Recruiting the Misunderstood Part One : Understanding Gen Y

Recruiting Generation Y is a topic on the minds of countless recruiters across the globe. As more and more of the Baby Boomer generation approach retirement, Generation X workers disperse into those former roles, and recruiting efforts focus on sourcing from the Generation Y.  This is part one of a two part series. Today,  I will share some information that will help you to better understand the Generation Y candidate, their motivations, and their general characteristics. Next week, I’ll discuss how to use this information to implement the best recruiting methods for this generation.

Generation Y, sometimes called Generation Next, typically refers to those individuals born in the early 1980’s (1982 or 1983) through early 2000’s (2003 or 2004). You will also often hear the term "Millennial" coined by William Straus and Neil Howe in their book; Millennials Rising : The Next Generation to refer to this demographic. Actually, I found a lot of terms used to describe this generation: The Lost Generation, the Net Generation, iGeneration, the myPod Generation.  Echo-boomers was another used frequently. That term came about as a reference to the children of "baby boomers" being "echo boomers'.  Those kids really started more in the late 70s though. Generation Y certainly includes children born to my generation as well, Generation X.

It doesn't really matter what title you give this generation. What is important to a recruiter is that fact that over 50% of the population of the world is under 30 years old. This should be important to you. If you are not already seeing a huge trend in this group being your talent target, you will be. Today is a good day to start trying to understand that generation.

This generation, I'll use Gen Y to define, comes with a whole new outlook on what a career should be. Why wouldn't they? The world is their oyster, so to speak. Their world has seen things former generations only dreamed of in the way of accessible higher education, cutting-edge technology, and cultural development. They can actually work in HongKong from their desk in rural Iowa if they want to. These individuals were practically born into the world-wide web and can spring around it as they choose just like tiny spiders.

Internet access and mobile communication devices have been a part of their world from the beginning too. This has made an impact on the Gen Y's ability to stay in close contact  with parents, teachers, family, and peers. They can get advice from someone they trust online, instant, and with a global scope. They can do it from almost anywhere, at anytime. This results in a strong back-up, or support network, aka their helicopter parents.

When you begin to investigate the characteristics of the Gen Y, keep in mind that economic and cultural differences among this generation can impact general traits just as it has any other. Most of this generation is described by various intellectuals as "Green-loving", or concerned about the environment. They are open and civic minded individuals, who are highly motivated to make an impact on the world. They understand and respect equality and diversity. That is what most sources say. Other sources view and describe the traits they see in this generation pretty harshly. I read some descriptions that called this generation, entitled and narcissistic, even lazy or lacking motivation. While no generation is perfect, for the record, I disagree with the latter. There will always be members of any generation that do not excel, but let's be honest, recruiters aren't looking for those people and they are NOT all "those people".

It is my opinion that Generation Y is really just misunderstood. They have high expectations, yes, but that doesn't mean they have entitlement issues. Maybe we are just a little bit jealous? It’s true, most in this generation are not willing to settle. Who could blame them? After all, they are the ones in demand right? They have choices and they know it. Remember, this generation can barely recall a time without the ability to Google anything they want to know. They have the power of endless information and resources on their side. A college education is no longer just a dream, it is expected, and accessible to almost everyone.

So what are we missing? How can we better understand Generation Y? We should probably start with listening to them. Their opinions and culture are readily available to us on that thing they grew up on - the internet. We have the power to put the internet on our side as well. This group very openly attempts to let us know what they are all about. They understand their ability to voice their opinion on anything, and they do it often. They will give you their two cents on a game, movie, restaurant, public figure or (can you guess?) a JOB OPENING in a tweet, a facebook post, a YouTube video, with a Google+, a photo on Instagram or a pinned link. Good or bad, they can make their opinion known to their contacts, their contacts share it with their contacts, and before you know it, viral. Wait. Have heard that somewhere before?  :)

Next week I will talk about how to harness what we know about Generation Y to improve your ability to recruit the most talented in this demographic. Stay tuned!

Amy McDonald is the President and CEO at REKRUTR. She has been working in the human resources and recruiting industry for over 20 years. Amy has worked with hundreds of recruitment professionals throughout her career, training best practices in sourcing candidates and refining the recruitment process. In her spare time, Amy participates as a thought leader in Recruiting for BIZCATALYST360°  - See more at:

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Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 15, 2013 at 4:43pm

Amy. IMHO trying to characterize a group of 10s of millions of people by the decades they were born in makes only slightly more sense than trying to characterize people by the month they were born in. Of course, there's lots of money being spent by those who believe in astrology, so maybe pitching this Gen X, Y, Z  stuff is worth a shot.....




