The Future Looks Bright-ish for Gen Z Candidate Experience

Gen Z Candidate Experience Shows Bright Future Amidst Challenges: Insights from 2023 Benchmark Research

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Mar 28, 2024

Watching the dozens of diverse high school students, many of them seniors, being honored for their academic achievements and career explorations with special scholarships was very inspiring. I’m on my local school board and recently attended the 23rd Annual Your Future Is Our Business Education & Business Luncheon. The organization is a non-profit founded in 1993 with a mission to provide every student in our county with opportunities to discover a fulfilling and successful career. This is also connected to the career technical education courses offered by high schools across California and the nation as pathways to postsecondary education and careers.

As I sat and proudly watched the student celebration, I thought to myself, What will their candidate experiences be like after they start their careers after high school or college? I’m sure many of them have already had part-time jobs as well. The young man sitting next to me at the luncheon had taken the automotive CTE classes and hoped to find a local employer to hire him as a mechanic. All these young folks are Gen Z, those born between 1996 and 2012, and my two younger teens are also Gen Z. While our latest CandE Benchmark Research has shown that the candidate experience continues to be a bumpy ride for all generations, it is a little more bright-ish for Gen Z.

For example, when we compare Gen Z’s, Millennials, and Gen X’s extreme willingness to refer (the very positive responses in our research for this question) based on their candidate experience (from our North American 2023 benchmark research), we find that Gen Z’s extreme willingness to refer is the same as Millennials’, although in the past few years, it’s usually the highest overall.


 Gen ZMillennialsGen X
% Who Are Extremely Likely to Refer Others31%31%27%

What Candidates Consume

So, for all the students entering the job market this year, what kinds of branding/marketing content are Gen Z consuming before applying for a job? The top 5 responses are below.

Company Values47%
Diversity and Inclusion34%
Career Sites in Multiple Languages34%
Answers to Why People Want to Work Here33%
Product/Service Information/td>32%

Company values are also the top content for Millennials and Gen X, but that’s where the similarities stop. Diversity and inclusion are second for Gen Z but fourth for Millennials (29%) and Gen X (26%).

Interestingly, company culture was number two for Millennials and Gen X but not in the top five for Gen Z. They want to belong and feel included. If they do, that’s their culture (and part of why having a career site in multiple languages was so important).

However, we are surprised that Gen Z didn’t include employee testimonials as top branding/marketing content, but Millennials and Gen X did. Employee testimonials have long been important to all candidates in our data but not so important to Gen Z (only 22% found them valuable).

Applying AI to Gen Z

When it comes to actually applying for a job, 48% of Gen Z felt that knowing the “Details of Application and Next Steps” was more critical than Millennials (41%) and Gen X (39%) did. And for hourly Gen Z candidates (think high volume hiring), 14% said they had the ability to ask a chatbot question, 33% more than Millennials or Gen X, and 13% said they launched their job application from a text alert, 17% more than Millennials or Gen X. We thought the text launch would be higher than that considering more employers are texting communications to candidates, but that’s what our data revealed.

Another surprise was the answer to a new question we’re asking candidates this year in the 2024 CandE Benchmark Research Program (the data collection part of the program is currently open through July – still time to participate). The question is: Did you use generative AI platforms to help you write/update your resume and/or cover letter (ChatGPT, etc.)?

Millennials and Gen X said they use it 67% more than Gen Z, 14% compared to 7%. This is definitely a surprise since we thought it would be the same, if not higher, for Gen Z. I know many high school students in our district are leveraging ChatGPT for their studies, both good and bad, so why wouldn’t they use it for their job search? It’s still early in our data collection, so maybe those numbers change between now and July. We’ll see.

We also ask all candidates for open-ended comments about their experiences each year, and when we look at a sentiment sample from last year’s data, these are the key themes:

Positive Themes:

  • Appreciation for Communication: Some candidates appreciated clear and prompt communication from the company during the hiring process.
  • User-Friendly Application Process: Candidates found the application process to be easy and straightforward.
  • Positive Interview Experience: Several candidates reported having a positive experience during their interviews, mentioning that the interviewers were friendly and professional.
  • Welcoming and Supportive Work Environment: Comments highlighted welcoming and supportive environments at certain workplaces, mentioning friendly staff and teamwork.
  • Recognition of Potential and Opportunity: Some candidates expressed gratitude for the opportunity to apply and looked forward to potentially joining the companies.

Negative Themes:

  • Lack of Communication and Feedback: Many candidates expressed frustration over not receiving any feedback, updates, or even rejection notices after applying or interviewing.
  • Unprofessionalism and Disorganization: There were complaints about unprofessional behavior from interviewers or recruiters, lack of interview preparation, and disorganized hiring processes.
  • Ghosting After Interviews: Candidates reported being ghosted after interviews, meaning they received no communication or updates from the company, leaving them uncertain.
  • Inadequate Job Descriptions and Requirements: Some candidates found job descriptions vague or misleading and expressed difficulty understanding the exact requirements or expectations.
  • Discrimination and Favoritism: There were mentions of discriminatory practices and favoritism during the hiring process, suggesting a lack of fairness and equity.
  • Technical and System Issues: Candidates experienced difficulties with online applications, such as trouble navigating the system or technical glitches.
  • Unfulfilled Promises: Some comments reflected experiences where companies did not follow through on promises, such as not providing updates or feedback after stating they would.
  • Inadequate Preparation and Support: Candidates noted a lack of preparation and support during the interview process, including insufficient information or guidance from the company.
  • Long Waiting Times: There were complaints about waiting to hear back regarding the application status or after interviews.
  • Insensitivity and Lack of Empathy: Comments also reflected experiences where candidates felt treated insensitively, particularly when their applications were rejected or ignored without explanation.

What’s not unique to Gen Z is that the above themes are similar across generations. However, there are many more differences in our data from screening to hiring, with Gen Z having a mostly better overall experience. Yes, there are many other differences across job types (hourly vs. professional), but the good news is that the future looks bright-ish for Gen Z candidate experience.

Another key rating we ask for each year that validates this is whether or not the candidates will change their relationship with the employer based on their experience. The great experience and the candidates’ willingness to continue to engage the business and the brand, what we now call the contentment rate, was 34% higher last year for Gen Z compared to Gen X and 19% higher for Gen Z compared to Millennials. So far this year, the differences are minor, but Gen Z’s contentment rate is still the highest overall.