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Recruiting and Retaining Generation Y

Keep your pitch short, snazzy and precise. Walking the walk and talking the talk is simply your first step.

March 6, 2008
by Sukanya Mitra

With the first group of baby boomers wading into retirement, the accounting and financial field, like many other professions is wincing at the demographic migraine looming on the horizon —  how to fill the intellectual void left by the aging "flower children." With 80 million Gen Ys – those born between 1979 and 1999 – entering the workforce, every single organization needs to get up to speed quickly on the best way to source and recruit these talented individuals. The most computer savvy generation to date, Gen Ys have lived in the Web 2.0 world long before the rest of us knew it existed.

Who Is Gen Y?

To know them, you've got to take a history lesson and step back. Debra Lynn, a director at PeopleFilter Technology, identified four categories of intergenerational workers at a recent HR.com Webinar:

  • Veterans. "They built America as we know it," quips Lynn. She described these 60-plus workers as the group who has either retired or due to recent monetary constraints are the same people who are returning to the workforce to make ends meet.

  • Baby Boomers. These are the veterans' children. "Nearly 83 million of them," all of whom learned very quickly to either get along or get left behind. This group is known for their job aspirations, working together and achieving goals. Lynn says we should thank them for teaching others about team-building because they are the ones who developed it.

    For baby boomers, Lynn says, career planning was an exercise of choice. "Boomers see Xers (see definition below) as lazy, cynical, greedy and suspicious, while Xers see boomers as obsessive, dictatorial and a bit naïve."

    Boomers have long had the distinction of displaying their résumés, showing off the goals they have achieved. They are the ones with the can-do attitude, sort of, "give me the job and see what I can do for you." But a majority of baby boomers are staggering towards the retirement age of 62. Even as they start to retire, the generation that is known to be constantly creating, has even created a Web site for themselves called aginghipsters.com.

  • Generation X. Children of the baby boomers and the original "latchkey kids," they were often taken to after-school programs or left alone at home. Lynn says they are notorious for having negative attitudes and chips on their shoulders. She says this results from the fact they always had to fend for themselves, while their parents, the baby boomers, were trying to save the world and solve its problems.

    According to the American Society of Training and Development, 76 million Americans will retire in the next two decades. While boomers are the ones who still subscribe to their favorite magazines and newspapers and don't mind turning to Page 18 for the full story, "Gen Xers and beyond want the Cliffs Notes version," revealed Lynn. But she quickly points out that not all Gen Xers should be stereotyped, especially because they were the ones who gave us: Michael Dell of Dell Computer, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Jerry Yang and David Filo of Yahoo!

    Generation X is the group who saw the rise and fall of the dot-com. They learned at a tender age to only give when they receive. And guess what? These are the people who are mentoring, coaching and parenting Gen Y.

  • Generation Y. Generation Y is the most diverse populace both ethnically and geographically and make up more than 70 million of the population. Not surprisingly, one in three Gen Yers are not Caucasian; one in four lives in a single-parent household; while three out of four have working mothers.

    They are yet another generation of latchkey children. As Lynn points out, they are also the generation that has been branded at and marketed to. They truly believe in "Just do it!" says Lynn. They prefer bluntness to subtlety and live by and are extremely influenced by their peers and brand names. Word goes around almost at the speed of lightning, as they are the generation who are online 24/7, IMing one another and have changed the meaning of three Rs to four Rs: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and the InteRnet.

What else are they? In the work environment, Generation Yers are team players, they enjoy collaborating with their team members to reach their goals, they enjoy corporate responsibility (think hybrid cars, solar energy) and they are a confident bunch. And thanks to them being the off-spring of latchkey kids who yearned attention and didn't get any, but made sure their kids did in every step of the way, Gen Yers expect to be rewarded even when they shouldn't be. They expect to be trained, coached and mentored so they can achieve the next level. If you don't provide it, they're off to the competition, where they will get their due.

