Millennial Matchmaker: How to Know if a Potential Workplace is the One for You

02/27/2017 05:54 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2017

Companies are obsessed with how to attract and retain Millennials. As they should be! Millennials, those born between 1982 to 2002, will make up to 70% of the workforce in the coming years. And even more than their impressive numbers, this generation’s values are upending many crusty old conventions of the workplace and keeping employers on their toes as they try to unlock the Millennial Mystery.

But what if you are one of the Millennials looking for a job that meets your needs—for purpose, flexibility, a great culture, and mentorship? There is very little guidance out there for you on how to choose a company that will give you what you want.

Over the last seven years, I have interviewed executives, managers, and Millennials at companies across industries, looking closely at the power of honoring relationships at work. From that research, I have developed a checklist to help Millennials find a company that is aligned with their values.

But buyer beware. Most companies will not have all of them. Prioritize this list to meet your needs and then look for companies that speak to you.

1. Does the Company Know and Live Its Own Values?

Hyperbolic corporate values are as old as the day is long. But today’s smart companies are getting down to brass tacks and developing values they can truly live by. The most effective businesses know who they are and use their values as a yardstick in making decisions from who they hire, to who they want to partner with, to what kind of culture they want.

How to Look Under the Hood: Look past the website. Check out a company’s social media. What are their messages? Ask to see a copy of the mission and values statements. Ask how employees at all levels of the organization live the values. You want to make sure that those values come off the walls and are felt through the halls.

Lyft is a ride-sharing company whose mission is “to reconnect people through transportation and bring communities together.” Their official core values support this mission, and apply to passengers, drivers, employees and candidates alike. They are: Be Yourself, Create Fearlessly, Uplift others, and Make it Happen (which translates as, “life is short. Live up front”). Sounds pretty lofty, right? Best of all, Lyft empowers its employees to actually live these values.

On a recent Valentine’s Day, a driver picked up a passenger and handed her a note that said, “Be my Valentine.” The passenger started crying. The driver immediately pulled over, turned the meter off, talked with her and then drove her to her destination. A few weeks later a friend of the passenger emailed the founder saying, “Your driver saved my friend’s life.” Apparently, she was contemplating suicide and the Lyft driver’s kindness saved her.

Which is to say, Lyft gives its customers more than just a ride. They give them a place in the world (in the front seat, actually) and an invitation to be part of a company that lives its values.

2. Does the Company Play the Long Game?

The word “sustainable” used to conjure images of recycling tree-huggers. Today, the concept of sustainability has grown to include all the inhabitants of the earth. Because in reality, it’s not just the planet we’re trying to save. It’s people, too. I think of this imperative as playing the long game. And more than “sustaining” the status-quo, we want to thrive. A truly human, thriving workplace values diversity, considers work-life balance and strives to be environmentally intelligent.

If paying attention to these types of work practices and the impact they have in our lives is important to you, consider working for a company that makes their commitment to playing the long game clear.

How to Look Under the Hood: Does the company believe in a transparent supply chain? Is the company’s impact on the environment a priority? Do they talk openly about diversity? Do they have programs that address issues like parental leave and work-life balance?

Sweetgreen, a chain of upmarket, wholesome, slow, fast-food stores devoted to “Inspiring healthy communities” is clear about its values. One of them is Think Sustainably. They want their employees and customers to know who they are partnering with, and “we’re always looking for ways to source smarter, to make better decisions and to help Sweetgreen and its customers to be a positive force in the world and on the food system.”

These values aren’t just talk. The moment you walk into a Sweetgreen location, you can see sustainability in action. A list of their farmers is proudly displayed. You can see this pledge in their scratch-cooking, the reclaimed wood, and bowling alley tables used in their stores. Their commitment to sustainability is clear, which is exactly what a potential employee wants to see.

3. Does the Company Give Back?

Millennials are on the lookout for companies that have a sense of social responsibility. The good news is that companies of all sizes are developing give-back programs. The June 2016 edition of Inc. Magazine profiled the Best Places to Work with up to 500 employees. Even in small businesses, where the focus is on making payroll and staying afloat, 74% give time off for volunteering.

How to Look Under the Hood: Ask your potential employer about these programs, and get the details on how they work, as they are all different. Some companies provide resources and allow employees to give time and money to a cause that is meaningful to them. Other companies bring employees together to volunteer and use service as a way to build community inside their organization. If the company you are interested in doesn’t have a program, ask if they would be open to you taking the lead on starting one. You will not only be seen as a go-getting, future leader, but you will see if this company really supports the idea of giving back.

