Career Center Blog

March 25, 2013

Change from within, say Gen Y 'intrapreneurs'


The spirit of the entrepreneur — the maverick who breaks away from conventional structures and chooses a solo path to career success — has dampened somewhat since the Great Recession, but it's still a strong American archetype. As the new Millennial generation moves into the workplace, however, going your own way may not mean the same as it once did.

A joint study, recently released by job-search engine and "Generation Y" consulting firm Millennial Branding, has found that, contrary to much public wisdom, the Millennials (aged roughly 18 to 29) are less likely to take risks than the baby boomer generation (aged 50 to 69), or even their Gen X cousins (aged 30-49).

The responses from the survey of 200,000 Monster customers showed that 45 percent of those identified as boomers consider themselves entrepreneurs, compared to 41 percent for Gen X and only 32 percent for Gen Y. The same is true for those who consider themselves risk-takers: 43 percent for boomers, 40 percent for Gen X and just 28 percent for of Gen Y.

"Despite other studies, and our original hypothesis, that depict Gen Y as more entrepreneurial than older generations, this study concludes the opposite is true," said Dan Schawbel founder of Millennial Branding and author of the book "Promote Yourself."

Part of this may be the result of circumstances. Boomers, who've had several decades of prosperity in the workforce to build up networking contacts, may feel more confident about putting out their own shingles compared to younger professionals, who are still burdened with college loans and have started their careers during the worst economic crisis in recent memory.

But perhaps there are other forces influencing the numbers. For instance, the perception of entrepreneurism as an inherently risky venture may be eroding among young people. Today, the path to career independence is more likely to come from "intrapreneurism," or the practice of taking responsibility for an idea within an organization and making it profitable through innovation.

"The internet has created unique entrepreneurial opportunities, not just for Millennials but for all generations of workers," Schawbel said. "We don't see the same barriers to entry to starting a new business as we saw 10 years ago. Everyone has the technology to connect, and now all you need is an innovative idea and a website to create a startup."

By accepting intrapreneurial initiatives with the blessing of a larger corporation, Gen Y workers can avoid many of the more terrifying risks of forming their own companies. For this reason, Schawbel added, many younger workers tend to be drawn to startups and smaller companies that may give them more creative freedom and decision-making authority.

So, what does this mean for job seekers? Don't always assume that being an entrepreneur means leaping without a safety net. Look for smaller, more innovative firms that may not pay as much but can give you more leeway to pursue creative paths to success, and expect to jump around more often.

As the Monster/Millennial Branding study also shows, Gen Y already seems to be on board. More than half of the Gen Y respondents said their current jobs were just "stepping stones" in their careers, and only about a quarter said they expected to be at the same company "for the long haul."

Maybe Gen Y isn't so risk-averse after all. Perhaps they're just changing the definition.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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