TIME Careers & Workplace

The Huge Mistake Millennials Are Making Now

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Young workers rate international opportunities dead last when it comes to what makes a job attractive. Why travel when you can get all the foreign experience you need via FaceTime?

Millennials are taking telecommuting to a whole new level. They view virtual foreign work experience as having equal career value to a true stint overseas, a new report reveals. As a result, many are passing up foreign assignments that, in a global economy, could help them advance more quickly.

International experience ranks dead last among 15 factors that make a job attractive, according to Millennial Compass, a study of work-life attitudes by MSL Group and researchers Dr. Carina Paine Schofield and Sue Honoré at Ashridge Business School in the U.K. Ranking second to last in importance: working in a multi-cultural environment.

Who knew that twentysomethings were such homebodies? This would seem to come as a shock to an entire industry that has sprung up to facilitate overseas internships and work experience, as well as to global corporations that need boots on the ground in many different cultures. Still, while the younger generation of workers may prefer their iPad to a suitcase, don’t call them insular.

Millennials say they are missing out on nothing. They believe they are gaining international experience through social media, personal networks and technology. Growing up in a world where the Internet has erased geographic boundaries, many young workers are confident in their ability to run business in a new way. As one respondent put it: “The place I get hung up on is the actual, physical overseas part of it. In such an interconnected world, I don’t necessarily think you need to literally travel across the ocean to get overseas experience.”

We’ve known for years that this generation values work-life balance and a meaningful job experience, teamwork, and job mobility above rapid advancement. I respect these priorities and young workers who get the job done on their own terms. I also accept their ability to forge real bonds and relationships over the Internet. But for a group that came of age in a global economy, it seems odd that young folks would dismiss physical multi-cultural experience so readily.

In the U.S., just 18% of Millennials intend to work overseas in the next five years—and that’s mainly to gain personal, not career experience, the study found. The numbers are low in the U.K (29%) and France (28%) as well. Millennials in nations such as India, China and Brazil have a higher regard for international experience. For example, 70% in India and 61% in China say working overseas for a while is important.

So guess what? Those countries are where global companies will step up recruiting. “Millennials in countries such as the U.S., U.K. and France are lowering their chances for exciting career opportunities in global corporations when they show less interest in moving far beyond their native geography, family and friends,” says Brian Burgess, global co-leader of the employee practice at MSL. “Millennials should not confuse global social connections with real global experience.”

The good news is that young Americans willing to tear themselves away from their family and friends for a few years can stand out and reap significant career benefits. In time, the millennial generation will be in charge and the companies they run may be more accepting of workers who see no difference between Skype and a handshake. But for now—not that Millennials care—this stay-in-my-comfort-zone attitude threatens to hold them back.

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