The Scoop on the Millennial Workforce: What Business Leaders Need to Know

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.52.22 PMMore than 1.6 million students graduated from college this year and many are still searching for their first post-college jobs. If you’re running a business and looking to hire, wouldn’t you want to hear how these millennials have performed on the job or in the classroom — straight from the mouths of those who have worked with them, supervised them, and taught them? It just might help you pick a winner out of the crowd.

In fact, past performance is one of the best indicators of future workplace success, so we got the inside scoop from references for thousands of entry-level job candidates — mostly the candidates’ previous managers and professors. What we learned might surprise you.

Let’s start with the good news. The conventional wisdom is that millennials are “entitled,” “demanding,” and “lazy” employees. But we’ve learned that this is not true. In reality, although there are clearly areas for improvement, references generally see entry-level job seekers as an eager, dedicated group who are taking responsibility for their actions, dependable, and focused on doing a good job. It’s a picture that directly contradicts the typical critique of millennials in the workplace.

Now for the trouble spots. Job references say that many entry level candidates across common jobs like finance, IT, sales, and customer service fall short in areas such as staying up to date with current industry developments and trends, independently making decisions, managing their time, and presenting information in a logical, compelling manner. In other words, if a millennial job candidate you’re considering shows strength in these typical problem areas, there is a good chance you’re looking at a potentially above-average hire.

Job references also report a few other non-obvious indicators that can help you identify standout entry-level candidates. For example, if a candidate’s references can speak in reasonable detail about a job seeker’s workplace or academic performance and how that candidate went about tackling his or her assignments, it’s a good indicator that the candidate demonstrated self-motivation and organization on the job. Also, look for candidates who list plenty of former managers as references — even if these are from internships. This means that a candidate isn’t just picking from a limited selection of references — so they’ve left plenty of good impressions at previous jobs and internships.

Take note when a candidate’s references are prepared and well-briefed about both the candidate and the job you’re asking about. It indicates that a candidate has done his or her homework about your company and job offering, and has filled in their references with information about what they’ve been doing — and what they’re hoping to do for you.

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The key point to keep in mind is that hiring is always a leap of faith — and one that might require even more resolve when you’re offering someone their first job. Job references are clearly telling us that millennials have a lot going for them and that the typical criticisms of the millennial generation don’t always apply. But be sure to ask probing questions and watch out for the key trouble spots that references flag about this group of prospective employees, like time management and communication.  You’ll see a real payoff in terms of time saved, heartache avoided — and better millennial hires reporting for their first day on the job.