The Millennial Inquirer Ashlea Powell, Davide Agnelli

Gen Y as a springboard for change in the workplace

Millennials, Gen Y, Echo Boomers, First Digitals — these are just a few of the names that describe the next generation to enter the workforce. Born between 1980 and 1994, Millennials are children of Baby Boomers and are just as strong in numbers. Seventy-plus million in all, they will fill the labor gap left behind by their parents.

If we look at numbers alone, the imminent labor gap won’t be a problem. Ability shouldn’t be a problem either — Millennials are motivated and innovative, well educated and nimble. So why is attracting and engaging this new breed of talent such a challenge?

Millennials bring a new set of expectations and sense of purpose to the workplace, but they need special attention. While salary is still a piece of the puzzle, personal growth and making a difference are just as important, especially when it comes to retention. At the end of the day, a better fit benefits both sides of the equation — setting up your company and your employees for long-term growth.

The Evidence — Stories from around the globe

Out of office and online

After Jillian completed her master’s at Northeastern she knew she wanted to stay in Boston. A participant in the university’s work-study co-op program between the university and local companies, she had three internships under her belt and a local network. Her outlook was good.

Then the application process started. Frustrated by impersonal online job postings, Jillian wanted to walk down the street and submit her applications in person. “I feel like I’m putting my résumé through a slit in a giant wall and waiting for someone to open the window to let me in,” she said.

When Jillian was “let in,” she found interviews fake. “It’s like being in a fish bowl,” she says. Her one positive interview experience was for a marketing position with lululemon, a successful athletic apparel brand. “We went to the park and sat Indian style in the grass. It was much easier to speak freely.” This experience set lululemon apart, and it became Jillian’s top choice for employment.

How might companies make the hiring experience a better reflection of the work experience? How might employers set up their applications and interviews to help Millennials reveal more about who they are?

Beyond the résumé

Nearing the end of college, Jeff and Tony noticed an unsettling trend: their friends, even the most talented of them, were struggling to find their way into the working world. For Jeff and Tony, the question wasn’t, “What’s wrong with our friends?” Rather, it was, “What’s wrong with this process?”

It didn’t take long to uncover the problem: a generation of super-communicators, masters of digital media, confined to a black-and-white one-pager to show what they have to offer. This disconnect is what Jeff and Tony hope to rectify through, the “opportunity community” they launched early in 2009.

KODA’s rich profiles create context for the types of information that define and attract the “emerging workforce”: life experience, work environment, and opportunities for growth. The philosophy behind the service is that the more real information available, the more likely employers and applicants
are going to find a good fit — a win-win situation.

How might companies facilitate transparency across hiring (ongoing orientation) and reviews? How might employers encourage proactive self-disclosure to set more accurate expectations?

Benefits gap

“I don’t understand benefits, but I’m curious: What do you offer in terms of training and development?” said Natasha, a 23-year-old top candidate. The first time he heard this question, Greg, a recruiter at The Gap, found himself wishing he had a better response.

Recently, Gap has adopted forward-looking and flexible practices to address concerns of Millennials. According to Greg, “It’s not only about Millennials, but they are the driving force.” One notable accommodation is that the company now offers flextime. “In addition to a more flexible schedule, flextime allows employees to be better to the environment by working from home and to volunteer during work hours.”

Natasha’s next query stumped Greg: “Do you offer iPod training?” He hadn’t heard of such a thing, but learned that it’s a way for employees to take courses on their own schedule. “It’s all part of ensuring work/life balance,” he explained. “Practices and norms just haven’t caught up to workers’ expectations.”

How might companies create a menu of benefits allowing employees to select what matters most to them? How might companies create flexible and continuous opportunities to learn?

Hiring rules

IDEO-employee Joe logs into Facebook and what does he see? A highly targeted ad from a guy named Eric: I want to work at IDEO. After virtually interviewing the company and self-selecting himself for the job, Eric found a unique channel through which to apply. While reactions ranged from “clever” to “creepy,” it’s hard to deny that Eric and other Millennials are changing the rules of the job search.

