What’s Important to Gen Y Candidates

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.

Article Continues Below

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.

Allison Boyce is a senior recruiter/global field services at Cloudera. She is a former  international sourcer/recruiter at Guidewire Software.


12 Comments on “What’s Important to Gen Y Candidates

  1. Allison,

    That you are able to convince the Gen Y candidates to concentrate more on learning skills which would be useful to them in the longer run than a few more dollars at present deserves congratulations.

    I think most would make use of the examples that you have given.Only thing is the choice of words ‘introduce doubt’ are somewhat strong and manipulative.

    Could you please share as to how much %(roughly) of candidates whom you wanted to hire were persuaded by your reasoning?

    Let me request you and other readers to share their experiences as to the counter questions by the candidates such as:

    why fortune companies want to pay less than market rates.

    details of skills and how they would be useful.

    astornomical salaries of top executives.

    controversies that the company may be facing

    lay offs etc.

    Thank you for the good article.

  2. Allison,

    Thanks for this very timely piece. I have had many eye opening experiences like this lately and although I do get candidates who think that they need no experience to demand a laundry list of benefits, titles, pay, vacation, etc, it can be a challenge and coming back with intelligent questions was almost impossible since my jaw had dropped to my desk. I think growing up wanting little has created a difficult to recruit generation. These tools are very helpful.

    Oh, and no need to quantify your results. Just putting them out there for us to see is proof enough of your success as a recruiter, at least for me.

    thanks again,


  3. Allison,

    My purpose about asking for %’s regarding Gen Y candidates either acceping or rejecting your reasoning was only to get an idea about their thinking.Infact many would be rejecting lower offers a few times until they realize what is good for them in the long run.

    Even if the no of those that do not accept your offer is large,it is in no way a reflection on you at all as Stephanie has made out to be.I have praised the ‘examples’ that you have so kindly shared with all of us and in my my mind there is no doubt about your success.

  4. Allison,

    You comment ‘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.’

    As a Sourcing Manager, are you unaware of discrimination laws against older workers – by Your/Cient definition, anyone over 27 wouldn’t be qualified/considered – they’re not even old enough to be covered until they get older!

    WOW, I don’t minimize the talents of individuals born AFTER Ronald Regan was elected but I’m concerned that someone would minimize the talents of individuals born BEFORE he was elected.

  5. Allison,

    Far be it from me to speak for you….but… Ron, did you actually read the entire article? I do not believe that the point of the piece was to discriminate, but to point out a very blatant characteristic that seems to strike a nerve especially with us, the ‘slacker’ generation that raised them.

    I felt that the points made about the sense of entitlement that a large portion of Gen-Y seem to have were right on the money! In fact the very issue makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It is because of this ‘attitude’ that I, admittedly, tend to scrutinize the qualifications of a younger candidate just a bit more than a more mature candidate.

    My feeling on the driving point of this article was driven even deeper when I had to have the same ‘pay vs. experience/qualifications’ discussion with a candidate just yesterday. I think I got the ‘buy-in’ on that point, but I will think a little harder about presenting this candidate to my client over one that realizes the value of growing professionally and making a move based on a solid career strategy – Gen-Y, Gen-X, Boomer – regardless.

  6. Let’s assume for a minute that these generalizations about ‘Gen Y’, whatever that is, have some truth to them.

    And let’s pause here to acknowledge that in some cases, they probably do. After all, recruiting’s most commonly denied reality is that every applied prejudice has its roots in the evaluator’s life experiences.

    So, anyway, if you buy this slacker/entitlement/dollars-wanted vs. years-of-experience thing, I suggest you counter one set of stereotypes with another and concentrate on these younger-candidate applicant pools:

    1) Service academy graduates.
    2) Junior military officers.
    3) Anyone raised on a farm or ranch.
    4) Anyone raised in the lower or middle classes of any developing country.
    5) Anyone from any socioeconomic stratum raised in China, Vietnam, India, Kenya, South Korea, Iraq, Iran, or Pakistan.
    6) Any combat veteran.
    7) Anyone who financed his or her college education without parental support.
    8) Anyone from West Virginia.

