Career Advice for Generation X

You’re Generation X. You’re in your 30s and 40s, in the middle of your lives, your careers, and the workforce. You’re wedged between two huge groups of people who are, in their own ways, taking up a little too much of your room. Boomers to the left of you, Gen Y to the right — and you with all the frustrations that come with being part of a smaller generational cohort.

I’ve talked with hundreds of you and written lots about your views in the past couple of years. Probably two of the most resonant posts at HBR.org have involved why Gen X’ers are generally dissatisfied with the way their careers are unfolding and my view on why the leadership qualities this group of managers possesses are exactly what organizations need now.

The dissatisfaction is easy to see. You stepped out of university when the economy was slow, and the Boomers already had a death grip on all the good positions before your job search even started. Now, just as Boomers are preparing to retire (to second careers, most likely) and the top slots seemed poised to open up, the economy is weak again. Not to mention, you’re facing competition from the very people you’re managing–Gen Y workers outnumber you, seem to enjoy better mentoring relationships with your Boomer supervisors, and frustrate you with their penchant for playing loose and fast with protocol and company norms.

But corporations really do need you. Your skills, passions, and talents are well-suited to the challenges of business today. As a generation of latch-key kids, you bring self-reliance, resourcefulness, and a certain measure of seriousness to the table. As the children of civil and women’s rights protesters, you are sensitive to multicultural issues and tolerant of diversity. As the consumers and creators of the DIY ethic (punk and alternative music and art), you are entrepreneurial and unconventional — traits that are critical for growing organizations.

So, what’s next for you?? How do you avoid just plodding up the corporate ladder?

Some of you are still wrestling with finding the career you want. How do you reset your sights for the next stretch? And many of you feel you haven’t yet hit your stride in the career that you have chosen. You may know what you want, but you just need some advice about how to get it.

How can you find ways to adapt the best qualities of Boomers and Gen Y while still preserving the traits that make you a valuable asset to the organization? How should you handle projects, technologies, performance reviews, job interviews and other forms of workplace communication differently? And, critical to X’ers, how can you find the right balance between your work and personal lives?

Next week, I’ll be at HBR’s Answer Exchange answering these types of career-related questions for Generation X’ers — and, of course, talking about other intergenerational issues affecting everyone in the workplace. You can register right now at answers.hbr.org and post your questions there. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you, hearing your stories: What career frustrations are you experiencing, and what are some of your toughest challenges as a Gen X manager?

See you on the Exchange!

Read the whole story here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing