said...

ok, Evn, I want a job at your place. I am a process design expert who would need to work from DC. I promise not to rewrite the article unless it's REALLY bad, and if it is, I will use all proper spelling and grammar.

Evn said...

Alas, all our employees work out of our Houston-based offices. Regardless, you're totally hired.

Siobhan said...

Awesome, as soon as I move to Houston, I will look you up. Ummm, this may, in fact, never happen. But IF IT DOES... expect me!

Chas S. Clifton said...

You're not rewarding their creativity, after all those years they spent in college being cre-a-tive.

Tell them to come back when they know their way around The Chicago Manual of Style. :-)

In all seriousness, the kind of close reading (not "close reading" in the lit-crit sense) that you are asking for is an acquired skill.

Evn said...

Chas: I fully agree that the kind of close reading needed to pass the test is an acquired skill. That said...

No time limit.

Very specific instructions.

Access to a dictionary.

Maybe it's because I'm both paranoid and OCD, but when I had to take the test (many Moons ago), I went line-by-line and looked up every single word with more than one syllable. My suspicion (again with the paranoia) is that some of these kids are overconfident in their abilities, and thus they breeze through the test without bothering to double-check their work.

Which is problematic. But moreso for them than me.

Jennifer said...

Oh, Thomas. You've totally got my sympathy. I miss commiserating with you at work!
Jenny S.

Evn said...

We miss you, too! (That's not the royal "we," by the way: That's me and the other managers.) Hope everything is beyond wonderful with you.

knottybynature said...


I'll apply. I mean, I don't have a college degree, but I'm pretty good at the whole spelling/punctuation/grammar thing. Most of the time.

And I'm a loyal Strifemonger. That should really shine on my resume. :)