Hiring the Cream

May 1, 2006
You can motivate the younger generation if you understand their world.

While discussing job applicants from today's younger generation, a client told me, “I'm just trying to hire the cream of the crap.” When I share this comment in my seminars, everyone in the audience laughs and many nod in agreement.

Although this remark generates some laughs, it couldn't be further from the truth. Young people now entering the work force have a unique blend of talents. They understand technology and enjoy jobs that offer them plenty of independence. Juggling many demands at once is a multi-tasking way of life for them. There is little “crap” in this generation — once you know how to reach and motivate them.

Baby boomers: Life is good

Many of the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) now in managerial roles don't understand the newest generation entering the workforce, the millennials, born after 1980. If you are a baby boomer, typically your outlook on life is rather optimistic. You expect to have a better lifestyle than your parents, and you believe hard work pays off. Boomers believe purchases can be made on credit cards because tomorrow is another day and promotions and raises will continue, albeit smaller than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

By contrast, millennials are cynics. They have seen the Clinton scandals and the impeachment hearings, the first terrorist attacks on American soil, and the business scandals of WorldCom, Global Crossing and Enron. A survey of millennials indicates they believe they have a better likelihood of seeing a UFO than Social Security checks with their names on them.

How does this affect how you motivate millennials? Provide something for the new hire to believe in. Are you looking to just get a warm body in an open position, or are you looking to hire someone who will have a life-changing experience working for you? The younger generations are far less tolerant of mundane work for companies they can't believe in.

The organizations now hiring the top people focus on creating a work environment that makes a difference for younger employees. Imagine that several years ago you hired a married couple in their early 20s who have turned out to be terrific employees with great flexibility and technical knowledge. One day they tell you they want to take a one-year unpaid sabbatical to travel before they start a family, and they ask if they can have their jobs back when they return.

Are you dumbstruck? Are you angry? Are you willing to promise them jobs once they return? Get ready for this reality. It's the new version of retirement.

Millennials and young generation X-ers (born between 1965 and 1980) don't see retirement as we currently know it. They foresee always needing a stream of income to live and to provide for health care. Their new model of “retirement” is to save enough money to live on for up to 18 months and quit working to take on a time of family fun, reflection and growth at an earlier age.

Still not sure you would rehire these good employees? Your competition will be eager to scoop them up. To retain employees who crave an extended leave of absence/sabbatical, some organizations provide employees an unpaid 12-week sabbatical after a certain number of years of continuous service.

Another way to attract the best of the younger generation is to hire collectively. This generation wants to work with their friends to the point of moving cross-country to do so. Once you find a good employee who solidly contributes to your organization, inquire about the qualifications of his or her friends and how they may fit within the organization. The “collective worker” mentality creates a sense of belonging and a family-like bond group enjoys.

When discussing this strategy at one of my seminars, a pessimistic attendee asked me, “What if they all quit at the same time? Then I'm in big trouble!” I responded that if they leave en masse it obviously would be a problem for that company. But a mass defection of that magnitude would be more of a reflection on the leadership and the organization. That company would have bigger problems than just a few employees leaving, and until those problems were corrected, it would have a revolving door of employment.

Finding quality employees will get even tougher as the 77 million baby boomers retire over the next few years with millions far fewer potential employees to take their place. It's going to be an employees' market for the next 15 years. The companies savvy enough to change to conform to the new-style worker will be the organizations capable of selecting the cream, not just of what's available, but of what is also already employed.

Finding new blood

Attracting quality employees requires a much different approach. Are you advertising in the classifieds? Is it a boring ad? This generation was raised on television and computers. Newspapers are blasé. Ho-hum. To reach this generation you need information presented in an exciting way.

Get current! It starts on the Internet. You need a new-hire blog, an employee blog, a podcast from the president, or a video clip showing how working for your company is an exciting opportunity. You use testimonials from current customers to attract new customers, right? Why not have current employees of a like age group offer testimonials on your Web site, too? Bandwidth is inexpensive, and you should consider having a video on your Web site that features current employees talking about why they love working for you.

If this sounds totally foreign to you, get aggressive on the hiring front and the technology front. Technology is second nature to this age group. Perhaps it's not the technology that scares you. Maybe you are concerned that you won't find enough employees who will talk favorably about your company in a video interview, or you are worried about what employees might say on a blog. If this is the case, your hiring issues may not be with the “crap” coming in the door, rather it might be the “crap” already in place. There is still plenty of “cream” in the talent pool wanting to be employed — if you know how to reach them.

The author is president of Russell J. White International Inc., Lake Wylie, S.C., and known in speaking and consulting circles as “The Big Guy.” He is an author, trainer and international speaker with 25 years of experience as a Fortune 500 manager and consultant. White is the author of “Debunking the Designated Decoy: Get to the truth in your organization!” and “Little White Truths: Lessons for Leadership.” His articles appear in national trade magazines and regional business newspapers. White can be reach at (877) 275-9468 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Visit his Web site at www.thinkBIGguy.com.

5 Tips for Understanding and Hiring the New Generation

  1. Utilize their technological talents

    Young people grew up with computers, the Web and other forms of technology. You can use this expertise to your advantage.

  2. Develop flexible work environments

    You have to manage your younger employees and not let them manage you. But younger employees treasure flexible work hours and time off. They don't mind doing their work at odd hours of the day or night, if in return they can get the occasional Friday off, or other perks.

  3. Hire collectively

    Young people like to work with their friends and other people their own age. Once you convince an employee that your company is a good place to work, they will tell their friends. Consider developing some incentives for them to do so.

  4. Use videos and blogs on your Web site to attract new employees

    Potential employees from the younger generation tune into blogs, podcasts and other Web-based types of communications. Consider offering a video on your Web site that features interviews with current employees talking about your company, or an online blog where new employees can chat with other young people at your company.

  5. Rethink your retirement packages

    A younger employee with a live-for-today attitude may not be as interested in your company's 401(k) plan as he or she might be in a perk like an unpaid 12-week sabbatical after a certain amount of years of continuous service, or other innovative work/vacation arrangements.

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