“Millennials are often portrayed as apathetic, disinterested, tuned out and selfish. None of those adjectives describe the Millennials I’ve been privileged to meet and work with.”
~ Chelsea Clinton

Every once in a while I get a call from a potential client. It goes something like this:

“Hi, Greg, we’d like you to give our members a talk about how to network with Millennials.”

It always worries me when that’s the topic they want. It tells me that the group is probably hoping either to sell to young professionals in some way — whether it’s a product or service — or they want to recruit them to join the group. Even if I assumed that’s not what they meant, though, the very question belies a fundamental misunderstanding of networking with regards to connecting with any group.

You can’t.

You can’t connect with a general category of people. You can’t form a relationship with a group. You can’t network with “Millennials”.

You can network with individuals. Those individuals may or may not have the same characteristics as others of their age group. If you want to be a truly successful networker, you will treat each new contact as a person in and of themselves — each with his own dreams and fears, his own tendencies and mannerisms, his own level of comfort with technology and working on teams.

The next time you think you want to network with Millennials (or Baby Boomers, or Gen Xers, or African Americans, or Asian Americans, or Realtors, or pipefitters), ignore the label and ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do you want to sell or serve? Networking is about creating powerful relationships and the best way to do that is to find ways to be of service. What do they need and can you provide it or connect them with it?
  • What other qualities are important? Millennials who are married with children probably have more in common with parents of other age groups than they have with single, professional Millennials living in a different city.
  • Are you making assumptions about who a person is based on their age, or their occupation, or where they live or their skin color? We all have mental models and filters that we carry with us wherever we go. The more we can see past those biases, the more likely we are to make real connections with those we meet.

We are all more than the cohort into which we were born. Be interested, curious, and fascinated with anyone you meet as the complete and unique being that they show to the world each day. Wouldn’t you want them to treat you the same way?

Photo by Flickr user State Farm