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The Challenge of Hiring Linksters

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Picture this: An 85-year-old company founder startled by the scantily clad intern sitting on his desk texting her mom or an angry parent calling to ask why her son's schedule was changed, impacting the family's summer vacation.

Born after 1995 (age 17 and younger), Linksters, also known as "The Facebook Generation," comprise 18 percent of the world's population. In one short month summer will be here, and millions of Linksters and those on the cusp (ages 18-19) will be working in small businesses as office assistants, interns, busboys, lifeguards and camp counselors -- and they are wildly different from the 20-something Generation Y employees who preceded them.

"This group is characterized by the fact that they are still living at home, and, unlike previous generations, they are typically best friends with their parents," say multigenerational workplace experts Larry and Meagan Johnson. "They live and breathe technology, are more tolerant of alternative lifestyles than their predecessors and are very much involved in green causes and social activism. Bottom line, though, is that they are still very young and inexperienced."

Larry and Meagan Johnson are a father-daughter team and authors of the new book "Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters -- Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work" (AMACOM, 2010). They say smart small business owners need to learn about Linksters' unique generational traits and how to keep these young employees engaged, happy and productive. Along these same lines, recent research from Robert Half International shows that nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of hiring managers polled said managing multigenerational work teams poses a challenge.

Here are 10 ways to get the most out of your Linkster employees:

1. Ride herd on them. They have short attention spans and lose interest if the work is boring. If there's a way to incentivize task accomplishment, do it.

2. Provide them with job descriptions. Linksters need clear direction about what you expect. This includes basics, such as when you expect them to arrive, number of hours they are to work and duties of the job. They are used to being told what to do, in detail and explicitly.

3. Treat them like valued coworkers. Linksters are used to a steady diet of connection and communication from family and friends. If you have a company party, be sure to invite them. Same with meetings, where appropriate.

4. Lead by example. Linksters are still trying to figure out how to act and behave. They will look to older co-workers and managers to shape their workplace identity and demeanor.

5. Orient them to the obvious. Be specific about expectations that may seem apparent. For example, teenagers are used to having their parents cover for them. Make sure they know the consequences of showing up late, taking lunch breaks that are too long or texting on the job.

6. Welcome them with open arms. Let your people know the Linksters are joining your team, and ask everyone to welcome them. Pair Linksters with buddies -- good role models with good work ethics. Call Linksters the night before their first day. Remind them of dress code, arrival time, items to bring, traffic, snacks and water, where to park, whom to contact once they arrive and quitting time.

7. Know what songs are on their iPods. Young people have a language that's distinctly their own. Make an effort to get to know their culture.

8. Create micro-career paths. If you have a young person manning the cash register, give her other tasks that help her understand different aspects of the business from time to time. This keeps her challenged, engaged and feeling valued -- and sets her up for more responsibility.

9. Re-examine your uniform policy. Part of being young is having a heightened interest in how you look. Are you asking your Linksters to wear embarrassing uniforms? Are they comfortable? Are they outdated? Try to remember what being a teen felt like.

10. Thank their parents. Linksters are young and may still live at home with parents. Invite their parents for a visit, call, express appreciation for raising a great kid and thank them for helping to get your young employee to work on time, well rested and prepared.

Have you hired any Linksters? How has that worked out? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. For questions or comments, please contact her at kl@karenleland.com.