The first time I heard the term millennial, I was a few years out of college, and the world was melting down amid the Great Recession. In the decade and a half since, the millennial narrative has changed more times than I can count and somehow still gets bandied about despite our rapidly advancing age. But finally, it seems the tables have turned, with a new generation starting to graduate college while the world is melting down amid the Great Resignation. Only fair that we take this opportunity to consider who Gen Z is and what they’re looking for in the recruiting process.
- They’ve heard about the rest of us. Gen Z is keenly aware of the generational divides plaguing the workplace, from Boomer on down. They have heard about it their whole lives and understand that it freaks employers out. The New York Times even published a piece titled “The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them.” This level of consciousness empowers Gen Z job seekers and gives them an advantage in hiring scenarios where they know they’re needed.
- That don’t impress them much. During the pandemic, as the balance of youth power shifted from Millennial to Gen Z, the latter took a stance against the former. Gen Z went after their predecessors on social media, sharing their thoughts about everything from Harry Potter fandom to hairstyles. While this may seem unrelated to recruiting, it demonstrates an astutely observational nature and willingness to share opinions. Both of which fall firmly under the umbrella of “soft skills.”
- They’ve lost out but won’t anymore. With everything Gen Z witnessed over the last two years, it’s no wonder that nearly half (46%) of survey respondents admitted to being stressed or anxious most or all of the time. They don’t want work to make that worse. Says content creator DeAndre Brown, “I wouldn’t necessarily say that as a Gen Z [worker], we’re spoiled. I just say that we’re doing what everyone else should have been doing a long time ago: setting strict boundaries at work. In the past, it’s more that you’re working for the company and now [Gen Z] has an approach where the company is working for us.”
- They don’t have the same experiences. Hiring managers and stakeholders love to appraise candidates on nebulous factors like “gravitas,” much to the chagrin of recruiters. With Gen Z specifically, these job seekers haven’t necessarily worked in an office before. Heck, some of them have barely stepped foot in a classroom, let alone a trade show floor or business dinner. The difference between business casual and casual Friday might not resonate, and that doesn’t mean they’re not ready, willing and able to get the job done.
- Because they get what’s going on, they also see the role they play. Gen Z is keyed in on a number of issues, and as Deloitte noted, “They’re tired of waiting for change to happen and are taking action to hold others accountable. But they understand their actions as individuals can only do so much to reverse climate change, create pay and wealth equity, and end racism and bigotry. They want organizations to work together – governments, education systems and business – to drive change on a much broader scale.”
- Digital natives or not, there’s no one way to communicate. Even though there’s plenty of evidence that confirms Gen Z loves to multitask on different devices, they don’t necessarily want you to lump them together just because they like their screens. Rather than assume anything about these candidates, the recruiting process needs to ask them about their preferences. The first step in personalization is the person, and when it comes to finding a job, Gen Z expects nothing less.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about Gen Z is that they aren’t afraid to use what they know – and compared to most generations (Millennials included), they seem to know their fair share. They are entering into the job market with well-defined ideas about what they want and need from their potential employers – and they aren’t going to settle for the way things were before. Why should they? We’ve seen how well that worked for … other generations.
But rather than try and fit everyone born from 1997 to 2012 into the same box, let’s use this opportunity to build processes that appreciate whole people. Let’s cut the young folks some slack, allow them to job hop without judgment and make a type or two on their resume. They may even teach the rest of us a lesson or two along the way.
Katie Achille is a contributing writer for RecruitingDaily and PR professional, marketer, and serial freelancer with 15 years of experience supporting organizations from startups to Fortune 500 corporations, specializing in HR and recruiting technology. Her career highlights include launching a massive employer brand project at Verizon, writing a book with a former presidential cabinet member, promoting top lecturers such as Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman, penning entries in an encyclopedia of military science, and teaching Pilates. Over the years, her work has appeared in Forbes, Entrepreneur, Venture Beat, Business Insider, Human Resource Executive, Workspan, and many more. She holds a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University and an MA in Historical Studies from The New School. You can read her latest musings at katieachille.com or connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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