It’s a Brave New World: Understanding Millennials is Key to Recruiting Success

Mar 1, 2008

You and I know that people make a business. It’s still true, but the workforce is evolving and yesterday’s human capital strategies don’t appeal to today’s youngest professionals. The once-golden management philosophies we’ve relied on for generations have tarnished with age.

Recruiters everywhere are growing increasingly frustrated with the Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000). I recently had a veteran recruiter tell me he’s given up on the entire generation. After one too many mis-hires, he plans to ignore them and solely recruit Boomers and Gen Xers. While that may sound tempting to those of us who’ve been burned by the inconsistent Millennials, it is a short-sighted business plan. Millennials are a generation roughly the size of the Boomers -and will be just as influential. Very soon there will be no large-scale recruiting success without them.

Like all recruiters, we deal with generational issues on a regular basis at JSI. We’ve come a long way, but we still experience the occasional failure. We recently had a young candidate interview-ing with a major hospital for a healthcare IT position. He was two years out of college with solid experience within the hospital’s area of focus. We received an offer of 80K annual salary for him, which was a jump of 28K. Imagine that leap in your early career!

Relocation was required but it incurred no cost of living adjustment and the hospital agreed to cover all moving costs. Throughout the interview process, we’d had positive feedback from our candidate so we thought we had a done deal. But after agonizing for two weeks, the candidate still couldn’t make up his mind. Not surprisingly, the hiring manager got fed up and pulled the offer. When the candidate found out, he seemed relieved. It turned out he was still living at home with his parents, and he didn’t want to leave the comforts provided by mommy and daddy. Lesson learned.

Millennials are young. In some ways, thanks to societal forces, they’re younger than any other adults have ever been. But with a thorough understanding of their unique generational identity, recruiters can manage Millennials to achieve great success. Are you ready?

Meet the Millennials

The oldest Millennial is just 28 years old. They’re very different from their older co-workers. They come into any organization with exceptionally high expectations. Our national obsession with children, which resurfaced in a big way in the 1990s, has endowed them with a very strong sense of self. They grew up confident that they were the center of their parents’ world and they bring that assurance to the workplace. They have been highly valued all their lives and they expect it to continue – even from their employers.

These are not people who will remain in unpleasant or disappointing surroundings for long. They demand much from their workplace and their boss. Work is a means to an end. That’s it. Whereas Boomers define themselves by work and Gen X values work-life balance, Millennials see work and life as inseparable. The two are intertwined, meaning they bring life to work. It’s not uncommon for a Millennial to be texting a friend while on the phone with a client or even during a meeting. They are accomplished multi-taskers, having spent their lives perfecting it, and they see it as an asset.

This is the first generation to grow up with digital media. They prefer to communicate via texting, instant messaging, and email, not chatting on a traditional phone. They understand and use technology. They are the driving force behind the surge in social networking tools.

They are notoriously indecisive – thanks to their parents. Millennials have never had to make any major decisions thus far in life. Doting, well-meaning parents have called the shots until now. The result is that even the most assertive Millennial will have trouble making a final decision on anything.

How to Recruit and Work with Millennials

Become their trusted advisor – help guide and mentor them

As recruiters, it’s essential that we establish the right relationship with Millennials. They need our guidance to set and meet career goals. Although they look like adults, they can be child-like in their decision-making. Position yourself from the beginning of your relationship as a lesson instructor or a coach/mentor. They’ve had a lot of those growing up and they implicitly trust those roles. Make it clear that you’re there for them long term, and your goal is to help them achieve their goals.

Set professional expectations early

They’re used to older adults calling the shots. Don’t be afraid to outline rules up front for your recruiter/client relationship. Define how you will work together: “As a recruiter, I have a role and responsibilities, just as you as a candidate have a role and responsibilities. We both need to live up to these to be successful.”

Make sure they have a clear understanding of things like realistic compensation, decision time frames, returned call times, interview processes, etc. They need your guidance here. Set expectations early to avoid unpleasant surprises later.

