August 13, 2013

What Recruiters (and Everyone else) Need to Understand about Millennials

What you need to know written on a white boardAs a millennial, I’m constantly reading articles that aim to tell the world (specifically the working world) about: what millennials think and feel; how we tend to act and why; what we do and do not need. And most often, this “how to” comes from people who don’t even fall into our generation.

Well, to be honest, I’m getting annoyed with this trend. Imagine someone telling others about what you want and need, how you think and act and the reasons behind all of us all the while without ever having consulted you. These “guides” on millennials are often based off of surveys and polls, which can often generalize this group of people. Not every millennial is disloyal and is into job hopping. Nor is every millennial environmentally conscious or desires for their careers to serve a bigger purpose.

I think it’s time for recruiters, HR managers and companies in general to change their approach to understanding millennials—ask us yourselves, specifically those already working for you. Sourcing and understanding talent will be easier if opposed to saying “I read this survey about millennials and now will alter my recruiting practices around it,” recruiters actually approach millennials themselves, get their opinions and seek to understand this group of people.

This could be as simple as asking specific millennial-related questions during interviews, or again, getting to know and understand the millennials who work for you. My point is that it will help companies to conduct their own research when it comes to millennials as opposed to reading the latest “what millennials don’t know” article or “best perks for millennials” survey and then making conclusions about this group. There’s a difference between reading about chess and having that understanding of the game than learning about chess by actually playing the game.

I recently read an article, “The cost of millennials’ job hopping,” and the writer and contributors made a few interesting statements about millennials. To my surprise, this article actually reflects a lot of my own views as a millennial; so, here’s another “how to” from one real-live millennial that will hopefully help employers understand the importance of conducting their own research on our generation:

Jim John, chief operating officer at, said it’s a mistake for companies to view millennials as disloyal. They take charge of their own careers – for their own good, the good of their families and, given the generation’s heightened social consciousness, the good of the world around them.

“This generation has a real objective or sense that ‘I have to manage my career,’ ” John said. ” ‘I have to take control of it and be responsible. Employers are pressed, and they hire and lay off indiscriminately. So I have to be responsible to me, and to my family.’ “

As a millennial, this is my view. I am in control of my own future and cannot depend on anyone else to accomplish my goals for me, including my employer. I am responsible to myself, my family and my future just as companies are responsible to themselves, their productivity and overall bottom line. And if a company doesn’t believe I’m benefiting it in any of the above areas, it won’t hesitate to replace me with someone who it believes will.

Stephen Burnett, a professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said, “The issue with this job hopping is that we have to understand that loyalty is something that a company now must earn. Maybe in my generation, that was less true. But today, loyalty isn’t something the company has a right to. It has to be earned.”

The above statement also reflects my views as a millennial. Why wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) a company have to earn my loyalty when I 1) have to earn its trust, respect and belief in me as a potential employee and 2) have to get a sense of the company to determine if it will truly benefit my future, similar to how in the first 90-day probationary period companies get a sense whether or not new employees will benefit them? No one initially offers their undying loyalty to another without first knowing and understanding if the receiver is worth it. Loyalty is an investment.

He agreed that none of this makes millennials selfish, noting the generation’s focus on the environment and community service. “They were raised working in the homeless shelter and building houses for Habitat for Humanity,” Burnett said. “So in terms of their career path, it’s all about ‘me,’ but ‘me’ wants to do something that goes beyond making me rich.”

Burnett’s views here (or at least his wording) don’t reflect my own as a millennial. Ultimately my career path isn’t all about “me” because what I hope to do doesn’t benefit me, but others. I desire to make a difference through the messages in my writings (among other things) and this doesn’t directly benefit me, financially or otherwise. The only time “me” comes into place on my career path is the satisfaction I will receive from knowing my work has helped others. I do, however, agree that being rich has nothing to do with my career goals.

Rather than cast aspersions on this growing slice of the workforce – saying they’re misguided or not loyal – I’d argue to embrace what they stand for and recognize that baby boomers, Generation Xers and everyone else might benefit from a new perspective.

“Millennials are going to be asking the right questions,” Schawbel said. “Why is there a 9-to-5 workday? Why are we trying to just make money? Why don’t we do something that’s greater for civilization? Shouldn’t I get rewarded for my performance, not my experience level?”

I couldn’t agree with this more and it falls in line with my initial statement: Instead of taking the aspersions cast on millennials by others (especially those outside this group), it will benefit companies to get to know and understand these workers for themselves.

Any millennials reading this? Share your own “how to” for your wants, needs and reasoning as a millennials worker.

Read more in Retention

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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