Recruiting and Retaining Generation Y

Your biggest obstacle is keeping their attention. They are the Internet generation. They are highly tech savvy and here are some numbers from PeopleFilter to help you assess them:

  • 97 percent either own or have access to a computer (be it at a friend's house, school or library);
  • 94 percent own a cell phone;
  • 76 percent use Instant Messaging;
  • 15 percent of IM users are logged on 24/7;
  • 34 percent use Web sites as their primary source of news (Who has time to waste or wait for a pre-determined schedule? They live by their own schedule.);
  • 28 percent own a blog, while 44 percent read blogs;
  • 75 percent of them are college students with Facebook accounts;
  • 60 percent own iPods or similar MP3 device (gone are the days of Walkmans);

If you're using classified advertisements in newspapers or solely rely on online job boards, you'll lose them before you even begin your recruiting efforts. Since a majority of them link to each other through social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, it is prudent to create an account in either of those sites and have your own recruiting site on them. Lynn recommends creating a page and assigning someone to update it regularly with "what's cool in your company" and what socially responsible issues your company is involved with. Toot your horn. She also suggests posting dialogs on others' sites and inviting them back to your recruiting site as a way to start the process. Lynn reminds us that "more than 80 percent of core demographics falling in the 16- to 34-year-old category include college professionals, some of whom have only 13 years of work experience" are MySpace account holders.

Practical Tips

Speak to Generation Y at their level. Your recruiting Web site cannot be flat and bland. When Generation Y-ers apply through your company Web site, the site should be snazzy and tech-oriented. Gen Yers would not have it any other way. As they demand attention and being rewarded, they expect common courtesy notes thanking them for applying to your company. If you don't do this simple gesture, you will lose them. Even if they are not the right candidate for the job, you must let them know that they're not the right fit for the job and that you will keep their resume in your files when a job more closely fits their experience. If you have doubts about doing this, think of it this way: Generation Yers make up 70 million of the current population, they share everything online through their blogs or their MySpace and/or Facebook sites and they are easily influenced by their peers. That said, if they're hurt or angered, they're going to talk. And you don't want 70 million people badmouthing or speaking against your company!

If you can't lead them, join them. It's key in this case. To recruit Gen Yers, you have to live and work by their rules. If they came to your site, that means there is some interest. Amplify your site with banners that would interest them and their interests. They are the generation who founded blogs. As an example of how you can reach them, Lynn suggests placing HR recruiting-specific banners in blogs that they would normally visit.

And if you're lucky enough to have them in your workforce, here are some tips Lynn offered to hold them there for the next couple of years:

  • Offer "career pathing." They want to know how they can reach Point B from Point A. Will you be offering training? What training will be involved? Will they be paired with a mentor or will some of the job involve doing things on their own? They are known to give 110 percent if they know what's on the table and believe in what your company is doing. They are at a company to go the next level and they want to achieve that next level sooner than later and they want to have the means today, to reach that goal tomorrow.

  • Gen Yers want to align with employers that care and do something for a cause. They are the generation who have been branded and most marketed to. They enjoy being part of a team that stands for something. Your company is their brand. Your brand had better have some name among their peers or at least within the industry, if you want them to stay with you. They live by brand recognition.

  • Have a smooth candidate experience. They've been born with Internet in their mouths. You will lose them if an assessment process is too long-winded and does not make sense to them. Similarly, if on the first day of work they do not have a laptop or you're not ready with their key card, they will walk. They demand you to be technologically savvy and up-to-date because the market has it. If you can't provide it, they can just as easily go to the first company that offers them these "condiments."

  • GR8. TLK 2 Them. Lynn warns, "do not talk at them." You need to talk to them in a language they understand and to which they will listen. Give them feedback as they expect it. They want to know when they're doing a job correctly and incorrectly. Be blunt. Tell them as it is. Build a relationship with them. You will reach more of them through word-of-mouth.

  • Create a mentoring program for them before they even start at your company and definitely after they have joined. It shows them they are part of your company's culture and one of you. They have a sense of belonging and being part of the team that's willing to do what it takes to reach their common goal.

Last Thoughts

Generation Y is a high-performance generation that is technologically savvy and who zips in and off the super highway. They have the world at their fingertips and are a hugely talented resource for employers. Don't be afraid of them. Come down to their level, be direct, mentor and help them reach their goals and soon you'll have a strong workforce. As Lynn advises, "Don't retreat, RECRUIT!"

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Sukanya Mitra is Managing Editor of the Insider™ e-newsletter group.