What Gen Z Wants from Employers (In Their Own Words)

Illustration of a magnifying glass on a job seeker.

The second wave of millennials, dubbed Gen Z, is entering the workforce. Do you know how to recruit and manage them? Here’s what these budding creative professionals told us they are looking for when it comes to their careers.

There’s a new crop of talent set to enter the creative industry. They’re ambitious, passionate and entrepreneurial — and they’re ready to work hard for employers that understand them and their values.

Is your creative firm or department ready to harness this cohort’s potential?

To find out what hiring managers need to know to successfully recruit and retain Gen Z professionals, we turned to some best-in-class Gen Zers, aka Graphic Design USA Students to Watch in 2016 honorees. Here’s what they want you to know about their career wants and needs.

Gen Z seeks mentorship

Today’s college students and young professionals have had more guidance and support from parents, teachers, coaches and counselors than any generation in history, according to Robert Half’s Get Ready for Generation Z guide. And while they don’t want to be micromanaged, they do want to be given adequate direction to achieve success. They also hope to receive frequent feedback on their progress. “I think for me to make the most immediate impact, it would be awesome to have a mentor,” says Sierra Clark, an advertising and graphic design major at Columbus College of Art & Design.

Barron Webster, an artist and designer graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), adds: “The ability to learn from experienced people I respect in the field is one of the most important things I look for in a position, even more than the type of work I would potentially be doing.”

Download our free guide on hiring and managing Gen Z now!

Company values mean a lot

Gen Z professionals want to work for companies that stand for something. “We are a generation that is willing to do whatever it takes to pursue our passions; we don’t do things just because they are practical,” Clark explains.

Riley Andrew Donahue, who is pursuing a degree in illustration from Pratt Institute, adds: “The most appealing aspects about an employer are things like the image or the purpose of a company and how the company affects the community and the world outside of it.”

In that same vein, Robert Half’s research revealed that Gen Z’s most valued characteristic in a boss or leader is honesty or integrity.

The workplace environment is more important than you think

Despite being digitally savvy, Gen Z craves a collaborative work environment where they can communicate face to face rather than via text, IM or email. According to Robert Half’s Gen Z research, this group’s top workplace priorities include:

  • Authenticity: When recruiting, Clark says it’s important to be authentic and show what your company is truly about: “That will appeal to us more than trying to be gimmicky. The work and environment of the organization will draw us in.”
  • Work/life balance: “Perks and benefits are often read as a company’s willingness to contribute to the health of their employees, but the attitude and atmosphere of the physical workplace is often a much more accurate read on how employees operate on a day-by-day basis,” Webster says. “If your company has great perks on paper but works people to the bone, priorities seem out of order.”
  • Freedom within a framework: “While I think most people my age appreciate freedom in the subject of their work, structure is helpful and sometimes crucial for people new to an industry,” Webster explains. “The flip side of this is that young workers also should be willing to admit when they’re struggling.”

An openness to innovation and risk-taking is crucial

Gen Z wants creative freedom and values a work culture that supports smart risk-taking. Caitlin Weber, a masters student in the Center for Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art, spent time in the industry before pursuing a second degree and has this unique perspective to offer hiring managers: “Having hired my own staff and interns in the past, I'd remind employers how refreshing it is to have new eyes on a problem,” she says. “It is easy in a creative profession to unintentionally begin building a toolkit of solutions and applying them as needed on projects. New professionals have less of these predetermined solutions in their back pocket, allowing them to see and discover new paths forward.”

Managers will indeed need to strike a balance between providing creative freedom and pointing new hires toward proven best practices. While Gen Z is used to thinking outside the box, sometimes this generation forgets to first look “inside the box” for established solutions.

“I have no problem following the rulebook, but I would love to be in an environment where I don’t have to witness that lasting glare that comes after unveiling a ridiculously over-the-top idea,” Donahue says. “Structure is critical when it comes to a company’s look, and I think an ideal company would have a balanced set of guidelines offering some standards alongside the encouragement of risk and innovation.”

Provide professional development if you want to retain Gen Z

Gen Z is used to being taught and expects to be constantly learning. They put great emphasis on personal growth. If they’re not developing their skills and deepening their knowledge, they won’t hesitate to look for a job that offers more robust professional development opportunities.

“It’s important that learning does not stop after graduation,” says Gabe Melcher, an MFA candidate at RISD. “What matters most for me is that there’s room for developing individual ideas and skills. I want the opportunity to contribute to a studio environment that values its designers' intellectual development beyond the job at hand, and is involved in studio-based projects.”

Weber agrees: “This is my second degree, and as with the first degree, I'm leaving having learned enough to know what I don't know. Providing opportunity for skills growth, mentorship and learning are very important to strengthening skills learned and practiced in the classroom. I think it's easy for new grads to end up in places where jack-of-all-trades skills are needed, but normally those roles exist because there isn't anyone else in the organization doing creative work. Especially in these roles, making sure that there is a commitment to supporting outside learning through conferences and extended education is important.”

Let Gen Zers make an immediate mark

Gen Z is eager to contribute and make an impact. The key is to respect and nurture them, and help focus their energy and enthusiasm. How can you do that? Webster suggests educating new hires early on about the structure of the company and how decisions are made. “Directly encourage and ask for their input,” he says. “One of the hardest things for me to overcome when starting a new job has been not feeling confident about when and where to express my opinions and apply my efforts. Pairing new hires with seasoned employees is a pretty easy way to overcome this.”

Donahue adds that making a personal connection and putting forth the effort to learn about employees makes a huge difference and is a catalyst for motivation. “I definitely believe that the better you care about your employees and understand their lives, the better the work they produce will be.”

The bottom line is that understanding Gen Z is critical to your business. By 2020, more than 20 percent of the workforce will be Gen Z, says Bruce Tulgan, a top expert on young people in the workplace. Those leading creative Gen Zers must prepare to become hands-on, coaching-style managers who promote innovation while customizing and calibrating their direction and feedback.

Learn more about what makes Gen Z unique by viewing this SlideShare:

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