Generations X-Y-Z: Which Careers are the Best Fit?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 1 comment

Many different ideals and realities come together in our choice of a career: our personal strengths and interests, education and experience, preferences in a work environment, and, of course, the going salary and availability of jobs. But something else that might affect our career choices is our generational identity.

It’s wise to avoid blanket stereotypes and force unique individuals into neat categories, but many studies agree on some common characteristics among Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Similarities touch everything from personal values, to money management, to our topic of discussion — career choices.

Let’s take a positive look at how the traits of each generation might shape what they look for in the workplace and how this can lend insight into the career you might be best suited for.

careers for millennialsGeneration X: Entrepeneurs & DIYers

Between analysts’ attention to the retirement concerns of Baby Boomers and perplexity over Millennials, Generation X (born roughly between 1965 and 1980) are often termed the forgotten middle child. Independent “latch-key” kids, this generation tends to be individualistic, self-sufficient, and, consequently — very resourceful. Loyal to themselves above any boss or company, they tend to switch jobs or careers frequently (the average Gen Xer changes careers 7 times!), although, ironically, they long for stability.

If you identify with Gen X, you might view work as a means-to-an-end and value a career that gives you the ability to work at least semi-independently, with a work-life balance that accommodates child-rearing and caring for aging parents.

So, what’s your ideal career? Consider starting your own business. Based on these common strengths, individuals from Gen X are often well-suited to entrepreneurial and DIY endeavors (two great examples are Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors and Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx). Even in the traditional workforce, though, Gen X resourcefulness and drive can help businesses and organizations move forward.

Millennials: Team Workers with Tech-Savvy

Millennials are the generation born between roughly 1981 and 2000. Some of this generation’s emerging trends have placed them in a negative light when it comes to their financial habits, but they’re also shown to be tolerant, confident, good at working with others in collaborative environments, and eager to contribute to causes that promote the “greater good.”

If you’re a Millennial, you might value a good work-life balance, just like your parents. You also prefer a flexible schedule, which is why work-from-home jobs are a good fit (if you have the discipline and drive). In a traditional job environment, you appreciate creative stimulation, with opportunities to learn new skills and advance very quickly.

Based on its survey on Millennial work priorities, U.S. News and World Report came up with a list of top career choices. As one of the most tech-savvy generations, it’s no surprise that the top ten included titles like web or software developer, computer systems analyst, and mechanical engineer. Others included dental hygienist (#2), interpreter/translator, radiation therapist, insurance sales agent, and massage therapist.

Generation Z: Programmers & Planners

The oldest of Generation Z, born after 2001, are just heading off to college and are probably more focused on an after-school or summer job than their career at this point. Still, from what we can gather about their characteristics so far, Gen Z are extremely comfortable with technology and love to plan everything. Although they’re still spending their parents’ money, they’re conscientious about saving and planning for the future. They’re also described as pragmatic, connected, social, and visual.

If you’re in Gen Z, you probably see a good college education as the key to your future career.

Based on your emerging characteristics, compiled a list of top career choices: computer and IT system manager, environmental engineer, financial planner, human resources manager, information security or market research analyst, interpreter/translator, registered nurse, software developer, and statistician.

David’s Note: Interestingly, my friend shared with me just the other day about a generation between Gen X and Gen Y. The Xennial generation, of which I’m apart of, are those born between 1977 and 1983 and share the Gen Xer’s cynicism and the Gen Yer’s optimism and drive. Seems pretty fitting to me!

By no means are these the definitive work characteristics or career choices for each generation, but if you’re struggling with your current career because it just doesn’t “fit” or not sure what your next step should be, maybe these insights can help.

Do you identify with these lists or break the norm when it comes to your generation’s work characteristics and career preferences?  

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