Swimming“There’s a lot of data,” Kirsten Fedderke says of the latest research from full-service marketing communications agency Lipman Hearne. “There really are a million ways you can dive into this.”

She’s not kidding. Not too long ago, Lipman Hearne surveyed roughly 11,000 college-bound students about the ways they were researching prospective colleges and making decisions about where they would go to school. Now that those students are in college, Lipman Hearne revisited 2,348 of them. “Since they had already made their college decision, we were really able to ask them to reflect on what really impacted their thinking and their decision making,” explains Fedderke, associate vice president of the firm. “Rather than ‘What are you going to do to decide,’ we were able to ask them: ‘Okay, now you’ve made your decision, what really made you decide that?’”

The result is a customizable research tool that allows to set parameters, query data sets and look at comparative data according to their preferences. Split along demographic lines, the research yields some interesting results. For example, Lipman Hearne found that “students of color across the country reported that college fairs and emails from the admissions offices were key information sources. Simultaneously, those sources didn’t even rank for white students,” according to a press release. Similarly, “female students with high SATs and ACTs said nearly all of their top attributes when looking for a college related to academics. Meanwhile, male students with lower SAT scores said ‘appealing campus traditions’ and Division I athletics were attributes they desired.”

However, the research can also help people draw more general conclusions about how this young generation makes important decisions. “I think there’s also some really interesting things that I see that aren’t necessarily directly tied to demographics, but more about how students are conducting research and making decisions,” Fedderke says. “I think this can be applicable outside of college-decision making, as well. I think it could give some insight into how people of this generation … are conducting research to make major buying decisions.”

While not strictly a “buying decision” per se, one could make the case that deciding where to go to college is a lot like deciding where to work: applicants need to carry out extensive research about the institutions they join, assessing achievements, development programs, perks and benefits, and culture to determine where they’d like to end up.

With this in mind, employers can learn a lot about how millennials make major decisions — and about how to successfully recruit this generation by knowing what it is looking for.

How Do Millennials Make Decisions?

Despite being typecast lazy, impulsive narcissists, millennials are actually rigorous researchers, according to Lipman Hearne’s findings. “In general, they obviously are doing a lot of Web research, which is no surprise,” Fedderke says. “What I think is really interesting is how much they’re doing and how dedicated to it they are.”

For example, Lipman Hearne’s initial survey of college-bound students found that a sizable chunk of them were conducting research on the college decision every day. “That’s pretty all-consuming,” Fedderke notes.

Millennials don’t just spend a lot of time staring at the front pages of college websites or skimming recruitment literature — they dive deep. “They’re not just looking at the home pages or the admissions page — the pages that were really created as marketing pages for a prospective student audience,” Fedderke says. “They’re going really deep and looking at course descriptions, student activity clubs that have created their own Web pages, [and] faculty bios — things that a lot of colleges and universities probably intend to be material for their current student audience. What we found is that the prospective student audience is also digging into this information and using it to really inform their decisions.”

On short: millennials put a lot of work into vetting the institutions they’re thinking about joining, and they’ll likely do the same when it comes time to consider prospective employers.

Recruiting Young Workers Like a College Would

Fedderke says that Lipman Hearne’s findings regarding the college decision-making process highlight the fact that “these students are voracious consumers of information, and everything needs to be considered a marketing opportunity or marketing message.”

“Every piece of information that you put out into the market — even if you think it’s for an internal audience or very specific purpose — needs to be infused with your brand messages,” Fedderke advises higher-ed institutions.

Employers, I’d argue, should heed this message as well when they’re courting this demographic.

Lipman Hearne also found that video is really important to prospective students, but colleges and universities are not using it as much as students would like them to. “[Video] is a great opportunity to get their messaging out and use different voices to really flesh out the perception that students are getting about the institution,” Fedderke says.

Again, employers, take note: the new crop of workers wants video, and the medium offers a platform to a diverse set of voices from within an organization.

One of the more surprising findings, I’d argue, is that millennials are not using social media in exactly the ways we often assume they are. “They are using social media as part of their research methodology, but in a pretty passive way,” Fedderke explains. “They’re not necessarily joining communities with institutions that they’re looking at and participating in conversations or posting, but they are trawling around and looking at what kind of conversations are happening, what’s being discussed, and who is participating.”

Millennials, then, are not joining communities, but they are keeping tabs on them. Fedderke advises institutions to “work to make sure that their social media communities have topics that would be interesting to this audience.” She says that seeding conversations and ensuring that “a variety of participants are sharing their voices on social media” can help institutions project full, vibrant pictures of their communities and cultures.

Once more, I urge employers to pay attention and ask themselves, “How are our social media communities looking, and what pictures do they present to the prospective talent that might be watching silently from the sidelines?”


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