Hiring 2017 Graduates: Meet Generation Z
By: Dona DeZube
2017 graduates represent a new population cohort: Generation Z. “It’s the first time Generation Z is entering the workforce, and we’re different from Millennials,” says Jonah Stillman, co-author of Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace.
Gen Zers grew up teaching themselves to use new technology. That DIY attitude transfers into the workplace. “We don’t fear failure, we fear not getting to try, so give us that project you think we can’t do,” Stillman says.
As teens, they watched parents struggle financially during the Great Recession. “There’s still that awareness of ‘nothing is guaranteed, so you have to work hard,’” says Donna Jackson-Robertson, director of career development at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, New Jersey.
“But at the same time, the unemployment rate is low and the economic outlook is up, so there’s a sense of ‘I can do this. I have to work, but it will be OK,” says Jackson-Robertson.
What Makes Gen Z Tick
Because they saw family members laid off, 2017 graduates enter the workforce with little trust that employers have their backs.
“They’re more loyal to their skill than they are to you. They’ve learned it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and their loyalty is to themselves, not their employer,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).
In other ways, they’re like prior classes. While some 2017 graduates seek meaningful work with socially responsible companies, others went to college so they’d get jobs, says Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.
Meanwhile, the 2017 world seems different from 2016. “These kids, on the inside, are very excited about getting into the workplace and scared to death about what’s happening around them in politics and how that’s going to affect them,” Gardner says.
Tailored Employee Development for 2017 Graduates
Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise Holdings, Inc., St. Louis, has an insider’s take on recruiting and retaining recent grads -- her firm hires about 9,000 entry-level employees every year.
Artim says today’s graduates are creative, value teamwork, respect values, and still look for socially responsible employers. But they’ve lived what she calls “syllabus-structured lives,” first with parents, then colleges, helicoptering over them.
“They have a desire to be successful, and there’s an entrepreneurial spirit,” Artim says. “They want to run the company, but they don’t know how, from entry level, to get there.”
To keep kids engaged and motivated, Enterprise outlines a clear linear career path for entry-level recruits, so they understand:
- Where they will start
- The short-term goals they’re supposed to meet
- The skills they’ll acquire
- Where they’ll end up in a year
The company also trains in sound-bites and offers recognition and increased responsibilities half-way through its eight-to-12 month training program. It knows today’s young people will jump to a new employer for a better opportunity.
Another Tough Year for Recruiters
The competition to hire 2017 graduates is fierce. The job market has favored graduates for the past three or four years, in part because 11.5 million of the 11.6 million jobs created since the recession went to college-educated workers, CEW data shows.
A Collegiate Employment Research Institute survey of recruiters last fall confirms college hiring grew this year at rates ranging from 19 percent for bachelor’s degree grads to 32 percent for master’s degree students and 39 percent for associate degree holders.
“This is the third or fourth year in a row of a robust market, so it’s highly competitive for employers,” Gardner says.
Three Ways to Hire More 2017 Grads
If you can’t seem to hire enough 2017 graduates, the experts recommend you focus on the core competencies you need in entry-level employees and how you communicate your employer brand.
They also recommend three strategies:
1. Stop restricting applicants to only a few majors.
In such a competitive year for recruiting, it might pay off to be more flexible about the majors of the students you hire, Jackson-Robertson says.
Need an analytic thinker, who can research and go through data and extrapolate? That’s a history major. Want a persuader with a lot of personality and great oral presentation skills? That’s a theater major, she says.
2. Lower your minimum GPA.
Some schools pass out A’s like Tic Tacs, while others curve grades to limit the number of students who earn top marks. When universities use – and + grading, a student who got an A- in every class will have a 3.67 GPA, rather than a 4.0.
3. If you’re not on one of the coasts or your firm is small, adjust your recruiting pitch.
“College graduates go where the population is most dense,” Carnevale says. “The smaller the area, the less competitive you are in attracting people. The big markets are between Boston, New York, Washington, and Atlanta,” he says.
The smaller your firm, the harder it can be to recruit, too, unless you can sell your organization as a startup. Your best bet: Pitch the job as an opportunity to do many tasks at a growing company. You’ll learn a lot fast and get to do lots of things instead of being limited to one job at a larger firm.
Medium-size companies can play up financial stability and the chance to stand out rather than get lost in the shuffle at a larger firm. We’re the happy compromise offering flexibility and interesting assignments. We’ll be able to pay you next week.
Although hiring 2017 graduates is a competitive game, if you’re open to expanding your search, willing to ease your must-haves, and careful to delineate what’s in it for the candidate, it’s not too late to find great entry-level employees.