The Entitlement Generation

Monday, December 05, 2005

For years, every generation of twenty-somethings has had nicknames. Generation X and Y come to mind. But the latest phenomenon is well-educated, well-financed and not eager to pay dues. Employers, sociologists and even the media have dubbed them "the entitlement generation."

They are images of desire, and they are everywhere. And many times they are expensive. In a world of instant communication and instant gratification, having it all can't wait. In the working world these people are known as the entitlement generation.

"Yes, there's an entitlement generation we are seeing a little bit more of," said Debbie Bougdanos.

Bougdanos would know. She works at the world renowned advertising firm Leo Burnett and is in charge of recruiting for the creative department. Plenty of portfolios come across her desk. Many of the applicants think they are ready for the prime assignments, but she says, most assuredly, they are not.

"If I sense any of that attitude that arrogance, that expectation, that entitlement, that is an immediate turnoff," Bougdanos said.

The truth of the matter is, members of the entitlement generation exist at just about every college or university out there.

At Northwestern University one of its sociology professors believes there are several reasons would-be employees have an inflated sense of their worth. Dr. Bruce Carruthers says there is shared blame to go around here, from the millionaire-creating tech bubble bursting, to parents' high expectations, to the schools themselves.

"They've kind of been in a hothouse, coddled, slightly coddled atmosphere of doing well and getting lots of positive feedback, and now this is reality. Reality hits and reality is not so much fun," said Carruthers.

To better prepare job seekers, companies like All About Careers hold career boot camps, getting prospective employees ready for the realities of the real world.

"They have a feeling that they don't have to do the grunt work, they are going to get hired and they will get to immediately contribute their thoughts at a very high level," said Rob Sullivan, All About Careers.

"A lot of employers don't want to hire recent college grads because they don't feel they have the emotional intelligence needed to do the job," said Laurie Kahn, All About Careers.

But for every person who feels entitled there are untold others who expect to earn their way.

"I just always grew up under the impression that if I wanted it I had to pay for it," said Jessica Savage.

Savage, a Miami of Ohio graduate, is the eldest of six kids who just started her first job in Chicago six months ago. Jessica's top priorities include working her way up naturally and paying off student loans. She tries not to think too much about all that her well-heeled entitlement colleagues have had given to them.

"I think that not having those things has driven me to get those things," Savage said. "And I know the only way to get those things and get to the top is by hard work and dedication and those are the things that motivate me."

"Most work lives start at the bottom and work your way up and you do things," said Dr. Carruthers. "Not because they are personally rewarding, but because you're paid to do it."

Perhaps the most interesting part of putting this story together is the unwillingness of any of these people to go on camera to talk about it. Of the dozens of people contacted for this story, everybody knew someone who fit the description. But those people were either too embarrassed to admit to it or were in denial that they part of the entitlement generation at all.

We even reached out to some parents, but they too did not wish to participate in this project.

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