Three Questions to Ask Yourself About Millennials

I still remember the first time I heard about the Millennial generation. I was at a recruiting conference in New Orleans about 10 years ago, and one of the presenters was commenting about how the boomers were about to turn 50. He said the bulk of workers who would be replacing them would be coming from a generation we now know as Millennials.

I can still see the crowd’s reaction as the speaker talked about how this generation would be particularly coddled (raised by overly indulgent parents), have off-the-charts self esteem, and focus on a “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

I have to confess that I overheard more than a few staffing professionals remind themselves to check on the status of their IRAs when they got back to the office, as they were seriously considering retiring early rather than be forced to conduct campus job interviews with students who brought their parents along with them.

That was 1997, and here we are 10 years later. Amazingly, just about everything that speaker said has come true (I think he worked for an insurance company). The Millennials are here, they want it all, and they want it now.

Just like you, I’ve experienced the drama of the college kids who have their mothers negotiate their offers for them, the new MBA who tells the vice president that she won’t travel unless she has “at least two weeks’ notice,” and the interns who refuse to stuff binders. The chilling fact, though, is that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

The first boomers only just turned 60 last year and have not yet started leaving the workforce in significant numbers. As staffing professionals, our job during the next few years will be to replace a generation of almost 80 million people with these Millennials.

Before I go any further, I need to do some disclosure and point out that I am in no way an expert on this subject. If you’re interested in the characteristics of the four generations currently working side-by-side in today’s workplace, I highly recommend a book called Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. If you want to learn more specifically about Millennials, I recommend Cam Marston’s book Motivating the “What’s in it for me?” Workforce.

While the arithmetic challenge of replacing these hires is daunting, there are other considerations that will make this shift especially complex. These considerations include your ability as a staffing professional to find and attract job seekers you’ve never targeted before, your ability to truly understand what motivates this generation, and your ability to prepare your organization for this inevitable change.

This is a huge responsibility. I know some days I feel like celebrating just for getting our applicant tracking system to work. How will I ever be able to lead what amounts to a total revolution in how my organization views talent?

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Fortunately, unlike many other changes we encounter in life, we already have a great deal of information available to us. The Millennials are the most studied and analyzed generation in history; we know what motivates them, we know what’s important to them, and we know how they view themselves. A few well-spent hours researching this topic can really help prepare you to guide your organization through the next few years.

Once you’re done, see how you answer these three questions:

  1. Do you know how to find these job-seekers? The building in which I work has been renovated several times throughout its history. In the conference room near the staffing department there is a door that opens up into the front yard along the street. While it’s currently used as an emergency exit, it has a nice awning over the door, which is different from the strictly utilitarian design of the other emergency exits in the building. Someone finally explained to me that the door was once used by the “Personnel Department” to receive walk-ins who literally walked up to the building and filled out an application for employment! What a long way we’ve come since then. Nearly all of us now post jobs on specialty websites and do the odd bit of branding to attract passive job-seekers. Some of the braver among us use social networking sites and virtual worlds to recruit new hires. Do you know where inexperienced hires are looking for their first jobs? Do you know how they want to learn about your company, or even what questions they’re likely to ask you when you meet them? If you don’t know any Millennials personally, find some and talk to them. This generation has great clarity around what they want from their careers and will be glad to share their insights with you.
  2. Is your organization appealing to these job-seekers? In nearly every meeting I’ve attended where the topic of recruiting Millennials was discussed, someone has vowed out loud that they’ll never hire someone who isn’t willing to “pay their dues” like they did. Boomers value hard work and don’t take kindly to people who don’t see the value in “putting in their time” before they begin to realize the rewards such hard work inevitably brings (i.e., a bigger office, a loftier title, more money). Interestingly, the Millennials aren’t motivated by the same things their boomer bosses are.
  3. Do your hiring managers and leadership know how important this is? If your organization is like many others, you’ve probably never sat down and taken a “generational” look at who currently comprises your workforce, who runs things, and how your reward structure is configured. Many organizations today are run by boomers for the exclusive benefit of other boomers. Getting in early, staying late, and appearing to work hard is rewarded. People probably brag about how they came in on the weekend, or that they answered a Blackberry message in the middle of the night. People who navigate these organizations successfully are rewarded with corner offices, drive expensive cars, and enjoy the ability of having people obey their directives without a lot of discussion.

In a few years, the workplace will be significantly different. People will come and go to suit their schedules (some companies already offer employees unlimited vacation as long as their work is getting done); employees will change jobs much more frequently, so rewards will take the form of training and development; and titles and corner offices will take on less significance as good employees challenge ideas no matter who comes up with them.

Question: Does this workplace vision sound better or worse to you than your current work environment?

Answer: It doesn’t matter what you think because the changes will take place regardless of your buy in.

