25, Director of Marketing & Communications for Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance
How do you see your generation (millennials)? How do you think older generations define millennials?
I see millennials as a forward-thinking, optimistic and passionate group of individuals that thrive on connectivity and making an impact. We don’t just want careers, we want to truly change the world and we want to do so together.
We sometimes hear criticisms and concerns about millennials, that they are entitled, lazy and too dependent on technology. Personally, I think this stereotype is exaggerated. In my experience, older individuals have often embraced me and my peers. They are willing and excited to work with us, sharing their wisdom and appreciating our feedback and input. I think older generations are proud of the millennial generation, as they should be, because they are the ones who raised us and taught us such positive virtues to begin with.
What have been a few keys to your success so far?
First, I firmly believe that knowledge is the key to success, and lifelong learning has been instrumental in my career development. My mom homeschooled myself and my five siblings, always encouraging us to explore and pursue non-traditional learning opportunities. This positive, knowledge-seeking environment enabled me to begin community college at just 16 years old and was a driving force as I fulfilled my educational goals. While not currently a student, this desire to learn is something that I continue to emulate by seeking opportunities to understand more about my industry, expand my skillsets and refine my expertise.
Secondly, having courage to ask for what I want. My rationale has always been “the worst they can do is say no.” In less than two years at my current company, I have received two major promotions, both of which I proactively discussed with my CEO. I saw an opportunity, was confident in my abilities and made a strong case for why I was the best candidate. Both times, advocating for myself proved to be the best course of action.
Is there anything that you would change about your generation as a whole? If so, what?
I think we sometimes jump to conclusions when we communicate digitally. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of this and at times, have caused myself and those around me unnecessary stress. Communication is said to be 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone of voice and just 7 percent the actual words spoken. In the digital age, where a large percentage of our conversations are on a computer or phone screen, it is nearly impossible to interpret body language or tone of voice. This is a problem that those who have gone before us never encountered. As technology continues to advance and we rely on our devices to interact, I hope that we can make conscious efforts to ask for clarification before making assumptions about how someone said something or what they meant.
What do you feel are some of the biggest perks of living in Coastal Virginia? What changes do you think the region should implement to continue to be a draw for millennials?
This area is unique in that it is made up of over a dozen different cities, each which their own distinct assets, nestled together to create a vibrant, one-of-a-kind region. When it comes to quality of life, the possibilities are vast. We have urban centers and rural countryside, warm beaches and serene, wooded retreats. There are numerous historical assets and state-of-the-art modern amenities, blossoming art and music venues, and countless local restaurants and craft breweries. I love living here because I know that no two weekends will ever look the same! There is always something exciting and interesting to do and I often find myself having run out of time to fit everything in.
One of the biggest changes that our region should make to attract more young talent is improving transportation, particularly offering more mass transit options. It’s disheartening to see how much a bridge or tunnel can discourage someone from attending an event or exploring a neighboring community simply because they don’t want to deal with the traffic. Recent developments, such as the Elizabeth River Tunnels project have reduced some congestion, but improving the region’s infrastructure should remain a top priority moving forward.
How are you contributing to life/community outside of the workplace?
Community engagement and philanthropy are huge parts of my life. I have known since high school that I wanted a career in the public service/nonprofit sector, as I derive a great deal of joy and have a heart for serving others. At any given time, I am involved with a number of organizations, both locally and on a state level.
One of my biggest passions is working with the Virginia Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a rare, incurable, genetic illness that affects around 35,000 in the United States. I was diagnosed with CF when I was 3 months old and at the time, my life expectancy was just 20 years old. Because of the work of CFF, that life expectancy has since been raised to over 40, and I have had the chance to live a very fulfilling life. I volunteer, fundraise and advocate for CFF so that everyone living with this disease will have the same incredible opportunities that I have thus far. Currently, I am a member of the Young Professionals Advisory Board for Hampton Roads and I have been the state ambassador for the entire Virginia Chapter for the 2016 and 2017 spring fundraising seasons.
Since 2015, I have been a member of the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, an organization whose mission is to promote volunteerism and leadership among women, while creating a lasting impact on the community. This year, I am the chair of the Children’s Initiative Committee and am working directly with a number of charities that serve the needs of children in the region.
Finally, I am active with tHRive. I serve on their Branding Committee and thoroughly enjoy being a part of an organization whose focus is to cultivate regional awareness, professional development, and community engagement among young professionals.
What advice would you offer to other millennials or recent graduates about getting their careers to take off?
Never stop learning. Proofread, proofread and proofread again! Find a mentor, and be a mentor to those following after you. Be flexible and embrace change. Always be polite and respectful; never forget to say thank you. Work hard, and when the time is right, play harder, but remember to recharge and rest when you need to. Don’t make a promise that you can’t keep. Never settle for mediocre when you have the potential to be great. When you make mistakes, and you will, take responsibility and use them as an opportunity for growth. Be intentional with your words and with your actions. Above all, pursue your dreams and be passionate. Passion is the key to transforming what you do into something you truly love.
From her nomination:
“Jillian is the epitome of someone who is wise beyond their years. She works tirelessly to ensure that everything she produces and has a part of is perfection and puts more effort into detail and her work than anyone I have ever met. She is able to balance many different factors in life and does so with a positive attitude and never lets her disease define who she is. In addition to working hard, spending time with friends and family, she also allots time to volunteer. All of this is done with an average of 1.5 hours per day of treatments and medications taken to sustain her health.”
—Kimberly Johnson, friend/colleague