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5 recruiting insights Gen Y doesn't want you to know

5 recruiting insights Gen Y doesn't want you to know

March 28, 2012

'If you don't like change, you're going to like being irrelevant even more' - General Eric Shinseski

Look, you must change your business if you want to tap the largest consumer group in the U.S. or you'll begin losing sales and market share to competitors. But that's not all'

Now, you're going to have change how you manage your business because this same group ' Gen Y ' is entering the workforce and they're changing everything. What if you don't change? You'll risk losing some of the brightest and talented employees to ever enter the job market. That's not an understatement.

Yet, most of us don't understand the most significant generation since the Baby Boomers began launching their careers.

Why is this so important? Fifty percent of all Baby Boomers are expected to retire in the next seven years, meaning that Gen Y is the most likely candidates to replace them.

Take our quiz and see if you're ready...

The truth is if you didn't answer 'yes' to every question on the quiz (you are like most businesses), you need to start making some drastic changes to your business because as you're beginning to see these workers aren't like anything you've ever seen. Now, don't get me wrong. They're going to have to change too. But the businesses that are adapting to them stand a far better chance of recruiting the smartest and most talented job candidates to ever enter the job market. And for most businesses today, their most valuable assets are their employees.

How different is Generation Y? They certainly have their shortcomings (many write like they text for example!) and they also have their idiosyncrasies. They're the most adored generation by their parents as many rely on their teenagers and 20-somethings to set up their computers, TVs and mobile phones and they'll often turn to their sons and daughters for advice. Those same parents are also very protective. We've heard stories of their parents going on job interviews with them. And we've heard of parents calling their children's boss if they didn't get the promotion or raise they were expecting. It's crazy but true!

Gen Y has a completely different view of success. It's no wonder, they've seen their parents labor for years at jobs struggling to balance family and work. Yet, they've also seen others like the founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, quit their day-jobs at PayPal and go on to make millions of dollars with their video-sharing website.

Yet, there are some very positive attributes Gen Y workers bring with them. Raised by parents who believe in the importance of self-esteem, they feel ready to solve the world's toughest challenges. Most are very goal-oriented and are only willing to 'pay their dues' if they can clearly see a better next step in their career.

They're used to working in teams and collaborating as part of an organization. The downside for you is that their favorite tool to collaborate is Facebook and text messaging. They don't have patience for e-mail and rarely use it.

They expect to work in a diverse, multicultural environment where everyone is treated fairly. If not, they'll use their collective power to try and make a change if someone is treated unfairly. They're also taught to think in terms of the greater good and want to be part of an organization that encourages volunteerism and contributes to their communities.

Don't be surprised either if they don't want to participate in a 2-3 month training program or a 6-month trial period and don't have any interest in taking your job someday. This is a generation that was forever changed by 9/11, has seen our country in a perpetual war over the last decade, had to find work during the Great Recession and have seen people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of YouTube, Google and Twitter make billions of dollars by NOT following the traditional career paths.

So many are more interested in a balanced lifestyle that gives them opportunity to pursue their own interests outside of work while also receiving good salaries (NOT base level salaries!) in a career they enjoy. Oh, and don't be surprised after 3-5 years they leave. Gen Y is always looking for new challenges ' and new opportunities and often that may just mean a change in jobs. It's nothing personal.

So what do you need to do differently to attract these new workers? Here are 5 things you can start to do right away:

1. Be a mentor or a coach ' not a boss! They're looking for their leaders to be good role models first and foremost who exhibit honesty and integrity. They grew up with parents who were role models and provide structure and supervision. They're expecting the same from you.

2. Offer a clear 'Path of Ascension,' that is a challenging career path. Gen Y workers want learning opportunities. A recent Randstad employee survey found that 'trying new things' was the most popular item. An HVAC supply company I know used to require a 2-month training program. But Gen Y wasn't willing to work up from the bottom! The boomer managers were resentful and thought they were slackers. But the VP of Operations convinced them that to attract and keep good talent they had to adapt. They reluctanctly gave in and were forced to reduce the training to 2-weeks. Their mistake? They simply need to understand these are different humans, brought up in a different way. Just like so many men complain and don't understand why 'women are so emotional' or 'why don't they just fix the problem?' Hello. Because they are women, they are wired differently. So is Gen Y different from you if you are a boomer. Show them how they can move from one career position to another and what's expected of them in each position.

"Hot Project Teams" such as this one at IDEO are perfect for Gen Y employees, many of whom you see pictured here. They face challenging projects head-on and thrive under the experience coming up with innovative solutions, according to general manager Tom Kelley in his book, "The Art of Innovation."

3. Get them involved. Gone are the days of making an 'executive decision' and expecting everyone to follow along after you've 'sold' them on the decision. To get Gen Y'ers to follow they need to have buy-in and they best way to do that is to involve them in the decision-making process whenever possible. Present the problem to your employees and let them help you come up with a solution. They'll already be 'sold' on the solution because they helped come up with it. At the creative agency, IDEO, General Manager Tom Kelley created what's called "Hot Project Teams," which are perfect for Gen Y thinkers. In his book, "The Art of Innovation," Kelley describes the teams as follows:

  • They are totally dedicated to achieving the end result
  • They face down ridiculous deadlines
  • They are irreverent and nonhierarchial
  • They are well-rounded and respectful of diversity
  • They work in open, eclectic space optimal for flexibility, group work, and brainstorming
  • They feel empowered to go get whatever else is needed
  • They love a challenge
  • They find ways to leap barriers
  • They answer questions with actions instead of words


To keep work fun at Google Zurich, the company installed a real slide to help employees get from one floor to the next. Although most people probably don't use it, the slide still gives the office a playful atmosphere.

4. Make work fun and enjoyable. Gen Y'ers see the workplace as an important part of their lifestyles. They aren't willing to 'put up with work' for 40 hours a week. Often times they are further up Maslows hierchay of needs. They expect to have more 'self fulfillment'. Not like the old days of sacrificing your life for your career. They have seen how this has ruined families. Rather, they want to look forward to going to work because it can be challenging ' and also fun. How? Encourage employees to share ideas and collaborate with each other. Appoint a D.O.F. Director Of Fun. Give them a small budget and let them create activities and ways to improve engagement.

5. Offer flexible work schedules. To most people's great surprise, Gen Y'ers are much more involved in community activities and volunteering. This doesn't always occur after 5 pm or on weekends. So employers who are attracting the best of Gen Y offer flexible hours and work schedules.

Does that mean you're just letting this new generation of workers run the show? Of course not. They want supervision and structure. They're looking to you for direction.

But they also expect much more than what you or other workers have experienced in the past. And the employers who are willing to adapt will have the best shot of recruiting and retaining the most educated and talented generation of workers we've ever seen.

Always taking you from where you are to where you want to go,


Jon Goldman, President