Hiring Generation U: Problems With the Recent Crop of College Grads

Aug 8, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

My recent post on Generation U (underemployed and unemployed) generated an enormous amount of activity on ERE. This is a topic of some interest to recruiters, so in this post I’ll focus on some of the challenges that this generation faces in getting and staying employed.

This group does not have a good image — the New York Post called it “The Worst Generation,” citing research that shows Gen U members as being very narcissistic and with a high sense of entitlement. Apparently they have a very inflated sense of self. “They want to be CEO tomorrow,” is a common refrain from corporate recruiters. A survey showed that when it comes to work, what Gen U cares about most are high salaries and lots of time off. They are also unable to take criticism — frequently believing they are doing great work when they aren’t.

They have a tendency to take credit for good outcomes and blame others when things go wrong, causing conflict. And work is where many really struggle because the jobs they can get don’t match their expectations for success.

This group was raised to expect, receive, and question everything. This sense of privilege has caused many in this group to lack patience in developing professionally; an unconcern with “paying their dues”; and a different perception of how “work” should work. Research also shows that they often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting. They feel cheated and might try to obtain rewards they feel they are entitled to through unethical means. For example, they are more likely to manipulate performance data to achieve higher bonuses.

Mama I’m Coming Home

Many are also less motivated to do anything to solve the problem. Surveys show that they are more risk averse and sedentary — almost a third have moved back in or never left their parents’ houses. Those who live in areas of high unemployment are reluctant to move. Census data shows that the likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since 1980. While there is plenty of demand for workers in skilled trades, many prefer to stay unemployed and few are willing to do this kind of work even though those jobs can pay far more than working in retail or as a waiter or waitress.

Having been told by their parents and even icons like the late Steve Jobs to “follow their passion” or “do what you love,” many do just that when it comes to picking a college major, leading to a situation where far too many have degrees that are not particularly valued by employers.

The Children Are Our Future

It isn’t all bad news. Having been raised to expect a lot but also pushed to do a lot (think of all the activities the typical school kid is involved in) means they can also be high performers. The Washington Post mentioned that “Reared on rapid-fire Internet connections and cheap airline tickets and pressured to obtain multiple academic degrees,” many of this generation “grew up with an array of options their parents or older siblings did not have.”

When it comes to recruiting Gen ,U recruiters have to take a different approach. Many employers are doing just that.

  • Aflac (quack, quack) is highlighting such perks as time off given as awards, flexible work schedules, and recognition. And new employees get welcomed by Gilbert Gottfried (just kidding).

  • Xerox is using the slogan “Express Yourself” as a way to describe its culture to recruits. The hope is that the slogan will appeal to this Generation’s desire to develop solutions and change.

Regardless of what the problems are, Generation U is too big to ignore. It is nearly as large as the baby boomer generation and will make up an increasing part of the workforce. Many are confident, connected, optimistic, entrepreneurial, and tech savvy. They are the most diverse and they see the world as truly global. These are qualities that employers need to be successful.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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