Comment by Amy McDonald on October 15, 2013 at 4:55pm

Interesting. Your opinion is important to me. So if I'm right, you think that the generation you are born in has nothing to do with general behaviors regarding career. I'm writing on methods for attracting talent in this demographic next week and your opinion is one I'm planning to represent in the article as well. Are you successful recruiting candidates within this generation with the same sourcing you use for other generations? Do you think it is a waste of time to try new methods for attracting ...let's call it what it is...a younger audience of career seekers? Thanks for you feedback! -Amy

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 15, 2013 at 7:58pm

Thank you, Amy. You are kind. I think the fact that I'm a Late Boomer has less to do with my attitudes and values than a large number of other factors: my family background, my ethnicity, where I grew up, my work experiences, my overall temperament, etc. I believe that by and large, generation cohort "lumping" is a mixture of pop-sociology and stereotyping. You can get much better information by using Zip+4-level psychographic work (Claritas PRIZM, Experian Mosaic, etc.): since you CAN tell a lot about a person by where they live.  

As far as sourcing people of Gen X differently from Gen Y: I don't try and categorize potential candidates that way. I typically need to get people quickly, so I can't take a great deal of time researching who the "whole person" is- my main questions are can they do the job, do they want to do the job, and are they available now? If this were 1930s Cambridge, England and I had a long-term goal of recruiting spies for the Soviet Union, I'd need to take a longer view, but it's 2013 in San Francisco, and I need quality butts in chairs RIGHT NOW.

As for your final question: I think it's important to find out whatever means is effective in reaching whichever group of people you're trying to reach within the constraints of what you're trying to do. For example, people my daughter's age (17) typically don't use email, so if I were trying to reach them, I might need to try something else- she's on Tumblr a lot, for example. On the other hand, the means of reaching people for one thing may not translate over into another realm- Tumblr or Reddit might be good for reaching young people for social things, but terrible for reaching about jobs which need to be filled. Finally, anything which is used too much loses its competitive advantage- if everybody is using Pinterest to try and get people, it won't be long before it’s no longer very useful to get people....Fundamentally, if you find something that works to find and get the people you need: USE IT AND DON’T TELL EVERYBODY!



Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on October 15, 2013 at 9:46pm

I'm in agreement with Keith on this topic. Why not lump everyone together based on same shoe size, eye color, favorite sports team, city of residence, high school/college attended, fans of bacon or any other random criteria? 

Throughout my career I've worked with countless people younger than me, older than me and the same age as me. It never occurred to be to interact with them any differently based on when they were born. And, I don't recall having any personal or professional relationship trouble due to treating anyone as an individual regardless of any observable demographic characteristics. 

I even know several sets of identical twins or other multiples that couldn't be any more different from one another. My husband and I are a few months apart in age and we are quite different, yet manage to also be highly compatible. I know teenagers not interested in using a smart phone and people in their mid-70s that have one as an extra appendage. 

I'm pretty sure if you took away the gen labels and showed people only the positives attributes alleged to define that cohort, you'd get many from each gen agreeing that they match those descriptions from the other gens. 

In the HR/recruiting realm we've been hearing and reading about this stuff for at least a decade. Each and every piece of content seems to say practically the same thing. 

What's the big attraction for these stereotypes and generalizations? 

-- Also (to anyone) if you didn't already see it, Matt Charney wrote a pretty swell article on this topic recently (within past few weeks it was here on RBC). Sorry, I don't have link handy, but probably easy to locate and worth a read. 

Comment by Amy McDonald on October 15, 2013 at 11:55pm

Thank you both for the comments and opinions and you both make some good points. That being said,  I'm still convinced that when it comes to sourcing candidates, there are things you can do that will be more effective with talent in one generation than another. Research shows that communication preferences and work place motivators trend by generation when you look at a large sample. As an example, major world events, in my opinion, can play a big part in how an applicant is motivated to explore job opportunities.  In other words, the time period in which one lives, in much the same way as the demographic location of where they live, can be predictive of behavior. Will there be exceptions? Sure. Should we still treat each candidate as an individual once they've been identified? Definitely. But the reason people are still writing about these generalizations, in my opinion, is because there is more and more data available to support that these trends within generation impact us in our businesses. If we understand how this Generation Y is motivated or not, we stand to improve our chances for success in reaching them.  Mr. Charney's article as well, Kelly. Thank you for sharing it.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 16, 2013 at 11:57am

@ Kelly. Thank you. "What's the big attraction for these stereotypes and generalizations?"                            We're hard-wired to do so- humans want to create heuristics ( simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others These rules work well under most circumstances, but they can lead to systematic deviations from logic, probability or rational choice theory. The resulting errors are called "cognitive biases" and many different types have been documented. These have been shown to affect people's choices in situations like valuing a house or deciding the outcome of a legal case. Heuristics usually govern automatic, intuitive judgments but can also be used as deliberate mental strategies when working from limited information.

Amy, I have nothing against doing these, as said before we ALL make generalizations, stereotypes, etc, because we HAVE to. Saying that, I think it's important to try and make ones based on better and more-accurate categories when we have the information...



Keith "As Biased as They Come" Halperin


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