May 1, 2015

Millennials: a Wildly Diverse Bunch

HappyLast summer, the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute (EMI), the HEAD Foundation, and employer branding firm Universum teamed up to conduct what these groups call “the largest independent study ever conducted on millennials.” Surveying more than 16,000 millennials from across the globe, the study delves into a variety of topics, including millennials’ fears, hopes, beliefs, and desires. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the results of this massive survey in a six-part series. Part five will focus on the fifth piece in this study, “We Are More Different Than You Think.”

As mentioned in an earlier post in this series, one of the reasons why Universum et al.’s massive study of millennials is so interesting is the fact that it surveyed millennials from across the globe, rather than focusing on millennials in the U.S. and/or Western Europe, as so many previous studies have done.

The fifth piece of Univerum et al.’s six-part study, entitled “We Are More Different Than You Think,” delves carefully and thoroughly into the specific thoughts, desires, and opinions of millennials region by region. For this reason, I’d encourage everyone — especially people who work with talent from around the world — to read the full text of “We Are More Different …” (linked in the intro to this article). Trying to summarize the unique qualities of millennials in the Asia-Pacific region, or Africa, or Latin America — or any region, really — in the confines of this post is simply impossible.

Moreover, Univerum et al. also found that breaking down millennials into “regions” still wasn’t truly granular enough. “[I[n truth, individual countries within regions often are as different as one region to the next,” the study says.

For example, Japanese millennials tend to stray from the average picture of millennials across the entire Asia-Pacific region: whereas 43 percent of millennials in the Asia-Pacific region said they were very optimistic about enjoying higher standards of living than their parents enjoyed, only 9 percent of Japanese millennials “strongly agreed” with this belief.

“Not only should global organizations note regional differences [between millennials], they must drill down further to understand individual country preferences,” says Lars Rydtzander, chief marketing officer of Universum. “What’s more, employers must also account for differences within different age segments of the millennial generation.”

If it sounds like Universum et al.’s study seems to suggest that creating an accurate picture of “millennials” as a whole is impossible — well, that’s kind of the point. Time and again, Universum has advocated for a “granular approach” to recruiting millennial talent. Employers need to abandon their beliefs about millennials: they need to engage with the members of this generation (and any generation, really) as individual people. 

In other words: don’t recruit millennials; recruit people who just might happen to be millennials (or baby boomers, or Gen. X-ers, or — soon — Gen. Z-ers).

Millennial ‘Twins’: Countries That Resemble One Another in How Millennials Think About Their Careers

In a perfect world, organizations would have the time, resources, and manpower to treat every candidate as an individual, rather than a representative of a larger (and partially imagined) whole.

But, of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. And that’s why demographic studies like this matter: they can’t replace the invaluable process of truly getting to know each and every candidate, but they can help companies zero in on populations that may be more likely to yield the right kinds of candidates.

By all means: get granular. But also: use demographic knowledge to help you target your granular recruiting efforts.

This is where Universum et al.’s “Twins Analysis” comes in handy. Using the millennials’ survey responses, Universum et al. was able to group millennials from different countries into loose cohorts of like-mindedness. The study offers four groups of countries where millennials share similar approaches to their careers:

  • Strivers and Climbers: Millennials in this group “seek traditional management-track corporate careers.” This group includes Italy, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Lebanon, Singapore, and much of Latin America. Thirty-three percent of millennials fit into this category, making it the largest of the “twin” groups.
  • Work-Life Balancers: Millennials in this group are “unwilling to trade their leisure time or physical well-being for career acceleration.” They prize work-life balance above all (as the name suggests). This group includes France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S., Indonesia, Vietnam, and much of Northern Europe and “the German-speaking countries.” Twenty-five percent of millennials fit into this category.
  • Technical Experts Who Are Cautious About Fit: Millennials in this group prize career success, but they are also concerned about finding “jobs where there will be a personal fit between them and the culture.” This is the third-largest of the “twin” groups (24 percent of millennials fit into this category), and it includes countries like India, Nigeria, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, China, and the Philippines.
  • Socially Ambitious, but Pessimistic About Corporate Life: Millennials in this group want to be “wealthy and socially prominent,” but they don’t necessarily believe that climbing corporate ladders is the way to achieve their goals. Eighteen percent of millennials fall into this category, which is prominent in countries like Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Argentina, Thailand, Chile, Ireland, Poland, and Russia.

“When looking at building an employer value proposition, you should look at ensuring a local approach,” says Jonas Barck, global director of media and public relations at Universum. “However, with the ‘Twins Analysis,’ we can see that some regions are similar to others, and that it can be helpful — as well as cost-saving — for employers to identify these twins in their markets.”

And that’s really what it comes down to: a demographic study is not meant to offer the decisive word on a given generation or country; it is only meant to be a tool, one that can help employers better target the people who may have the skills and personalities they need. That’s why the “Twins Analysis” is useful: it helps employers look for the right people in the right places.

Of course, as the study concludes, “[N]o country’s respondents came from a single group — we found a diversity of perspectives in every country studied.”

I — and Universum et al — can’t stress this enough: balance the demographic and the granular; don’t place too much faith in generational categories or geographic locations, but do use them as guidelines in your quest for top talent.

That’s the key to really make great hires.

Next up: the sixth and final part: “How Experience Changes Millennials.”

Read more in Recruiting Tips

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of