During the Great Depression, my grandfather walked into the headquarters of one of the Big Three automakers, was hired on the spot, and worked there for 40 years. Today’s Millennial job-seekers will have a very different experience: they’ll work for perhaps a dozen employers, participate on virtual project teams with team-members located around the globe, and probably integrate their work life and personal life more effectively than any previous generation.

I’m quite excited about seeing what life will be like when the world is run by a generation that has never known a time without computers and cellular phones. Getting your leaders to acknowledge the impending changes will allow your organization to get the edge on your competitors and make you a hero.

He started his career as a research chemist in the laboratory. Now, Michael Kannisto has tried to apply a similarly disciplined and science-based approach to the fields of recruiting and talent management. His long-term interests include employment branding, multiple generations in the workforce, and using Six-Sigma methodology to improve recruitment outcomes.

His current passion is the development and use of mathematical models to predict future staffing and development needs (a remarkably more accurate form of “workforce planning” than what is traditionally employed). Call it predictive modeling, call it “big data” ... but the information sitting in your HRMS right now has the potential to change the way you think about talent forever.


13 Comments on “Three Questions to Ask Yourself About Millennials

  1. Michael, your article is right on the money. It reinforces the message that I have been trumpeting on the Virtual Organization Management group I chair on ERE.

    As you have correctly stated and I quote: ‘In a few years, the workplace will be significantly different. People will come and go to suit their schedules (some companies already offer employees unlimited vacation as long as their work is getting done); employees will change jobs much more frequently, so rewards will take the form of training and development; and titles and corner offices will take on less significance as good employees challenge ideas no matter who comes up with them.’ This is the model of the new Virtual Organization and this presents significant challenges for Recruiters and their employers in general.

    As you have correctly observed and deduced in the following statement, recruiters have a tough task ahead of them as well as some very strong incentives to take action: ‘Getting your leaders to acknowledge the impending changes will allow your organization to get the edge on your competitors and make you a hero.’

    I submit that the Recruiter will have to take the lead on that; understand that his/her role must now be more consultative in nature in order to help all stakeholders navigate through these uncharted waters; as well as be an agent for change in this new Virtual Organization.

    Therefore, I also submit that the title of the recruiter willing to take on this challenge should reflect the added dimension of this role and be changed to ‘Virtual Organization Consultant.’

    Every single HR department should immediately begin to form a Virtual Organization Management Training department in order to begin the process of addressing these challenges or else they will become irrelevant in no time at all.

    I am very pleased to know that some of my colleagues have the foresight and wisdom to see these changes coming with the dawn of the new Virtual Organization.

    The Millenials are creating the new Virtual Organization and there is no stopping it.

  2. Having raised two of my three in the millennial generation and closing in on successful launch number 3; I see very similar attitudes towards the established generation that boomers had towards their establishment a couple decades ago. The mores of this new generation of employees was incubated by the same generation that professes not to understand them. The irony is delightful.

  3. Great article. Another author and speaker of note about this subject is Eric Chester. I’ve seen him twice at conferences and he gives a great, fun presentation about what he calls Generation Why (aka the Millenials, Generation Y). Highly recommended if you have the opportunity. Two of his books, both good, are ‘Employing Generation Why’ and ‘Getting Them to Give a Damn.’ His website ( is interesting as well.

    In reading about this upcoming generation, and living with a couple of them at home, I’ve come to believe that they’re really not much different than everyone else. They want meaningful work, not to be bored, and a good work-life balance. These are things that we are all coming to expect/desire out of our jobs. I think businesses that focus on making their workplaces friendly to the upcoming generation may see that their current staff from other generations might also appreciate it.

  4. Michael,
    Congratulations on a superb presentation which is both clear and concise. Your conclusions are credible, and beg for input on the topic. I have one area to address, hopefully for further discussion.

    Inevitably, the attraction of new talent, experienced or otherwise, involves the hiring process. In spite of surveys, studies, focus groups, onboarding enhancements, etc., the interview and selection process continues to be a multi-headed monster. Candidates are left hanging for weeks, as if they had no other possible opportunities. Multiple fly-in interviews are needed because so many people are involved in the decision process. Once on-site, candidates are too often treated like cattle rather than valuable capital. In most cases, strong candidates are certainly not courted, as they should be. If an offer is made, it is likely to be on the low side, rather than a number that would be acceptable. I often wonder if HR is in touch with today’s hiring dynamic. Certainly, the hiring process I deal with daily seems to ignore the difficulty of attracting top talent, and further ignore the fact that it is becoming even more difficult.

    What are your thoughts?

