I am 23 years old. That makes me a Millennial. Therefore, according to the media, I am part of the most entitled, spoiled, self-obsessed segment of the population, and, therefore, an annoying and useless part of the work force.
Do you remember watching the first-ever episode of Girls? It was 2012, and I was a senior in college. My mom and I agreed to watch it at the same time and text each other throughout the episode from our separate locations because everyone was talking about how it was going to be revolutionary television and we didn't want to miss it.
The series opens with Hannah Horvath's parents telling her they're cutting her off financially: "You have an internship that you say is going to turn into a job. You graduated from college two years ago, we've been supporting you for two years, and that's enough," Hannah's mom says. Hannah proceeds to panic, blame the economy, and tell her parents they're lucky she's not a drug addict.
I vividly remember watching this scene. My mom text-cackled the whole way through it. She told me how real the scene felt to her and how she thought the conversation between Hannah and her parents was so well-executed. I, six months away from graduation with no job lined up, wanted to punch Hannah Horvath in the face. I also wanted to ask my mom if I had basically just watched my future unfold on television, but even thinking about her potential response to an "LOL mom stop are u going to disown me when I graduate" text made me beyond anxious.
Meanwhile, the media lauded Girls for being by far the most accurate portrayal of post-collegiate young women there had ever been. They didn't approve of Hannah's hissy fit, but they understood why she threw it. She was a Millennial; she was bred to behave that way.
It was around the premiere of Girls that my friends and I began reading these angry Internet thinkpieces about how no one outside of our collegiate bubble was going to take us seriously as professionals. "I don't want people to think I'm an entitled little shit when I walk into interviews," I told the director of the career center after the sixth phone call from my father asking me how my job search was going (I spent a lot of time at the career center—it wasn't weird). "What's going to distinguish me from every other person who wants to do what I want to do?" I already knew I'd have to work extra hard to get what I wanted because people expected so little of me, an ambitionless, Millennial woman.
The head of the career center told me the reasons he'd most frequently seen students get turned down for jobs was because (1) they didn't come prepared and (2) they didn't follow up to say thank you for the opportunity. That blew my mind. You would show up to your thesis defense prepared to defend your thesis, right? You would follow up with your high school crush after he tipsily admitted at the bar the night before Thanksgiving that he's always been a little bit into you, right? Why wouldn't you take the time and effort to do the things that could potentially change your life forever?
So although I was surprised that this advice was really needed, it made a lot of sense to me when the director told me to follow up with personalized thank-you notes after interviews and phone calls, and to be polite, interested, and thankful for any opportunities I was offered in the field I wanted to get into. He told me these little things would make a huge difference because so few people my age were taking the (minimal! Seriously minimal!) basic professional courtesies seriously.
Because the bar for Millennials was so low, just some basic professionalism could go a long way, the career center head explained.
Yes, I would need to show I was competent and could do the job, but it was up to me to open the door simply by saying, "Hey, what's up, I care about my life and the fact that you're giving me a chance." (I didn't literally say, "Hey, what's up," to my perspective employers.)
When I pitched the idea for this essay to my boss, she said, "Yes! For every one great Millennial, there are three terrible ones, right?" I didn't even think to ask what she meant because I knew exactly what she was saying. For every one of us that is scared shitless of being lumped in with the Millennial masses, there are another three (or, you know, a bunch) who are too busy Snapchatting their desk selfies and Yik Yaking about how Real Life is the worst. I imagine that for every one of me my boss has interviewed, there were three others who didn't think to email her right after and say, "What an amazing opportunity, thank you for taking the time to meet with me."
I keep both this and the career center director's advice in mind when I interview intern candidates for Cosmopolitan.com. I've sorted through hundreds of résumés and (typo-filled!) cover letters, and I've spoken to at least 50 candidates between the ages of 18 and 26 on the phone or in person over the past year. Of those 50, I can name six superstars who ended up getting the internship (and jobs later on because of their consistent efforts). They came prepared and followed up like champs. Most of the others did little-to-no research about the job they were applying for, which I really couldn't get over. They, unsurprisingly, didn't send follow-up emails...or get the job.
Of course, it's not fair to blame Millennial unemployment strictly on their attitudes. The 2009 monster recession knocked the twentysomething world on its ass, and there was some time when being the wrong age at the wrong time was a very real reason for being out of work. The reality is, though, that the unemployment numbers are better today. That's good! What's not good is that Millennials are still drowning in holes of student loans much deeper than those experienced by any other post-recession generation. It also means that our preceding reputation for being lazy is even sadder. Potential employers know very well how much many Millennials need the jobs they're interviewing for. To see a potential employee not make an effort despite that must be astounding.
I hate that people hate Millennials. As a member of this generation, I hate that we're so easily dismissed and that sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it's for a good reason.
I avoided the twentysomething stigma by being too anxious of ever getting lumped into it. I did that by remembering the career center director's advice literally every day. I remember that many people will think less of me because of how old I am, so it's my responsibility to prove them wrong. Though I'm not following up on interviews anymore, I'm applying the same logic to my entry-level life.
I get up, go to work, make myself as productive as possible trying to show that I'm not a floundering woman-child. I thank my boss for constructive criticisms. I ask how I can do better next time. I ask how I can help anyone in any other way. I don't complain when I'm exhausted. And I feel more than competent about how I'm doing. I come home, feed myself, shower, repeat. I party with my friends on weekends. I don't call out of work hungover like you'd expect my silly twentysomething self to do more often than is appropriate.
And it's all working. I am working.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.