    In my experience, the percentage of spoiled brats in these populations is remarkably low.

    You can probably think of others.

    Happy hunting.

  7. RE:
    ‘…concentrate on these younger-candidate applicant pools:
    1) Service academy graduates.
    2) Junior military officers.

    6) Any combat veteran.

    I can add here that hiring authorities who engage Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI) to help them access the military-experienced talent pool might not do so explicitly in reaction to Gen Y job seekers. However, they do understand that military-experienced candidates, especially the junior level of the officer and enlisted ranks, have managed more people, projects and $s than those in their peer age group hands down. In addition, military candidates? cultural sensitivity is much higher on average due to the countries they served in and / or the diverse group they worked with.

  8. Allison,

    You are spot-on in your assessment of this generation – and I think it is has much to do with the current nature of our economy, their previous observations of their parent’s careers, and the generation’s overall ‘me-first’ mentality.

    They haven’t had to endure a recession or a severe market downturn because they were in college when 9-11 happened and didn’t have to trudge through the aftereffects in the market for the following 2+ years. They also are too young to remember the economic bust of the early 80’s. I entered the workforce after earning my degree in 2000 as a 3rd party recruiter, and those days were a lot like they are today – lots of open jobs, and not enough qualified candidates to fill the seats. From late 2001 until about early 2004 was a tough time in the recruiting industry as the market was flooded with qualified candidates, and not enough companies were hiring them. Now the market here in Houston has never been better. We’re hovering around 4.3% unemployment, and my candidates are typically on the market for a week, maybe two before they are scooped up. This is the first time I’ve actually had someone sound *annoyed* that I was calling them regarding their resume – because their phone won’t stop ringing.

    Their sense of entitlement is understandable to a point – especially since companies are falling all over themselves to attract and retain top talent from a generation with no loyality to companies. We (my generation) saw our parents go to work at a company where they had been employed for 20 years and one day they came home with a box and a severance package (if they were lucky). The realization was that employees serve at the need of the companies, and companies viewed their ‘human resource’ as expendable. If the companies weren’t loyal, why should the employees be?

    We want more than money and a title, although both are nice, and you are correct regarding the work-life balance. I get 4 weeks of PTO, and can’t imagine working somewhere if I didn’t have at least 3 weeks to spend time to re-focus myself. You are also correct that we want to enjoy what we do – life is too short to hate your job. If I’m going to devote 50+ hours a week to something, I better like it, otherwise it will show in my work product, and will quickly become draining both physically and emotionally. I personally have turned down opportunities at other companies offering substantially more money solely due to their company culture.

    Like it or not, this is the future workforce we have been dealt. As the baby boomers are retiring (voluntarily, or involuntarily) this ego-centric generation is coming into the work force and companies will have to adapt to their workstyle or fall behind as other companies find ways to entice these people to work for them. Innovation is what occurs when people try new ways to complete an old process. As a country that likes to view itself as a trend-setter, perhaps this new approach to work and life are what will be necessary to position ourselves favorably in a global market.

  9. Michael,

    Plenty of kudos to you for your accurate representation of the feelings of that generation and why it’s important for employers to stop digging their heads in the sand.

    I have been a strong proponent of the need for employers to innovate and to begin looking at other ways when it comes to recruiting.

    I am NOT referring to the use of internet technology, the latest techno gizmos, or the latest sourcing techniques because there are already a ton of those HR consultants and providers out there.

    Rather, I am advocating the process by which a recruiter goes about identifying and recruiting that 21st century talent, that new generation of candidates out there who are holding their breath waiting for employers to respond to their needs.

    I have written an article on that very subject titled ‘Paradigm Shift: Vision for making the transition from Recruiter to Virtual Organization Recruiter or Virtual Organization Consultant,’ with the subtitle, ‘A Revolutionary Approach to Recruitment in the 21st Century.’

    It is featured on HR Resource.com and can be viewed at:


    Although it’s quite a long document to read, I believe it’s worth every bit of effort for the recruiter who wants to innovate and break out from the pack.

    To learn more about this subject, you can go to:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *