Two years ago, employment experts advised enterprises that to attract sought-after young workers they must exploit new technologies and relax corporate rules. Today those same experts are now coaching young job-seekers to compete with more experienced applicants by becoming more, well, corporate.
The age group known as Generation Y or Millennials, defined roughly as the 70 million Americans who were born between 1977 and 2002, has been considered a desirable pool to pluck new employees from because of their comfort level with all things new, particularly technology. However, thanks to the recession, Millennials are now competing for positions with older, more experienced applicants who have demonstrable skills. Job-seeking Millennials today must be less concerned with the perks and privileges a potential employer offers and focus instead on demonstrating their value to interviewers.
"Right now employers are accommodating within reason," says Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing and placement firm. "Companies are less concerned about attracting [younger] talent because they're hiring less."
Julian Byron, a 26-year-old Web project manager for a digital publishing company in Washington, D.C., says it would probably be tougher to land his job today than it was a year ago when he was hired because of his age. Now in the hiring seat himself, Byron sees a shift from a year ago when job applicants had more leverage. (Read what are the top 10 hot tech skills.)
"We know as employers that it's tough for applicants to find jobs; I definitely feel more empowered when hiring now that I did before the recession," he says.
This generation is often described as spoiled, having been raised by "helicopter" parents who hovered over their children during their formative years. When companies began bending corporate rules to allow employees to use their own cell phones and laptops for work, or grant access to social networking sites such as Facebook despite potential security concerns, that stereotype was reinforced.
But despite preconceptions, observers say Gen Yers have a lot to offer a corporation.
"The key word is innovative; Gen Y has shown us the importance of things like social networking and podcasting, so it's not just technology, it's innovation" that this generation brings to a corporation, says Robert Half Technology's Willmer.
At Fortegra Financial, a financial services firm in Jackonville, Fla., CIO and Vice President Kirk Hale still seeks out Gen Y workers to staff his 27-person IT department, even though there may be more experienced candidates available.
"Even at the Help Desk level, Gen Y is welcome. They're going to walk in and be excited about supporting iPhones and instant messaging," Hale says. "They speak that language, so across the board [hiring Gen Yers] is a welcome opportunity."
However, Hale admits this generation can be challenging to manage. For example, Hale has had to hold more frequent performance reviews than the annual one his company has traditionally performed, in order to satisfy younger workers' need for more consistent feedback. "We have to celebrate the little wins more often," he says.
And he has to answer more questions. Gen Y workers are most motivated when they know why they are doing something, Hale says; they want to know what's in it for them, so he's had to become more transparent in his communication.
"But that's helped our company on a much more global basis," he says. "The things we've had to change to accommodate the newer generation is having a much wider and more positive impact on the company."