In my twenties, I co-founded ReWork, a B-Corp that supports mission-driven organizations in attracting and hiring top talent. At ReWork, we were really good at drawing in exceptional, passionate, emerging leaders. I have been personally involved in filling over 300 positions, almost all of which were filled by Millennials.
Particular hiring challenges arise from a lack of understanding of Millennial applicants, and these misunderstandings ultimately hurt excellent organizations.
At the same time, a majority of the hiring leaders I work with are GenXers or Baby Boomers. Early on, I found myself frequently working through sticky situations during the hiring process, but thought, “Hey, this is just the age-old challenge of recruiting, right?”
Now I know better. ReWork’s success attracted the interest of Koya Leadership Partners, an established national executive search firm in the nonprofit and higher education sector. After the successful acquisition of ReWork, I found myself surprised that the “sticky situations” I faced in hiring weren’t typical for my new colleagues.
It became clear that particular hiring challenges arise from a lack of understanding of Millennial applicants, and these misunderstandings ultimately hurt excellent organizations who are looking to hire top-quality talent.
At ReWork by Koya, we get Millennials. I want to help you get Millennials too. Today, I share with you letter number one in a series of open letters that will debunk some of the misconceptions around hiring Millennials in hopes that GenX or Boomer managers can become cognizant of these Millennial myths.
Older generations have been known to disparage Millennials’ attitude during interviews.
“I wouldn’t have asked about flexible work arrangements and benefit details until at least a year into the job, it would have demonstrated poor work ethic. Vacation should not be on their mind the first six months. The entire first year should be about showing commitment, and these kids are asking about flexible work arrangements during an interview?!”
Deep breaths, Boomer. Millennials ask these questions because the opportunities and constraints are different for them than previous generations.
Here, I hope to demonstrate how managers can better identify which Millennials are committed and have an excellent work ethic. I will provide generational differences that make these early inquiries seem reasonable to ask and conclude with questions to ask future Millennial candidates.
Difference #1: Technology
Most hiring managers see working remotely as a privilege that might be afforded under special circumstances after an employee has proven themselves dedicated and loyal. For Millennials, location flexibility isn’t a privilege, it’s the way their entire adult lives have worked.
For Millennials, location flexibility isn’t a privilege, it’s the way their entire adult lives have worked.
Technology allows Millennials (and savvy GenXers/Boomers) to multi-task like never before. With the ability to order groceries from an app, answer emails in bed, and bank while flying 30,000 feet in the air, technology has significantly loosened location and time-based constraints for consumers, students, friends, and family members. Why wouldn’t Millennials expect the same flexibility as an employee?
Difference #2: What work means to Millennials
Millennials no longer see work as a duty and paycheck. Fifty-seven percent of young Americans recently said that their number one requirement for work was that it was either enjoyable or made a difference to society, whereas 64 percent of all Americans put making money or learning skills as their top requirement for their first jobs.
Boomers and GenXers look elsewhere for enjoyment and meaning. For example, fraternal groups, sporting leagues, service, professional, and religious groups all report that they are struggling to attract younger members. This comes unsurprisingly to Millennials as they see their professional lives as the central opportunity to grow as human beings, find like-minded people to solve significant problems, and contribute to something bigger than themselves.
In fact, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, Millennials are more likely to be workaholics than Boomers or GenXers. That is, not only do they expect more from work, they also invest more time into their work. Millennials know what they are passionate about and want to know they will get as much as they give.
This concentrated work ethic, paired with the advances in technology mentioned above, makes flexibility seem like a very reasonable thing to ask for. A Millennial is likely to think to themselves, “If I am willing to work on a writing assignment at home on a weekend night, why can’t I work from my parent’s house on a similar assignment the day before a religious holiday?”
Millennials know what they are passionate about and want to know they will get as much as they give.
Difference #3: Gender Norms
I was sitting in a meeting where a Boomer founder was talking about his company’s success over the past 30 years. While trying to inspire the young people in the room, he said, “We never would have been able to do what we did, if we didn’t have our wives taking care of everything at home. We have them to thank.”
Obviously, this backfired.
Unfortunately, American work culture was built on the patriarchal expectation that a professional man would be wholly committed to work and his wife would be able to take care of all responsibilities associated with the home.
Moreover, the GenX/Boomer women who earned degrees and took on professional roles were expected to bend to the existing norms of the organizations they were joining. Luckily these fierce women who committed to creating a place for females in high-ranking positions have paved the way for Millennials to continue pushing the needle on equality.
Additionally, thanks to the LGBTQ civil rights movement, the country is going through significant shifts in its understanding of gender. The concept of gender and sexuality as fluid and non-binary has become far more accepted by Millennials. Expectations for gender and equality in the workplace have changed, and organizations willing to change their values to match those of potential employees are far more competitive and attractive to top talent.
Therefore, it makes sense that any interviewee would immediately ask about flexible hours, paid leave, and vacation time. If men, women, and gender non-conforming people alike are to share the responsibilities both in the home and at work, they need to understand what is available to them at the start. Employers who want gender diversity in leadership, management, or the industry at all shouldn’t have a problem with these questions and, instead, embrace them.
Regarding questions about work/life balance as privileged or reflective of poor work ethic does the hiring manager and their organization a disservice.
Times have changed significantly for the new generation of young professionals. Regarding questions about work/life balance as privileged or reflective of poor work ethic does the hiring manager and their organization a disservice. It means that they may not hire the best person for the job based on a fundamental misunderstanding.
I also understand that when cues you formerly used are no longer reliable, companies need a new method to find the right candidate.
If you want to learn more about a Millennial interviewee’s work ethic, commitment, or ability to handle the increased responsibility of flexible time, I encourage you to ask outright during the interview. Some good questions to ask might be:
• Tell me about a time that something went wrong at work, but you pushed through.
• What do you think would be most fulfilling about working here?
• Tell me about how you manage your time or envision being productive when working remotely.
Good luck and stay tuned for my next letter (because gosh darn it, people just don’t write to each other anymore).
Abe Taleb, The Millennial Whisperer