I am Generation X, one of the “slackers” who started out professionally frustrated, cynical, and as an underachiever. I read all about it throughout the 90s. I did not choose to be a part of this group; I simply was born into that time.
Somehow beating all expectations to the contrary, I got a real job. I pause here and explain this so you may decide right away how offended you may get by the gross oversimplification of people, time, and society that I am about to describe. In my mind, quite simply, there is nothing I can say about Generation Y that hasn’t already been said about X.
Flash forward to 2007 and my career as a recruiter. Now, I am looking for candidates for a top management consulting firm who were born after Ronald Reagan was first elected.
The conversation goes something like this:
“Do you think it makes sense for you to talk to some of our practice leaders about opportunities in our strategy group in Manhattan?”
“First I need to know exactly what I am going to work on, for this project and in the future. What is the salary? What level you are considering me for? I will only consider a move if I will be a senior consultant or manager. Then I need to understand how soon I am eligible for promotion. Also, I am going to Thailand in June for four weeks so I need at least 28 days paid time-off. Also, can you tell me what other groups I can work for? If I can’t choose who I work for, I am not interested.”
The first time this happened to me, I was speechless. Five years ago (when this dude was starting college) and during the recession, I had people stalking me for any job. Since then, I have had this conversation repeatedly over the past 15 months with our newer experienced hires. I imagine that at this point, a certain percentage of people say, “Next!” and move on. If I was a sane, reasonable person then perhaps I would, too.
I can’t get into the “why?” of Generation Y because we have to hire them. And my client does not care what it takes for me to get them. What I will talk about is what is important to them and how to turn the conversation into something that is manageable and scaleable.
What’s Important to Them: Money and Skills
The perception among the newest wave of candidates is that they can demand the highest salaries because they have the highest-quality skills. The only way to question this perception is to introduce doubt to this train of thought.
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To turn it around, focus on skills versus dollars. Candidate-poor job markets can create prospects who demand unrealistic dollars for marketable skills. The only weapon you have for this scenario is “skills versus dollars.” It goes like this:
- “I understand that $150,000 is your targeted salary for six years of experience, and that you arrived at $150,000 because a contractor is charging $75 an hour on your team. In your mind, you are better than a contractor. I get that.”
- “If you could add a different skill set on your next project, how much more marketable would that make you?”
- “Do you think that it makes sense to join a team where you can get more skills or get the most dollars?”
- “Would you agree that sometimes you have to earn less money if you want to get more skills?”
- “Would you also agree that contractors make more money than permanent people?”
- “Is it possible that great companies can pay less than bad companies who have to pay top dollar, instead of giving time off, career options, and quality of life?”
- “Overall, you would consider a move for more skills and potentially less dollars if it was on a whole a better opportunity?”
What’s Important to Them: Title and Money
The reason Gen-Y candidates feel they need promotions and raises is that they do not understand the downside to being promoted too quickly and given too much money. It is like a credit card; they will deal with the bill later. Your job is to explain to them explicitly what the repercussions will be of this form of career management.
- “Do you think that you can be promoted to a level that would be hard to reproduce if you lost your job? For example, could you graduate from business school and start immediately managing 10 people with no management experience?”
- “Do you think it is fair for two identical workers to earn different pay for the same job? So you would agree that there is a fair compensation level for a certain amount of experience?”
- “Could money affect your opportunities for promotion? For example, could you be turned down for a promotion if you earned more than it paid? If you got fired today, do you think that you are priced competitively or non-competitively compared to others in the market?”
- “You know one of the things that I have noticed is that the last thing you want to be is overcompensated and under-qualified.”
- “When you start having to pick jobs because you have to make a certain amount of money, those choices lead to disaster. One way to look downstream in five years is to be priced affordably and with the most skills. It gives you flexibility.”
- “In other words, always be in the middle of the market and at the top of the competency in your peer group. It gives you a lot of options. The last thing you want is a big title and a big salary and nothing to back it up. (All hat and no cattle!).”
What’s Important: Quality of Life and Fun
To turn it around, focus on the fun. Generation Y candidates actually require a chance to have fun. They can’t imagine all work and no play because they don’t perceive that they need to work very hard. They have productivity tools, they are connected, and they are loaded with options that let them do whatever they please.
In order to convey your understanding of this, profile what they want to do with their free time. In other words, what do they consider fun and a good quality of life? Ask them:
- “So you like to snowboard in Europe with your parents. That’s great.”
- “Did you know about our company’s paid time-off policy? Oh well, we really do work hard and play hard here. This is our vacation policy.”
- “Is that consistent with your current vacation policy? Do you think you can still keep your plans and make a move to a new company?”
- “What do you like to do for fun?”
- “Do you think you want to learn more about our work-life balance program? Great, let me send that to you.”
There may come a time (around age 30) when this new generation gets a mortgage, a spouse, and a few kids when the options to move are limited. At that point, we can have a two-way dialog. Until then, your job as a candidate development expert is to introduce to them what the next best step is long term.
In order to discuss the next step for them professionally, gingerly inject reality into the conversation. If you listen to what they are saying and you help them relate to what drives your organization, you may create an opportunity for a meaningful conversation.