Friend referrals

For Millennials, a referral from a friend is more than a way to get one’s résumé to the top of the pile. “My impression of a company comes from my friends and their experience,” says Ben, a recent Harvard grad. “They know me, they know the company, and they can tell if I’d be a good fit.”

The free MBA

In December 2008, bestselling business author Seth Godin, announced in a blog post that he would be offering an “audacious” 6-month alternative MBA — for free. He said, “I’m convinced there are people out there who — given the right teaching, encouragement, and opportunity — can change the world.” The post struck a major cord, attracting 48,000 views and 340 applications for a total of 9 spots.


Mickey Quinn

September 1, 2010

This is so interesting - I love the story about lululemon! I wish more companies would interview like this.

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September 19, 2010

The present generation is a real force to reckon with. They are so smart and self sufficient and with their independence and educational qualifications they can really go a long way in terms of improving their life in every sense of the word. They are so much stronger and able to look after themselves when compared to the generation before them!The Gen Y sure is a smart crowd and let us hope that they bring the changes that we urgently need to fight the modern challenges faced by us.

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October 3, 2010

We have specialized in making just about everything personal except for the mainstream recruitment process. As a student nearing graduation, I can completely relate to “Beyond the Resume”.  I’ve wondered whether the process of recruitment deserves the update, or more simply breaking boundaries of what is to be included on a resume.  Along the lines of the Luluemon case, I’ve had experience with a “visual resume”. Instead of a prepared piece, the recruiter hands over a large sheet of paper, multiple colored markers to choose from, and 10 minutes to prepare a 2 minute presentation showcasing all aspects of the recruit. It’s been effective, however if this were mainstream practice it would lose effect.

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Thomas Medical

October 13, 2010

My husband was going through a medical residency interview and he is of a different generation than most other applicants. One of the interview questions was how he felt about generation Y and how it set him apart in the workforce. He wasn’t sure if the interviewers were hoping for a pro-Gen Y answer or not. He took a guess and guessed correctly. They were actually anti-Gen Y. It seemed the baby boomers doing the interview thought Gen Y’s as a group were an entitled lot. I don’t agree, but I thought it was very interesting.

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October 28, 2010

It is really true that finding a job that suits you now a days is really hard that’s why most graduates are finding business as an alternative.

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Dan Fonseca

November 10, 2010

It’s so true! Companies have to attract millennials differently these days. There are more perks than money and they already know they will be living a different life then their baby boomer parents. How can a company attract the best?

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ben ong

March 3, 2011

Instead of looking for the best, hiring process can focus on looking for the most suitable instead. Hiring process can be substituted with a process to showcase the candidates talent in its own way. the role of recruiter is to match that talent with a role relevant in the organization.

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March 8, 2011

I think all three points mentioned in the example are happening already, all the time! But still people speak in corporate language to each other and still there are too many people holding on to the same thing; it’s the “this is how the things are around here” culture that keeps people from changing their habits and therewith they keep the same corporate culture of their company unchanged.

In a short time the Generation Y will suddenly dominate the global workplace. This is a fact, because everyone gets older. When that happens I think that the most conservative companies in the world (those who changed the least since they were established) will vanish. Think that the topics “change”, “training & development”, “remote working”, “innovation”, “bottom-up” and alike are pretty new topics in the corporate world.

During my Master degree I did in Organisational Change, a(n older) co-student even mentioned that in his company (I think it was BT) they were debating in the 90’s if the head of global HR should participate in the top-management meetings, or not! So they only started to think about people business…. Today your people -and their connections, as social media beautifully visualises- are every company’s main asset. I’ll keep on following!

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Eric Sampson

March 5, 2013

@Mickey, yes, I completely agree regarding lululemon. It’s a local Vancouver company and it goes to show you how key leadership really is. People should realize that brands just don’t “happen” out of thin air. It takes years sometimes. Social medial might make it easier to start a brand but if you’re not a leader, forget it. - Eric S. (writer and moderator @ )

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