Gen Xers: Skills, Strengths, and Shortcomings

Fair or not, most Gen Xers see themselves as the older, responsible child doing dishes and taking out the trash while the baby boomers and millennials argue over the TV remote.

While the smartphone might personify millennials, and Woodstock exemplified Baby-Boomers, Gen Xers were raised with less pleasurable cultural markers. They waited in the backseats of cars in gas lines, watched the towers fall on 9/11, and saw their mid-lives hit the brakes in the great recession.

Then our retired parents told us they don’t have enough saved after buying their Florida three-bedroom condo. To top it off, Gen Xers saw future college tuition prices skyrocketing for their kids.

Is it any wonder that Gen Xers have the lunch-pail, roll-up-the-sleeves, work ethic most companies should crave?

Hiring and retaining quality Gen X employees is much easier if a company understands their motivations.

Sit across from a baby boomer or millennial in an interview and ask about their hobbies. You’ll hear “golf” or “tennis” from the older group, and “snowboarding” or “craft beer” from the younger. Then ask the Gen Xer … you’ll see a furrowed brow. They don’t have hobbies because they’re working 60 hours a week. And they’re not going to start a hobby because they only see that work pace continue.

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After millennial Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, did he hire a millennial class-mate to run it? No. He tapped a Gen X COO born in 1969 who not coincidently is a woman.

Is there a person who personifies baby-boomer success more than Richard Branson? What generation does he trust for the heavy lifting? Virgin Group’s CEO, COO, and CFO all are Gen Xers.


  • Prioritizing. They aren’t going to be ones distracted by shiny objects. They should be the ones purchasing IT because they will only write a check if it will help the bottom line.
  • Non-disruptive in the workplace. Gen Xers don’t have time for Kardashian-style drama. The other generations have that luxury, not them. Get to work.
  • Respect for company culture. There is an appreciation for the previous workers and what they’ve built. They don’t start working at a company to change it; they come on board to make the product/company better.
  • Work ethic. Above all else, it’s work ethic.

How to Hire and Retain a Gen Xer

  • Preach long-term stability in the interviews.
  • Be ready with any answers about former mass layoffs or past division closings. All Gen Xers know people who had to cash out their retirement savings after their Fortune 500 Company let them go. They want to avoid that at all costs.
  • Don’t expect them to push back in an interview. If millennials don’t agree with what the hiring manager says, they’ll ask questions or disagree. If a Gen Xer disagrees, she will politely say “interesting” out loud, but think “no way am I working here” to themselves.
  • Don’t mention ‘lofty goals” or a product that will “make the company HUGE money.” They’ve seen too many friends and parents’ friends take jobs for short-term dollars that imploded. They all know 10 accountants who took jobs as mortgage brokers in 2005 only to be unemployed in 2010. Those people are still struggling.
  • Tempered growth. Loyalty.
  • Buzzwords are for millennials, not Gen Xers. “Solar powered green buildings” or “Green plug in stations for Hybrid cars” aren’t nearly as important as the medical plan.
  • Talk about the 401(k), not the sales goals that get them a trip to Maui.
  • Many companies, such as credit unions (which have been booming in the last 15 years) now offer long-term perks to even mid-level employees such as:
    • 1 percent mortgages to employees
    • College savings contributions for employee’s children
    • 150 percent matching 401(k) programs


They might overlook the big-picture aspect of things. The other generations have handled that before. We’re the people who show up and work.

Peter Keseric is a managing consultant with Futurestep’s Financial Services search Practice, focusing especially on financial services and real estate. He is based in Los Angeles.


5 Comments on “Gen Xers: Skills, Strengths, and Shortcomings

  1. “Then ask the Gen Xer … you’ll see a furrowed brow. They don’t have hobbies because they’re working 60 hours a week” Then they’re sick in the head and need to see a life coach, because this is the same anti-personal-life attitude so prevalent in the Go-Go Eighties. (Remember, “Lunch is for wimps?”)

  2. Yea, easy on the lump sum assessments……this is partially right, but so are horoscopes and fortune cookies……jumping from late 70’s –> skipping the 80’s/90’s entirely (Nixon, Gulf War, GOAT athletes, boy bands, Flying care/hassle free!!, Y2k to name a few) –> and jumping to 9/11 is a major guffaw for anyone trying to shine light on this, most of what influenced our mentality were the 25+ years before 9/11 was even conceivable.

    We were among the last to have learned how to live without constant extrinsic over-stimulation, and can actually hear ourselves think without meditation or yoga.
    Not better, just appreciative

  3. While my article seems to classify these generational traits as stereotypes, I should have been more specific and used a word like “archetypes.” Of course some Gen Xers will push back in an interview if the hiring manager is wrong, but most will not. They will smile and nod, thinking that one day this could be the only firm in town hiring. But Millennials overall have no problem disagreeing.

  4. I don’t usually comment when I disagree on posts, but the empirical research on Gen X traits and behaviors pretty much says the opposite of the traits and behaviors listed in the article. Was this article based on solid research or opinion? The former counts for a lot, the latter not so much.

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