Establish preferred communication methods

This can be a big adjustment for experienced recruiters. We’re used to phone time, but you can’t count on traditional landlines when working with Millennials. Most prefer using email or cell phones. Save yourself time and worry by establishing right away how they’ll stay in touch. Even after that conversation, always use multiple contacts to reach a Millennial candidate. Every time you call them, also send an email, call their cell phone, and send a text message. Don’t worry about overkill, they’re so accustomed to hovering parents they’ll think nothing of it.

Understand their dream job

It’s not about you… it’s about them. These are kids used to their elders helping them get what they want. Listen to their dreams. Ask them to describe their perfect job. Yes, they often have unrealistic advancement and salary expectations. But that’s where you, as a trusted advisor, earn your money. It doesn’t help you or your candidate to nurture false hopes. Be honest: tell them what is realistic and what is not. Coach them, using the right game plan to make it happen.

Don’t underestimate the importance of environment and culture

These are not people used to being bored. They’ve grown up constantly entertained. Whether it was playing Nintendo or heading to football practice, they’re used to doing something every waking minute. No generation in history has had less downtime. Millennials thrive in a vibrant, active work environment. Boredom is the enemy and they won’t tolerate it for long. At JSI, flat-screen TVs tuned to 24-hour news can be viewed from every desk. We have XM radio pumping. There’s a putting green in the corner, the occasional football in the air, and bells to ring when placements are inked. I do all I can to create an energetic culture, one that fosters group participation and multi-tasking.

As a recruiter, make sure you understand the culture of an organization before sending in a Millennial. The right environment can be a great selling point to attract a candidate. Conversely, if you know a firm is set in its dreary ways, don’t even bother. It isn’t a match with a Millennial.

Cater to their social leanings

Millennials are products of the group project. They are adept at working with others to accomplish a goal because it was a huge part of their education. They appreciate diversity and will make allowances for all types of differences. This is a social generation that truly enjoys professional back-and-forth. They derive satisfaction from making an impact while working in a group. One thing to keep in mind: their loyalty to the group can supersede any allegiance to a company.

Don’t be tempted to whitewash

If you want to avoid mis-hires, don’t exaggerate or minimize to cater to a Millennial. Give a truthful description of both the position and the organization. Millennials are not afraid to leave a disappointing work environment. Quickly. They want to be paid well and I don’t mean in the future, so it’s important that you give them realistic expectations about things like compensation, raises, new responsibilities, and promotions. It will benefit you both in the long run.

Obey the platinum rule

In today’s workforce, the golden rule is no longer the standard. You can’t treat Millennials the way in which you would like to be treated and expect great results. Millennials are an entirely new generation, born into the lap of convenience and fed from the spoon of immediate gratification. They’ve never had to roll down a car window or hear a busy signal on a phone. They were raised by parents who provided all they needed and more. They are, as much as it makes me feel old to say it, very different from Boomers and Gen Xers.

To achieve success in a multigenerational workforce that will one day be dominated by Millennials, adhere to the platinum rule. Treat Millennials the way they want to be treated, not the way you think they should be treated. Agree to their communication methods and styles. Understand what they’re trying to achieve and help them get there.

This is a unique generation, with new values and expectations. But recruiters who can successfully develop professional relationships with Millennials today are laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s success. Because it is to this youngest generation that much responsibility – and profitability – will eventually come. And the recruiters who have helped them along the way will be richly rewarded.

Jon Bartos is a premier speaker, writer, and consultant on all aspects of human capital. As CEO of Jonathan Scott International in Mason, Ohio, he has achieved industry-leading success. He is one of an elite group of executive recruiters who bill on average over $1 million annually. Since 1999, he has achieved over $9 million in cash-in on his personal desk performance. Jon has also established JSI as a top 10% executive search firm. The office has won 15 international awards in the MRI franchise system, including International Billing Manager of the Year and Top 10 SC Office. Jon runs an executive-coaching program for recruiters and recruiting managers called “Magnum Program.” He also hosts a career-focused talk show on Fox radio, “Talent Wins with Jon Bartos, Your Personal Career Coach.” Are you ready to take your company or career to the next level? Jon can be reached at (513) 701-5910,, or