  5. Great article, very critical questions.

    I will point us all to the May issue of HRMagazine (SHRM publication) that offers some more insight and tips on ‘How To Prepare for the Millennials’. Below are bullets on what the experts suggest HR professional plan for this generation of employees:

    1. Increase basic skills training.
    2. Explain the reasons behind processes.
    3. Place clear parameters on communication frequency and methods, particularly IM.
    4. Provide more frequent job performance appraisals and other feedback.
    5. Focus on outcomes.
    6. Keep them engaged.
    7. Expand work/life balance programs.
    (HRMagazine May 2007)

  6. A thought provoking article, but I question the core generalizations. First, I think a lot of what we attribute to specific generations is more a function of age. A gen x’er, when I graduated from college, we were being described as ‘the slacker generation.’ Now we are the backbone of the workforce.

    Also, while I won’t extend any generalizations based on this, I have had the pleasure to work with a dozen or so college interns in the last several years. They were hard working, committed to our team, and I never once heard from any of their parents.

  7. Jim,

    Your questions are timely! I?ve come to the conclusion that most organizations don?t embrace change until it?s absolutely necessary. As you point out, EVERYONE knows that treating candidates with dignity and respect is more important now than ever before. Yet only the most progressive organizations take proactive steps to ensure this happens.

    I remember reading an article once about how the human circulatory system has this remarkable ability to circulate blood even if there is an injury that is resulting in massive blood loss. In some regards, one might never know that that there is a problem . . . UNTIL a certain amount of blood is lost. Then the patient?s condition deteriorates rapidly. Perhaps an analogy could be that the ?blood? in this case is candidates in a slate ? to a hiring manager, it?s less important that there are five backup candidates, or three, or even two. All that matters is that they hire one person.

    Over time, though, an organization will lose the ability to attract even one good candidate. THEN this will become an issue, despite the massive and obvious ?bleeding? that took place in the prior years.

    A rickety analogy to be sure, but perhaps appropriate!


  8. Michael,

    Bravo! What a timely and important article. The outlook for recruiting in the next ten years paints a difficult picture at best. Recruiting strategies will need to evolve to be sure, but so will hiring practices. While I don?t have much campus recruiting experience, I have had a couple of recent experiences that relate to this article, and they were a bit of an eye opener.

    Recently, at a past employer, I was asked to recruit a recent college grad? in the June/July. Being one who is always up for a challenge, I set to work. One candidate I sourced stood out among the slim pickings I had been seeing. He had legitimate reason for being late to the party and I put him in process. Early in our discussions, without being asked, he detailed what was important to him. Being the father of four with a college Senior, this took me a little by surprise. He echoed some of the same things I have heard from my college son. At that moment, I realized that my thought of ?my son is not in touch with reality? was way off base! What is important to Millennials is not what is important to us. (He did turn out to be the successful candidate.)

    As time went on, I had another Hiring Manger who had a Jr. Business Analyst position open. 1-2 years experience. I had done some research on this generation and what makes them tick so that I was a little better prepared. In short time, I had a good candidate in process. We had several advantages recruiting this candidate. We were 5 miles from her home, paying market, good benefits, good company and reputation. This candidate echoed the same points the other candidate had made. It was more about work life balance and not being a slave to work.

    The hiring manager had a ?If they don?t want to jump through hoops to work here, I don?t want them? attitude. We made a good offer and lost to a company that seems to be a little more ?with it? when recruiting Millenials. They offered an additional week of vacation, had better PTO, paid more, and according to the candidate, ?respected me with a lean hiring process?. That one sentence said it all.

    What she was saying was that she did not have to go through our bloated process with a Screen, HM phone interview, first in person interview with 6 interviewers, second interview with 6 more interviewers, repeat the process with 2 or 3 more candidates, schedule a debrief with all parties involved in the interview, pray the 12 people can come to a consensus, after a 4 ? 6 week process, create an offer and start navigations. And then, when the offer was turned down, the hiring manager was surprised. That was 4 months ago. As of 2 weeks ago, the position is still open.

    It is amazing to see how these candidates priorities line up with your article. One point of interest that has not been discussed is what is the long term cost of hiring these candidates? I briefly spoke with a friend while writing this and he detailed how Bell Labs has a 1.65% percent employee cost due to all the benefits offered their employees back in the sixties, mainly due to a workforce shortage. I would be interested to know what others think the future holds in that regard.

    Thanks for taking the time to bring this subject up. Excellent article.

  9. Michael I think that the circulatory analogy is a great one, and before too long I guess we will all start to see the ‘bleed out’. Nothing rickety about it!

  10. I’m sure you know Gen Y/Millennials are tech savvy, highly individualistic and advertising averse. When talking/marketing to Gen Y your multimedia strategy must consist of peer-to-peer content. I’m referring to the style of the content.

    For example, instead of a traditional ‘corporate video’ your online video should be ?day in the life,? real people, real careers, no scripts. Good example can be found at or .

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