Gen X Y ZArguably the most scrutinized lot of the last 12-15 years, Millennials are sick and tired of being talked about publicly. Since entering the workforce, they’ve been bad-mouthed every which way imaginable, accused of living off their parents (who, cough, raised them), overconsuming their share of avocado toast and killing off everything from bar soap to the doorbell industry. In the midst of all that, the majority of these folks got jobs, took on their share of responsibilities and grew up. And yet, they’re still the subject of ire and ridicule at conferences, despite making up a decent percent of the attending audience. Even coming from my Gen X corner, another once-maligned population, I can’t say I envy them. 

And so, from my firmly adult perspective, I’m going to do my best to prevent history from repeating itself with Gen Z. That’s right, someone has to stick up for these kids, and I’m volunteering. Why’s that? Because the last time around, when the Millennials rolled into town, recruiters acted like they didn’t know what hit them. Lest we make that mistake again, I’m going to share some lessons learned from Y so we can collectively avoid the years of ranting, raving and self-sabotage. 

Lesson #1 – Don’t write them off yet

Yes, Gen Z is young and inexperienced. We all were at the start, Millennials most recently. Aside from that, Gen Z knows what you said about their predecessors and seem fully prepared to fight back. They’re gamers after all. So gird your loins and proceed with caution. They want to be taken seriously and expect that you’ll give them that courtesy. And why shouldn’t you? Again, we were all entry-level at once upon a time, and probably still remember the person who gave us our first real break.  

Lesson #2 – They know about the economy

Sure, everything is A-OK right now, but Gen Z lived through the Great Recession, too. And they witnessed what it did to their parents’ careers, first-hand. Doesn’t mean they know how to prevent another collapse, though maybe they have some ideas. Who knows until we ask? Either way, these candidates are going to demand job security from the get-go, so don’t get any ideas about unpaid internships. There are probably still a few Millennials out there thinking that this next one will be their big break. 

Lesson #3 – Up your tech game

Remember pagers? Millennials might have, but these candidates definitely don’t. That cool Nokia with Snake loaded on it? Forget it. We’re talking about true digital natives. Many even skipped over the iPod and went straight to the iPhone. You’re going to need to follow suit and use technology that speaks to their skill set and interests. Maybe that means recruiting over Tinder or TikTok. And if you don’t know what those are and how you could use them, do a Google. 

GEM Recruiting AI

Lesson #4 – Don’t waste their time

Because Gen Z understands tech even better than Y, they also know how to multi-task and while talking to you might be making dinner reservations, uploading a pic to Instagram and answering a group chat or 12. That’s just how they operate. As such, you’re going to have only a few brief seconds to get their attention and hold it – so recruiters need to plan out what they’re going to say and mean it. No dragging out the process, no back and forth – just a well-defined process that maximizes the opportunity to connect.

Lesson #5 – Call them by their names

The days of one to many strategies are gone. So are the days of 100 candidates per rec, when Millennials were nameless, faceless resumes accumulating somewhere in an ATS. Gen Z wants to see that you know who they are and what you’re about before they’ll consider moving ahead. Think about how Spotify curates playlists based on a user’s listening history. That’s what you’re up against in terms of personalization, better think creatively. 

There are, of course, a slew of differences between generations Y and Z, and recruiting the new kids on the block won’t look like it did in recent years. At the same time, it’s important to recognize how we got to this juncture and what, if anything, we can do to learn from our previous approach. In doing so, you’ll come to find out that there is no rule book anymore, just a series of guidelines and best practices. And as Gen Z continues to flood the workplace, additional themes and patterns are bound to emerge. But for now, I invite you to ride the wave with them. There’s always a learning curve, but with the lessons learned from the Millennials, it shouldn’t be so steep this time around – at least let’s hope not.


William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.