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It's Hiring Season: Get Ready for the Class of 2015

05/12/2015 01:10 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2016

Happy Spring! It's hiring season again. Get ready to welcome the Class of 2015, most of whom will be members of Generation Z (those second-wave Millennials born 1990-1999).

On a macro level, Generation Z represents a tipping point in the post-Boomer generational shift transforming the workforce. With older (first-wave) Boomers now retiring in droves, they are taking with them the last vestiges of the old-fashioned work ethic. By 2020, more than 80 percent of the workforce will be post-Boomer -- dominated in numbers, norms and values by Generations X, Y, and Z. Generation Z will be greater than 20 percent of the North American and European workforce (and a much greater percentage in younger parts of the world -- especially South Asia, Sub Saharan Africa, and South America). Generation Z just happens to be the generation to come of age in the 2010s, during an era of profound change and uncertainty driven by a confluence of epic historical forces

On a micro level, Gen Zers have grown accustomed to being treated almost as customers/users of services and products provided by authority figures in institutions -- both in schools and in extracurricular activities, not to mention in their not infrequent experiences as actual customers. As a result of all of this, relationship boundaries with authority figures are rather blurry for Gen Zers. They expect authority figures to be always in their corner, to set them up for success, and to be of service. They are often startled when authority figures see it otherwise.

Trying to make the adjustment to "fitting in" in the very real, truly high stakes, mostly adult world of the workplace is a whole new game for them. And it's not really their kind of game. They are less inclined to try to "fit in" at work, and more inclined to try to make this "whole work thing" fit in with them:

  • Sometimes new young workers just want a place to hide out and collect a paycheck. I call that "just a job."
  • Sometimes new young workers are taking stock and trying to figure out what they really want to do next. I call this a weigh station job.
  • Sometimes new young workers look at work as a place to hang out with friends. I call this a peer group job.
  • Sometimes new young workers find a job opportunity that aligns with their deep interests and priorities.
  • Sometimes new young workers see a job as an opportunity to work like crazy for a period of time with the chance of a giant payoff.
  • Sometimes what a new young person might value in a job is an unusual opportunity to meet an idiosyncratic need or want. I call this a needle-in-a-haystack job.
  • The very best case is what I refer to as a self building job: When new young workers look at the job as a chance to make an impact while building themselves up with your resources.

Today's talent wars are different from those of the past. Managers today are savvy enough to know that hiring one very good person is better than hiring three or four mediocre people. When the labor pool is tight, that means competing with other employers to attract the very best applicants. The winners in this talent war attract enough candidates that they can be selective in choosing whom to hire. Even so, some managers in a position to be selective still find that when hiring Gen Zers, they often choose the "wrong person." In fact, the most common complaint I hear from managers when it comes to hiring Gen Zers is that they often feel blindsided by a good hire gone bad in the very early stages of employment.

Too many employers eager to attract the best young talent are still delivering the wrong messages to the wrong people at the wrong times. On one end of the labor market, employers are desperate to hire young people for jobs that are not very appealing. That's when employers make the mistake of turning the recruiting process into an elaborate sales pitch. The problem is that prospective employees get the wrong idea about what the job they are applying for is really going to be like. Thus, the new employee is quickly disappointed that the job is not as advertised. In months, sometimes just weeks, the person is unhappy and frustrated. The most common thing we hear from the new young team members is, 'That's not what you told me in the interview.'"

On the other end of the labor market are employers who are very selective in choosing new employees. The problem here is when employers make the hiring process too cumbersome: long delays in the process, wide gaps between a job offer and acceptance and an employee's start date, and lack of communication during those lags.

In order to win today's competition for the most talented young employees, you need to develop a systematic effort to find the right candidates, develop methodical recruiting campaigns anchored in powerful messaging, implement rigorous selection techniques, and then get new staff members in the door on day one excited about the actual experience that awaits them. That is the challenge.