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Recruiting Strategies for Gen Z

As the mother of two recent college graduates and a hiring manager myself, I have had a lot of conversations over the past few months with respect to the recruiting process for the youngest generation entering the workforce. So, it got me thinking, “What exactly is Gen Z looking for as they get started in adulthood?” Understanding Gen Z’s motives will help me with my own search for talent, as well as provide insights and best practices for our clients.

A March 2023 Forbes article made a distinction between recruiting strategies that may have worked with Millennials, compared to what is important to Gen Z. Of note, the article stated, “Be inquisitive enough to find out what matters to them, and make sure you deliver.” That statement stood out as we recognize that while there are trends among different generations, each candidate is unique and may not fit the “mold” of the generation they are born into. The key takeaway here is that while we can evaluate and make generalizations related to recruiting Gen Z (or any other generation), it is important to recruit with an open mind and actively listen to what each candidate is looking for.

One way to accomplish this is to put questions into your interview template inquiring about what drove the candidate’s decision to apply to your organization. Capturing that data and looking for themes will provide good insight for your organization to consider. Be open to suggestions and changes in your organization based on what you are hearing from candidates, and what you can realistically offer. On that note, it is important to be honest about what your organization can and cannot do. Not every situation is right for every candidate.

I was curious to hear firsthand what is important to the youngest generation entering the workforce, so I conducted my own mini survey of 18 to 26-year-olds. That information, combined with various articles, studies, and first-hand knowledge of what we are experiencing at HR Works, provided the basis for this article. The key findings summarized can be used, along with the information you are gathering from candidates, to guide your recruiting strategies for Gen Z. Keep in mind when reading over these statistics that while they were gathered from Gen Z, it is likely that many of these factors are important to all candidates.

Compensation Matters.

While Gen Z candidates were not born when the hit movie, Jerry Maguire was released in 1996, they are certainly in tune with the famous catch phrase, “Show Me the Money!” In my survey, I asked the question, “What is most important to you when looking for a job?” Compensation was the number one response, closely followed by Growth and Development. From a financial standpoint, many recent college graduates are concerned with student debt, and are seeking student loan payment contributions or support. One respondent wrote, “Scrolling through LinkedIn recently, I have noticed listings that include a salary range and think this is very helpful! I believe transparency is a wonderful way to make future and current employees feel respected, especially with such a murky narrative surrounding the current economy.”

Note: With the recent increase in state mandated pay transparency laws, including NY’s upcoming requirement (effective September 17, 2023), it is not surprising that we are seeing more salary ranges listed. However, this comment suggests that pay transparency is appreciated and something employers may want to consider even when not mandated by law.

Another point of note related to financial concerns is that younger generations may also feel they cannot pay for new homes and do not have the ability to contribute to retirement. Therefore, employees are back to asking for more money and retirement contributions. Not surprisingly, 86% of the respondents to my survey ranked retirement benefits as “important”, “very important,” or “non-negotiable.” Given that data, first-time home buyer support and financial counseling are also areas that may be attractive to Gen Z.

Growth and Development are Key.

My survey supported what many studies have shown, growth and development are among the highest determining factors in what is most important to Gen Z when looking for a job. One respondent wrote, “In my opinion, the growth trajectory is the most important aspect of a job since I am early in my career. While I find importance in all these factors, I will not be happy in my position unless I feel like I’m progressing toward something.” Another stated, I honestly wasn’t sure what I was looking for in a company when I first graduated college. Now that I’ve graduated and have been working for a year, I would say the most important factor for me is working for a company that dedicates time to your personal growth. Companies that focus on their employees’ growth and reward their achievements are great companies to work for right out of college!”

In terms of growth and development, it is not necessarily in the form of a traditional or structured career ladder. Respondents ranked professional growth as “non-negotiable”, nearly three times compared to career advancement. This statistic suggests that opportunities for job rotation, shadowing, or special stretch assignments are of significant value to Gen Z. Additionally, younger workers may be attracted to roles that provide the highest levels of flexibility or rapid skills growth.

Flexibility is Fundamental.

Gone are the days of an employer-dictated work schedule with no wiggle room to accommodate personal needs and desires.79% of respondents in my survey rated flexibility as important, very important, or non-negotiable.” Interestingly though, remote work is not a deal breaker, with only 11% identifying that as a non-negotiable and 50% indicating remote work as either “not important” or only “somewhat important.” When recruiting, it is worth asking what flexibility looks like to each candidate. HR Works’ candidates have mentioned occasional remote work or flexibility for personal appointments to four-day workweeks; condensed weeks in the summer and/or closure during holidays/more paid holidays than what historically was known as the standard six (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). It is also important to keep in mind that what candidates ask for may not align with business needs, and that is okay. You are not always going to be able to offer everything on a candidate’s “wish list.” Being transparent about what you can/do offer and continuously seeking opportunities to align the best candidates to your organization is of utmost importance.

Do not Forget Employer Brand and Reputation.

Employer reputation is also of importance to Gen Z with 71% of my survey respondents ranking it as “important” or “very important.” Gen Z is looking at open forums, such as Glassdoor and Indeed, or secret forums like Fishbowl and Blind. On these forums, employees are reading what current or former employees have to say and making decisions based on these testimonials. One respondent wrote, “I am in healthcare, so my perspective may be a bit different. Knowing that there’s a high demand, I am looking for a reputable workplace that takes good care of their patients and employees.”

Because employer brand is important, the same energy used to attract customers should be used to attract (and retain) candidates – ongoing and concerted effort needs to be made to define the value proposition your company offers employees. For younger workers, sell the short-term benefits, as that is what most are likely thinking about as they begin to navigate their future. Be transparent about what you have to offer now and throughout the first year of employment. The expectation will be that they see results for their efforts, through compensation, benefits, and growth/new opportunities.

Additionally, when asked what factors are non-negotiable, respect was most often selected, closely followed by professional growth. Hiring managers and recruiters take note. Respect applies to the recruitment and selection process, too. One respondent wrote, “I wish I would be told why I wasn’t selected for certain jobs, it’s very frustrating to just continually see rejections without knowing why.” Another stated, “I have heard many stories from people looking for jobs of this age group who are applying for over 100 jobs and often not getting a response. If denied a job, at least give a valid reason why not.

As noted at the onset of this article, every applicant is unique and although there is some level of commonality based on generation, what candidates are looking for in a job and from a prospective employer will vary by applicant and will likely change with time depending on what factors are impacting the candidates. One question I ask every applicant as I close an interview is to share the three (3) most important factors that they are looking for from an employer. I often hear comments like culture, flexibility and growth/development opportunities. This question is important because it gives me insight into what is most important to that candidate at that time and allows me to determine if their needs align with what our company or the position they are applying for, can offer.

While there is no magic formula for ensuring long-term retention for all employees, Gen Z is demonstrating that they are open to providing employers with information that is useful to designing attractive recruitment tools. Take advantage of this information and get ahead of the talent war both now and in the years to come by focusing on employer branding, benchmarking and adjusting benefits, and developing ongoing programs that support growth, add to employees’ skillsets, and recognize/reward employees for those accomplishments.

Recruiting Gen Z is one challenge, retaining them is another! Next month, my esteemed colleague, Adrienne Schleigh, Sr. Director, HR Strategic Placements, will build off this article with insights and strategies focused on retention strategies for Gen Z.  

Written By:

Janine Corea
Vice President, HR Total Solutions

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.