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Millennials: 'Hungrier and More Well-Educated' Than Past Groups

"Millennials are hungrier and more well-educated than any generation in history."
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/ Source: NBC News

Entitled, lazy, narcissistic and addicted to social media. Those are just some of the common complaints about millennials by their older colleagues.

Are millennials really that bad, or just misunderstood? And, fair or not, how can they overcome the negative stereotypes when trying to get a job or get ahead?

"A lot of studies show that they (millennials) are not really that different from generations before in what they want for their lives—they just have a different background," said Andrew Challenger, a vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

But that background may give older colleagues—Gen Xers in particular—reason to worry.

Born in the 1980s and 1990s, millennials grew up in the digital age, and became fast adapters of social media and smartphones. Many older millennials entered the job market during the downturn that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and younger millennials came of age during the Great Recession.

Challenger notes that the tough job market forced many to be more aggressive in their efforts to land a job out of college, and their command of technology made them a threat to older workers who were less familiar with it.

"Millennials are hungrier and more well-educated than any generation in history, and they understand technology," said Challenger. "They are knocking at the door of people sitting in comfy positions and that's where the negativity comes from—a real place of insecurity."

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Another reason Generation X feels nervous? Millennials represent a much bigger group, and one that will be the majority in the workforce soon as more enter the job market and more baby boomers reach retirement age. By 2020, an estimated 46 percent of all U.S. workers will be millennials, said consultant Lindsey Pollak, author of "Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders."

Still, Pollak said many of the negative labels attached to these young workers are a result of misperceptions. The laziness label, for example, may simply be a reflection of millennials' comfort level with technology. Having grown up with Google and GPS-enabled smartphones, they're used to finding the answers with just a few clicks.

"Laziness, I think, is actually the ability to have all the information in the world at your fingertips, so you're going to take the quickest, easiest route," said Pollak. It's not that millennials don't want to work hard, "they just want to know why they are in their role and what the larger goal is," said Pollak, a Gen Xer who helps companies train, manage and market to the millennial generation.

"They grew up with this instant gratification that the older generations didn't grow up with," added career expert Vicki Salemi for "The workplace is shifting to technology in general and this happens to be the generation where it changes. I think overall, for many people in the workplace the communication is changing."

Still, Pollak encourages them to avoid hiding behind technology, a common tendency, stressing the value of face-to-face communication.

And Challenger adds that, while confidence "isn't a bad thing," millennials could also "take a grain of modesty into the workplace with them."