Millennials are all grown up. If only their networks were too

By Ryan Galloway
The Brief

  • Generation Y trusts today’s technology to make personal connections. 
  • For professional connections? Not so much. 
  • That’s too bad, because until they figure things out, everybody loses.

As Millennials continue to surge into the workforce, their networking skills continue to lag behind. It’s a little surprising. This demographic spends so much time on social media you’d think they’d have realized by now the advantages of devoting some of that virtual face time to career-centric connecting. That they haven’t hurts more than their own job prospects. It prevents their employers’ from leveraging that untapped relationship capital. 

A Pew Research survey shows a clear separation between professional networking and personal networking among Millennials. As an exploiter of personal social media—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram—Gen Y far outstrips other generations. When it comes to professional-social platforms, though, there is not nearly as much engagement. Consider: 84% of Gen Yers use Facebook, but only 15% are on LinkedIn.


84% of Gen Yers use Facebook; only 15% are on LinkedIn. 

And it’s not like professional networking is jumping the Facebook fence, either. Despite hoarding an average of 300 friends each, only 40% of Millennials count a coworker among their cluster. (Curiously, that number is much higher in the 13 other countries covered in the study). 

One explanation for such compartmentalized networking may be the uncertain economic climate Millennials grew up in. The older end of this generation’s range—which, full disclosure, includes me—struggled to land that first post-college job in the wake of the dotcom crisis. The middle third had the same problem in the recession that began in 2008. Meanwhile, the youngest ones watched from the sidelines as these events unfolded. And that was scarring enough. As Alison Hillhouse, vice president of MTV Insights noted in a recent New York Times article: “More than three-quarters of 14- to 17-year-olds interviewed said, ‘I worry about the negative impact that today’s economy will have on me or my future.’” 


A majority of 14- to 17-year-olds think today’s economy will have a negative impact on their future. 

The result is a generation that clings to its social and family circles while remaining highly distrustful of corporations and social institutions. So of course, they hesitate to pursue professional connections online. Why bother; who knows where that connection will be tomorrow? And with so many peers under- or completely unemployed, Millennials aren’t likely to offer coworkers or superiors access to anything that might jeopardize their own footing. 

Jobs to this crew are things to be lost, not leveraged.

What to Do: Senior business leaders can help their Millennial employees feel like valued assets rather than replaceable commodities. A culture of trust and openness goes a long way. 

Ryan Galloway oversees content for The Hired Guns, a digital marketing and talent consulting firm in New York City. He has written for Business Insider and Forbes.com and is a frequent contributor to this blog. 

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