Business Talent Group is a global consulting marketplace that connects exceptional independent talent to the world’s top companies to “get critical work done.” The firm has experienced tremendous growth and has hired many Millennials to support that growth. As a relatively new company, there was not a community service program in place.

A few of BTG’s Millennial associates wanted to do something in their own communities and brought it to the attention of the leadership team who was supportive of the idea. The associates chose Junior Achievement because as “business consultants what we are teaching the kids will impact them throughout their lives and careers.” Indeed, they are now delivering workshops on entrepreneurship and personal finance to local youngsters. The associates say that this program is helpful in the recruitment of new talent so the program is a win for the company, its associates who want to give back, and the local community. For a potential hire, this is the kind of impact that counts.

4. Does the Company Take Professional Development Personally?

Opportunities for professional and personal development are often cited as one of the most important factors Millennials consider in their job search. Which makes sense since Millennials are known for their integrated approach to career and life; they aren’t looking for a job as much as an opportunity to learn and grow. So connecting with a company that will encourage and support this perspective is critical.

How to Look Under the Hood: Ask about the company’s approach to employee development. Does it happen on an ongoing basis or is it part of the one time a year performance conversation? Does the company invest in professional development, attending classes in person, participating in online courses, working one day a week on a side hustle, coaching? Be thorough in asking for particulars.

Next Jump’s motto is Better Me + Better You = Better Us. This e-commerce platform connects employees at Fortune 1000 companies to discounts and employment incentives. But more than what it does, Next Jump is focused on how it does it by focusing on a unique corporate culture and a relentless pursuit of individual development for its employees. The leadership is so committed to each and every employee’s personal growth that employees are measured and compensated for their development as much as the more conventional aspects of their jobs such as, generating income for the company. Now that is putting their money where their mouth is!

Through workshops, mentorships, leadership and peer coaching, Next Jump is leading the charge of giving this generation what it wants and needs: a career that honors the growth of each individual.

5. Does the Company Disconnect to Reconnect?

Human beings need to disconnect—a time to meander, enjoy one another’s company, allow their curiosity to roam, and be unproductive. Millennials want to work hard, but they also need time off to connect to their passions outside of the office. In a Harvard Business Review study of 19,000 people, only 25% of managers modeled healthy, balanced work practices that their employees could emulate. And for those who did, their direct-reports were happier, healthier, and more engaged at work.

In other words, companies should develop these practices not just for Millennials, but for all employees, and for the good of their business.

How to Look Under the Hood: Ask about expectations around technology. Are employees expected to be “on” and available 24X7? What is the vacation policy? But be warned: If you hear that a company has an unlimited vacation policy, this sometimes leads to employees actually taking less vacation because of unspoken rules around connectivity and the inbox onslaught upon return.

Vynamic is a healthcare consultancy based in Philadelphia. Its founder and CEO Dan Calista set out to disrupt the consulting industry by building a culture that values living a healthy and balanced lifestyle in an industry known for around the clock client contact, crazy travel schedules and early burnout. And his efforts are working!

Calista’s attempts to change consulting include a full-time employee who is responsible for the “health and care” of its employees, fitbit challenges, personal coaching, and most importantly he has developed a program that enables employees at all levels to actually disconnect from work. This program is called ZZZmail program, as in catch some zzzs. Everyone needs to take a break, and Calista believes that no one will unless the message comes from the top down. At Vynamic, employees are instructed not to send emails unless they are “mission critical” between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am or on weekends. This raises the level of awareness before employees press send on an email. You don’t want to be that person who sends a “Z bomb,” an email at 9:55 pm.

As you think about how to find a company that inspires you, spend some time thinking about what really matters to you. Only when you are clear about your own values, can you find a company that will meet your needs.

Then, once you know what you want and need, look beyond the company websites and glassdoor reviews. Read the fine print. Ask the right questions. Listen for the stories. Find ways that employees are truly living the values—-in the cars (Lyft), in the stores (Sweetgreen), in the halls (NextJump), and in their lives (Vynamic).

And don’t forget to connect for chemistry. Making a commitment, however long or short term, and whether personal or professional, has to feel right. And that’s not just a Millennial thing. That’s a human thing.

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