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What do young professionals want?

A few days back, I was having a conversation with a group of professionals about skills in Bangladesh. At one point in the discussion, a C-suite member of a large corporation stated it’s impossible to understand today’s young professionals.

I thought about that comment after the discussion. Is it really that difficult to understand what millennials, or Generation Z, aspires to be? 52.6 million search results, thousands of books, seminars, and articles with titles like Kids These Days, Marketing Millennials, When Millennials Take Over have been written, and it is a prominent segment of a USD 150 billion HR consulting market, but there are still not many conclusive answers.

There is one thing in common in almost everything that has been written though: there are very few stories from actual millennials. This piece is my attempt to fill that gap. I have taken an introspective look at my 6+ year-long professional career and tried to capture the three main reasons behind what I did and did not do, why, and what I have learned along the way.

The first thing that drives me is: I want to leave a mark on the world.

I knew from my school years that I wanted to do something meaningful. I did not know what that meant at the start, but as I began to work in different sectors (private/development/humanitarian) in different functions, it began to take shape.

When I see a student from the madrasah medium who I used to train on leadership, and who is now breaking stereotypes by working in arts and media, or my work in responding to the Rohingya crisis, I feel that I am on my way to achieving what I had set out for.

Seeing positive change in people’s lives is what gives that meaning. It is important for me to know what my organisation stands for, the values it holds, and how my work is contributing to the goal of the organisation.

The second thing that drives me is: I want to continually grow.

Learning, development, and career growth are crucial. I have this aching sense that my time is short, and I want it to be meaningful. To make the best of it, I need to learn fast and grow faster. From my first job to my current, I have always been conscious of what I can learn from an organisation – both from the process of the work and from the individuals I work with – and whether I am seeing the growth that I deserve. I opt out of situations where I feel that my learning and growth is slowing down.

The third thing that drives me is: I want to be recognised both financially and psychologically.

Both are important to me and helps me to be motivated and committed to my work. Apart from providing the necessary stability in life, financial recognition gives me the sense of the value of my work. On the other hand, through psychological recognition, I feel that my opinions are heard, my contribution are valued, and my presence is respected. For me, these two are inseparable and one cannot replace another.

A couple of things that I learned along the way: The road is not always smooth.

In the past 6+ years, I have worked on building strategic units in start-up and established organisations across the development and humanitarian sectors. And, during this time, I have worked on multiple functions, from programme design to resource mobilisation to project management and system design. It has not been an easy journey. I did not get what I wanted all the time. I could not witness my work contributing to the bigger picture all the time. I did not get recognition for my contribution all the time. There were rough patches that I had to endure. Throughout my journey so far, I built my ethos to ensure that my progression does not slow down.

There is a lot to learn from those with more experience.

In the early days of my career, I was not as open to learn as I am now. I was aggressive and wanted to see fast results, thus overlooked the need to learn from experienced professionals. Now having worked in different roles, I realise how important it is to learn from experienced professionals. Their insights gave me better understanding of the issues that I worked on. I learned to be humble from working with experienced professionals – from different walks of life – to collaborate to bring positive changes in the organisation.

Audacity – with humility – is crucial.

I learned that humility and audacity needs to go hand-in-hand to actually make things happen. I had to learn to navigate the system by myself, and exercise leadership wherever I could. Not every time I had the guidance – and I genuinely see the value of not having that, as that helped me grow as a person and as a professional. Though I did not get guidance all the time, but I found mentors. I still actively seek out for mentorship, both within the organisation and externally, from people who I look up to.

Results are the only thing that matters. The most important thing that I learned is I have to consistently deliver results at a high quality if I want to get recognition. Unless I pay my dues, recognition is hard to come by. Thus, I have learned to be humble and stay focused on delivering results.

Circling back to the point of whether millennials are that difficult to understand, probably there is no binary answer to this. When it comes to what we want from our lives, perhaps they are not that different from our earlier generational cohorts. The specifics of wants might be different, but it is fundamentally the same across all generations.

I cannot possibly speak on behalf of all the millennials of the world, but I can say this: the world is much different from the one that my earlier generations knew. With the advent of new technologies, there are immense possibilities for new innovations and development. On the flipside, it is easy to get distracted, both as an individual and as an organisation. Thus, the key concern for both the organisation and the individual is, how do we keep our focus right to achieve what we set out for?


Nasif Rashad Khan is a senior manager for Partnership Development, Resource Mobilisation and Learning, BRAC.


Note: This piece is written in the context of Bangladesh, keeping young professionals who belong to the millennial and/or Generation Z group in mind. Points raised and insights presented here are based on the writer’s personal experiences and observations.

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