Hiring Gen Z: The 8 Self-Building Factors Young Workers Are Looking For

A Gen Z professional works on her laptop at her desk

Today’s talent wars are different from those of the past. Managers today are savvy enough to know that hiring one very good person is better than hiring three or four mediocre people. When the labor pool is tight, that means competing with other employers to attract the very best Gen Z applicants.

The winners in this talent war attract enough candidates to let them be selective in choosing whom to hire. Even so, some managers in a position to be selective still find that when hiring Gen Zers, they often choose the “wrong person.” In fact, the most common complaint I hear from managers when it comes to hiring Gen Z employees is that they often feel blindsided by a good hire gone bad in the very early stages of employment.

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What’s going wrong in the hiring of Gen Z?

Employers eager to attract the best are delivering the wrong messages to the wrong people at the wrong times.

On one end of the labor market, employers are desperate to hire young people for jobs that may not be as appealing to more experienced professionals. That’s when employers make the mistake of turning the hiring process into an elaborate sales pitch. The problem is that prospective employees get the wrong idea about what the job they are applying for is really going to be like. Thus, the new employee is quickly disappointed that the job is not as advertised. In months, sometimes just weeks, the person is unhappy and frustrated. The most common thing we hear from the new young team members is, “That’s not what you told me in the interview.”

On the other end of the labor market are employers who are so selective in choosing new employees that they make things too cumbersome. Long delays in the process, wide gaps between a job offer and acceptance and an employee’s start date, and lack of communication during those lags can cause them to lose top candidates to other firms with a more streamlined process.

Winning today’s competition for the most talented Gen Z employees requires developing a systematic effort to find the right candidates along with methodical recruiting campaigns anchored in powerful messaging. You also need to implement rigorous selection techniques, and then get new staff members who come through the door on Day One excited about the actual experience that awaits them. That is the challenge.

The 8 self-building factors Gen Z looks for in a job

The trick for hiring managers and organizations is creating a recruiting message that will attract applicants who are looking for a job where they can learn and grow and build themselves up. I call this a self-building job. There are eight self-building factors Gen Z professionals look for in employment opportunities:

1. Performance-based compensation

Financial compensation must be competitive in the marketplace. But much more important than the actual salary, Gen Zers want to know that their compensation is not limited by any factor other than their own performance. They want to be assured that if they work harder and better, they will be rewarded in direct proportion to the value they add.

2. Flexible schedules

Members of Gen Z want to know that as long as they are meeting goals and deadlines, they will have some control over their own schedules. The more control, the better.

3. Flexible location

Again, as long as they are meeting goals and deadlines, Gen Zers want to know that they will have some control over where they work. To the extent that working in a particular space in a particular building is required, they want to know that they will have some power to define their own space (e.g., arranging furniture, computers, artwork, lighting, etc.) to their liking.

4. Marketable skills

Gen Zers are looking for formal and informal training opportunities and want to be assured that they will be building skills and knowledge faster than the ones they currently have become obsolete.

5. Access to decision makers

Members of Gen Z don’t want to wait until they climb the ladder to build relationships with important leaders, managers, clients, customers, vendors or coworkers. They want access right away.

6. Personal credit for results achieved

Gen Zers don’t want to work hard to make somebody else look good. They want to put their own names on the tangible results they produce.

7. A clear area of responsibility

Gen Z professionals want to know that they will have 100 percent control of something, anything, so they can use that area of responsibility as their personal proving ground.

8. The chance for creative expression

Gen Zers want to have a clear picture of the parameters that will constrain their creativity so they can imagine the terrain in which they will have freedom to do things their own way.

The dangers of overselling Gen Z

This, in a nutshell, is what Gen Z wants. And they expect these things sooner rather than later. If you can offer Gen Zers the chance to build themselves up — in the short run — using your resources, then you will have a compelling message.

Critically, though, you’ll need to follow through on this message. Don’t try to sell members of Gen Z a bill of goods, promising them things you can’t really deliver. Overselling the job to them is a big mistake. If you sell them a self-building opportunity falsely, they will quickly turn the job into a safe harbor or a waystation or a peer group experience and not contribute fully.

That’s why it’s key to clarify expectations at the outset by answering the fundamental questions that are really on their minds:

  • “Exactly what will you expect me to do today, tomorrow, next week, this month, next month and the month after that?”
  • “And exactly what do you have to offer me in the form of financial and nonfinancial rewards today, tomorrow, next week, this month, next month and the month after that?”

Answer those questions in terms that speak to Gen Z’s real concerns right now. Tell it like it is.

For additional insights into managing Gen Z, check out our webinar "Get Ready for the Second Wave of Millennials: Gen Z’s Role in a Multigenerational Workforce."


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About the author

Bruce TulganBruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014) and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by email at [email protected], you can follow him on Twitter @brucetulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.

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