Understanding the Millennials

You have just released a posting for an entry-level position in your organization and screened the submitted resumes. You have scheduled interview times and are now ready to meet these prospective candidates. Hopefully, they will be the bright shining new faces that will help your company continue to grow well into the 21st Century. Your company, like so many others, is quickly seeing its greying Baby Boomer workforce retire and its hungry Generation X staffers move up or unfortunately, on to opportunities with rivals. A lot of hope and expectation lies with this new crop of candidates. However, you quickly discover during the interview process that your company may not be ready to manage these new faces. They are confident, impatient, and globally aware and technically savvy. They demand to be challenged, respected and lead by role models. They need to work in fun sociable settings with flexible schedules because many of them have numerous social, volunteer, scholastic, etc. activities on the go. They sit across from you in the interview in a business suit but wear a body piercing of some kind. Who are these new candidates that have come answering your posting? They’re the newest and possibly most challenging demographic yet to manage. They are known collectively as the “Millennials”.



Millennials, also known as the Millennial Generation, were those born after 1980. They have also been labeled as the Nexters, Echo Boom, Generation Y, the Internet Generation, and the Generation.com among others. Generation X, on the other hand, refers to those born between 1965 and 1980. The above scenario was filled with stereotypes that give a glimpse into the overall generational characteristics and traits of a Millennial. To begin to understand a generation though is to identify the shared experiences, issues and events that shaped them. To list all the trends and factors that make up this generation would be quite exhaustive. So, instead, we will focus on three key common traits, which are: Change in Parenting, the Influence of Technology and The Global Village.



Change in Parenting – The Millennial Generation was raised by very involved and supportive parents. In contrast, growing up as part of Generation X usually meant you were the child of two working or divorced parents or both. Most Millennials, though, saw their parents stay and raise them together equally. The style of Millennial parenting is, however, what gives one insight as to how to effectively hire, train and manage them. During the 80s and 90s, mothers and fathers abandoned their parents’ authoritarian ways in favour of collaborative approaches. Instead of telling children that they “Should not do that”, Millenials were asked by their parents, “What do you think we should do?” Millennials were raised in households where their input was requested, heard and valued. Companies need to keep this in mind when interacting with this generation. They were told from birth that the world wants to hear what’s on their mind and they would expect the same from their future employer.



Influence of Technology – Millennials have and will continue to be exposed to incredible technological advancements. This generation uses the internet to complete and submit their homework, a cell phone to call and take pictures with, knows what a Wi-Fi “hot spot” is and where to find them. They have witnessed GPS navigation systems, cloning, retinal security scans and rover missions to Mars. Companies that succeed in attracting Millennials will be the ones who appear to be technically “friendly” where technology is not only used as a business tool but also embraced as a defining characteristic. A good starting point in improving a company’s technical know-how image is its web site. When searching for jobs, the majority of Millennials will visit a company web site to gage if it offers an appealing environment to them. Sites that are advanced and visually alluring will go over well. Not having a web site may unintentionally signal that you wish not to recruit from the Millennial Generation.



The Global Village – Due to advancements in communications, many Millennials are connected to friends and family from around the world. Thus, they grew up viewing the world in a smaller light. Knowledge of the current fashion trends in Japan are simply one click on a search engine away and with that, an understanding and appreciation for outside cultures and beliefs is more evident in this generation. Even if a company is not global in its physical locations, it must be global in its make-up, that being, its people. Millennials are attracted to work environments that foster multi-culturalism, tolerance of all religions and respect of one’s sexual orientation.



So, what does this all mean for your company? To attract and hire them, must companies stock their supply cabinets with the latest technological gadgets? No, it is not that simple. Instead, many companies will need to foster cultures centered on respect, forward thinking and inclusiveness.



An organizational culture based on respect seems like a commonplace goal. However, taken from what we learned about Millennials, respect is not earned through company seniority. Rather, mutual respect is desired regardless of tenure, rank or title. Millennials will enter the work force with many ideas; they will listen to their new employers earnestly but will ask that the lines of communication be reciprocated to them as well. How does a company create such a culture? Take a page from their parents. In decision-making, invite input from all team members. Arrange the work stations so that the layout facilitates communication. Avoid overt expressions of rank. They will prefer mentors rather than the traditional supervisory style.  Instead, try to abandon the usual pyramidal organization structure for communication with a flatter one. Millennials will not be afraid to send an email to a VP if invited and senior management should be eager and willing to respond. If the CEO advertises an “open door policy” then truly put it into practice. This generation will have no qualms on coming through that “open door”



You may have noticed that the second cultural focus of a company is “forward thinking” not simply “technologically savvy”. Nearly all companies use computers, have a web-site, and communicate via email and other 21st Century business traits. But, in the eyes of the Millennial Generation, not all are technically advanced nor forward thinking as they would hope. An appealing company to a Millennial will always be abreast of the latest technology as they view the advancements not as “fads” but rather opportunities to supplement and improve their current processes. Moreover, Millennials will be seeking on-going technology training. A company that is neither comfortable nor open to the upgrading of their technology is quite obvious to a Millennial. I can recall a former client company, which struggled with this fact. They had recently purchased lap tops for all of their associates to use in the field. With these new lap tops came internet subscriptions to set up email accounts. A newly hired Millennial observed that the company went to all the trouble of outfitting the field personnel with state-of-the-art lap tops but only gave them dial-up internet access. He mused to me, “Why didn’t they check out PDAs for everyone to record the data with and haven’t they heard of high-speed?” Millennials will not ask a company to go out and buy every newly released gadget. However, they will admire a company that is willing to explore and test new technology to see if value can be gained.



In a multi-cultural city such as Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, working alongside people of different ethnicity is quite commonplace. The openness and inclusive workplace the Millennials will gravitate to, though, goes one step beyond simply employing those of different ethnic backgrounds. They will be attracted to environments where differing ethnic origins are celebrated. For example, a client manufacturing plant I had completed a project at, observed both Western and Chinese New Years. Millennials will also be proud to be members of companies that are tolerant of different religions, without gender bias and respectful of every team member’s sexual orientation. Remember, the world is much smaller for the Millennial Generation and companies who seek to hire and retain them, must foster a workplace that is fair to each and every one.



Many Millennials are still not of the age to join the labour market. But, given that they are the largest generation since the Baby Boom, companies must understand and prepare for them. The arrival of the Millennial Generation does not signify times of difficulty for companies. Instead, companies that seek to learn, adapt and evolve into Millennial friendly environments will definitely benefit.



Imagine a work environment that treats everyone respectfully regardless of rank, tenure or title. Envision that same environment open to new advancements in technology, innovative and constantly upgrading its workers’ technical skills. Finally, picture that environment actively celebrating the differences that make up its work force. Is that not a work environment that everyone would enjoy and desire to be a part of?


About the Author:

Darryl Dioso is Senior Lead Recruiter and a Job Interview Coach at RMSG in Toronto, Canada. For close to 20 years, Darryl has been helping company clients improve through designing, implementing and managing hiring initiatives, operational improvements, and HR processes. He is passionate about business, technology, sports, travel and most of all – his family. Connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/darryldioso and follow him on Twitter at @DarrylRMSG.