Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomer Candidates Aren’t Really So Different

Right now, there are three generations in the U.S. workforce: millennials, generation Xers, and baby boomers. Each of these age cohorts makes up about one third of the workforce, but by 2020, as baby boomers retire, millennials are projected to make up nearly half of the working-age population.

dec_2014At the Indeed Hiring Lab, we took a look at how each of these generations is searching for jobs today to get a better idea of the coming talent opportunities and challenges. In addition to examining the aggregate search data on what millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers are looking for, we also talked with employers to learn how they perceive candidates from different generations.

Overall, we found that job seeker preferences don’t differ that much from generation to generation. The differences are more subtle than the current conversation around millennials in the workforce would suggest, and employers are aware of that hyperbole. According to Aaron Kraljev, vice president of employer marketing at Wells Fargo, “While we’ve found that younger segments are more adept at technological advances in the application process, we also know that for most of our workforce, people are basically on the same page in how they approach their job search. It’s part of how anyone looks for a job now.”

In fact, our data show that one consistent commonality between job seekers of all ages is mobile — they all rely on their devices in a job search, even Baby Boomers, although slightly less than the younger generations. 73.4 percent of millennials search on mobile, and 71.3 percent of Gen Xers, and 48.4 percent of baby boomers use mobile too.

We also saw a preference for flexible work across generations. Search terms associated with flexible work are consistently among the top terms used by job seekers of any age. This will become increasingly important for employers as the labor market tightens and they compete for talent. In conversation with Jocelyn Lincoln, vice president of Americas recruiting at Kelly Services, she commented that, “the biggest discussions we’re having are around flexible and remote work, and this is a change that affects all generations. This has a lot to do with the portability of much of today’s work.” Attracting the candidates of tomorrow will mean redefining when and where a lot of work takes place.

In addition to those similarities, we found some differences that hew more closely to generational stereotypes. Millennials are more likely to use their mobile devices. And they’re less familiar with the labor market compared to older job seekers — Baby Boomers search most often in occupations where the most jobs are available, followed by Gen Xers and then millennials. This suggest that as people age into their careers they get a better sense of what’s available and make decisions accordingly.

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Gen Xers are often neglected in the discussion about today’s generations, but in some ways, they may emerge as the ideal candidates for many hard-to-fill roles. They’re nearly as mobile as millennials, show more interest in computer and mathematical occupations than the younger set, and will have the experience to fill management occupations as baby boomers retire.

Baby boomers are more interested in blue-collar jobs than younger job seekers, meaning we may see shortages in occupations like construction and extraction and transportation and material moving as boomers leave the workforce. Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations are one area where there is low interest from all generations, but particularly from younger generations. Employers in this space will need to develop creative strategies for working around looming shortages, attracting people into these professions, and attracting job seekers from other markets.

Some of the Related Conference Sessions at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego:

  • The Future of Talent Acquisition, April 29, 4:15 a.m.

Tara M. Sinclair is an associate professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University and Senior Fellow at Indeed's Hiring Lab. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in macroeconomics and econometrics. Her research interests focus on modeling, explaining, and forecasting macroeconomic and particularly labor market fluctuations and trends for different countries. She is the co-director of the George Washington University Research Program on forecasting. As Indeed’s economist, she is developing original research using Indeed data on jobs and labor.


6 Comments on “Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomer Candidates Aren’t Really So Different

  1. Interesting summation. I’ve long thought the yipping about millennials was overblown ‘kids these days’ nonsense. However, one thing I have noticed consistently about millennials, confirmed to a certain degree by this article, is their familiarity and comfort with technology in general makes them much more likely to look up information prior to making a decision. I recall in the old days reading literature on consumer behaviors, and people tended to buy first and then look for information to justify their purchase. It looks to me like this trend is potentially reversing with the easy access to information that exists now. And that is not good for employers to be blunt, because most are falling short on even basic branding and reputation. Reviews are online, the intrepid can even take a long look at LinkedIn and gauge turnover and other things about a company. And information on salaries for a given area is easy to access. Low ball offers, toxic cultures, and abusive management will be more of a hindrance in the future than they were in the past. Food for thought for screaming managers and companies who are still ‘having trouble’ meeting basic standards for monetary and non monetary compensation.

  2. >Gen Xers are often neglected in the discussion about today’s generations, but in some ways, they may emerge as the ideal candidates for many hard-to-fill roles.

    As a Gen Xer, I approve of this message. And thank you for using data – not confirmation bias – to analyze job candidate behavior.

    1. Data is nice, isn’t it?

      As a Gen Xer myself, it always mystifies me why we’re ignored. As the generation that saw the birth of the internet and its rise, you’d think we’d be the go-to people for bridging any actual gaps that show up between the boomers and millennials; teach the older people what the technology means while teaching the younger ones why change is good, but why it doesn’t always happen immediately. But nope, everyone just keeps yipping on about millennials and how concerned they are with job fulfillment or engagement, which is just code for people trying to convince managers that millennials are less interested in monetary compensation, which is what this same crowd has been trying to convince managers about for every generation thus far; “No, don’t worry, these newer people actually don’t want to be paid, like all your stubborn and unchangeable legacy employees, they’re looking to be fulfilled…”

      1. Well, we’re a smaller cohort (~ 66 million) vs. the Millennials and Baby Boomers (~75 million each) so we’re easier to ignore. It must be our apathetic nature that keeps us quiet 🙂

        And agreed, all the rhetoric of cultural fit and fulfillment conveniently ignore the survey after survey that find fair compensation is still the top priority for employees – regardless of generation.

  3. Thank you, Dr. Sinclair, for a really good article. This topic has become fodder for a large number of consultants in talent acquisition and elsewhere. In general, my impression of most of what I’ve read on this topic is that it tends to be long on anecdotes and short on data. This is certainly one of the best articles I’ve read on generational differences in employment preference.

    Doug Friedman
    LinkedIn Profile

  4. As a 1958 baby i object to being called a baby Boomer. The length of the baby boomer generation is far beyond being a generation in length. I belong to what is known as the Lost Generation or Generation Jones – look it up.
    My generation are more in tune with Gen X people than baby boomers.

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