Full disclosure, I’m a Millennial. No matter which way you slice or dice the generation, I’m in it (albeit at the elder end of the category). I’m also not a huge fan of sweeping generalizations about entire populations of people, no matter what the avocado toast industry says. But before you click away, I want to propose a theory I’ve been working on with Laura Mazzullo, Owner of East Side Staffing, a boutique HR Recruitment firm, and fellow Millennial.
See, we’re observing some unusual behavior in a subsect of our peers, who also go by Gen Y. One that’s impacting the recruiting, hiring and career development of certain Millennials – ones you likely work with every day. Let’s call them the “07-09ers.” These are the folks who graduated from college and entered the job market amid the Great Recession. Faced with limited options, many took whatever job they found and hunkered down. Mazzullo says that today the 07-09ers are making good money, having changed jobs maybe once since starting their careers, well-positioned to advance – but unsure of themselves and the current market.
Success vs. Direction
But why? Well, for starters, they’re terrified. And for a good reason, as “Workers who start their careers in a recession earn 2.5 to 9 percent less per year than those who do not for at least 15 years after starting a career. Research further suggests that one reason for these lower earnings is that new entrants take jobs that are a worse fit for them when they start their careers in a recession.”
So even though they might earn a comfortable living, poised to catch up with their counterparts shortly, the 07-09ers have no idea what they’re doing with their careers – and little understanding of the recruiters contacting them. Mazzullo chalks this up to self-awareness, explaining that many of these candidates took the first job to come along – where they wanted it or not. Fast forward to 2019, and they’re unable to articulate what they’re looking for because they have no idea. At the same time, their job search experience is out of date and out of step with the current market. This puts recruiters in a tough spot, especially since the 07-09er fear often masquerades as arrogance.
Uncovering the Obstacles
Mazzullo sees this as a defensive mechanism, mostly in candidates unable to answer seemingly simple questions like: What’s motivating you to leave your current role? What are you looking for in an employer? Having never had the chance to think about work in this context, the 07-09er candidates bristle, psychologically struck in an early career mindset. And while I’m not one to bash my fellow Millennials, considering the barrage of hate we’ve received over the years, she isn’t wrong.
Many of my 07-09er friends kept their heads down these last 12 years, just trying to get by without rocking the boat. Whether it’s shame or humility, they seem unable to reconcile being in demand for the first time ever. Getting married and growing families further magnifies their anxiety about a game they don’t seem to know how to play. To the point that they’re almost eager to reject employers in retaliation for their formative experiences.
One way to spot this behavior, Mazzullo shares, is in the words candidates use to describe their interactions. Some use feeling words, like “That interview made me so excited,” while others rely more on logic, countering, “It seems like a good opportunity.” Rather than write off the second response, we need to help reframe the narrative and equip these candidates with the insight necessary to grow their careers – provided they’re willing to do the work.
Seeing Both Sides
While there’s no denying that some candidates pose more of a challenge than others, what we need to do is understand why. The 07-09ers represent one easily recognizable example. And despite the extenuating circumstances of the Great Recession, their experience isn’t wholly unique – it’s happened before, and it will happen again. Other candidates come with individual baggage, less tied to external events.
Plus, as Mazzullo acknowledges, not all recruiters are coaches – and not all candidates are willing to be coached. Though for those that are, and those that do, we need to hold one another accountable throughout the process, offering support and digging deeper when necessary. That might mean softening your communication style, developing a worksheet that asks candidates to express their career goals or reassuring them that they have options. The goal here is to reduce frustration on all sides, reinforce the available options and boost confidence as needed. If we assume best intentions, rather than force-fed stereotypes, we’ll be more likely to improve outcomes.
Because be it trauma, or good old fashioned insecurity, the 07-09ers and others like them need a little more support than your average candidate. Either way, we’d probably all benefit from a little less shaming and little more listening.